When the weather and economic forecasts are chilly, new ideas still stoke the fires of the local restaurant scene, so when the Nibbler went back to check on our bouillabaisse, I found our stockpot runneth over:
A landmark Clearwater Beach fish house, the Pelican, has gained new life as Ocean Garden (470 Mandalay; 441-2005). The 300-seat restaurant has been on the beach more than 50 years and now serves both steak and seafood with some modern touches like mesquite broiling, entree salads, pasta dishes and fried bananas, with jazz and reggae music. Ocean Garden is open for lunch and dinner; prices range from $4.95 to $18.95. New owners are Elias Anastasopoulos, Bill Sioutis and John Psaltis.
Vegetarian cuisine with a British accent is the newest addition to the Hernando County menu. Shakespeare's Sisters Garden Cafe (7234 S Broad St., Brooksville; 796-6113) was started by Englishwomen Karen Greenway, Joan Williams and Karen Booth, recently arrived from Stratford-on-Avon. Entrees range from stir fries to black bean burritos, tempeh and nut pate, with some seafood available. It's open for dinner Thursday through Saturday and brunch Sunday as well as lunches. Entree prices run $4.95 to $9.95.
Newest bid for hip dining in Tampa is Mango's (2801 S MacDill; 835-4444) , a few doors from Ramblin' Rose making a new mini restaurant row. Mango's flavor is art deco seafood. Decor is tile, glass block, neon and custom furniture; menu will combine fresh local seafood with Cajun and Italian dishes. Founders are Bobby Fernandez, Howard Frankland II and Loren Rhoads Jr. Dinner prices start at $7.95.
Farther down MacDill, Gandy Boulevard will get a wake-up cup of uptown energy in Exodus News Cafe. Mike and B.T. Nguyen plan a breakfast-lunch place that combines the spirit of Exodus, their artsy Vietnamese spot in North Tampa, with the buzz of Miami's News Cafe, where South Beach goes for power-grazing. Nguyen hopes to draw a downtown crowd with hip black and white decor, constant CNN headlines, racks full of trade magazines and stylish cuisine hybridized from French, Oriental and American. It opens next month.
New menu at Caribbean hot spot Saffron's (2801 38th Ave. N, St. Petersburg; 522-1234) gives vegetarians a bigger helping, main course of fresh veggies in omelets, with pasta, curried, or spiced with ginger, honey or oranges. Add these to fruit punches and herb teas, and it's a lively alternative for vegetarians. New treat for timid carnivores: You can try curried goat as an appetizer without committing to a full entree.
Jack's Waterfront Restaurant, (3855 Gulf Blvd., St. Petersburg Beach, 360-5971), known as the Whale's Tail to the locals, has turned a shocking shade of pink (with the turquoise trim required by the beach code of aesthetics). Changes inside, however, are more subtle than the paint job: Atmosphere's still cozy at the dockside bar but the edibles on the menu are a bit more substantial. Look for nightly specials and all-you-can-eat deals under $10 and a larger children's menu, as well as burgers and grouper sandwiches.