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Ybor finds: food, sweets and song

Little businesses with their own charm crop up and thrive - and they aren't bars.

By MICHAEL CANNING, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published April 12, 2002


THE CAT THAT LAUGHS LAST: It's been the little sliver of a storefront that could. The Laughing Cat restaurant on N 15th Street across from Tampa Bay Brewing Company barely has room for three tables.

But business has been so good, the Italian take-out joint will expand. Tentatively by the first week of May, it will open across the street in the old El Encanto cleaners building. The focus will shift to casual sit-down dining, with seating for around 40.

The menu will also expand -- 140 Italian, French and Swiss dishes, ranging in price from $8 to $150. Yes, live lobster plays a role in the high end of the range. Gelati and sorbet also will be made on the premises, and a wine list will be added.

Good and bad news for you Ybor tipplers who take advantage of the Cat's late hours for beer-absorbing pizza slices. Much of the takeout menu will remain. But the slices won't.

We gave up trying to figure out what Laughing Cat means. So co-owner Franco LoRe told us. It's simply the name of the cafe in Venice, Italy, where he picked up girls as a younger man. Only there, it's pronounced Il Gatto Cheride.

THE EMPLOYEES at Marble Slab Creamery don't dress like Dr. Frank-N-Furter. But if you go to Ybor's newest ice cream shop, you'll see what's on the slab. That is, your choice of homemade ice cream combined with your choice of toppings before your eyes.

A scoop or two is plopped down on the frozen stone sheet (which is actually granite), flattened out, and your picks from 50 fruits, candies or nuts are pressed, folded and spread right in.

The shop, which opened last Thursday in Centro Ybor next to Starbucks, also makes its own flavored waffle cones, ice cream cakes, frozen yogurt, and sorbet. It's one of 150 locations in a Houston-based chain.

A much more wholesome use for a slab, wouldn't you say Dr. Furter?

HAVING THE AREA'S highest density of nightclubs, it seemed a matter of time before a commercial recording studio and DJ store opened on Ybor's main strip.

Nebulous Records recently opened at 2021 E Seventh Ave. Inside, you can browse the refined selection of 1,500 trance, breakbeat and progressive house CDs and vinyl records.

Or you can aspire to see yourself in the very same bins. Nebulous can accommodate everyone from impulsive hacks to serious artists. Isolation booths are set up for the former. Choose a backing track from the store's selection of karaoke-styled discs, squeeze some of your friends in the booth with you, step up to the mic and let loose. You'll end up with a finished disc, for better or worse.

Nebulous also has a fully equipped professional studio, featuring a 32-track mixing board, a vocal isolation booth, and a host of synthesizers and electronic instruments.

Or if cutting edge dance music isn't your thing, you can just admire the way cool neon-lit clock up on the lobby wall.

NO TAKERS FOR THE SEABREEZE RESTAURANT: At least not yet. But Tad Humphreys, president of restaurant's owner, International Ship Repair, says they get calls everyday from people interested in reviving the Palmetto Beach landmark.

The 1929 restaurant on McKay Bay was last captained by local caterer Rita Carlino. It went out of business last fall, and has sat vacant ever since. Inside, the tables have remained eerily set, ready for a lunch crowd. Outside, the patio overlooking Port of Tampa looks derelict.

Humphreys said half the inquiries they get are "tire kickers," the other half credible enterprisers. He added that he'll consider any type of tenant.

"If they wanted to make a balloon factory, I wouldn't care," said Humphreys. But he admitted the restaurant's legacy best suits the building for restaurant use.

-- Do you know something that should be everybody's business? Call us at 226-3382, or e-mail citytimes@sptimes.com.

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