Someone must be charged with constantly Windexing the glass cases in the bakery, there are so many eager noses pressed against it every day. Hellas has been one of the big guns in Tarpon since 1970, its reputation boosted by the huge attached Greek bakery (clearly doing well enough to have recently annexed the property behind it as a new parking lot). Family-owned and in sight of the sponge docks, the restaurant is a lively spot, family friendly, with cheerful servers and a broad enough menu to hit every price point.
On the bakery side, the baklava cheesecake is silly good, and in the restaurant my favorite entree is slowly braised tomatoey lamb shanks, served somewhat incongruously atop spaghetti. There are addictive garlic shrimp, nice gyros in warm Greek pita, and a very generous Greek salad that comes with a scoop of potato salad like a depth charge in its midst.
Loud and crowded and why not? Tourists who squeeze in among the locals get a true taste of Greek in anything grilled in lemon and oregano along the Sponge Docks. Andy Salivaras has been in Tarpon a long time, having opened Mykonos in 1991. It’s been one of the anchor restaurants on the main drag since, with a prime location and a just-fancy-enough interior to appeal to date-nighters and families alike.
All the greatest hits are in evidence (tender lamb shank, flaming saganaki, sauteed octopus), but head for one of the lesser-known Greek dishes like youvetsi, a homey individual casserole of lamb baked with pasta. Meals often end with complimentary apples with honey and cinnamon.
It’s the other of the two downtown restaurants right on the water, making excellent use of it with an outdoor tiki deck upon which you are guaranteed to hear Jimmy Buffett and his ilk. It’s a fun, flip-flops-and-rum-runners place, which in no way takes away from the seriousness with which owners Julie and Jack Russell regard fresh seafood. Their third-generation seafood market, Pelican Point Seafood, is next door, and the family owns and operates a bunch of commercial boats that supply both restaurant and shop.
Dishes are named for local fishermen and their boats, the best of which involve shrimp in one way or another. Grilled, fried or peel-and-eat, these are great-tasting crustaceans, often paired with the day’s fresh catch and served with an array of sauces (lemon-dill, cilantro-lime) that are surprisingly sophisticated for such a laid-back place.
This may be the most gastronomically ambitious restaurant in all of Tarpon, a recent entry that has set up in the old Santorini location (one of only two restaurants downtown that are directly on the water). Right across the street from Mykonos, it is presided over by Andy Salivaras’ son, Dimitri, a CIA grad and serious chef. The restaurant makes good use of the views of the Anclote River, with an upscale dining room and deck suitable for special occasions.
The specials often contain jewels like a recent whole-roasted mango snapper, a gorgeous fish with flavorful flesh and crisp skin, served with lemon wedges and a side of rosemary-scented, tomatoey chickpeas and another of just-bitter sauteed curly endive, altogether a fabulous combination of colors and flavors. Some locals also assert that Dimitri’s has the best lamb wrap in town.
Beloved by young Pinellas punks for its all-ages shows, Neptune combines live music with bicycling, thanks to its bike shop next door. But after hours, it's the top place for the youths of Tarpon to chill out, shoot pool, crash in the lounge and thrash in the pit. Beer only, but considering how many teens show up for concerts, that's probably a good thing.
Either Stroker's bar is a more than worthy destination to rack 'em up. Leagues meet here. Pros play here. With some 40 tables between the Tampa and Palm Harbor locations, this is no place to try to hustle the regulars, if you know what we mean. Not into pool? Try darts, shuffleboard, foosball and tons of other games. The Tampa location can get pretty wild, with lingerie bull riding on Monday nights. You heard us.
Located in one of Tarpon Springs' oldest and most historic buildings, the Zone feels anything but dusty. With funky artwork covering exposed brick walls; antique copper ceilings; cabanas both indoors and out; a cool and relaxing patio; and plenty of bars and nooks in which to listen to live music or huddle for a cozy conversation, it looks like a perfectly welcoming nightspot. It's worth stopping in on your way back from the Sponge Docks.
Snookers has the salty whiff of a nautical-theme joint, the kind that appeals to Key West natives and Parrottheads. It looks like a boat inside and out, with the odd fish mural thrown in for good measure. Snookers' most hopping scene happens nightly in the outdoor tiki patio, which also features a full bar. It's full liquor here, or you can go with any of the import drafts from Bass and Harp to Heineken and Newcastle. The bartenders also pour a mean, tall and fruity cocktail. Whether you love Jimmy Buffett or love to hate him, you most likely will enjoy this island take-off. It even offers a tide chart, for Heaven's sake.
This massive two-level tiki bar oozes laid-back island living, with fantastic views of the water and a massive deck for viewing sunsets. The menu is pure Florida comfort food: wings, shrimp, seafood, steak, and burgers and wraps. It's got a surprisingly diverse wine list for a tiki bar (Stags Leap, Quail Ridge, Dynamite) and offers a full bar.
When Greek immigrants first settled in the area, they found the waters off Tarpon Springs to be rich with highly sought-after sponges. Now the area is the focal point of local Greek culture and dining. Walk along colorful Dodecanese Boulevard, winding through the shops that smell of the unique nose cocktail of perfumed olive oil soaps, sea salt and Vera Bradley. There are still souvenir shops that sell shells, bromeliads and of course, sponges, from plastic laundry tubs on the sidewalk (the Spongeorama museum of all things sponge is our favorite retro haunt.) There are boating and fishing excursions, shops, an aquarium and sponge diving exhibitions. And there are restaurants-- lots and lots of Greek restaurants. And you’ll kick yourself later if you don’t stop in at one of the bakeries there and take home a fresh pastry in a little white box. It's a perfect souvenir.
Not on your average tourista's radar, Sunset Beach juts into the gulf at the end of Gulf Road in Tarpon Springs. It's nearly a perfect spot to sit in the shade of the palm trees gently swaying in the breeze and watch the sunset. Amenities include picnic pavilions, grills, bicycle racks, and boat ramps. The beach is open from sunrise to 10:00 PM.
Features the history of Tarpon Springs, including how the sponge shaped the city's development.