For 23 years, Tangelo's Grille was a go-to lunch spot in downtown St. Petersburg. In fact, around the cubicles I've been associated with for the past decade, an invitation to lunch was presumed to mean Tangelo's unless another place was specifically indicated.
But 23 years only goes so far in this climate. Owner Lisa Brennan says that when her lease was about to expire on the First Avenue N location, she was confident a new deal could be reached. Then a letter came telling her the rent would double. That started a search for a new home that ended in Gulfport.
In a lot of ways, Gulfport is a great fit for Tangelo's, and vice versa. The bright hues of the exterior downtown would seem to have been a perfect fit in the unbuttoned-down area of Beach Boulevard, and the Caribbean-infused menu a complement to what was already one of the bay area's better concentrations of dining options. And the continuous loop of reggae concerts on the DVD player makes a lot of sense when you can see the beach from the patio.
So, what changed? Well, the walls are a more muted shade of yellow. More appetizer and dinner entrees have been added to the menu; Beach Boulevard is more of an after-hours destination than lunch.
But that's a shame, because Tangelo's still has lunch down. It's all sandwiches, but it's all good. There is a traditional Cuban ($5.50), then variations without ham, with turkey, or with fish ($5.50-$7.50). But my favorite always was, and remains, the mole chicken ($7). Thin cuts of white meat are sauced and put on a length of bread. Sound simple? Sure, but that sauce is spicy, sweet and complex. Mole is often described as a chocolate-chili sauce. That oversimplifies it: It isn't about the chocolate, and it isn't about the chili. Done right, you shouldn't be able to discern the individual components. And regardless of what it is mixed with, it is the star.
Among the burgers was an interesting conch option ($7.50). It's put together a bit like a crab cake, but the conch has more texture and there was a little bit of spice going on with the other ingredients. The patty is soft, so good plan serving it on a soft roll.
Most of the sandwiches come off the menu at dinnertime. There are entrees available, but kinks are still being worked out there.
We tried the Mole Chicken ($14) and the Cuban-style Pork dinners ($13). Both were piled on tremendous platters with a couple of plantains on one side, a simple salad on the other. A healthy portion of black beans and rice took up the middle, along with the meat. The chicken is a split breast, but very thin and a little dry. It's probably the same cut as on the sandwiches, but there was only a hint of the mole. And it could be an illusion, but there seemed to be more chicken on that mole sandwich than on the platter. With the roasted pork, the meat was not consistent, which is hard to figure with a slow-cooked meat like that. Most was nicely tender and moist, but some was tough and dry.
A couple of appetizers stood out. The coconut-pumpkin fritters ($5) were dark rounds of fried dough that tasted a little like Thanksgiving at the beach, a creative combination that works. The yucca fries ($4) were pretty standard, except for the dipping sauce. It was a sweet-heat salsa that had us taking little tastes to see if we could figure out the ingredients. We couldn't. We asked but were told that the recipe is a mix of "some stuff." Fair enough. But if I were guessing, I would say mango and habanero were involved.
For dessert, Brennan makes cupcakes ($1.25 for mini, $2.75 for large). The selection depends on what she has made that day and what's still available. We tried a couple of chocolate options: one caramel-toffee topped, and another iced with mint. And would again.
There is a decent selection of microbrews, and wine is limited to red, white or sangria. One of our visits was on a cold night, and when we were asked what we wanted to drink, we were offered off-the-menu hot apple cider. Never realized how well hot apple cider pairs with Caribbean fare.
Jim Webster can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8746. He dines anonymously and unannounced. The Times pays all expenses. Advertising has nothing to do with selection for review or the assessment.