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Mar 27, 2007 11:09 AM

St. Pete Beach / Tampa recs . Thanks & a follow up report

Thanks to all who made dinner, brunch, and laid back dining suggestions for my Florida trip. I had a terrific time relaxing in the sun and watching spring training baseball.

Overall dining experience was pretty miserable. Unfortunately the brunches I had hope to catch (either Don Cesar or Ren Vinoy were booked up). There really weren't many options on St. Pete Beach that seemed good and interesting. Wound up at the Tradewinds and thought the buffet was pretty lackluster and not a real value at $30/head.

Ate one night at the Mangrove Grill at the Sirata. I had read several reviews (not here) that were very positive. The conch chowder was pretty bland, glorified veggie soup with some conch thrown in. The idea of pick a meat or fish and sauces and toppings was somewheat interesting so I went with the grouper, which was cooked perfectly but was drowning in a sauce with way too much cumin. My BFs grouper was served with a different sauce but was also swimming in it. But both dishes turned perfectly cooked grouper. Got a bottle of sauvignon blanc that was presented without ice and it warmed up pretty quickly as we were sitting outside. Server also told us veggie served with the fish was something different than what we got on the plate. Essentially we both got grouper loaded with sauce stuff and a giant pile of overcooked broccoli. I love broccoli but the aroma of overcooked broccoli actually took away from the fish. It wasn't really working. I got a piece of chocolate cake that was the size of a sliver and half of it was icing for $6.99. When the server asked how it was I told him it was "just okay, had hoped for something a bit more decadent" and he just walked off. But early in our meal he told us that he was really tired after working a double so I figured it was pointless to follow up with any of the issues we were having.

Grabbed a surprisingly good Cuban sandwich at Bella Habana. Heard lots of raves locally for Crabby's Bill's fried oysters. Went over and managed to snag two seats at the bar inside. We got two margaritas that were mostly sour mix. The bartender described the lobster tail to the person next to us and it sounded terrific. 25 minutes went and the bartender still hadn't returned to take that person's order, or ours, so we left...

Sadly that was kind of the theme for the trip. We attempted to eat a 1/2 dozen places and just never got the attention of a hostess or bartender so we opted out. Most places were busy but not obscenely so. We just had rotten service everywhere. I kept an open mind since spring break was ending and I figured most service folks were probably beat but it was almost comical toward the end of our stay.

We got a little tired of looking for good dining options and decided to grab steaks at Durango's one night. I'm thinking this must be an Outback, T-Bones type of chain. Steaks were actually decent and a good value. Again, service again was lackluster at best.

The trip did end on a high note though. We had time to kill in Tampa before our flight and I was dying for a good cheeseburger, which I think isn't always easy to find. I was in dire need of reliable comfort food. We went to GrillSmith on Dale Mabry. I understand it's somewhat new. It was immaculate inside, the service was outstanding, and the burger was amazing. Sat at the bar again and the bartender was terrific, attentive, and even made certain that I understood my medium rare burger would be pretty pink. I was thrilled. My applewood bacon swiss mushroom burger was cooked perfectly and seasoned well. My BFs BBQ bacon burger was also great. This place was also an unbelievable deal - $33 for two huge perfect burgers, a salad, and three beers.

Fortunately the gorgeous weather more than made up for our bland chow. The Sirata was also a surprisingly good place to stay. I got a pretty good rate on Orbitz and had a beach front room. Staff were friendly and the accomodations were simple, clean, and well situated. If only they could get the Mangrove Grill kinks worked out there would be little reason to leave the resort.

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  1. Sorry you had a bad experience. I honestly haven't heard of a lot of the places you went to. And, yep, Durango's is a chain. Apparently not a great one.

    I am surprised you liked GrillSmith. We refuse to go back there. They couldn't cook my boyfriend's burger to save their lives! The fish was awful and all in all it was a bad experience. I am glad you had a good experience there, but for others reading just beware it could be a "hit or miss" kind of place.

    1. I am not at all surprised by your assessment of dining on St. Pete Beach. As a long time resident of the area I can point out several things that were not in your favor.

      1. St. Pete Beach makes its money off tourists
      2. This is the busiest tourist time of the year
      3. Most tourists usually come here for the beach environment and generally not for the quality of the food (Loads of spring breakers and families with kids looking for burgers on the beach)
      4. Hotel food on the beach is generally mediocre
      5. Because of the increase numbers of tourists the service is generally slow in most restaurants
      5. Sunday brunches are way over priced (quantity over quality of the offering) including the Don Cesar
      6. Every tourist on St. Pete Beach spends time at Crabby Bill’s. We like to go to the roof top bar from time to time and make new friends from the north :)

      18 Replies
      1. re: patken

        wow. bad indeed.

        a couple of my cardinal rules, at least most of the time.
        Never eat on a beach.
        Never eat in a hotel.
        Go to a decent diner and order too much food. That's brunch.
        And never, ever go to Crabby Bills.
        Just because you're a tourist doesn't mean you have to eat like one. Sorry your trip wasn't so tasty.

        1. re: andy huse

          I'm going to disagree about never eating in hotels. Some of the best meals I've had around the world have been in hotels.

          Not the best meal I've ever had, but Maritana Grill in the Don CeSar isn't half bad (though I wouldn't do a brunch there.)

          1. re: HeatherFL

            How about revise the hotel rule to never eat in a hotel where rooms are under $300.00 a night ; )

            I concur on NEVER eat at Crabby Bill's though!

            1. re: rhnault

              LOL LOL

              And I third that-I went to Crabby Bill's one time with friends who insisted on visiting (they were here from Atlanta.) Oh it was awful. NEVER again.

              1. re: HeatherFL

                Wow, where were you all when I looked for advice. ;) Sounds like a good thing we never got someone to take our order at Crabby Bill's. The sunset countdown should have been the first clue...

                Is this no hotel restaurants a FL thing? I'm in Boston and some of the best restaurants in the city are in hotels. I've had pretty good luck in NYC and Chicago on that front as well.

                1. re: kittychow

                  Armani's at the Hyatt Westshore here in Tampa is consistently good and Pelaggia Trattoria at the Marriott Renaissance by International Mall is FABULOUS! Those are the only 2 hotel restaurants I frequent here in Tampa. I have heard from friends that the restaurant at the Don Cesar is also good but I don't think I'd make the drive just to eat there.

                  1. re: rhnault

                    What rhnault said, except we do drive from South Tampa to Maritana Grill (in Don CeSar) every once in awhile. We usually make a two day thing of it and get a room there. =) It's a pretty area.

                    1. re: HeatherFL

                      I definitely have that in the plans for the Don Cesar. We usually stay at the Hyatt when we dine at Armani's even though we only live 7 minutes away ; )

                      1. re: rhnault

                        LOL You must be close to us, we're close to Armani's too, but hey!! I never stay afterward. Time to have a little talk with significant other. LOL ;) (kidding kidding!)

                  2. re: kittychow

                    Ummm...kittychow, not to be rude, but you asked for holes in the wall, to chill out with a beer.. not fine dining if I remember correctly. Chowhounds responded with:
                    Dockside Dave's
                    Philthy Phil's
                    Sea Horse

                    Did you try any of the recommendations above?

                    1. re: joan

                      I also asked for brunch recs. I did but didn't want to seem to blast local faves. Like I said in my OP, I just happened to hit at a bad time of year. Staff seemed beat everywhere.

                      Went to Phil's and it was packed. Looked like a good time but loads of spring break-ers made it tough to even get a drink. Also grabbed a quick grouper sandwich at Dockside Dave's but it was very over-fried. We were there around 9, and I think they close at 10 (?) so I figured it was just an end-of-day kind of thing.

                      Should have mentioned that we had a couple good margaritas at Bongo's but we didn't eat there.

                      Last spring I went to Frenchy's and enjoyed it.

                      1. re: kittychow

               you really did try to hit the recommended places. It's funny, as a local I kind of forgot how maddening it can be to hit these places at the busiest times. I tend to go in the summer, on off nights. So sorry for your frustrating experience!

                        1. re: kittychow

                          I'm pretty sure that Bongo's has been closed for about a month now - must have been one of the neighboring places.

                          Also, permit me to join the Never Eat At Crabby Bill's Again club!

                      2. re: kittychow

                        You ask: "Is this no hotel restaurants a FL thing?"
                        Please don't equate hotel restaurants on St. Pete Beach with the rest of Florida. Every area of Florida has its good and bad hotel restaurants. Good is Maritana Grill in the Don CeSar on St. Pete Beach the rest are mediocre because they cater to the average tourist. Crabby Bills as I said previously is definitly for the tourists and we do not eat there unless I have a request from visiting friends.

                        1. re: patken

                          gosh. you came all the way to florida to eat at durango's?

                          1. re: Tandoori Girl

                            Fortunately for me the restaurant that used to be the neighborhood Durango is now Pho Quyen ; )

                            1. re: Tandoori Girl

                              I came all the way for sun and spring training baseball. So the trip was very successful on that note. Traveling is always a chance to find some dining hidden jewels. I just didn't hit the right time and places on this trip.

                    2. re: HeatherFL

                      on the rules above: my qualification "at least most of the time" stands. The hotel rule works especially well for me because I'm normally uninterested in "fine dining." I understand there are decent eateries in hotels, but eating in a hotel is pretty risky, especially when one considers the prices. Before prohibition, many of the best restaurants resided in hotels. Prohibition more or less crushed fine dining for a number of reasons. The hotel dining rooms soldiered on and became reather embarrassing. I couldn't believe it when my father stayed on Clearwater Beach years ago, his hotel sported a Waffle House. I've got nothing against WH, but in a hotel?

                      the notion of chow rules fascinates me. I don't think my "rules" are perfect for everyone, but they serve me well. and they can always be broken.

                2. Ddin't see the recs your received, but before we moved here we stayed at the Sirata - nice place, good beach bars - but didn't even think to eat there. You were just a few blocks from Snappers, a great place for fresh seafood and the best restaurant in SPB, IMO. Beverly's LAs Croisette, a diner about 10 blocks north of Snappers, has good, hearty, and reasonably priced breakfasts. Habana's, over the causeway in Gulfport, is a good cuban joint, and there's also the Black Palm in Pass-A-Grille. Think of those places the next time you're in SPB.