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The Nibbler: Pete & Shorty's finds a comfortable niche

By CHRIS SHERMAN, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 17, 2002


Sliders, fried hot dogs, loose meat and egg cheese sandwiches, creme soda floats and small beer for $1.35. What more could an ordinary Joe -- or George (as in Steinbrenner) -- want?

Sliders, fried hot dogs, loose meat and egg cheese sandwiches, creme soda floats and small beer for $1.35. What more could an ordinary Joe -- or George (as in Steinbrenner) -- want?

Throw in a ziggurat, that zigzag shape you can still find on old small-town garages that became taverns, and you've got the formula for Pete & Shorty's Tavern, the new idea from the happily lowbrow crew that thought up Hooters. Four years after they built the first, a recreation of a beloved Iowa bar down to the Smilin' Jack cartoons, they opened the second in Tampa (716 N Dale Mabry, Tampa; (813) 870-6176) early this year. It packed them in -- including the boss of the Yankees himself -- during spring training and continues to do enough business to confirm that Pete & Shorty's is a keeper.

There's clearly a nostalgia appeal, but mostly Pete & Shorty's makes good on its promise of being a friendly joint, with a big bar and the nutritionally incorrect food many of us don't see anymore. Yet you don't feel like you're in a theme park or a sitcom. And you won't feel like you're in Hooter's either. Waitresses were attractive, good-humored -- and fully dressed.

The menu goes beyond sandwiches and fries to include a pretty good grilled shrimp-stick appetizer and full meals from hot turkey with mashed potatoes, a steak and nightly specials (brats and kraut on Monday, shepherd's pie on Thursday). There are even vegetables of a sort, iceberg wedgie salads, green beans and corn.

That make it a concept with an antitheme. It's waiting to be come a chain and, barkeep, I think my friends and I are ready for another one.

Spatulas across the bay

Crossing Tampa Bay daily, I'm aware that old rivalries and jealousies ride the bridges between Hillsborough and Pinellas. Plenty of smart restaurateurs with expansion dreams use them eagerly, and they are not reluctant to profit in two area codes.

While Tampa sometimes considers itself the restaurant capital of the region, a closer look shows a pretty even balance of trade in restaurant locations. Some haven't survived crossing the water, but here's an informal count of those that made the crossing:

To Pinellas from Hillsborough: Besides the Columbia, the Beef O'Brady, Shells, Taqueria Quetzalcoatl and Westshore Pizza chains, downtown St. Petersburg has a branch of Ybor's Ovo and soon south Tampa will send Cellini's pasta and pizza to Pinellas' Gateway area and Evos new-age fast food to Fourth Street.

To Hillsborough from Pinellas: Going the other way and not counting Hooter's and Pete and Shorty's, there's Ballyhoo in Citrus Park and Pappas in New Tampa, plus Lucky Dill, Bread and Butter, Lonni's and City's Gourmet downtown. Carrollwood now has Street's Delicatessen, owned by Jo-Els of St. Petersburg.

New in town

International Plaza has one more round of restaurants. Blue Martini, the Palm Beach purveyor of trendy apps and $8.95 noveltinis, is stacking them up inside and out at Bay Walk.

On the ground floor of the mall proper, you'll find the first Florida branch of Todai, a high-end Japanese seafood buffet that got its start in the Asian communities of Los Angeles. The bar is 160 feet long with 50 kinds of sushi; all you can eat prices for adults run from $12.95 to $14.95 at lunch, $22.95 to $23.95 at dinner. Kids' prices determined by height.

C-store treat

One of the most delicate flavors I know, pistachio, has gone to the devil. Pistachios are the latest snack food in the hot trend to cross the border and pick up some chili. The jalapeno pistachios I found at RaceTrac changed color too: no more rosy pink or pale green-gray. These guys are bright powdery green. They taste surprisingly of fresh green chiles, not just fire. Too unsubtle for me, but the jalapeno does keep you from eating the whole bag at once.

- Food critic Chris Sherman writes about dining and restaurant news in the Nibbler. He can be reached at (727) 893-8585 or by e-mail at sherman@sptimes.com.

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