Pastor Willy's Blog - Complete Post
In just a few days we will have the privilege of welcoming and hosting our Florida Baptist family as we gather for our annual meeting in Clearwater. We’re really glad you’re coming. Now for something really practical. Where to eat? Yes, I know they’ll have other lists and you can Google places, but c’mon who are you really going to trust? I live here. So here are my top recommendations, because hey you gotta’ eat.
Lay of the land..OK, first you have to know the area. Here’s your crash course. Countryside Mall is a few miles north on US 19. They have tons of restaurants (B.J.’s , PF Chang, Red Robin, etc…). Even closer to the church is the area locals call the Clearwater Mall. It’s confusing since there really isn’t a mall there (used to be) but a large outdoor shopping area. It’s at the corner of US 19 and Hwy. 60 and you’ll find a bunch of chains over there (Smokey Bones, Chipolte, Panera, Carrabba’s, Mellow Mushroom, etc…) We like Newk’s, for a quick salad or sandwich. The downtown area of Safety Harbor is tucked away on Tampa Bay right around the corner from the church and it won’t be quite as crowded. There aren’t a ton of restaurants there but you’ll find a few. Crisper’s is a chain but one of our go-to’s for a quick bite. You can eat at the Safety Harbor resort and spa and there are some other places down the street like the Main Street Sandwich Shop. If you want to venture a little further away you can check out downtown Dunedin, which is pedestrian friendly and has lots of restaurants. It’s a fun date night and you always want to get ice cream from Strachan’s before you walk down to the bay for a stroll along the water (just trying to help you fella’s out). Tarpon Springs is a little further north but tourists love to visit the sponge docks and there are some well known Greek and seafood restaurants down there like Hella’s Restaurant and Bakery (Greek) and Rusty Bellies (Seafood). OK, that’s the lay of the land, now for some of my favorites.
Hog Island Fish Camp (900 Broadway, Dunedin) our buddy Walt Wickman is the chef and think of this as a cross between old Florida and casual creative gourmet. I don’t know if that’s even a category, but the shrimp and grits are killer and they say the Fried Chicken, which takes a little longer, is worth the wait.
The Saltwater Grill (Bar Fly, 100 Main Street #106, Safety Harbor) is right around the corner in downtown Safety Harbor. It’s your proverbial hole in the wall but the seafood bowls and sandwiches are really good. One of the best lobster rolls you’ll find in the area.
Frenchy’s (7 Rockaway Street, Clearwater) is the quintessential Clearwater experience. If you go to the beach you’ve got to go there. There are a several Frenchy’s now but this is the original. Order a grouper sandwich and some she crab soup. You’ll thank me later.
Café Ponte (13505 Icot Blvd. #214, Clearwater) is the spot for fine dining, and they are open for lunch as well. Christopher Ponte is the owner and chef and he and his wife Michelle are good friends who are involved at Calvary. He is renowned as one of the finest chef’s in Tampa Bay and this is a great spot for a fine meal.
Johnny’s (2907 Fl-590, Clearwater) is the neighborhood Italian spot. Nothing fancy here, just all the usual Italian favorites, but they do it right and it’s right around the corner from the church.
Villa Bellini (2930 Gulf to Bay Blvd., Clearwater) and Cesare’s (794 S Gulfview Blvd, Clearwater Beach) are two places for fine dining Italian. Cesare’s is on the beach but Villa Bellini is right around the corner from the church and open for lunch.
Whistle Stop (915 Main Street, Safety Harbor) is a casual spot, with mostly outdoor, patio seating. You’ll feel that “old Florida” vibe and they’ve got great food in a laid back atmosphere. If the weather’s nice and it almost always is, this is a great spot for a casual lunch.
Green Springs Bistro (156 4th Ave N., Safety Harbor) is a wonderful place tucked inside an old house in Safety Harbor. It’s one of our favorite spots, quaint, quiet, off the beaten path and the food is fantastic. They aren’t open for lunch.
Delco’s (1701 Main Street, Dunedin) is the spot for an authentic Philly Cheesesteak. Philadelphia and Clearwater have a thing going, since the Phillies make their spring training home here. Lots of Philly people spend the winter here and this is where they go to keep their Cheesesteak quota going.
Lenny’s (21220 US Hwy 19 N, Clearwater) is your perfect breakfast place, although they stay open for lunch as well. You’ll see the Philly influence here, but it’s the perfect breakfast spot for all your favorites and they bring a basket of homebaked danishes so you can load up on carbs and sleep right through the business sessions.
Glory Days Grill (34200 US-19, Palm Harbor) is a few miles north on US 19 but it is a great place for BBQ, burgers and normal American fare in a sports atmosphere. Our buddy and Calvary member James Hamilton is the manager there.
Columbia (1241 Gulf Blvd., Clearwater) is a famous Tampa Cuban restaurant. The original is in Ybor City and needs to be on your bucket list, however they have several locations throughout the state that are almost as good. The closest is on Clearwater Beach. Make sure you get the 1905 salad.
Finally, since this is a Baptist meeting, the closest Chick-fil-A is 2516 Gulf-to-Bay about 2 miles from the church.
OK, that ought to get you through the 3 days of convention. I know you won’t skip any sessions to eat out as that is certainly something I would never do…but, if for some reason you have some extra time, linger awhile, enjoy a west coast sunset at Pier 60 (it’s not Key West, but pretty close, craziness and all) and hopefully you enjoy some of these places as much as I have. If that doesn’t work stop by the house and we’ll fix you up a PB&J. We look forward to having you here and hope you’ll love our city half as much as we do.