Let's face it, there's nothing like spring training: glorious weather, intimate ball parks, the chance to play hooky from work, maybe down a beer or two in the afternoon sun. It can be grueling. So here are three unassuming but popular dining spots to fortify yourself before a game, places where you'll likely run into others in a similar frame of mind, and maybe even a player or two. Expect a crowd.
Tom Scherberger, Times staff writer
>> Mom's Place | New York Yankees
This is all you need to know: The Boss was a regular. "He used to eat here five days a week,'' Peter Berdos says of the late Yankees owner George Steinbrenner. "A wonderful man.''
Steinbrenner always took the corner booth in back, ordering corned beef hash for breakfast, or the open-faced roast beef sandwich with gravy for lunch. He liked the roast beef so much he would have it sent to his South Tampa mansion. One time, Berdos' wife didn't recognize the guy who came to pick up his order. It was Reggie Jackson.
Autographed photos of big-name Yankees cover the wall behind the register. Last week, five pitchers came in for lunch, Berdos said, and Yankee fans lined up out the door. Many out-of-state customers are such loyal spring training regulars that Berdos gets them tickets ahead of time.
It's not just the location, less than a mile from Steinbrenner Field, that draws fans but the hearty, freshly made food, including Greek dishes like spinach pie, gyros, lamb shanks, roast chicken and diner classics like the aforementioned roast beef and gravy. Berdos will add corned beef sandwiches to the menu during spring training as a nod to the crush of New York fans.
Mom's Place: 4816 N Dale Mabry Highway, Tampa. (813) 875-2670.
m Lenny's | Philadelphia Phillies
Phillies fans have lined up at Lenny's for decades, even more so since spring training games moved to Bright House Field a few hundred yards away. Seats from the old stadium accommodate the crowds outside. Inside, autographed photos, jerseys and bats of Phillies players line the walls. A long counter fills one wall in the back and booths fill two rooms.
A wait is common most weekends, and inevitable any day the Phillies and their fans are in town. A hand-written sign warns: "Please be very patient, we will seat you eventually.'' Every breakfast comes with a bowl of five different pastries — and a plastic bag in case you can't finish them.
You can stick with diner classics — pancakes, omelettes, myriad versions of eggs benedict — but consider some Philly faves like scrapple or Taylor ham (pork roll to you Philly natives). The former is made of various pork parts (don't ask), ground with cornmeal, shaped into a loaf, sliced and cooked on the griddle, while the latter is like a dense baloney, cooked the same way.
Lunches are just as hearty, and instead of pastries you get table relish like pickles and marinated beets.
Service is efficient enough that your coffee cup will never empty, and friendly enough to patiently guide you through the gargantuan menu.
Lenny's: 21220 U.S. 19 N, Clearwater. (727) 799-0402.
Iris's Grill | Toronto Blue Jays
Dunedin's Main Street is blessed with excellent restaurants and bars, but none have what Iris's offers — a view of Knology Park across the street. This time of year, Iris's is wall-to-wall Blue Jays fans, many of them Canadians drawn by the low prices and homey ambiance. There's really nothing Canadian about the menu — hey, some poutine would be nice — but you'll find plenty of Blue Jays fans dig into half-pound hamburgers or smothered chicken.
A week before games started, fans flocked to the place and waited outside the park for autographs. The week before, "the place was full of Jerry Maguires,'' said server Shaun Schlenkerman. Translation: agents doing deals on cell phones.
Breakfast is served till 11 a.m., except on weekends, when it goes till 2 p.m. There are daily specials — hamburger soup on Thursdays — and classic comfort food like sloppy joes.
Game days are so crowded that regulars come after the first pitch at 1:05, said manager Kathleen Musa. That's when the place empties and the locals take over.
Iris's Grill: 234 Douglas Ave., Dunedin. (727) 734-0779.