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Munching at the Crocodeli

The neighborhood restaurant serves up food from different cultures to an appreciative audience.

By THERESA WILLINGHAM
© St. Petersburg Times
published June 16, 2002


CARROLLWOOD -- Tucked in an ivy covered corner of the Bourbon Street shopping village on the corner of Ehrlich and Hutchison Roads, the Crocodeli sits, a down home neighborhood deli and multi-ethnic restaurant.

A bright green, grinning crocodile on the front window beckons. Inside, owners Souzan and Gamil Bekhit of Northdale grin as they greet the customers they call friends.

A daily parade of theater and dance school staff, students from neighboring performing arts schools, nearby business people and devoted regulars frequent the Crocodeli.

They stop in for espresso and baklava, for gyros, crab cakes, hot Cuban sandwiches and yellow rice and beans, for ice cream and iced tea and fruit smoothies. They stop in to say hi, to check in on Souzan and her sons, Alfred and Sandrou, who help her run the deli.

They stop in just to chat, the easy rhythm of conversation mixing with the aroma of gyros and coffee.

The Bekhits, originally from Alexandria, Egypt, bought the Crocodeli when they moved to Tampa from New York two years ago. They remodeled the deli, added ice cream and some new desserts with a Mediterranean twist to the menu.

"It's mostly the same menu," says Souzan Bekhit, who does all the cooking. "But most of my customers say it's better."

A group of students from the nearby Curtain Call theater troop in, hungry for cold drinks and snacks.

They know her by name. A few have accounts and are trusted to repay the cost of sodas and candy bars each week. They crowd into a booth. Most are devoted acting students. The theater is their second home, the deli their third.

The Crocodeli is closed on Sunday, the day of Curtain Call's productions. Bekhit has never been able to see a show. She fondly recalls one afternoon when a group of Curtain Call students in full costume for a show came banging at her back door.

They came, she says, "Because they said Souzan never gets to see the shows."

Time slows inside the cozy restaurant, lulled by the comfortable hum of coolers, coffee makers and conversation.

"I don't have money," Souzan reflects, looking out the window. "I don't have a lot of business. But I like the people. I love everyone here and I feel the love from everywhere."

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