I didn't ask any specific questions on the board, but I researched postings over the last few months in preparation for my trip this past weekend to Tampa Bay.
As a result -
1) Had a fantastic super grouper sandwich at Frenchy's in Clearwater, quickly rocketing the fish to the top of my sandwich fish list :)
2) Ate a great meal at 4th Street Shrimp Company in St. Petersburg. A huge plate of fried shrimp plus sides for under $10 I believe. Very friendly service here (and at Frenchy's for that matter...)
3) Wonderful breakfast at Pane Rustica in Tampa. Basically made me weep over the relative value btwn such a meal and the amount it would cost in NYC. Lets just say I saw a sesame seed loaf for 50 cents that would have probably cost about $3.50 in Manhattan. Great atmosphere here too...
4) Very nice meal at Columbia in Ybor City. OK, it was probably a touristy place, but I'd eaten at the one in Sarasota years ago and still had memories of the black bean soup. The soup is still fantastic (served with vinegar (!) by the way) and the house salad is also amazing. I was a little disappointed with the main courses -- but I was also stuffed by that point and probably past enjoying them. If I went back, I might just get a couple more appetizers though rather than a main course or ask for Chowhound recommendations on good main courses there. I had the ropa vieja and my girlfriend had a kind of mixed grill sampler and I didn't think either were up to par with the first courses. The sangria and bread were both great though and the building is a treat in itself. Also note that although they said they couldn't give us a reservation until 9 pm, we walked in around 7 without a reservation on Saturday night and were seated nearly immediately.
5) Went to Oystercatchers for dinner our last night - only because we were staying at the Hyatt. Verdict - excellent service, beautiful view, comfortable room and sound levels -- food was the most expensive of the trip (~$90 for two including tax and tip). Nothing was particularly memorable. I tried the pompano since it was a local fish, but thought it was rather tasteless. The fish did come with a side of vegetables including some perfectly cooked and seasoned brussel sprouts, but it's probably a bit sad of the brussel sprouts were the highlight of the meal. Coming from NYC, I thought that Oystercatchers had very reasonable wine prices (several good choices under $6 a glass) so we had a nice glass of Chianti with our meal. My girlfriend again had a sort of mixed seafood sampler -- her scallops and shrimp appeared to be the best food of the evening. The bread here was also very good.
6) Finally, did try Ted Peters smoked fish place in St. Pete. This was probably the only real disappointment of the trip. It's pretty good value, but I can't honestly come away saying I like the smoked mullet. In all fairness, the waitress did warn us that it is a strong-flavored fish...which didn't sound bad, except personally I didn't think the strong flavor was a very good one. Lots of people were actually ordering the burgers and I would have liked to try one, but I was stuffed after sharing the smoked fish platter. Also we ate outdoors because the weather was nice, but it's probably nicer to eat indoors here since the restaurant's patio faces a very busy road.
So that's the scoop. Thanks to all those who post recommendations and reviews. We didn't get to go everyplace that 'hounds recommended, but that's only another reason to visit Tampa Bay again soon -- if not for the beaches, the museums, etc... :)
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