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Six 50-somethings seek taste of Florida in Tampa/Clearwater

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Six of us from around the country, one a chowhound from New England, are coming to Clearwater for a meeting - for most it is their first time in Florida. We have two dinners to arrange, and are looking for something characteristically 'Florida' that one would have a hard time finding elsewhere. We are sort of past the bar-scene age, and we don't get together often so we need a place where we can sit around a table and have a good conversation, not have to shout above a crowd to be heard, and have reasonable service (i.e. not take-out or self-serve)..

The first things that jump out at me from some of the other threads on this board as 'Florida' are the seafood (grouper, stone crabs, conch, other?) and Cuban/Caribbean, but some restaurant that represents modern cuisine well or traditional food too would be good candidates as well. We're all fairly adventurous eaters in both food and venue, and price, while a factor, is not a major factor.

I'm thinking one night a somewhat casual restaurant within 10-15 miles of Clearwater, and a second night at a more special place, anywhere in the Greater Tampa area; one doing seafood well and the other, well, maybe something different, or it could be fish again. Are stone crabs in season? Is that a mallet-pouinding fun experience or is it mostly a lot of work for a little food? Is grouper mostly a sandwich special?

Here are some of the places I was thinking of, based on some other threads here.:
Casual, near Clearwater:
Frenchy's
Ceviche
Guppy's
Salt Rock Grill

Something more special:
Columbia in Ybor City (Cuban, but not sandwich?)
Bern's (is this a don't-miss only for big steak-eaters?)
SideBern's (any local connection here?)
Mise en Place (menu too big to do it well?)
Is the Kitchen Bar up and running anywhere?

Any thoughts on these or other recommendationa?

Thanks

Q

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  1. Ted Peter's Smoked Fish in St. Petersburg is a local institution. The place to go for smoked mullet and fish spread.
    http://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurant...

    1. In regards to your Clearwater picks, I'd do Frenchy's for lunch. It can get loud and the tables (original location) are cramped for 6. The location on the beach has bigger tables, but the noise level can get high too.

      I'd go to Guppy's for dinner. Food & service has always been very nice and the atmosphere is what you are looking for in terms of comfortable catching up.

      1. I like all the Clearwater picks. Agree with meatn that Frenchy's can be very loud in the evening.

        Salt Rock has a nice outdoor tiki like setup where you can have drinks.

        1. Re Columbia, they are Spanish/Cuban, not really Cuban. I don't think their food is anything special (my parents are Cuban so I'm pretty familiar with the food). If you eat there ask for a table near the Flamenco dancers, they put on a nice show.

          It's not as nice a restaurant but I prefer La Teresita in Tampa for Cuban food. Plus it's cheaper, really all Cuban food should be inexpensive as it is peasant food.

          1. You can't miss Middle Grounds Grill in Treasure Island (a little bit south of Clearwater) for the best stone crab claws in the state (I like them even better than Joe's Stone Crab in Miami) and some of the most imaginative seafood dishes in Tampa Bay. Mise en Place is "can't miss" as well, and the Happy Hour at Sidebern's can't be beat. If you haven't been to the Harry Waugh dessert room in Bern's yet, it's a can't miss. Hope you enjoy your time here!