ST. PETERSBURG — Look around the walls of the new Trip's Diner and you'll see wonderful black-and-white historic photos of St. Petersburg. Maps and other Florida ephemera adorn the tabletops
Owner Gordon Stevenson sourced Florida postcards, maps and local brochures from eBay, but the photos are prints made from the Hillsborough County Library system's nearly 15,000 Burgert Brothers photos. Go to burgert.hcplc.org and you can search by subject and year, a quick walk down memory lane. But a visit to Trip's does the same trick more deliciously.
Stevenson, an alumnus of both Louis Pappas and Rio Bravo restaurants, named this first solo project for his own "trips" — triplets John, Will and Libby, now 14. He took over the space vacated last year by Dave's, a beloved but somewhat dilapidated diner, and set to work. Roof, electrical and restrooms all got some serious elbow grease, and a new lunch counter with stools and all-new booths were added to the restaurant, which opened in March. What hasn't been lost in the transition is the nostalgic, breakfast-all-day, honest American diner feel. Stevenson says he fine-tuned the menu to "eliminate the veto vote." Translation: It's a something-for-everyone lineup of salads, sandwiches, classic diner entrees and even pastas and fish.
But where Trip's seems to hit its stride is with its sturdy, egg-centric breakfast fare. This fact has not escaped St. Pete diners, because already Trip's is standing-room-only on weekend mornings. Service may also account for the newcomer's magnetic appeal: There are a couple of servers on staff who really seem to care if you like the food, have enough coffee, need more of anything. They keep an eagle eye on their tables, circle back around without hovering, drop the check at just the right time. It made me pause to think about how seldom I have had that experience recently while dining out.
There are cheaper breakfast places in town. But on a recent breakfast foray, Trip's represented good value. A Mr. Crabs omelet ($9.99) brought a three-egger with fresh spinach, chopped tomato, shreds of Asiago and clumps of fresh crab incorporated into the beaten egg before it set up and got folded and flipped plateward. Accompanying it were excellent buttery-oniony disks of home fries and a flaky housemade biscuit with a range of jam choices. The priciest thing on the breakfast menu (all right, there's a six-egg omelet for $10.99, but that's the kind of dish that requires a friend or an intervention), it was generously portioned, with a nice range of colors, textures and flavors. Build-your-own omelets ($5.25-$7.39) can be constructed of a wide assortment of cheeses, veggies and breakfast meats.
House pancakes ($3.59-$6.29) are big, favoring the sturdy, versus the fluffy, school, while an order of bacon ($1.99) brings two strips of super thick-cut, carefully cooked (not too crisp, but still all the fat rendered), applewood smoked sinfulness, the kind that goes a long way toward explaining bacon's ongoing cult status. Cheese grits — grains suspended in a creamy, cheesy, perfectly salted warm porridge — is another food that has had its day in the sun and is expertly rendered at Trip's ($1.59).
For when breakfast isn't doing it for you, the house wings ($4.99 for six) are juicy and flavorful (although even ordered "hot," they won't blow the lid off anything) and the boneless fried chicken (breasts only, $7.99 for one, $9.49 for two) features a crisp exterior and moist meat within. Still, I'd love to see a dark meat option, and, despite the additional challenges of eating, bones provide flavor to the finished meat.
Of the sandwiches, the standouts are a riff on a Philly, a roll tucked full of sliced ribeye, sauteed onions, peppers and mushrooms with a mantle of drippy provolone ($7.49), and a "BST" ($6.99), a tasty but hard to eat combo of bacon, fried green tomato and spinach with a little basil mayo adding sophistication.
As with any self-respecting diner, there's a dessert case stacked with pies and cakes. None are made on the premises (pies are Mike's out of Tampa), but one night's coconut cream cake was a doozy, rich and sweet and densely coconutty. Pure nostalgia, which about sums up what Stevenson has achieved with Trip's.
Laura Reiley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 892-2293. Reiley dines anonymously and unannounced. The Times pays all expenses.