Imagine you're one of 15,000 delegates who parachuted into Tampa for the big Shriners convention. You've had your fill of meetings and meals served to round tables of eight. You're hungry and want to stretch your legs and check out the town. But you don't have a car and don't have a lot of time. * Where to go? * Greek, Italian, Mexican, Thai. Downtown boosters say take your pick. * But if the idea of walking more than 10 minutes makes you sweat, we sympathize. It's August in Florida. If it's not hot, then it's raining, or threatening to. * So we've put together a list of some noteworthy places, by food type, within a comfortable walking distance of the Tampa Convention Center. Emphasis on "comfortable," because we're of the belief that just because a restaurant is downtown doesn't mean it's within walking distance. — By Susan Thurston [email protected]
Hattricks (4-minute walk): Chicken wings, burgers, meatball grinders, fish and chips. You get the idea. This hockey-themed sports bar is a straight shot up Franklin Street and packs in downtown office workers on lunch breaks. At night, it becomes a neighborhood bar for watching games and talking sports over a cold one — and rooting for the Tampa Bay Lightning during hockey season. The menu is so big, you might want to come back twice. 107 S Franklin St.; (813) 225-4288; hattrickstavern.com.
Champions (3-minute walk): Unwind after a day of Power Point presentations with a trip to this sports bar inside the Marriott Waterside Hotel. Aside from the biggest TV screens for miles, Champions has a pool table, air hockey, darts and Golden Tee. The menu has everything from sliders to turkey wraps to chicken caesar salads, but at premium hotel prices. Uber sports fans will love the display of actual stadium seats and other sports memorabilia. 700 S Florida Ave., (813) 221-4900.
Soul Food Court (5-minute walk): At the request of the Shriners, local lawyer Jeraldine Williams-Shaw is cooking up soul food in Cotanchobee Fort Brooke Park, between the Tampa Marriott Waterside and the Tampa Bay History Center. Look for barbecued chicken and ribs, collard greens, yams, chicken and rice, pig knuckles, peach cobbler and sweet potato pone. The makeshift food court will serve three meals a day from Friday though Aug. 19 for conventioneers and anyone else looking for some soul.
Jackson's Bistro (4-minute walk): This waterfront bar and restaurant at the Westin hotel has all the traditional sushi plus a bunch of chef specialties, from the Happy Sumo Roll to the Buccaneer Roll. Sit inside with the A/C or on the patio, with its great views of the Convention Center and Tampa General Hospital, with its busy helicopter pad. Ask a bartender about the pirate ship docked in the distance. There's a pretty wild story attached to it. 601 S Harbour Island Blvd., (813) 277-0112; jacksonsbistro.com
Primo's Delicafe (6-minute walk): Daily lunch specials, cafe con leche and free Wi-Fi make this nondescript deli a worthwhile escape from the convention chaos. Look for it amid all the red brick and trees that make up the Tampa City Center esplanade. The tree canopy actually makes sitting outside tolerable. And with lunches for less $7, you can't beat the prices. Too tight for time? The deli offers free delivery, but watch the clock. The deli closes at 3 p.m. and serves yogurt until 4. 101 N Franklin St.; (813) 221-3354; primo2u.com.
Columbia Cafe (9-minute walk): Get a taste of Tampa history without taking the trolley to Ybor City. This outpost of the famed Columbia Restaurant in the Tampa Bay History Center serves devil crab croquettes, guava cheesecake and, of course, the 1905 Salad, a must for any visitor. Be sure to grab a paper placemat, which has the recipes for Spanish bean soup and yellow rice and chicken. On the way out, try a game of dominoes in the lobby or take a quick tour of the museum. 801 Old Water St.; (813) 229-5511; columbiarestaurant.com.
Jackson's Coffee Shop (4-minute walk): Cool off with some gelato or iced espresso from this corner nook of the Westin hotel, just off the Harbour Island Boulevard bridge. Ideal for people in a hurry, this walkup window serves sweets along with breakfast sandwiches, boxed lunches and personal pizzas. It's not the closest place for a java jolt (the Starbucks at the Embassy Suites is) but it has a big selection of coffee drinks, all of which can be served iced. 725 S Harbour Island Blvd., (813) 229-5000.