you sit there, they bring you the food. Chew, swallow, pay, depart. Unless you're an exceptionally vigorous chewer, you're not breaking a sweat the whole evening. It's why most of us go out to eat: so we don't have to do the work. But when you think about it, it's a little passive. For you overachievers, what if I said there are restaurants out there where you can eat and learn to do something new, develop a skill, try out a fresh hobby? ¶ In a way, you could think about these restaurants as mini summer camps for grownups. But camp without the lanyardmaking or annoying color wars, and where the food is bound to be better.
The Getaway, 13090 Gandy Blvd. N, St. Petersburg, (813) 267-1602; and Ricks on the River, 2305 N Willow Ave., Tampa, (813) 251-0369
We've all seen the pictures: impossibly fit bikini-clad folks standing up on surfboard-looking things and smiling widely while dipping a paddle through the water. Urban Kai Paddleboards has been getting people out on the water for the past six years, but now they offer a couple of options for dining and paddling. At the Getaway on the Gandy Bridge and at Ricks on the River on the Hillsborough River not far from University of Tampa, you have two choices. Simply rent a paddleboard for a half-hour ($20), an hour ($35) or two hours ($45) from a little kiosk and head out on the water. Or call ahead to (813) 598-1634 and set up a lesson and guided tour ($49 per person, less for larger groups). At the Getaway, one of Urban Kai's five guides will show you the ropes and guide you out through Snug Harbor and mangrove tunnels, pointing out manatees, dolphins and wading birds. At Ricks, the tour is more urban, paddlers making their way downtown in Tampa.
And then, the food (you could eat first, but remember what Mom said about going in the water right after a meal). At the Getaway, which opened early this spring at the old Banana Boat spot, two huge-beamed open-sided tikis (one a whopping 1,600 square feet) are flanked by waterside tables, fire pits in the sand surrounded by low-slung Adirondack chairs, and a whole bunch of palm trees. Sustenance comes from a rotating lineup of food trucks, so one night it's fancy hot dogs and another it's Asian tacos. And the raucous roadhouse that is Ricks is where boaters have come for a couple of decades for grouper sandwiches (now just called fish sandwiches) and the oysters Rick-afellar and fish spread.
Wat Mongkolratanaram, 5306 Palm River Road, Tampa, off U.S. 41/50th Street, a half-mile south of the Lee Roy Selmon Expressway and State Road 60
It's only on Sundays, and it's not really a restaurant, but Wat Mongkolratanaram offers some of the Tampa Bay area's best Thai food along with the opportunity to meditate in a shimmering gold temple under the tutelage of chanting and berobed Buddhist monks.
Pull into the broad grass parking lot and look beyond the peaked temple roof with red eaves and gold dragon prows. Volunteers get cooking as early as 6 a.m. so that by 10:30 everything is ready for the hungry hordes. By then market stalls trail long lines of would-be diners, who take their bounty and picnic family-style at the open-air tables along the river. Divide and conquer is the best strategy: Send one person in your party to nab a green papaya salad and, one of the planet's best foods, an order of mango with sticky rice; another should be sent to the big wok from which batter-dipped plantains, sweet potatoes and taro root are scooped and bagged; and one more should pick up a couple of curries and an array of bean cakes, puffy coconut rice cakes and cold noodle salads. Most dishes run $2 to $5, and all ingredients, labor and sales proceeds are donated and go back to the temple and grounds.
After lunch, wipe your hands, remove your shoes and settle into one of the pillows set up in rows on the floor of the gorgeous temple. Time it right and monks file in and chant in Thai (no translator); otherwise, a recording of chanting is set to a low volume, the thrum of it allowing visitors to focus on their breathing and work on dynamic insight. Barring that, it's a great way to digest.
To get more information, or to sign up for a class, call (813) 767-9006.
It makes an interesting spectator sport: A dozen or so easels are set up. A painting instructor stands at the front of the room and begins. "Take a medium-sized brush and make the first swoop, like so." A finished painting functions as reference while the painters follow through an oral paint-by-numbers lesson. But it's painting with a marked improvement: a glass of wine, a Caesar salad, but maybe steer clear of the chicken wings (that brush gets slippery).
Jen Loveridge started Party Artsy last year after seeing something like it while attending a franchise conference. She offers two-hour, step-by-step painting classes ($35 per person, including a glass of wine, supplies, a take-home 16- by 20-inch canvas and a kicky smock rental). Her three painting professionals are also available for private parties (you get to select your own painting from their collection), but they conduct these popup art classes regularly at Beef 'O' Brady's in Plant City and Seffner, Grimaldi's in Citrus Park, Flight Restaurant in Carrollwood and Ciccio's in South Tampa. I spent an evening as a spectator at Flight, watching a girls' night out group power through a stargazer lily still life. (A couple of those women should keep their day jobs, I'm just saying.)
At the end of July and August, Loveridge, a former third-grade teacher, will offer a Living Social deal on her classes.
Love's Artifacts Bar and Grille, 4914 S MacDill Ave., Tampa; (813) 831-3273
What goes with fried chicken? Yes, cheese grits and collards are solid answers. But the correct answer in this case is yoga. Leryda Vazquez gets out on the back patio of Love's Artifacts Bar and Grille at 6 p.m. Tuesdays, unrolls her mat and starts sun-salutatin'. The first hourlong class she taught in the lovely tree-canopied space in April drew only four practitioners; recent classes have had nearly 20.
By day she owns an office management company, overseeing the payroll and scheduling for Love's and other Tampa businesses. She has practiced yoga for the past 14 years, but after being laid off from an office job she had what she calls her "Eat, Pray, Love moment." She underwent yoga training at Yoga Loft in Ybor City and convinced Love's Artifacts' owners that the patio, not used on weeknights, would be perfect for an alfresco class. She provides the mats, blocks, straps and water.
Participants can preorder their happy hour drinks (happy hour ends at 7 p.m.), then rev up the vinyasas, before finishing the evening with trivia night and seriously good barbecued ribs or the oddity that is peanut butter-stuffed japalenos. Vazquez makes the class beginner-friendly, with lots of sun salutations, hip openers and shoulder work, finishing the hour with a guided meditation during savasana (corpse pose). The suggested donation is $5, and the best part is that if you break a sweat you get to go heavy on the buttery mashed potatoes.
CDB's Southside, 3671 S West Shore Blvd., Tampa; and Café Cibo, 8697 Fourth St. N, St. Petersburg. For info on all classes, call (727) 866-6892 or visit learnitalian.us.
Roberto Alvarez grew up speaking Italian and English at home, then studied Italian in Bologna during college. After 25 years in the television business, he decided to get back to his roots, offering Italian lessons for people who may be preparing for a vacation Italiano, for those who want to reconnect with their heritage and for those fidgeters who don't want to sit in a university classroom while someone drones on about verb conjugation.
His idea: dinner at an Italian restaurant with Italian lessons sprinkled over like zesty Parmesan. He started in 2002 teaching four- and six-week Italian courses at Café Cibo in St. Petersburg, where he still teaches today, and most recently he offers a series at CDB's Southside in Tampa. Owner Pat Iacovella offers his private dining space up to the class, with dinners that include antipasti, a salad and a pasta entree (wine or liquor are extra). Alvarez suggests participants bring "a pen, paper and a smile," and he provides all the learning materials and lessons. He's beginning a new six-week course Monday ($300 per person, or $580 per couple). And if six weeks seems like a daunting commitment, he will host a two-hour Italian lesson/cooking class at Tampa's new Epicurean Hotel on July 31 for $65 per person. And remember: Non parlare con la bocca piena. That means don't talk with your mouth full.
Ducky's Sports Lounge, 1719 Kennedy Blvd., Tampa; (813) 254-6160
In Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, Maine and Massachusetts, you've got your candlesticks. Three inches wide all the way down, about 16 inches tall, there are 10 of them, just like in tenpin bowling. Now, in Baltimore and suburban Washington, D.C., you'll find duckpin. The pins are the more traditional Marilyn Monroe-shaped, only squattier. Duckpin balls are smaller than regular tenpin, with no finger holes, but heavier than candlestick balls, thus providing the satisfying "thwack" at lane's end.
Attorneys Dan Alvarez and Keith Goan and Tampa Bay Rays third baseman Evan Longoria brought duckpin bowling to Tampa earlier this year when they unveiled Ducky's. No special shoes (plus or minus, you be the judge), but four little lanes at the end of which are 100-inch high-definition projection screens. It's $5 per person, 10 frames. (One quibble: Duckpin bowling traditionally has three balls per frame; Ducky's goes with two.)
The place is a straight-up sports bar, with lots of screens dotting the walls; a menu that includes mini pretzel dogs, thick-cut chips and pulled-pork sliders; and waitresses in somewhat incongruous fishnets.
Contact Laura Reiley at [email protected] or (727) 892-2293. Follow @lreiley. She dines anonymously and unannounced; the Times pays all expenses.