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The Best of Tampa Bay, Part Two: St. Petersburg, Clearwater, Pinellas County Beaches, and Towns in-between

By Fred Bollaci

Across the bay in Pinellas County, let’s start in St. Petersburg, a city that has been totally transformed this past decade. Many Floridians are staycationing in “The Burg” and other inviting area towns, and have found it easy to spend a few days enjoying the great museums, including the famed Salvador Dali Museum, Museum of Fine Arts, and the Chihuly Collection, miles of white sand beaches, numerous recreational opportunities, and family-friendly atmosphere! Today, Pinellas County has earned its place as a foodie destination, complementing the culinary renaissance taking place in Tampa.

In “St. Pete,” the trendy Birchwood is the hip place to stay (enjoy the restaurant and The Canopy rooftop bar). Stroll to Annata Wine Bar, BellaBrava, Flûte & Dram (Champagne and caviar), Tropez St. Pete (breakfast/brunch) and Stillwaters Tavern. Try The Cider Press Café (raw and vegan), Red Mesa Cantina (Mexican) and Brick & Mortar (rustic New American). The Library has great New American cuisine in a gorgeous urban-chic setting. For an excellent “nosh,” visit Jo-El’s Kosher Deli. Italophiles will be singing “That’s Amore” after visiting Mazzaro’s, a huge Italian market known for its bakery and fresh pastas. My favorite for Italian in “The Burg” is Il Ritorno by Chef David Benstock. Try the 5-course tasting menu with matching wines. For Japanese, try Ichihoro Ane (Ramen), and Sushi Sho Rexley for sushi. The much-anticipated Lingr by Top Chef Jeffrey Jew, serves elevated Asian fare.

Two beautiful historic hotels are the Renaissance Vinoy®, overlooking Tampa Bay (Marchand’s restaurant), and The Don CeSar, directly on St. Petersburg Beach (try Maritana for dinner). Also in St. Pete Beach, Castile Restaurant and 360° Rooftop is a favorite for cocktails and dinner, as is Grace. La Casa del Pane is a lovely Italian-style café with wonderful bread and pastries. In nearby Gulfport, try cozy Pia’s Trattoria for Italian, and Backfin Blue Café (seafood). Locals enjoy BRGR Kitchen & Bar in the Treasure Island Beach Resort. Salt Rock Grill (Indian Shores) on the Intracoastal is a longtime favorite. The group owns a number of other great concepts throughout the area. In Pinellas Park, try Da Sesto (Italian), and Ha Long Bay for Vietnamese and dim sum. For French, Café Largo in Largo.

Clearwater favorites include Acqua Alta (Venetian), Bascom’s Chop House (steak), Cristino’s Coal Oven Pizza, Ken’s Sushi & Asian Bistro, and Felice’s Italian Deli. On Clearwater Beach, Caretta on the Gulf at the Sandpearl, the area’s most elegant hotel, is the place for brunch and dinner, overlooking the Gulf. For breakfast of lunch with a side of humor, try Lenny’s. For timeless American comfort food, visit Bob Heilman’s Beachcomber (1948).

Aside from the two largest cities, Pinellas County is a patchwork of charming towns and villages, each with its own personality. Throughout this busy area, you will find many diamonds in the rough. In charming Safety Harbor, Parts of Paris (French in a quaint cottage), and Nona Slice House and Pizzeria Gregario for their unique styles of pizza are tops. The Safety Harbor Spa is a relaxing place to stay and be pampered, overlooking Tampa Bay. Dunedin, known for its Scottish heritage boasts a lovely downtown, steps from the water. The Black Pearl is the most elegant spot in town, and The Restorative’s food resembles works of art. For cocktails, Sonder Social Club, Mexican, Casa Tina, and Bon Appétit is known for its spectacular waterfront location (dolphins, sunsets, and Continental cuisine).

Up the road in Palm Harbor, sweet tooths will love Strachan’s (also in Dunedin) with homemade ice cream and carrot cake. Mystic Fish, with roots in Bermuda (the famed Lobster Pot) serves great seafood (Bermuda Chowder with Gosling’s rum and spiced sherry). Golfers will love Innisbrook, a renowned golf resort (play the championship Copperhead course, and enjoy excellent steaks at Packard’s). In quaint Ozona, Molly Goodhead’s is a slice of Old Florida. The Lucky Dill is home to “the sandwich that ate Brooklyn,” bring your appetite, the Reuben’s are great!

Tarpon Springs, home to one of the largest Greek communities in the country is a smorgasbord for Hellenophiles. The downtown is a major tourist destination with shops, restaurants, and bakeries. Tarpon Springs is famous for sponges, which are found in local waters and sold in town. For dining, try Bayou Bistro, Hellas, and The Limani. In suburban Oldsmar, we love the contemporary American fare, tableside Guacamole, and S’mores at FlameStone, and Casa Coszenza for Italian.

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