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St Petersburg, Tampa, Lakeland recs needed

We’re visiting St Petersburg from Connecticut next week – we’re staying in Isla del Sol.

Having done extensive searches on these boards I have a short list of places we should try to get to during our trip – am interested in opinions on these plus of course any other ‘only in Florida’ chow experiences.

Also we’re planning on visiting the Frank Lloyd Wright buildings at Florida Southern in Lakeland – any good chow there? I found mention of a BBQ place but nothing recently – is it still there?

Thanks in advance

Dinners -
Berns (I’m not into the whole steakhouse thing but my husband is & it seems to be a local institution).
Mise en Place

St Petersburg:
Café Alma

Salt Water Grill
Pearl @ Treasure Island
Island Way Grill

More casual/lunch
Crab Shack, St Petersburg
Thuy Café for Banh Mi
Pipo’s for Cuban Sandwiches
Z-Grille for fish tacos
Ted Peters (maybe takeout?)
Cacciatore & Sons for deviled crabs
Rusty Bellies when we visit Tarpon Springs
Maybe drive to Homasassa for Cuban – is there anything else up there to see???

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  1. i've been making annual work trips to tampa for the past few years, and finally tried bern's on my last trip. the steak was very good. the sides were fine, but not particularly outstanding (we didn't order any of the ala carte sides, just got what came with the meal). service was good, and the ambience is good (assuming brothel-chic isn't a turn-off for you). the little tours of the kitchen and on-site wine cellar were fun. dessert was very good (sorry, i don't remember what all we had, but out of 4 desserts there were no losers) and is served upstairs in private rooms; unique and fun, would probably be a great place for a romantic dessert. while bern's was pricey, it wasn't as bad as i had expected.

    more in keeping with my preferences was ted peters. simple, not pretentious, a good place for meeting the locals. awesome smoked mullet and ice-cold miller high life on tap. we just had a blast hanging out, eating, people-watching. i did see plenty of people getting take-out, so that would definitely work, too. i'll be in orlando instead of tampa this year, but i'm planning a daytrip over to the gulf, and ted peters will be one stop.

    1. Thanks - I love desserts so maybe Berns will have something for me after all!
      BTW does my hubby need a jacket at Berns or would smart dockers & a shirt be acceptable?

      Ted Peters sounds great! Have fun in Orlando

      1 Reply
      1. re: ctbrit

        i saw all manners of dress (from shorts to suits). khakis and something better than a t-shirt would be about as casual as i would feel comfortable with given the atmosphere & price range.

        oh, and if you try that cuban in homosassa, please post about it. i saw the write-up too and am toying with extending my tampa daytrip up that way.

      2. dockers and a shirt are fine, no jacket required

        1. Re; Ceviche. We tried it recently. It was our first Tapas restaurant. It is a fun way to eat, but there are so many menu items it's kinda hard to order with any intellegence. Avoid the simple vege dishes and go for the more exotic type mixes. It is a very pleasant place to eat; inside or out.

          Bern's: Considering the reputation, it is rather casual. Don't get too worked up about the side dishes; just orde the steak of your dreams. Enjoy the tour and dessert room, because that is what Bern's is all about (besides steak)

          When you go to Tarpon Springs, keep your mind open. We love Hellas and I love the Greek Pizza Kitchen, which is downtown. There are any number of good, local Greek fooderies there, so enjoy a gyro and Greek salad just about anywhere.

          If you go to Homosassa, go to the wildlife park. Only because it is the only thing there to see.

          1. I used to be a huge fan of Cafe Alma, but I would not recommend it any more. If it were my list, I'd replace it with Cafe Ponte, or Redwoods.

            Ceviche is always good, and so is the Pearl. I can't recommend any one dish at Cevishe as we are trying to eat our way across the menu and have yet to repeat any!

            I've had a really wonderful lobster at Bern's and good fish dishes, too. St. Bart's Island House is also a good choice in Tampa.

            I've been to Ted Peters once, and that was enough. There's only so much smoked anything that I can eat - but I don't like chipotle peppers for the same reason. YMMV.

            I grew up in Lakeland, and unfortunately, it is a culinary wasteland for the most part (think big chains). Close to Florida Southern College, however, is one of the few gems - Mr. Fish. It's right across the street from the public library. Get yourself a fish sandwich or a basket of fish and chips and walk across the street to Lake Morton and eat on a bench watching the ducks and swans. Many will recommend the Reececliff for Lakeland - I've eaten many entirely adequate meals there.

            1 Reply
            1. re: BeaN

              My dear spouse did not mention a potential oasis in the culinary wasteland that is Lakeland under the assumption you were looking for lunch vice dinner while you were there.

              Blue Nile (3133? Florida) is a place we stumbled into upon our last trip to Lakeland while looking for something...ANYTHING, a little different. I am not certain they are open for lunch but we were pleasantly suprised with the menu and execution in this little place. In short it is a wine bar/music place, the menu is not overly ambitious but it is solid with primarily mediterranean offerings.

              We intend to write a more in depth review in the near future but I thought it worth a mention.

              J. (AKA BeaN's spousal unit)

            2. If you mean Salt Rock Grill, by all means go! Try to go during daylight and reserve a table by the window to enjoy a great view with the great food. Their steaks are as good as their seafood. We equally enjoy its sister restaurant, Island Way Grill, on Clearwater Beach. We went there for Thanksgiving, which made my DH happy, as he was able to feast on sushi instead of typical T-day fare. I've tried several of their seafood dishes, all of which I greatly enjoyed. Your DH would probably enjoy their 24-oz T-bone; my stepson went nuts over it.

              I am a huge fan of Ted Peters. It is a local institution, one of those rare Old Florida finds that you don't see much of these days. I love their cheeseburgers, and always stop at the smokehouse next door to the restaurant for some take-home mullet and salmon. Bring cash; they don't take credit cards.

              Have a great trip! Enjoy!

              1. For BBQ, try First Choice BBQ in Brandon. It is on 60 just west of I75 close to the Home Depot. This is one of the better BBQ places in Tampa Bay. I also like Jimbo's BBQ on West Kennedy in Tampa between West Shore and Dale Mabry.

                If you like Salt Rock Grill, I would also suggest Marlin Darlin's on West Bay Dr. just past Indian Rocks Rd. Different take for Frank Chavez on fish.


                2 Replies
                1. re: RibDog

                  Yup, I'm a fan of Marlin Darlin, too. We've been there a couple times since it first opened about a month ago.

                  1. re: RibDog

                    I almost forgot to suggest Arco Iris on Columbus Dr. in Tampa. Excellent cuban food!


                  2. I would go to La Teresita in Tampa for the "casual" category (on Columbus Ave aka Boliche Blvd for all the latin places that line the st.) for Cuban...a hole in the wall (esp the lunch counter)but the best for authentic Cuban (no need to drive to Homasassa !). Although I have to admit it has been a while since I do not live in the area anymore. The dessert room at Berns is amazing...

                    1. i've heard the restaurant at the airport in lakeland is really good. thumbs up for the reececliff. have the pie. mostly it's a wasteland.

                      if you're at isla del sol, you'll be near st. pete beach. they just opened dockside dave's on st. pete beach. it's in downtown. grouper. also, you're near skyway jacks on us 19. very local, go for breakfast. lots of attitude with your hashbrowns.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: Tandoori Girl

                        For Florida fish-house style seafood, Charley's in Crystal River is good, as is Peck's in Ozello. These are roughly an hour north of Tampa.

                        Hot Rods BBQ in North Tampa is OK. IMHO not wonderful but definitely acceptable Q.

                        Hellas in Tarpon Springs is good for Greek/Seafood. Rusty Belly's in Tarpon Springs is acceptable for generic Florida seafood.

                        Believe it or not, the Bare Buns Cafe at Lake Como Family Nudist Resort in Land o'Lakes north of Tampa has an incredibly good grouper sandwich with _real_ grouper for a very reasonable price. No, you don't have to get nekkid to eat there.

                        Just my two cents worth...

                      2. Thanks to all of the florida hounds - looks like we'll have a great eating week - this board is a fanastic resource


                        1. why would you go to Homasassa for Cuban?

                          1. I grew up in Lakeland and still spend a reasonable amount of time there, so I'll comment on the Lakeland recommendations:

                            Mr. Fish: If you happen to be around downtown at lunchtime and want something quick. It's more of a local institution than a food destination.

                            Reesecliff: Good home style diner food, still my favorite onion rings. Again great if you want a good meal but not worth seeking out unless you love Americana

                            Blue Nile: I've eaten there several times and always had a good "thai-ish" i suppose meal.

                            Jimbo's: The ultimate Lakeland institution, good bbq, GREAT sauce. Highly recommended, need to get there before Jimbo is gone.

                            A great place that no one has mentioned in Lakeland is The Antiquarian, what I consider the only destination restaurant here. Only open on the weekend.

                            and yea I agree with everyone no need to leave Tampa if you want Cuban

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: catlike

                              I haven't been yet, but The Antiquarian had an ad in the fish wrap
                              announcing LUNCH HOURS. Address:211 E Bay St Lakeland, FL 33801 Phone: (863) 682-1059

                            2. It's hard to read this board and not want to run right out to eat.

                              I still say Thuy Cafe had a delicious, fresh Banh Mi but I haven't been in a while. Their neighbor, MeKong Vietnamese restaurant was good too.

                              Fleming's Steakhouse on Boy Scout Blvd. in Tampa, though an Outback iteration, had a better steak than the last time I went to Salt Rock. And I dream about the Chipotle Mac n Cheese- anyone have a recipe that approxmates it? I keep trying to make it, but haven't hit the mark yet.

                              Tampa has some good Cuban- I think Arco Iris might be a good bet. I personally avoid La Teresita at all costs. I like La Cucina on Fowler near USF and La Casona on Armenia has very tasty Puerto Rican food despite the indifferent service.

                              And I am still loving Cafe Luna on St. Pete Beach.

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: rikkikm

                                Definitely second the Antiquarian in Lakeland, and Mr. Fish. I like the Columbia Restaurant either in Ybor or at the Pier for good food and great ambiance. Casual. If you are on your way to Tampa from Lakeland and need to stop for a meal in Brandon, let me recommend La Septima Cuban. Just north of Hihgway 60 on Parsons. Deviled crabs, I love the ones from Alessi Bakery. La Septima has good ones too. Tampa has some good Indian restaurants. I like Taj on Fowler. Berns...been going there since 1963..its good...the dessert room thing, or Side Berns is neat.