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In my previous post, I talked about the birds and the sites we saw in two quick days in Florida. Now, I’m going to tell you about another part of our “bucket list” for the trip…restaurants.
Don’t know about you, but some of my fondest memories about growing up in St. Petersburg involve restaurants and (later) hang-outs. I’m willing to bet that there are places that you went to as a child or a teen that you still have fond memories of.
Sadly, one of my most favorite places is no longer. Aunt Hattie’s Restaurant was around for years and years. There were waitresses there, when I was a child, who told stories about Babe Ruth coming in with a large entourage for meals. Apparently, he’d always say he was paying, but he only had a $100 bill. You have to remember, that in those times, a meal wouldn’t be more than a couple of dollars and no restaurants would have change for $100. I guess the Bambino was always “comped.” Loved that story and the place. It was across the street from Albert Whitted Airport and near the Coast Guard base on Tampa Bay. When I was very little, it was a small place that specialized in “Chicken in the Woodpile” (chicken and dumplings). They also served the most amazing chocolate pie (never learned the secret – DAMN!) They had a small wishing well outside. Later there were several expansions and they started a small gift shop in the front (so people waiting for a table could shop – LONG before Cracker Barrel). A wonderful man named Kenny Jones was a woodworker who fashioned gnomes and elves for the restaurant’s garden. (Mr. Jones and his shop later did many pieces for Tampa’s Busch Gardens.)
Chattaway’s is still there! In my early 20s, a group of friends and I “discovered” The Chattaway Drive In (affectionately known as Chattaway’s). The owner, Everett, used to have a panel truck that he would use to pick up supplies that said, “Chattaway: You can’t beat our meat!” Seriously! You know what? Even after all these years, you still can’t. There are times that I get so homesick for a Chattaburger (their namesake burger) that I am almost ready to jump on a plane. Needless to say, the first place we headed from the airport was not the resort where we’d be staying, it was to Chattaway’s. (I taught Jim the wonders of the Chattaburger and the ethereal onion rings years ago.) There’s something so comforting sitting out on the patio eating THAT burger, onion rings, and quaffing a beer. I must say that they’ve really spiffed the place up quite a bit from the days when there were just concrete tables with benches, bar stools around the bar, and a few tables and chairs inside, but the food is still the same…WONDERFUL.
Another “must have” when I travel to St. Petersburg is grouper. Grouper is a delicate fish (which seems pretty strange considering the size and flat-out ugliness of the fish itself). I know that there are those who like grouper fried or blackened, but I think that’s near sacrilege. For me, the only proper way to eat grouper is broiled or grilled.
We both also had a hankering for conch fritters. For those of you who haven’t had the pleasure of eating conch, let me ‘splain. A conch is a large sea “snail.” Okay, don’t get grossed out. It’s the animal that comes in those beautiful, pink-lined shells that you see in photos being blown like horns. The meat is tough, so it needs to be chopped quite fine. Most fritters involve the conch, corn meal, onions, peppers, and celery. They’re truly delicious.
Lucky for us, we found Sloppy Joe’s – Treasure Island. This is the same team as the more famous Sloppy Joes found in Key West, Florida. Sloppy Joe’s is in one of the resorts on Treasure Island and is fairly well hidden from the front. However, they have a large, casual dining area inside, and wonderful tables on the patio overlooking the Gulf of Mexico and the sugar-sand beach of Treasure Island. They also serve a mean conch fritter!
The fritters came in a boat-shaped plate with an avocado remoulade. They were light, yet substantial with lots of good crunch. Delicious! I followed up with a grouper sandwich. The filet was day-caught fresh, perfectly cooked and huge! The bun was good, but the best part was that it didn’t get in the way of the fish. Appropriately, the fish was the star of the show. It immediately fulfilled my grouper “jones.” Jim had the grouper tacos. In that preparation, the grouper was fried into strips and added to tacos. He said they were excellent. All of the above was enjoyed with a couple of draft beers. Authentic (and extraordinary) key lime pie was dessert.
I can’t imagine a more beautiful way to end a great day and a wonderful meal than the sunset we were treated to. Here we were, relaxing on the restaurant’s patio, when the sun began to set and treat us to an incomparable Gulf-coast sunset. I must admit to being a bit of a “homer” when it comes to the sunsets in that part of Florida. What do you think? Isn’t this amazing?
Up Next: Our Trip to Florida (Finale) – Yes, more about food.