Progressive dinners divine in Dunedin, Gulfport, Seminole Heights

With the concentrations of dining options we have in the bay area, a progressive dinner is something that is not only possible, but a lot of fun and a great way to try several establishments in one meal.  We set out to see how plausible it was with excursions to Dunedin, Seminole Heights and Gulfport. But there are other places you could try: downtown St. Petersburg or Tampa, Pinellas beaches, Town 'N Country. Anywhere that there are three or more restaurants worth trying.  For the following itineraries, each meal was for a party of two, and the prices include tax, tip and some food that isn't mentioned. The timing reflects the time it took from arriving at the first place until we finished dessert, including all travel in between.

Jim Webster, Times food critic

FIVE TIPS

1. If you can find a number of places that are within walking distance, that's preferable.

2. Places that specialize in small plates work best. You can make a meal of nothing but appetizers.

3. Try to avoid nights when a promotion is going on.

4. Pick a place to have a drink, but drink water at other stops. Even tea or soda can drive up the price of a bill quickly, especially when there are several stops.

5. Small parties are better. With just two people, you can usually grab seats at the bar and order off the menu, even if there is a wait for tables.

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GULFPORT

WHERE AND WHAT WE ATE:

We start off at O'Maddy's, where we sit outside and watch the sunset over the water while eating honey-bourbon gator bites and drinking cold rum-based cocktails. We then walk up to Backfin Blue, sit at the bar and have a bowl of the puree of corn and crab chowder. Impeccably fresh meat on top of the chunky chowder, it is as good in June as it is in the middle of winter. From there, over to Bellini's Mediterranean Grill, where we learn it is half-price tapas night (a Thursday). Inside is packed, so we sit outside and have patatas bravas, spicy fried potatoes served in a spicy aioli, and pulled duck flatbread, a length of crust covered in slow-cooked duck with goat cheese and sweet onions. For dessert, we go to Isabelle's at the Peninsula Inn for coffee and housemade key lime pie.

HOW LONG IT TOOK: About four hours. The half-price tapas crowd slows us down.

HOW MUCH IT COST: About $80, a number held in check by those same half-price tapas.

DUNEDIN

WHERE AND WHAT WE ATE:

First stop is the Chic a Boom Room for martinis. From the list of sweet concoctions, we try the Creme Brulee, which is a mix that includes vanilla vodka and hazelnut liqueur, and a Razzhattan, with bourbon and raspberries. With that, a bowl of garlic chips, which come with a goat-cheese-based dip. It's a short walk to Sea Sea Riders, where we have conch fritters and tempura grouper cheeks. The conch is tender, and the lightly fried cheeks are glazed with a sweet soy glaze. On to the Living Room on Main, where we snag a couple of bar seats in the crowded room and order broiled artichokes, a tagine of mussels and a plate of braised hoisin pork shanks. After taking some time to digest and discuss dessert options, we find ourselves at Strachan's Homemade Ice Cream shop, and suddenly I'm staring down a waffle cone full of coffee ice cream. Luckily, Strachan's is right across from Chic a Boom, so the car is right here.

HOW LONG IT TOOK: A little less than three hours. Parked once and walked everywhere, easily. Main Street is built for this kind of dining. It would be easy to do another progressive dinner here with an entirely different roster of restaurants.

HOW MUCH IT COST: About $90.

SEMINOLE HEIGHTS

WHERE AND WHAT WE ATE:

Occupying a gentrified garage, the Independent is our first stop, for a beer and an appetizer of soft, warm pretzels with a spicy mustard dip. Our drinks are a seasonal draft — ask what's current — and a coffee for the driver. Then we go a block up Florida Avenue to the Refinery, where we are happy to pick anything from the ever-changing menu. For the purposes of this trip, that includes a spicy housemade andouille sausage with dirty risotto and a mushroom pate. The menu will be different when you go, but confidently order anything. A short drive over to Nebraska Avenue and we are at Ella's Americana Folk Art Cafe, where we get the tuna cracka' stacka', which is hard to say with a straight face, but is a nice take on tartare. We also can't resist a piece of the chocolate-covered bacon before heading to our official dessert around the corner at Taco Bus. There we have the tres leches and the flan.

HOW LONG IT TOOK: A little more than three hours. Slowed a little by the fact that we had to drive from place to place.

HOW MUCH IT COST: About $100.

Progressive dinners divine in Dunedin, Gulfport, Seminole Heights 01/18/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, January 19, 2011 9:26am]

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