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Now you know about a couple of our “destination” restaurants during our recent Florida trip. In this installment, I will talk about the final two Florida specialties we were determined to enjoy.
Have you ever had smoked mullet? If not, there’s only one place I know of that does it right. That place is Ted Peter’s Fish House in South Pasadena, FL. South Pasadena is in Pinellas County and is adjacent to St. Petersburg (between the city and the beach).
Believe it or not, while growing up in St. Petersburg, I hated (or thought I hated) fish. The only thing I would eat that came out of the water was shrimp. For a while, I wouldn’t even go into the water in the Gulf or Bay because a school of small fish had rushed through my legs when I was quite little. They scared the poo out of me at the time. Yes, I got over that, but didn’t get over “hating” fish until I met Ted Peter’s smoked mullet. What a wonder. Flaky fish with just enough smoke that ate more like “meat” than what I had always considered fish. No strong fishy taste. Just delicious smoked morsels in every bite (do look out for pin-bones, though). If I hadn’t learned about fish from Ted Peter’s, I may have never learned the joys of grouper (see previous post).
Ted Peters was featured on “Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives,” but more for their terrific burgers. I’ve had the burger there – it IS special, but the real specialty is the smoked fish. You can have the mullet (my favorite), mackerel, or salmon. The main thing to remember is to come hungry. They serve a huge plate full. The fish comes with pickle, lettuce, tomato, onion, cole slaw and a small bowl heaped full of delicious German potato salad. They also have smoked fish spread that they serve with crackers. This is good enough to make a meal out of.
The final local specialty I really was wanting was a Cuban sandwich. Even before the troubles of the late 1950s and early 1960s, the Tampa Bay area was a destination for Cuban émigrés. Tampa had a thriving cigar industry (and still does). The classic Cuban dishes started to become widely available after the large influx due to the difficulties in Cuba. My particular favorites are “Spanish Bean Soup” (garbanzo), black beans and rice, and Cuban sandwiches.
Since we really didn’t have the time to travel to Ybor City, we looked for a place closer to find a Cuban sandwich. We’d seen a big crowd at a bar across the street from Sloppy Joes, so we thought we’d check it out.
Ricky T’s is exactly the kind of bar/grill I used to go to (as a local) 30 years ago. Every age group was represented and it is completely laid-back and fun. We went for lunch, so the crowds hadn’t started to gather. They serve an excellent Cuban. It’s not quite as authentic as one found at either the “Columbia” or in Ybor, but it was pretty darned good. The bread was authentic and they pressed it properly. Jim got a fried grouper sandwich. Again, the fish was about twice the size of the bun, fresh and delicious.
While not a destination at the time, we were introduced to a new favorite by our dear friends Richard and Julie Lilly. Caddy’s on the Beach is on Sunset Beach and is one of the last, true beach bars in the area.
We went to Caddy’s for breakfast. I wondered how good breakfast could be in a beach bar. I should have had more faith. The coffee was really hot and fresh. The food was plentiful, delicious and inventive. While we were there, people started getting very excited about several dolphin who were cruising right along the shore. One of them was in an especially exuberant mood and was leaping clear out of the water.
We didn’t do too badly for only being in Florida from Friday noon until early Monday morning. Most of the time was spent attending the reunion and with friends; but we still found time to see a few birds and dolphin and to check off all the restaurants / foods on our “bucket list.”