BRANDON — It's date night, but before you start driving to South Tampa or St. Petersburg for unique food and entertainment, consider staying in the Brandon area. Though southeast Hillsborough may be known for its strip malls and farms, there's plenty of fun nights out to be had if you just look past the obvious.
Prices might not be as low as they were in the good ol' days, but these options are cheaper than the competition.
• Grab a soft-serve cone or a thick chocolate milk shake at Campbell's Dairyland on Parsons Avenue in Brandon. Then head down the road to Oakfield Lanes for a couple of games of bowling. Or jump on Interstate 75 and go to the Ruskin Drive-in on U.S. 41 for a double showing. It's only $5 a person, and homemade concessions are a steal compared to megaplex fare.
There's no skyline in Brandon, but that doesn't mean you have to forgo big-city style. Leave that minivan behind and go out for a sophisticated night on the town.
• Get dressed up and head over to Della's After Dark. On Thursdays through Saturdays, Della's Delectables on Oakfield Road is transformed into classy dining establishment with upscale fare. For drinks, head over to Joia Fabulous Pizza and Martini on Gibsonton Drive in Riverview. In addition to Italian food, this Riverview restaurant features a large bar and rooms for private parties.
Want to jet off for a getaway but don't have the vacation time or cash? Try an exotic night filled with tasty food. With a little imagination, you'll feel like you're in another country.
• Try the Taste of India on Brandon Boulevard. The food is spicy, and the menu is huge. Tone down the curry with one of their many types of naan bread. They also have a full bar with unique mixed drinks. Or head to Thailand with some pad see-ew from Jasmine Thai on the corner of Providence and Lumsden roads. The relaxing atmosphere will make you feel miles away from the traffic outside the restaurant's doors.
There's so many outdoor activities in southeast Hillsborough County that tourism officials are leading national writers through the area, hoping to get the word out. But before out-of-towners catch on to the regional beauty, consider moving your date to the daylight hours.
• Rent a kayak for two and paddle leisurely down the Little Manatee River. Canoe Outpost in Wimauma will provide the equipment — just bring the picnic. There's plenty of places to pull your boat up and eat in peace. Or leave a little later for a romantic sunset charter. You Name it Charters in Apollo Beach will tailor your charter to your interests, whether it's snorkeling, fishing or just relaxing.
Learning can be fun, and maybe even romantic. Enjoy a night trying a new activity or honing a skill (doubles tennis, anyone?).
• For fine dining and some added skills to boot, go to the Rolling Pin Kitchen Emporium in the Brandon Crossroads plaza for one of their classes. They offer couples cooking lessons and wine tastings. Choose from presentations or hands-on classes and learn how to roll sushi, cook Chinese food or host a dinner party.
Jessica Vander Velde can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 661-2443.