So they aren't 100-year-old business blocks in the old neighborhood, where everyone has known the butcher's family for years, but they aren't malls either.
And they may be the last, best hope for finding bakers and other providers of real food. It's where small entrepreneurs can find space, and sometimes the veteran butchers and bakers who moved south are there, too.
The Nibbler and other urban foragers don't sneer at strip centers. Reading their tiny signs carefully, we find:
Racine kringles. Those foot-long rings of buttery Danish beloved in Wisconsin still come out of the ovens of the Bakery on 49th Street (4620 49th St. N, St. Petersburg; 727-527-3557) although Klaus and Phyllis Pfaadt have sold the business. New owners Rich and Jennifer Gogolen have kept the kringle recipe, bauernbrot and rye breads while adding cookies, cakes and more pastries.
Cajun sausage. Need real andouille, Tasso ham, gator sausage, chaurice and boudin (pork or crawfish) for an Emeril recipe? Try Jay's Marketplace (3618 49th St. N, St. Petersburg, 727-528-0707) where Jerry Szkoruda brings in the good stuff from Poche's in Breaux Bridge, La.
Szkoruda, who also packs his own olive relish, was a regular at downtown St. Petersburg's Saturday market and now stocks spice mixes, nuts, fudges and pickled peppers of fellow market vendors in the store.
Lobster ravioli. Plus take-home roast meats, family-sized dinners and affordable entrees will be on the menu now that the Ravioli Co. leaves Hyde Park for a location that's bigger and more convenient to Pinellas County (3413 S Manhattan Ave., Tampa; 813-254-2051).
The mainstay is still a mix-n-match selection of pastas and sauces, but more of them. Dwight and Lauren Otis (both formerly of Antipasto, Next City Grille) promise more handmade ravioli and fresh pasta made with carrot and beet juice, squid ink and such, cut to order from angel hair to fettuccine, plus chef-quality stocks and sauces made from game and veal reductions.
Old-world kielbasa and head cheese. Dunedin's European Delicatessen (2676 Bayshore Blvd., Dunedin; 727-734-1197) makes a full range of Polish and German sausages, plus lunch meats, fresh and smoked.
Tampa Bay bouillabaisse
Depite the odds, the local menu shows some improvement, and Orlando's tourist zone continues to draw big hitters.
Mexican seafood. Costalegre Mexican Seafood (624 S Missouri Ave., Clearwater; 727-447-0084) takes over a tiny place that once served American breakfast in the morning and tacos at night. Now it will muster a long menu with a list of ceviches made with shrimp, octopus, oysters and crab, plus seafood soups, fried whole red snapper and lobster, as well as fajitas, enchiladas, tacos and such. Prices run from $4.99 to $22.99.
Artisan Italian for Mickey. Star chef Melissa Kelly, of Old Chatham Sheepherding Co. in upstate New York and Primo in Rockland, Maine, brought her mix of rustic Italian and American boutique produce, breads and cheeses to a Primo in the Disney resortlands last month. If you want to taste prosciutto and fig pizza, or grouper with fennel-fava stew, you'll have to go to Mouse Country.
Since Central Florida lacks the range of artisan producers Kelly had in Maine, she'll rely on her own organic garden planted in the grounds of the new 500-acre, twin-hotel Grand Lakes Orlando resort (almost 1,600 rooms).
Kelly's co-owner is renowned pastry chef Price Kushner. Running the kitchen at Primo Orlando (4040 Central Florida Parkway, 407-393-4444) will be Kathleen Blake, from the high-end organic Restaurant Nora in Washington.
Kelly's Primo will crown the dining at the JW Marriott, while the neighboring Ritz Carlton features Norman's from Miami, opening later this month under the watch of chef Norman Van Aken.
Armadillo migration. Mark Peloquin, who won fans in Spring Hill for inventive cuisine at Armadillo Cafe and then sold the restaurant, has headed south and landed on the Pinellas beaches.
Peloquin and partner Chris Lamia, formerly of Beef O'Brady's in Spring Hill, relocated to Tropical Grill (19455 Gulf Blvd., Indian Shores; 727-595-4088) and moved the menu from beach-bar fare to a much wider spectrum. It runs from burgers and burritos to the likes of sesame-crusted tuna steak with ginger mushroom cream. Prices run $5.95 to $15.95.
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 email@example.com