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Besting brunch

Missed out on reservations for that special Easter meal? Don't fret. Here are some ideas that can save the day.

Published April 13, 2006

[Times photo (2005): Scott Keeler]
Much of Tarpon Springs will celebrate Greek Orthodox Easter next week, so a visit to the Sponge Docks along the Anclote River might be a good Easter alternative.

[Times photo (1996)]
After relaxing on the beach at Pass-a-Grille, don’t forget to try the grouper sandwich at the concession stand.
[Times photo (2003): Dirk Shadd]
Instead of a traditional Easter meal at home or in a restaurant, try picking up some fried chicken and heading to the park for a good, old-fashioned picnic.

No room at the brunch on Sunday? Been turned away by that place with the milelong smorgasbord piled with pancakes, eggs, a huge ham, sushi and more shrimp than a dozen weddings?

No surprise. The most popular brunches were booked for the Easter crowd weeks ago. On other Sundays, the lines can be almost as bad. For many, breakfast or brunch out is as much a part of Sunday as church, football or the newspaper.

No reservations? No worries.

Sunday morning in April is still a glorious time to be up, out and celebrating. Here are 15 alternative strategies for brunch on the bunny trail.

Our favorite spots are outside, whether you go to Honeymoon Island or Picnic Island, to the beach or anywhere there's a picnic table in your neighborhood or back yard. Have an egg hunt for the kids and just plain enjoy Florida spring before the life heats up.

Our alternative brunch strategies will save you money and calories, but you'll still need to plan ahead a little. Call today to reserve a park shelter or order your takeout. If you're going to be outside, you may want to pack a change of clothes to spare your Easter finery.

1. Easter ham makes even better ham sandwiches: Just add a park. Buy a spiral cut ham from specialty stores or supermarkets they come in mini sizes. Pack up a jug of mustard, a loaf of bread, and pickles for a do-it-yourself brunch.

2. Cast your bread (and sandwich makings) on the water: Anything tastes better when you're on the water and out in the sun, even a Big Mac. Pick up chips and sandwiches at your favorite bait shop, a bag full of Cuban sandwiches, or steer a course for the Mickey D's pierside takeout at Madeira Beach.

3. Be a very early bird: If you're bold enough to brave a sunrise service, take advantage of your head start. Many family diners are already open for breakfast (some are open 24 hours) and you can have a pretty grand indulgence, eggs, waffles, ham and grits. At 9 a.m., you'll beat the crowd at Egg Platter, Waffle House, IHOP or Skyway Jack's.

4. Pretend you're on Spring Break: Take the family to the north access on Clearwater Beach, rent a cabana and while away the afternoon at Palm Pavilion or Frenchy's. Or head to Pass-a-Grille for a grouper sandwich at the beach concession stand.

5. Experiment: Find new spots that weren't on the brunch menu last year. Try Bella Brava in downtown St. Petersburg or Mitchell's Fish Market in Tampa.

6. Have a Buona Pasqua: Pick up colomba (Easter sweet bread), big chocolate eggs or rainbow cookies at an Italian grocery or bakery. Brew up a strong pot of coffee, chill a bottle of pinot grigio and bake a pizza or two. The ambitious can cook up asparagus and artichokes, the vegetables of spring; marinate them and serve cold.

7. Gimme that old-time picnic on the grounds: Let the Colonel, Church's or Popeye's cook up an Easter bucket of fried chicken. You load up on napkins, pretty tablecloth and iced tea, make some cole slaw and biscuits or corn bread. Put some gospel music on the iPod.

8. Go for an old rugged brunch: Barbecue places like Sonny's and Roger's or landmark independents such as Jimbo's in Tampa are made for families. Beware, barbecue sauce does not come in pastels. Or get the 'cue to go, change clothes and head to the country.

9. Take your Easter parade to the docks: Tarpon Springs will celebrate Orthodox Easter a week later, yet Sundays are always a grand time to stroll and eat along the docks. After lunch, you can hunt goodies in the bakeries.

10. Declare the Year of the Bunny: The rabbit won't show on the Chinese zodiac again until 2011, but go ahead and celebrate with an Asian-accented outing. For a picnic, buy a duck or smoked pork from an Asian grocery and a collection of small dumplings. Many Chinese restaurants are open on Sundays, so you can celebrate with dim sum or a family feast around a spinning lazy susan.

11. Enjoy fin de semana: Mexican groceries and restaurants often set out special spreads each weekend - big helpings of ceviche, tamales and, always, kettles full of menudo or pozole hominy stew. Expect a much bigger crowd for the holiday.

12. Pool families for a potluck: The more kids, the merrier the egg hunt. If you have several families linked through the kids' ball team, church or block, do it together by the pool or at the diamond. Follow up the spread and egg hunt with a few innings of all-ages softball.

13. Have an Old Tampa Easter: Switch from ham to lechon (whole roast pig) or pick up a tray of chicken and yellow rice on Saturday (it's even better after a day in the fridge).

14. Cruise back to the future: The dress code is different and the parking lots aren't full of green, but the family can get a kick out of going to the drive-in instead of the drive-through. At Sonic, carhops will skate up to your window; at Steak 'n Shake, the black and white tile and red booths will take you just as far back. Either way you can load up on burgers, and shakes in Easter pink.

15. A tisket, a multitasking grocery basket: Choose foods for your Easter spread from an unfamiliar or new grocer. A change of scenery can spur the imagination.

Chris Sherman dines anonymously and unannounced. The St. Petersburg Times pays for all expenses. A restaurant's advertising has nothing to do with selection for a review or the assessment of its quality. Sherman can be reached at (727) 893-8585 or

[Last modified April 12, 2006, 15:22:24]

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