Go to Sarasota for the Sunshine, Stay for the Shrimp

July 20, 2016

Gary and Maggie Balch didn’t intend to become the best shrimp purveyors in Sarasota. Twenty years ago, they were selling vegetables. But then a couple who were shrimpers asked the Balches if they’d sell their shrimp for them. “I was looking for some extra income; I was trying to put my son through college,” Gary said. “So we started doing it and the shrimp took over.”

Photo by Amanda Hesser

The Balches were smart enough to double down on success. Today, under the name Maggie’s Seafood, they sell Royal Red shrimp from the center of the Gulf of Mexico, an appealingly ruddy shrimp whose flavor is reminiscent of lobster; jumbo brown shrimp from the Panhandle; and hoppers, a clean-tasting and sweet pale pink shrimp sold with its heads still on. Hoppers are caught in 100-feet-deep water just off the coast of Sarasota. “You don’t get more local than this,” Gary told a couple who was bending over inspecting them.

Maggie’s Seafood stands are now at the farmers’ markets in Sarasota, Venice, Phillippi Creek, and Englewood. They got their start in Sarasota, where the market manager wanted to squeeze them in among the farmers, fruit growers, and crafters, but she didn’t have a proper spot. “I’d park alongside the street and sell out of the back of my truck,” Gary said. “If I dropped someone’s change, it went straight into the sewer.”

They’re so fresh—so sweet—and for this northerner, such a rare treat. I like them best just grilled or boiled, showered with lemon at the table.

My mother, who lives on nearby Siesta Key, dutifully gets up at 6:30 A.M. on Saturday mornings to get to the market before the lines start. She’s been a Maggie’s Seafood loyalist since the back-of-the-truck days when Sarasota’s downtown was equally unpolished. We’ve made risottos, pastas, chowders, and salads with their shrimp; they’re so fresh—so sweet—and for this northerner, such a rare treat. I like them best just grilled or boiled, showered with lemon at the table.

The best way to cook these is to do next to nothing to them. Plus lemon. Photos by Amanda Hesser.

Eventually, the Balches got a stand and started expanding their offerings, which now include mangrove snapper, sea bass, hogfish, grouper cheeks, yellowedge grouper, and golden tilefish. The Balches also bring in salmon, tuna, and a few other fish from the north.

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Gary works the Sarasota stand on Saturdays. He’s the tall man with the tattoos on his arms: on his right a Navy seal, on his left, a tattoo of a gull. Gary doesn’t remember the night the latter came to be. Things happen to Gary. Some lead to a successful business. Some to a random bird on his arm.

Step on up! But get there early. Photo by Amanda Hesser

Maggie's Seafood at The Sarasota Farmers Market; Saturdays from 7 A.M to 1 P.M., year-round; Lemon Ave and Main Street, downtown Sarasota, Florida

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Trishavi
  • Gotthescoop
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    Aleksandra W.
  • NDC
Amanda Hesser

Written by: Amanda Hesser

Before starting Food52 with Merrill, I was a food writer and editor at the New York Times. I've written several books, including "Cooking for Mr. Latte" and "The Essential New York Times Cookbook." I played myself in "Julie & Julia" -- hope you didn't blink, or you may have missed the scene! I live in Brooklyn with my husband, Tad, and twins, Walker and Addison.


Trishavi May 2, 2022
They are also at the Venice Farmers Market
Gotthescoop July 20, 2016
So true, Best shrimp ever! I walk to. Maggie's every Saturday Morning to get my fresh catch. DELICIOUS!!! You can call the day before and place your order as they sell out quickly, There are moorings just off of Marina Jack which is 3 blocks away or be a transient at the marina. We keep our boat there. Voted best marina in the USA 2016!
AntoniaJames July 20, 2016
Are there yacht moorings convenient to any of Maggie's farmers' markets locations? I'd most likely be arriving "by sea," were I to stop by.
And did you say "grouper cheeks"?!!!
Wondering now, too, if there are any grouper sandwiches of note available near any of those locations . . . . ;o)
Lynn H. July 21, 2016
Yes, Marina Jack's is a short 5 minute walk to the Sarasota Farmer's Market downtown.

Yes, lots of grouper sandwiches in downtown Sarasota (Marina Jack's, Duvals)
Aleksandra W. July 20, 2016
Love this! More features on Florida please ;)
AntoniaJames July 20, 2016
The shrimp right off the boats that we get in Boca Grande, just down the road from Sarasota, is the best I've ever had. I do not exaggerate.
That photo makes me want to get on a plane right now, headed straight for Florida's west coast. ;o)
NDC July 20, 2016
The best. I actually look forward to returning to our second home on Longboat in the fall/winter just because I know how fabulous dinner will always be on Saturday night after a stop at Maggie's.