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Beef is the summer special at these Tampa Bay area restaurants

Beef Magazine (I read it for the articles) makes it clear that this has been a humdinger of a perfect storm for beef prices. They've been at an all-time high because of a variety of reasons for months on end, and experts say they may rise higher still.

And that means consumers may be thinking about beef differently. That fancy rib eye? It's for special occasions only. Instead, consider beef as garnish, "lesser" cuts that require longer preparation time, or even alterna-meats. But darn it, according to studies, we still like beef. A lot. Despite sky-high beef prices, a number of local restaurants are launching new and affordable beef options on their summer menus. Here are a handful of our favorites.

Lee Roy Selmon's (17508 Dona Michelle Drive, Tampa; (813) 977-3287), and other locations) has launched a new seasonal menu lineup with a number of entrees priced at $9.99. The beefiest is the gridiron steak, a tidy 8 ounces seasoned simply with salt and pepper and paired with (all right, this was slightly more exciting) an ear of Florida corn that has been steamed briefly and then grilled, husk on, and sprinkled with chipotle and cotija cheese. My ear was a little oversprinkled, but the idea is a good one, the corn a super summery pairing with the smoky flat iron steak, a shoulder cut that in the UK is called a butler's steak and in Australia is known as an oyster blade steak. Bring floss and consider the two-for-one drink deals before 7 p.m.

Jack Kerr, longtime general manager of Bob Heilman's Beachcomber (447 Mandalay Ave., Clearwater; (727) 442-4144) has some regular customers recently returned from Washington, D.C., to thank for one of its hot new menu items. They were raving about something they'd had in our capital city: It was a shortrib hash, the tender strands of slow-cooked beef and cubes of potatoes capped with an egg poached delicately in thyme-scented olive oil. Huh, Kerr thought. We could do that. And he did, offering the dish as a special sometimes for the "2 for $28" (it's an early menu offered 4 to 5:30 p.m. weeknights and from 11:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Sundays — if you're dining solo, it's "1 for $14"). It's a welcome new trick from this beach stalwart, in business since 1948.

Short ribs have inspired Roy's Restaurant (4342 W Boy Scout Blvd., Tampa; (813) 873-7697) as well, as a spectacular new item on the summer "Aloha Hour" menu. A handful of small-sized happy hour nibbles and luscious Pacific Rim-inspired cocktails are on offer for $5 each from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. On a recent evening the bar was cheek to jowl with well-dressed business folks gabbing over drinks and snacks, the best of which were a drink called the 1988 (Finlandia grapefruit, lychee and Patron Citronge) and a trio of beef short rib tacos on what looked like fried taro shells, paired with a pile of spicy-tangy kimchee and a drizzle of spunky Gochujang chile sauce. These were accompanied by a little gratis bowl of seasoned edamame — together with a pair of martinis and the tacos, the bill rang out at just over $16. Not bad.

In Dunedin, Cafe DePaz became Mezze on Main (680 Main St., Dunedin; (727) 216-6222) in March when one of the original owners, David DePaz, was bought out by partners Jeff Wheaton and Sal Troiano. They've brought in Italian-born chef Alian Decka, who comes from stints at the Seminole Hard Rock and Armani's at the Grand Hyatt. He's kept the menu focused on easily shared Mediterranean small plates, but on Tuesday nights there's a Western European burger smackdown, with burgers hailing from Spain, Italy, France and Greece (think tzatziki, eggplant and feta), all offered for $13 with housemade fries. And although they have stopped serving lunch for the summer, a new weekend brunch has recently debuted, the broad covered patio alluring on a Sunday morning.

Fleming's Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar (4322 W Boy Scout Blvd., Tampa; (813) 874-9463) has launched a new menu served exclusively in the bar, which they have given the somewhat goofy name "Bar la Carte Menu." I'm not holding that against them. Already a big fan of the perhaps equally silly-named "5 For $6 'Til 7" bar menu, I was eager to try this new roundup, which includes salt-and-pepper shrimp with crispy fried green beans, a cedar-roasted mushroom and artichoke flatbread and a cool retro spin on meatballs ($9). These juicy prime beef spheres come swaddled in a creamy/spicy peppercorn sauce with shiitake mushrooms. Pair that with a crock of housemade burrata ($12, roughly where mozzarella meets ricotta) accompanied by toasts and charred cherry tomatoes, and you've got yourself a serious summer supper.

Laura Reiley can be reached at lreiley@tampabay.com or (727) 892-2293. Reiley dines anonymously and unannounced. The Times pays all expenses.

Beef is the summer special at these Tampa Bay area restaurants 06/27/12 [Last modified: Friday, June 29, 2012 11:15am]
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