Remember back in the early 1990s — when fine dining meant a trip to Tampa, the beaches, Clearwater or Dunedin?
St. Petersburg had few options.
I'm not talking grouper sandwiches here. Back then, there was a dearth of quality restaurants to enjoy an evening meal.
Dining out or even takeout after 9 p.m. on Sundays was but a pipe dream.
Oh my, how times have changed. Today, there are a host of options throughout South Pinellas.
And now, a new venture rolling around town intends to make "going out" to enjoy a meal at a favorite restaurant optional.
Food Now meal delivery service brings the restaurant to your front door.
"This area has been so receptive and our customers have been so loyal," said Tanner Loebel (pronounced label). "It's really been a win-win situation.
"It's always been a dream to me to open a business in my hometown," said the 2009 University of Central Florida graduate.
Launched four months ago, Food Now offers the service to 30 restaurants and has a growing base of 500 Facebook fans.
The service is offered east of 34th Street, from the Howard Frankland Bridge to Tierra Verde.
Here's how it works: After creating an account at 727foodnow.com, enter your ZIP code; select a delivery time and a restaurant from the list; choose menu items; preview the order; and then check out.
Menu prices are the same as a diner would pay at the restaurant, plus a delivery fee that ranges from $3.99 to $5.99.
Lunch and dinner orders are available, with Loebel and his crew of six taking a break between 2 and 4 p.m. Orders can still be submitted online for later delivery.
Some of the more popular restaurants among Loebel's customers are Sushi Rock Grill, Gratzzi, Cafe Vienna, Bowled, Champions BBQ, 9 Bangkok, Crowley's and Ferg's.
Plans are in the works to add restaurants and service to the Feather Sound and Clearwater areas.
The delivery service's arrival comes as new bars and restaurants are popping up downtown.
World of Beer (100 Fourth St. S), Pete's Wood Fired Pizza (344 First Ave. S) and the Avenue (330 First Ave. S) have opened in recent months, offering dining options late into the evening.
The Kitchen St. Pete will open soon at 200 First Ave. N, Suite 226. Chef J. Sean Squires will offer gourmet food with no frills prices, according to the new company's website, which is still under construction at kitchenstpete.com.
Squires isn't new to South Pinellas, as he has worked at popular beach eateries Island Way Grill and Salt Rock Grill.
"We're in the process of moving in all the equipment," said Matt Loyd, one of the partners. "We plan to open by mid March."
There's a lot in one place, including a cafe that seats 42; a patio that seats 120; and bar seating for 20. Add neighboring MacDinton's Irish Pub and Jannus Live and it's understandable why the new restaurant has created a buzz downtown.
"It will be the bay area's first true open-kitchen concept where customers will be able to see the entire operation at work," Loyd said.
In addition to the cafe and restaurant, the Kitchen will also provide food for MacDinton's, the green room for performers at Jannus Live as well as catering to the general public.
"We'll also offer concessions when there's a concert at Jannus," said Loyd.
But wait, there's more. A new restaurant is coming to the 400 block of Central.
Set to open in June or July, La V will be the "first and original Vietnamese restaurant" in downtown St. Petersburg.
"It just happened out of the blue," said Thuy Le (pronounced Twee Lay), who also owns Thuy Café at 5944 34th St. N, Suite 22. Le said she was originally looking to open a restaurant in Tampa but saw a vacancy at 441 Central Ave.
"The numbers of the address (441) adds up to nine, which is a lucky number in the Vietnamese culture," she said. "It's meant to be."
The new eatery will serve lunch and dinner and offer traditional Vietnamese fare including, pho (a beef noodle soup), rice dishes, vermicelli noodle dishes, smoothies and Boba tea.
With these additions and options, the Sunshine City is quickly becoming a diner's paradise.
Sandra J. Gadsden can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8874.