LIQUID GOLD: DUNEDIN ORANGE FESTIVAL
Citrus may be beleaguered in our fair state, all the more reason to celebrate the Dunedin Orange Festival on Saturday at Edgewater Park. In addition to orange juice tastings, you can slake your thirst with a brew-off craft beer contest, local food vendors, entertainment (including Jack and Josie, Time Bandits, 6 Volt Rodeo, Shakes Society and Hotrod Hornets), a pinup girl contest and kids' activities. A fundraiser for the Dunedin Historical Society, the daylong event runs 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. at 51 Main St., Dunedin. dunedinorangefestival.com.
An Ode to American Diners
I'm dying to try it. Hard to miss at 5250 Fourth St. N in St. Petersburg, Metro Diner opened last week, the 13th location for the diner that made a name for itself on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives. Now owned by ConSul Hospitality Partners (a dream team of Hugh Connerty, Outback founder Chris Sullivan and Carl Sahlsten, former president of Carrabba's Italian Grill), it is the first Tampa Bay location. But I've got to cool my jets for a while and let them work out the kinks before I head in for a review. ∂ It's got me thinking diner food, though. Maybe those spin-around vinyl counter stools, possibly breakfast all day. Definitely low prices and unflappable short-order cooks who break eggs one-handed and look like they've seen everything.
Remember how the counter at Woolworth's smelled? Take a whiff at Coney Island. Michigan-style chili dogs have been the coin of the realm probably all the way back to 1926, especially when eaten atop a brown vinyl stool at the counter with an impossibly thick chocolate shake at your elbow. The franks cost more than the nickel that owner Pete Barlas charged back in the day (he did add a 5-cent extra charge for anyone who ordered — sacrilege — ketchup on their chili dog), but son Hank hasn't let prices get out of hand (we're talking $2.50). 250 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. St. N, St. Petersburg; (727) 822-4493
Big bathtub planters outside, froufrou English collectibles inside, and it's dog friendly: The Chattaway in the Old Southeast neighborhood is a quirky bird with legion followers who have the bumper stickers to prove it. The central draw is the burger, a big dry cleaner's nightmare, but Chattaway is also cherished for its historic, ramshackle glory (it started as a general store with a gas pump back in the early 1920s). What you need to know: cash only and there's a special every day — Monday Cubans, Tuesday catfish, Wednesday sloppy joes, Thursday spaghetti and meat sauce and Friday Iguana's Choice (chef's surprise, just go for it). 358 22nd Ave. S, St. Petersburg; (727) 823-1594
Munch's Sundries & Restaurant
Still in St. Petersburg, Munch's Sundries & Restaurant's booths are lined with Lakewood Elementary class pictures from the 1960s (a lot of unfortunate haircuts); on the walls are tacked-up, and down-home, morsels of wisdom; and on Tuesdays every table is topped with the fried chicken feast — two pieces, mashed potatoes and gravy, $9.25. Some people swear by the fried green tomatoes and open-face roast beef sandwich, others applaud the crazy-cheap breakfast offerings, but all hail the house milk shakes. 3920 Sixth St. S, St. Petersburg; (727) 896-5972
Of a much more recent vintage, Trip's Diner is still decorated with wonderful black-and-white historic photos of St. Petersburg. Gordon Stevenson took over the space vacated by Dave's, a beloved but somewhat dilapidated diner, and set to work overhauling the space. What wasn't lost in the transition is the nostalgic, breakfast-all-day, honest American diner feel. Where Trip's seems to hit its stride is with its sturdy, egg-centric breakfast fare accessorized with flaky housemade biscuits and excellent buttery-oniony discs of home fries. 2339 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. St. N, St. Petersburg; (727) 498-8980; a second location was added more recently at 10555 Park Blvd. N, Seminole; (727) 623-0907
Three Coins Restaurant
And on the Tampa side, Three Coins Restaurant sits at the top of the diner heap. Partly because it's 24 hours and partly because it has an outdoor deck (definitely a diner departure, but still welcome). There's a lot of metal and un-ironic Formica, and you're likely to see cops getting caffeinated at all hours. Eggs, bacon, ham steak and such, but French toast appears to be their crowning achievement. 7410 N Nebraska Ave., Tampa; (813) 774-5269