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Happy hour food specials to smile about

The term "happy hour" may or may not have been invented in the 1920s in the U.S. Navy as a description of slightly booze-addled on-ship performances. Or it may be a Prohibition by-product, referring to an illicit predinner speakeasy foray. Either way, after a Saturday Evening Post article in 1959, the term became broadly used to describe postwork, bargain-priced food and drink specials at restaurants and bars. You know, two-for-one, all-you-can-eat and keep the peanut bowl filled. Lots of places in these parts offer sweet summertime drink specials during happy hour, but we combed the area for good deals on accompanying snacks. Some people swear by the free chips and salsa in the bar at Chili's, others the popcorn melange (where wasabi peas meet M&M's) at Beak's Old Florida in St. Petersburg. Here are a dozen other good finds.

Laura Reiley, Times food critic

Summertime and the living's, um . . . well, maybe not this year. But there are still some places that give you something for nothing. Who says there's no free lunch?

Here's a Creole deal: Weekdays between 4 and 7 p.m., Chappy's Louisiana Kitchen offers a free buffet with a rotating cast of snacks. Usually three items at a time, you'll find their signature jambalaya, marsala meatballs and maybe spring rolls or a light summer salad. 247 Central Ave., St. Petersburg; (727) 896-5118.

Head to V's Martini Bar at Vincenzo's Restaurant each Friday night from 5 to 8 for what they call their Megamixer networking singles party. Everyone gets a complimentary cocktail and grazing rights at the free buffet: classic Italian dishes like chicken marsala, eggplant Parmesan, toasted ravioli and wood-fired pizzas. 2454 McMullen-Booth Road, No. 209, Clearwater. Call (727) 726-7952 to reserve a spot.

Jackson's Bistro gets the weekend started right with a free Friday buffet from 5 to 7 p.m. Carving stations of beef and ham, three hot dishes (wings, little chicken cordon bleus and such) and a gorgeous fruit and cheese platter keep the Harbour Island nightspot hopping. 601 S Harbour Island Blvd., Tampa; (813) 277-0112.

Ranked among the "Top Ten Sports Bars in the Country" by ESPN Cold Pizza, Hattricks offers 35-cent wings weeknights from 4 to 8 p.m. And they're good ones, a pile of bones rising quickly atop the bar. 107 S Franklin St., Tampa; (813) 225-4288.

Cooters, with its large open bar and wide, salubrious outdoor deck, mixes it up a little, offering 50-cent oysters, shrimp and wings from 4 to 6 p.m. daily. Then there's a late happy hour with $7 pizzas and $3 chips and salsa from 10 p.m. to close. 423 Poinsettia Ave., Clearwater Beach; (727) 462-2668.

In honor of national hot dog month and the "dog days" of summer, Frankies Hot Dogs is offering a happy hour special of two-for-one dogs (and $5 pitchers of beer) weekdays from 3 to 5 p.m. And for those who feel a bit gloomy on Mondays, there's a $1 burger deal from 7 to 10 p.m. 909 W Kennedy Blvd., Tampa; (813) 425-3647.

With like-minded generosity, on Tuesday nights it's $1 burgers at Bar Louie. Also, there are tater tots, a match made in heaven. The cool urban-industrial interior and long beer list add enticement. 2223 N West Shore Blvd., Tampa; (813) 874-1919.

Zack and Jennifer Gross have downtown St. Petersburg smiling with a range of new happy hour options from 3 to 7 p.m. daily at Z Grille. In addition to a dollar off all martinis and tap beers, selected $5 glasses of wine and $10 off any bottle, you can get the addictive Dr Pepper fried ribs and several other appetizers for $5, and the signature deviled eggs for $1. For that price, you may start thinking of Cool Hand Luke. 104 Second St. S, St. Petersburg; (727) 822-9600.

It's some tricky math, but Fleming's Prime Steakhouse recently launched a "5 for 6 till 7" deal. That's five full-sized appetizers, five cocktails and five glasses of house wine, all for $6 each until 7 p.m. daily. The best appetizers include a lush jumbo lump crab cake with red pepper coulis and a beef carpaccio with punchy mustard sauce, both effective accompaniments to a basil lemon drop martini. 4322 West Boy Scout Blvd., Tampa; (813) 874-9463.

Ceviche designates Tuesday the evening for bargain hunters, with a more focused menu of a selection of their 100 hot and cold tapas, offered for $4 each. Spanish tortilla, fried eggplant, pate and other classics can be accompanied by $4 glasses of sangria (usually $6). 10 Beach Drive, St. Petersburg; (727) 209-2302.

At La Maison Gourmet, Tuesdays and Thursdays bring all-you-can-eat pasta for $6 and four little shareable burgers for $9. 471 Main St., Dunedin; (727) 736-3070.

Marchand's at the Renaissance Vinoy Resort and Golf Club recently launched a new ceviche bar menu, served from 5 to 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday. For $6, sample shellfish ceviche with scallops, clams and mussels; cobia ceviche with peanut butter, chili and cilantro; or corvina ceviche with radish and oranges. There also are wallet-friendly $6 dishes like mofongo made with plantains and braised pork or smoked white fish with tomato and fennel-herb crostini. Can't decide? For $12 you can try three. 501 Fifth Avenue NE, St. Petersburg; (727) 824-8072.

Happy hour food specials to smile about 07/01/09 [Last modified: Thursday, July 2, 2009 7:35am]

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