By Jane Bartnett
“We’re the Cheers of Siesta Key,” said Clayton Thompson, the long-time owner of Clayton’s Siesta Grille, as he relaxed in the restaurant that bears his name.
The Siesta Key landmark, found at 1256 Old Stickney Point Rd., has been a cherished dining establishment for close to 18 years.
“People know us as a great restaurant with a cozy little bar,” Thompson said. “Our emphasis has always been on our food and atmosphere. We even have some customers who come for dinner three to four nights a week — we’re that kind of place.”
As this year’s tourist season begins, Clayton’s diners will discover a new menu that reflects executive chef Mike Yoder’s culinary talents. Since joining the restaurant in May, Yoder has been putting important culinary changes in place.
His work “reflects the core items that we execute so well,” Thompson said.
The macadamia crusted grouper, a best-selling item, along with Clayton’s scallops and gnocchi and cauliflower steak are just a few of the new entrees that are Yoder’s creations.
“We’re getting back to our roots with our excellent new dinner menu,” Thompson said of the restaurant’s days following a months-long shutdown for COVID-19. “Clayton’s re-opened for business in November, 2020, and when Mike Yoder joined our team six months later … we had the opportunity to reinvigorate the restaurant. That included opening for dinner only.”
Clayton’s new executive chef is an Ohio native who was raised in Sarasota, bringing 25 years of experience as a chef in Sarasota and Philadelphia to his new role. Yoder’s distinguished culinary resume includes stints as head chef at such well-known Sarasota establishments as Libby’s, Tableside, Epicurean Life, and Morton’s Market. For close to six years, Yoder also served as owner and executive chef of Roy’s, a popular dining spot in downtown Philadelphia.
When discussing his approach to cooking and fine dining, Yoder said “In the kitchen at Clayton’s, I work the line side by side with our cooks. We work together, it’s the way that I like to work and it is also the way that we like to work here at Clayton’s.”
Yoder considers his sauces to be a vital part of the dishes that he creates.
“In addition to being flavorful, I’ve made the sauces for the dishes that we prepare here at Clayton’s easier to execute,” he explained, allowing the cooking staff to create more consistent creations.
“Plate presentation is also very important,” said Yoder. “And when it comes to our desserts, I highly recommend our own key lime pie and seasonal upside-down cake.”
Pausing for a moment, he said with great sincerity: “And then there are our brownies. They are truly thick, fudgy and decadent.”
Dinner entrees are not the only changes diners will find at Clayton’s, as the restaurant’s wine menu has also been elevated. Customers, Thompson said, will now find “an extensive list of fine wines that are reasonably priced.”
Although not on the menu, diners will also enjoy yet another new addition to the restaurant — on Clayton’s walls is an array of curated, whimsical and colorful original Siesta Key paintings by local artist Brendan Coudal that are available for sale.
Meanwhile, local fishermen may be surprised to learn that they are welcome to bring their fresh catch of the day to Clayton’s for their dinner, where their treasures will be cooked under the watchful eye of Yoder.
“We’ll cook their legal catch as they select two side dishes and one of Clayton’s homemade sauces for their meal,” said Thompson. “It’s always fun to watch when the waiter presents the fish to the table. Their eyes get really big.”
In season or not, as the late afternoon arrives each day, Clayton’s happy hour is a popular way to celebrate any occasion. Offered daily from 4 to 6:30 p.m., the same menu items that are featured on the dinner menu are offered, although served on small plates.
Full-service outside catering is also available for gatherings small or large.
“Clayton’s can cater an event for two people or 400,” said Thompson. “From private homes to condominiums, all area pavilions, as well as venues such as The Devyn, our catering menu is reasonably priced and offers a selection ranging from a five-course wine dinner to a simple burger and beer affair.”
Other organizations that have utilized the catering service include various churches, the local Boys and Girls Club, and the Edson Keith Mansion at Phillippi Estate Park.
Private luncheons at the restaurant can be arranged for groups as large as 90. And seating is available both inside and outside.
For more information, call (941) 349-2800, or visit claytonssiestagrille.com.
“We’re looking forward to a great season,” said Thompson. “We’re lucky to be a part of this wonderful, friendly neighborhood on Siesta Key.”