I reviewed it when it was the Living Room, and I liked it. I reviewed it again shortly thereafter when it became Mezze on Main. Again, liked it. Then my attentions wandered from the freestanding house a bit off the main drag where Main Street meets State Road 580. The next time I turned my attention to it, it was Clear Sky Draught Haus and had morphed into one of the most popular and happening spots in Dunedin.
Some of this popularity stems from the 37 craft beers on tap and the more than 30 bottled beers. A soupçon is because there’s live music on the patio, a bike rack to encourage some preprandial RPMs and a dog-friendly patio. But I think the lion’s share is because owner Dan Shouvlin has the steady hand and unflappability borne of years in the business. He has had Clear Sky Café on Clearwater Beach for more than eight years, with employees like chef Bobby Shirley nearly all that time.
Shouvlin and his partner, Michael Preston (Frenchy’s), took over the space about 2½ years ago with an ambitious vision: Let’s serve breakfast, lunch, dinner and late night. Every day. And let’s have the kind of vast menu that requires an extended hush around the table as folks leaf through page after page of options. Done and done.
Based on recent visits, it seems to reach its effulgence late in the evening and during protracted weekend brunches that lean heavily on a bevy of bennies (classic, lobster, sausage, smoked salmon) and repeat visits to the Bloody Mary bar.
No matter when you go, Clear Sky can get loud. The live music gets pumped inside and the bar area seems to fill with folks who all have stentorian voices that rise as the beer in their glass recedes. I’ve already said the menu is long, but it’s also a bit perplexing: It starts with sturdy, full-sized entrees; shifts to appetizers, small plates and desserts; wanders further into salads, sliders and burgers; and then wraps things up with sandwiches, flatbreads and pizzas. Whew, chef Shirley keeps a lot of balls in the air.
In general, I find that menus this large tend to have weak spots. It’s hard to do so many things well. At Clear Sky, I was less smitten by pizzas and flatbreads, but there were plenty of other finds. House smoked brisket is offered as an entree ($15) or atop sliders ($8), the latter more interesting because of their topping of coleslaw and crunchy onion strings.
My aim was to try a dish from every category: A BLT chopped salad ($9) ate like a meal, especially topped with chicken ($5), its juxtaposition of bacon, avo and Cajun blue cheese dressing appealing accessories for crisp romaine. Moving on, and not quite done with my brisket fix, I tucked into a phalanx of crunchy-on-the-outside, gooey-on-the-inside cheddar brisket risotto balls ($8), really arancini with a totally American accent, even served with a ramekin of barbecue sauce. Fun, tasty and easy to share.
That’s actually a fair characterization of a number of dishes I tried, from the sugar-dusted fried doughnuts with the chocolate dipper ($6), to the Baja fish tacos (two for $7, but on Taco Tuesday, which seems to be nearly a national holiday at this juncture, it’s two for $5). Much of Clear Sky’s food is pleasant, hearty and in support of whatever adult beverage you’re wooing at the moment. In some ways the food at both of the building’s predecessors was a little more focused, but Clear Sky has a generous inclusivity that surely contributes to its status as one of Dunedin’s most beloved watering holes, no matter the weather.