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Restaurant review

Lenny's is a hit with hungry diners

The restaurant close to the Phillies' spring training field serves up breakfast and lunch all day, and lots of it.

By CHRIS SHERMAN
Published March 23, 2006


[Times photo: Scott Keeler]
Plenty of breakfast offerings fill up the wait station at Lenny’s in Clearwater during the breakfast rush before a home Philadelphia Phillies spring training game at nearby Bright House Networks Field.

Ignore the sign: "Zero Trans Fat Frying.''

Gotta love the Farrells for trying. This is a 50-year-old joint that's always up for something new. And plenty that's old.

The late Lenny Farrell made this a roadside legend. Under the rest of the family it still is, with a wall of corny plush animals and autographed photos. Service is classic too; friendly or crusty, they miss nothing. My cup was half full when a coffee pot appeared over the booth wall attached to the arm of a waitress who knew without looking. Didn't spill a drop.

Perhaps the sign is a crowd control device installed as a traffic safety measure. With U.S. 19 torn up it would be dangerous to post a sign that said "Grits AND Scrapple'' or "Three-egg pastrami omelets."

Lenny's best known bonus is "a bowl of danish,'' five pastries for each diner, okay small danish, from cheese to a cinnamon pinwheel, chocolate and so on. It's free with most breakfasts or $2.25.

Granted, breakfast out is always a feast of guilty pleasures, whatever your dietary guilt may be. Even so, Lenny's wins the title for open-handedness.

Lenny's true achievement is the ecumenical nature of the menu: one part country diner, one part Jewish deli, and a schmear of Philadelphia delicacies that would make Sylvester Stallone weak in the knees. In the late innings of spring training, the Philadelphia accent is heavy. Philly fans crowd the place before games a few hundred yards away. Might be worth walking to Bright House Networks Field. Even Bobby Abreu would have to play a doubleheader to work off a full Lenny's breakfast.

This marvelous pepper pot of cultures is served at lunch with the same generosity. By the way, where others brag of serving breakfast anytime, Lenny's does and serves lunch starting at 6 a.m.

Don't let me mislead you. Lenny's has salads, tuna wraps, fresh fruit, and turkey links for the spoilsports at your table. They'll have to settle for reading the menu, an overstuffed gem itself, far beyond sandwiches named for Marilyn, Frank and Nathan. Nods here go to family: Steve Hobbs Jr. and the waitresses honored with Gibson Girl images on a menu that includes "Glob of sour Cream 75 cents" and "P'sketties and meat sauce, $3.95." What's not to smile about?

Lenny's is not just for reading, as filling and slimming as that might be. The proof is in the eating, even if you must take a crowd (and get a take-home bag).

Other places offer soup and a half sandwich, but Lenny's deal is a triple threat: THREE half sandwiches in various combination, corned beef, pastrami and turkey stacked deli high on rye, and a crunchy brown potato pancake.

Two hearty eaters together won't finish the beloved potato knish made on-site, split grilled and heaped with pastrami. If we'd added sauerkraut and mustard I might have gotten through half of it.

A simple bagel sandwich, the Teaneck, had a scoop of perfect chopped liver, cucumber and onion (and as usual an imperfect tomato). Nostalgic flavors, even better with matzo ball soup. One cup had noodles, real chicken, thick broth and matzo balls suitable for golf. Beats a flu shot.

Breakfast is still the best. I had Pennsylvania scrapple on the side with, get this, a portobello eggs Benedict, with a smooth and woodsy Hollandaise that few chefs in town can touch.

Omelets are big and fluffy and best in a flat pancake with salami, pastrami or corned beef hash. Your inner Jewish-child will thrill to find matzo brei, an Eastern European technique to stretch eggs by scrambling them with wet matzo.

For lunch or breakfast, get a plate of home fries for the table, preferably the firehouse brand with chopped Greek peppers, hot sauce, tomatoes and onions. For deli fans, devotees of Jersey diners, and country biscuit lovers, Lenny's has it all, too much and not enough. Where's the whitefish salad, Jersey cheese steak, mullet and eggs?

Hey, you get Romanian pastrami or an egg cream plus a chance for the pickiest to say it's not as good as they used to get?

Not me. When a family keeps great American food traditions cooking, makes egg salad fresh and fills you up for less than $10, your plate is more than half full.

Plus, you get the Phillies for dessert.

Lenny's

21220 U.S. 19 N

Clearwater

(727) 799-0402

Hours: 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily

Reservations: No

Details: Credit cards accepted, no alcohol sold

Prices: $3.05 to $9.95

[Last modified March 22, 2006, 13:02:53]


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