Not that many years ago, downtown Safety Harbor was a little lean on places to eat. Green Springs Bistro had been an anchor, Whistle Stop and Celloís Char House, too. But no one would have called it a dining destination. It was too bad: The city of 17,000 has a compact downtown, very walkable, with sufficient parking (relatively speaking) and housing stock that runs heavily toward lovely little 1930s Florida bungalows.
But then something started happening. Parts of Paris, then Southern Fresh and Pizzeria Gregario, and then a veritable avalanche of newcomers in a range of cuisines: Paciniís, Coastal Cantina, Miss Hazelís Kitchen, etc. We decided it would be a dreamy place for an evening of dining, a movable feast of drinks over here, appetizers over there, then something more substantial before a grand finale on the sweet side.
Main Street runs east-west, at its easternmost edge running into the water at the Safety Harbor Resort and Spa. Most days youíll find runners and bikers availing themselves of the wide sidewalk that runs along Philippe Park Drive up into Philippe Park. The bulk of downtownís restaurants are clustered along and just off Main Street, roughly from Second to Ninth avenues. Itís best to park once, in a central spot near Main, then hoof it.
STOP 1: Gigglewaters Social Club & Screening Room
737 Main St. (727) 669-7077. gigglewaters.com.
Thatís a mouthful of a name for what amounts to Safety Harborís newest speakeasy, an attractive but comfortable Prohibition-era charmer opened in May and set in a single room dominated by an L-shaped bar built in the 19th century, pressed-tin ceilings and a private movie screening room. This is where we chose to wet our whistle for the evening, just a nip before moving on. The cocktail list is a jumble of classics and more contemporary references. (I applaud the Big Lebowski, a white Russian, natch, $12.) My choice was a refreshing Bathtub Gin drink that pairs gin, cucumber, lime and tonic ($10), and itís sometimes on special during happy hour before 6 p.m.
The problem that arises when your companions are a little late and youíre cooling your jets is that itís easy to start reading the menu (but only after youíve fully scrutinized the portraits of Barbra Streisand and Mr. Spock reimagined fully inked). Which can cause a clear-headed plan to devolve a little. The menu is dominated by burgers, dogs and chicken sandwiches, but thereís a section called "Giggle Dippers" ($7 to $9) that caught my eye, a mix-and-match array of things that can be dipped (onion strings, battered green beans, pretzel loaf) and dips (beer cheese, sriracha ranch). We had to get a Giggle Dipper, right, if only to have to say it out loud?
STOP 2: Happy Salmon
500 Main St. (727) 723-1116. facebook.com/happysalmonbar.
Tom Shibusawa has owned this little sushi bar for about three years, but it has somehow remained off my radar. Itís an intimate mom-and-pop space that used to be an Italian restaurant, its decor more of an accretion of stuff than a motif: long wooden bar backed by big sake bottles and black banners with Japanese text, rice paper lanterns overhead, a couple of sidewalk tables out front.
We figured a few rolls and a sake would position us perfectly for entrees elsewhere. Negotiation was fierce, so we tweezered our chopsticks into a bowl of tangy, sesame-swirled seaweed salad ($5.99) before arriving at a decision: a Jessica roll ($13.99) and a shrimp crunch ($7.99), the former a tight roll of shrimp, crab, avocado and cucumber, topped with swaths of tuna, salmon (not sure how happy, but tasty), avocado, spicy mayo and scallion. Presentations are attractive without verging on rococo with sauce squiggles and such, fish plush with just a briny whiff that indicates freshness.
STOP 3: Parts of Paris
146 Fourth Ave N. (727) 797-7979. partsofparis.com.
For this story I told myself I had to try places that were all new to me, so I couldnít go to my favorite Safety Harbor restaurant, Pizzeria Gregario (plus, we did our dinearound on a Tuesday, an evening Greg Seymour is closed). The problem with our Tuesday gallivanting, however, was that my original main-course plan, Marker 39 Floribbean Cuisine, is also dark that night. Door locked, we huddled in consternation. Plan B: a visit to Parts of Paris, a charming bungalow just a half-block away serving classical French fare that opened in 2012. Iíve eaten at Chris Orrungís place many times, but not in a number of months.
Our hunger level ratcheted down (darn those Giggle Dippers), we aimed to share a couple of the larger plates. Parts of Paris does the classics with aplomb, so we couldnít pass up a bowl of French onion soup ($6), its broth sherried and not overly salty, its mantle of cheese creating drooping garlands betwixt spoon and mouth. That dispatched, it was time for a wide bowl of mussels with a side of skinny, crisp frites ($22), an accompaniment we doubled down on with an order of steak frites ($29), its rosy New York strip cut into thin horizontal strips and paired with a perfect tarragon-flecked bearnaise. You will likely be tempted by dessert at Parts of Paris (creme brulee, crepe Suzette and all the things that make it impossible to understand why French folks arenít all pear-shaped), but itís time to move on.
STOP 4: Sno Beach
310 Main St. (727) 223-3638. snobeachhut.com.
Youíre going to have to start your dinearound fairly early if you want to hit this at the end ó it closes early in the week at 9 p.m., 10 Thursday to Saturday. This is Hawaiian ice, fluffy and not grainy like Sno Cones, the most interesting flavors, all made in house, what they call "Harbor Combos." Thereís the Gator Bite (orange, mango and vanilla ice cream), Bullís Horn (lemon-lime, watermelon and vanilla ice cream) and the Gulf Breeze (strawberry, cherry, blue raspberry and vanilla ice cream). Most of the 40 flavors are offered in a sugar-free version, and there are toppers that may seem like gilding the lily (sweet cream, caramel, marshmallow cream) but are actually a nice way to cut the sweet-tart of the ice and add a little richness.
Opened in 2015, the little spot is charming and homespun with an aquamarine-and-robinís-egg-blue color scheme and loads of sand dollars and starfish so it has a robust beachy feel fairly far from the waterís edge. Choose your size ($3 for a baby, up to $5.50 for an XL), pick one to three flavors, pick your toppings (50 cents each), then wait for your plastic foam cup capped with a jaunty paper parasol. During the day, they also have Maui mini doughnuts that are worth investigating.