North Shore Park and the downtown St. Petersburg skyline.
For years, I’ve heard that St. Petersburg’s downtown waterfront parks were the third largest contiguous bunch in North America, second only to Chicago and Vancouver, B.C. Turns out, it may be a stretch. Read the story published in the Tampa Bay Times at http://bit.ly/13tBEli.
Regardless of how the story came to be, no one can argue that our waterfront parks play a major role in the quality of life for we ‘Burgers, and in attracting folks to our lovely town. As a matter of fact, I was honored to be part of a group that over the last year has created the Downtown Waterfront Parks Foundation, for the sole purpose of raising funds to augment the city’s budget to beautify and enhance our jewels. We’re hoping that all of us who enjoy the parks as our “front yards” will support the cause, so that we can continue to have the most beautiful waterfront parks in the land!
With Chef Tom Pritchard at the Dali Museum
I had the pleasure to attend the Salvador Dali Museum‘s latest “Our Town” series of conversations with notable St. Pete residents (“mythmakers,” they’re referred to) with Chef Tom Pritchard. They call him a “local culinary rock star and stuff of legend.” If you’ve ever had the pleasure to visit with Tom, you know they’re right on. Most known as Executive Chef at Salt Rock Grill and Island Way Grill, Tom has varying levels of involvement in many, many other culinary ventures. He’s a fixture around town, and an absolute delight to swap stories with. He never runs out of them!
I’m thrilled that St. Pete has become a “foodie” town, with interesting new restaurants opening all the time to complement those that have made their lasting mark already. In addition to chefs who have developed locally (many who have enjoyed Tom’s mentorship), we’ve had several accomplished chefs move here recently to add to the culinary landscape. People ask me all the time what my favorite restaurant is, and I can’t answer – there are so many wonderful choices that it totally depends on my mood.
I asked Tom at the forum a similarly broad question – what’s the best thing he ever had, or would want to have if he could only have one thing. With no hesitation, a smile on his face and a twinkle in his eye, he told us a story about a paella made in Mallorca, Spain – with fresh rabbit and baby octopus pulled right from the sea. Tom has lived all around the world and has rubbed elbows with some of the most interesting people you can think of, yet he chooses to call St. Petersburg home. I like that.
- Yellow flags and sidewalk specials tell you it’s the Sunrise Sale!
One of the most interesting special events we have in downtown St. Petersburg is the annual Sunrise Sale. This year marked the 38th annual event, which is put on by the Downtown Business Association. It started as a way to drum up business in the slow summer for merchants along Beach Drive, and to give them an opportunity to turn their stale or damaged merchandise at rock-bottom bargain prices.
It starts at 6:43 a.m., traditionally on a Thursday in July, with doorbuster specials that reward the early birds. For the past several years, there has been a pajama party theme, with several participating businesses serving as collection points for children’s pajamas and books for The Pajama Program
, which distributes them to needy children. In addition to retailers with great sales, restaurants like 400 Beach Drive Seafood & Tap House joined the party, with a fantastic $4.00 breakfast special!
I have fond memories of the Sunrise Sale going back over twenty years now – some stores long gone (remember The Straw Goat and B. Chandler’s?), with new favorites to take their places. As we get more retailers back into the downtown core, the Sunrise Sale is a great way to get folks downtown and shopping!
Since my family moved here in 1986, the Lobster Pot restaurant in Redington Shores has been one of our favorite special occasion venues. We’ve celebrated birthdays, graduations, anniversaries and milestones there, enjoying the best lobster in town and arguing over whether the lobster bisque or the escargot were better (we usually opted for both, or at least shared among ourselves). Over the last few years, though, we didn’t find the same level of quality, and we went less and less. We were heartbroken to lose a place that we could count on for consistency.
But last night, the new owners of the Lobster Pot (about a year now) hosted the Bay Area Concierge Association, of which I am delighted to be a member. I was impressed – with the makeover of the space, the quality of the service, and the quality of the food. We were treated to the perfect sized samplings of a variety of dishes, including jerk shrimp, escargot (of course), medallion of beef tenderloin, salmon, sea bass and even a little lobster tail. To cap it off was a layered tower of key lime dessert that was perfectly flavored and light. The service was outstanding, and I was pleased to recognize some familiar faces from over the years.
The new lounge offers a nice area if you’re waiting for a table, or to enjoy a meal if you’re solo. I highly recommend that you try it if you’ve never been, or that you give it another try if you haven’t been in a while. Check out their web site, and have a look at my photos (it seems I like to photograph food more than anything else).
This morning marked the debut of weekday breakfast hours at Cafe Alma in downtown St. Petersburg! I’ve long been a fan of their Saturday & Sunday brunch menu, but I’m thrilled to have another choice (and a more upscale one) for regular breakfasts on other days.
Tuesday mornings are when my Mom and I take time away from the office to have breakfast (we’re determined to try all the places that offer breakfast in the ‘Burg). So, we were delighted that Alma’s debut was on a Tuesday!
The menu includes some of the favorites from the weekend, but some more basic breakfast fare as well. I get stuck in a rut with the chorizo & cheese omelet most times, but the “ham & cheese omelet” caught my eye this morning – not your ordinary ham & cheese, it’s made with Canadian bacon and white cheddar (one of my favorites). It was cooked perfectly and so delicious! Mom had the traditional eggs benedict, which she gave high marks to – the hollandaise sauce was right on, the eggs were cooked perfectly, and they even found an English muffin to exchange for the Southern biscuit (she’s a Yankee, after all!).
It was a dreary, rainy day outside, but the atmosphere inside was warm and welcoming, as usual. Give them a try for breakfast, or anytime!
Among my favorite things to do is visit the Saturday Morning Market in downtown St. Petersburg. What started out small on a single block of Central Avenue has grown into a huge market, now taking up the entire parking lot of Progress Energy Park (Al Lang Stadium, for those of us who have lived here more than a few years).
It’s wonderful to see all the interesting wares, fresh produce, live music and delicious foods that the market has to offer. (I even did some of my Christmas shopping at the market this year.) Even better is to see lots of folks walking around downtown. After the market, many people meander along Beach Drive or towards Central to brunch or lunch at their favorite spots.
In the summer, the Market takes shelter in the parking lot of the Mahaffey Theater. It was remarkably cool and shady when I went last before the market returned to its primary location. I’ll look forward to that spot for a change of scenery when the weather changes.
We’re fortunate to have award-winning beaches here in Pinellas County. Among them is Fort DeSoto, a national park with miles of sandy white beaches, biking trails, campsites, and much more, not to mention the actual fort.
My brother and sister-in-law used to camp there every Thanksgiving weekend. I know many people who go there to fish on the pier, to ride bikes along the trails, or to have special picnics in the covered shelters.
Yesterday I attended a beach wedding there. It was nippy and windy, but still gorgeous, with blue skies and bright sunshine. Along the way to the pavilions, I saw folks in bathing suits along the way, soaking in the rays. Cold is relative, I guess!
Some folks like the crashing waves of the Atlantic coast, but I like the calm waters of our Gulf of Mexico. It’s just like the rest of our area, a little laid back and comfortable.
Sometimes we forget what we have already. Last night was one of those reminders. The Bay Area Concierge Association was hosted by Jo Jo’s in Citta, a mainstay for comfortable Southern Italian food since 1991 in downtown St. Petersburg. As we are inundated with exciting new restaurants that grab all the attention, we need to remember those great places that have been around.
Jo Jo’s sits at the base of Bank of America Tower, with its main entrance on Central Avenue. It’s a warm, casual environment with an excellent menu.
Last night, we were treated to meatballs & sausages, a Penne alla Vodka that was to die for, a beautiful salad that looked like it should have been a postcard, bruschetta and sinful garlic knots. (Take a look at the pictures if you like.)
The best part, though, was when the owner & chef (Jo Jo’s nephew) sat down and joined us – he’s Italian, after all. I have fond memories of Jo Jo from when I was in college. He cooked a meal at his home for my roommate and I – more food than you could imagine, and all of it amazing.
So, as we celebrate all of the wonderful new cuisine options we have, don’t forget about old favorites that you can always count on. Check out Jo Jo’s menu and see if there isn’t something you’ve been meaning to enjoy.
It’s wonderful to live in a city with waterfront parks and warm weather! This Friday we kick off the holiday season (although the street decorations are already up!) with the annual lighting of the tree in Straub Park in downtown St. Petersburg. The park transforms into a glittering wonderland that’s just something to see. Plan an evening downtown at one of our great restaurants along Beach Drive or Central Avenue, or wherever you like.
From the City of St. Petersburg’s web site, www.stpete.org, here are the details: Nov. 27 – Holiday Tree Lighting and Park Activities.
N. Straub Park, Beach Dr. and 5th Ave. N.E. 5 to 7 p.m. Come out to celebrate the holiday tradition of the Mayor flipping the switch and lighting the holiday tree with Holiday lights across the waterfront. Activities begin at 5 p.m. with holiday entertainment featuring The St. Petersburg Community Band, Gulf to Bay Chapter, Inc. Sweet Adelines and Radio Disney. Blanket Seating and concessions available.
5 p.m. Mayor Baker’s daughter – Julann Baker performs; 5:15 p.m. – Gulf to Bay Chorus – Sweet Adelines International perform; 6:15 p.m. – St. Petersburg Community Band plays; 7 p.m. – Mayor Baker switches the LIGHTS ON!! and the Community Band plays during the closing ceremony. Festivities continue with the Holiday Movie in the Park. 727-893-7441.
It’s hard to believe that it’s been three years since Steve Westphal and Chef Tyson Grant opened the Parkshore Grill at 300 Beach Drive in downtown St. Petersburg. I had the pleasure of joining the anniversary festivities last evening, including complimentary wine and hors d’ouevres. Ironically, I was with the same friend who I shared the grand opening event with! There were plenty of folks enjoying the balmy evening, strolling between Parkshore and its sister restaurant, 400 Beach Drive Seafood & Tap House, which was also sharing in the celebration.
We stayed for dinner at Parkshore, where the bar and dining room were packed and lively. I decided on the Beef Wellington, which is truly authentic and rich, in my humble opinion. I wasn’t disappointed! I love having such a great restaurant just a half block away from my office. I’ve always felt that their menu offers a great deal of variety, in a great variety of price ranges, too.
I’m looking forward to seeing how Steve’s next venture comes together, The Hangar Restaurant & Flight Lounge at Albert Whitted Municipal Airport. If you haven’t dined at either Parkshore or 400 Beach, I encourage you to do so, especially on a day when you can sit outside and enjoy our beautiful downtown waterfront parks.