Join our food critic on a rambling Saturday Morning Market feast

ST. PETERSBURG

It's populated by dogs in strollers, dogs in Baby Bjorn-like front packs and toddlers only too willing to cede the whole stroller thing to the four-legged. In its seventh season, it has moved one block to the Al Lang Stadium parking lot, at First Avenue S and First Street. It runs from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. from early October to late May.

It is St. Petersburg's Saturday Morning Market, and I aimed to eat my way through the whole thing. I wiggled the booty a little during a couple of Celtic tunes performed by the exuberant Empty Hats band, perused the veggies at Front Porch Produce and the fat sea scallops and shrimp at Fisher Seafood, and counted seven wire-haired dachshunds, several in embarrassing outfits. Must stay on mission, though. Enough lollygagging.

Greatest Bargain: A two-way tie, they work fairly well together. At the Fresh Squeezed Juice concession you can get a ginormous cup (Styrofoam, alas) of just-squeezed juice for $2.25, the halved fruit eviscerated while you watch in a bit of Rube Goldbergery, their essence a heady sweet-tart balance. A couple of rows away, Flat Top Tacos will heap a handmade corn tortilla with crunchy shredded cabbage, a scoop of grilled flaky white fish, squiggles of adobo aioli, cilantro and a wedge of lime. Major deliciousness, a little drippy, $3.

Most Subtle Sophistication: Paciugo, the Beach Drive gelateria, makes a lovely iced coffee. Don't let the big flavored Coffeemate squeezers throw you off the trail. For $2.50, you're handed a quenching but intense cup of cold joe, and only halfway through it do you realize that those slowly melting ice cubes are, in fact, frozen coffee. Nice touch.

Most Flavor for Free: Sure, the hot sauce vendor can make the cartoon steam whoosh from your ears, but a little complimentary spoonful of Jerry Szkoruda's New Orleans-style olive salad gets the saliva flowing.

Consider it the Saturday Morning Market's amuse bouche.

Most Sinful Splurge: There's a lot of bustle at the Crepesville booth, someone making the crepes, someone spreading the goo, someone taking the orders. Tell them you want the banana Nutella (a hefty $5) and another person starts slicing banana while the goo-spreader slathers on the lush hazelnut-chocolate sauce, folds the crepe in quarters, adds a rosette of whipped cream and hands it over with a flourish.

Tricky to eat with a pliable plastic fork, but necessity is the mother of invention when Nutella is involved.

Best Conscience Balm: Find the man in the safari-worthy pith helmet hawking something called Motsapie. Really South American arepas ($3 or four for $10), these are 4-inch yellow cornmeal disks sandwiching oozy mozzarella and topped with a flurry of powdered sugar. On my visit they were tasty but a teeny bit dry, easy to ignore when I found out the profits from Motsapie are donated to a migrant support project in Wimauma.

Quickest Route to Satiety: The turkey leg guy might have been a contender for this had it not been the turkey-fatigued weekend after Thanksgiving. Instead, Rosita Cruz's goods at Empanada World, especially the beef ($4) and the sausage/egg/cheese ($4) eat like a meal, the former nicely flavored with an almost Argentine piquant and mildly spicy filling, and the latter chock-full of gut-sticking sausage.

The consummate professional, after dispatching those empanadas, I went on to sample Ricky P's tasty jambalaya ($5), MNM BBQ's competent pulled pork sandwich ($5, points off for the pedestrian hamburger bun) shooting longing glances at those dog strollers.

Laura Reiley can be reached at lreiley@sptimes.com or (727) 892-2293. Her blog, the Mouth of Tampa Bay, is at www.blogs. tampabay.com/dining. Reiley dines anonymously and unannounced. The Times pays all expenses. Advertising has nothing to do with selection for review or the assessment.

Saturday Morning Market

First Avenue S and First Street, St. Petersburg

Open from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturdays from early October to late May

Admission is free; food $3-$10;

parking $5

Join our food critic on a rambling Saturday Morning Market feast 01/01/09 [Last modified: Monday, January 5, 2009 4:13pm]

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