I love a hidden gem. A place that has hundreds of five-star reviews across several online review and social media sites doesn't seem like it would qualify, but I can't think of a better way to describe TiKanis, an unassuming pizza joint on Bay Pines Boulevard in St. Petersburg that I never would have come across had a friend not tipped me off.
Inconspicuously located in a small strip next to dive and bait shops, TiKanis uses its small space wisely. This stretch of Bay Pines isn't exactly a drinking and dining magnet, so unless you spotted the tiny tiki-esque patio out front, you wouldn't be likely to notice it.
But inside, TiKanis is cozy, upbeat and a refreshing change of pace from the flavorless dives more commonly seen in the area.
There's a bar and a small dining area, the latter covered overhead by rows of luggage stuck to the ceiling. It's a neat visual touch, complemented by dozens of travel photos (courtesy of the owner, a self-professed world traveler) and mile marker signs for various exotic destinations.
The name of the restaurant — TiKanis — is translated as "What's up?" or "How's it going?" in Greek. So it's not surprising that the menu includes a small selection of Greek fare alongside the familiar pizza-and-wings menu format. And then, of course, there's beer.
Pizza and beer isn't anything new, but TiKanis is on a different level in both regards. I heard the pizza was great, so I gave it a shot: medium, marinara base, no cheese; artichokes, black olives, spinach, and mushrooms. I've made similar orders at endless pizza places and am rarely wowed, but the flavors and textures contained in this modest pie were greater than the sum of their parts. It's easy to make a passable pizza marinara with typical veggie toppings, but it's another thing entirely to make it memorable. Score, TiKanis.
The pizza was a nice surprise, as I really just came for the beer selection, which I heard was significantly above-average for a pizza joint. Throw another one up on the scoreboard, because TiKanis has a beer list to rival that of most beer bars in town, with a regularly updated list of domestic craft brews, including a respectable seasonal selection.
They keep 28 beers on tap, which seems like a lot given the size of the place. That tap list is updated regularly and — based on a little online research — has enough turnover to ensure a good beer-drinking experience. There are a few fall seasonals still on tap, but they're the kind that an extra month or so won't hurt, like Southern Tier's Pumking and its variants, Warlock and Rumking.
There are a handful of less-common finds on the menu, like Smuttynose's Really Old Brown Dog stock ale, as well as Harpoon's fall seasonal hoppy amber, Flannel Friday. Someone at TiKanis knows beer, as this isn't the list that you get by just going through the motions with your distributor rep.
Here's a fun one: If you look above the bar, you'll see a somewhat nontraditional flight board. Most bars, including TiKanis, offer flights of four beers. Some — Rapp Brewing comes to mind — offer as many as nine samplers in a flight. TiKanis has a flight board that holds 25 beers, representing all but three on tap. If you order this, make sure you've got a ride — it's the equivalent of six pints.
Based on the number of takeout orders that occurred during my visit, as well as the number of people at the bar, I think it's safe to say that TiKanis has a pretty strong following. So is it fair to call it a "hidden gem?" I don't know, but for a pizza restaurant located next to a bait shop on Bay Pines, TiKanis overshoots expectations by a wide margin.
I wouldn't have made the stop if I didn't hear about TiKanis from a friend, and maybe you're in the same boat. Consider this my tip to you.
— Contact Justin Grant at [email protected] Follow @WordsWithJG.