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TASTES OF THE BEACHES

(ran GB edition)

A brief sampler of recommended restaurants on the Gulf beaches, grouped by the kind of dining they offer. The restaurants are selected by the news staff of the St. Petersburg Times, without regard to advertising. For days and hours of operation, call the restaurant.

ON THE GO

FRENCHY'S SALTWATER CAFE and FRENCHY'S CAFE AND OYSTER BAR. Neither tiny fish house has a water view or fancy decor but both are full of beach locals and atmosphere. Menu is seafood, fresh and affordable. Peanut butter pie is a great finish.

_ 419 Poinsettia Ave., Clearwater, 461-6295; and 41 Baymont Drive, Clearwater, 446-3607. Beer,wine.

HURRICANE SEAFOOD RESTAURANT. The triple-decker beach spot is an entertainment complex for varied tastes. Restaurant, disco and rooftop drinkery can be Babel on the beach but it's still a landmark and fun. Although there are pasta dishes and seafood entrees, best eating is conch fritters and grouper sandwiches. Treat your eyes to a Pass-A-Grille sunset and your ears to late-night jazz and you'll leave well-nourished.

_ 807 Gulf Way, St. Petersburg Beach, 360-9558. Full bar.

JACK'S WHALE'S TAIL LOUNGE. A relaxing alternative to the crowded beach. Inside this hideaway there's a sunken bar and outside there are tables with a breeze and a view of the Intracoastal Waterway. Boats dock while you eat. Grouper sandwiches, pizza sticks, grouper nuggets and simple seafood baskets are favorites.

_ 3855 Gulf Blvd., St. Petersburg Beach; 360-5971. No reservations. Full bar.

LONNI'S SANDWICHES, ETC. Take-out shops with a difference (with seating at the downtown St. Petersburg shop), Lonni's key ingredient is no secret: Minnesota wild rice. Rice is used in custom-baked bread, in salads, in rice pudding and in soup. Menu includes hefty sandwiches, salads and muffins with a number of vegetarian options.

_ 1153 Main St., Dunedin, 734-0121, 736-1969; 603 Pinellas St., Clearwater, 441-8044; 133 First St. N, St. Petersburg, 894-1944. No alcohol.

THE SEA HORSE. This 50-year-old building is as much a Pass-A-Grille landmark as the Merry Pier. Good breakfasts, great burgers, friendly service, paneled walls, outdoor seats and a sea breeze: the quintessential beach restaurant for fisherfolk, repair crews, yachting types and anyone in shorts.

_ 800 Pass-A-Grille Way, St. Petersburg Beach, 360-1734. Beer, wine. No reservations. No credit cards.

TED PETERS FAMOUS SMOKED FISH. Outdoor tables (and the indoor fireplace) have been a roadside landmark so long it now looks out on six lanes of traffic. The charm however is in the food: smoked Florida mullet and mackerel and terrific hamburgers served with no pretense. Beware the Tuesday closing.

_ 1350 Pasadena Ave. S, South Pasadena; 381-7931. Beer. No credit cards.

WOODY'S WATERFRONT. Spicy french fries, beach-side view of Blind Pass, and outdoor seating make this perfect for come-as-you-are sunsets, hot afternoon coolers or fun family meals. Burgers, hot dogs and grouper sandwiches are up to beach-bar standards and there's often live music in the air.

_ 7308 Sunset Way, St. Petersburg Beach, 360-9165. No credit cards. No reservations. Full bar.

MAIN COURSE

BILL NAGY'S ON THE BEACH. The Sirata, a revamped landmark on St. Petersburg Beach, has a restaurant that provides lighter, more creative beach fare from breakfast on. The latest project of restaurateur Bill Nagy, Sirata Sands has a pate plate and a spinach salad that make fine lunches and a seafood tureen that is a delightful dinner.

_ 5390 Gulf Blvd., St. Petersburg Beach, 367-2771. Full bar. Children's menu.

DEBBY'S CAFE. This looks like an average diner for beach locals and motel escapees, but inside you'll find the creative, light cooking missing in most big-splurge spots. Prices are as lean as the '90s but you still get crisp vegetables, grilled tuna, fresh-baked goods, pasta dishes, fresh herbs and Oriental spices. Plus you can sample it for great breakfasts and lunch.

_ 7370 Gulf Blvd., St. Petersburg Beach; 367-8700. Beer, wine.

HORSE & JOCKEY. The bay area's largest pub has 11 British beers on tap and an extensive menu. There's always crisp fish and chips, meat pies and other pub fare, plus high tea from 3 to 5 p.m. on weekdays and dinner of roast pork or roast beef and Yorkshire pudding on Sundays. For entertainment, there's merry conversation in the right quantity and accent.

_1155 S Pasadena Ave., South Pasadena; 345-4995. Reservations accepted only for parties of six or more for tea. Beer, wine.

THE HUNGRY FISHERMAN. Landlubbers flock here for seafood the old-fashioned way: Take a number, wait your turn, buy some souvenirs and dig into a combination platter . It's not all fried and true; there's fresh fish nightly and a bit of grilling, steaming and stir frying. Give your visitors this taste of Florida.

_ 19915 Gulf Blvd., Indian Shores, 595-4218. No reservations. No credit cards. Full bar.

KEEGAN'S SEAFOOD GRILLE. Size and decor are modest, but the menu's ambitious, and the kitchen usually delivers some of the most clever seafood on the beaches, from ceviche to grilled fish, for bargain prices. Checking the chalkboard is mandatory and rewarding. Most entrees are modest in size, but linguine with mussels is a feast.

_ 1519 Gulf Blvd., Indian Rocks Beach, 596-2477. Beer, wine.

KELLY'S FOR JUST ABOUT ANYTHING. I've never had so much fun on my plate as at Kelly's, a Main Street cafe turned into a culinary toy box three meals a day. Sweet potato-jalapeno soup and grilled shrimp with strawberry salsa are my kind of delicious jokes. For serious eating, light and heavy, there's fish stuffed with fresh corn, and grilled pork chops. Kelly's puts the same zest into baking and breakfasting.

_ 319 Main St., Dunedin, 736-5284. Beer, wine.

THE KINGFISH. This fish house still specializes in the cheap seafood that has made it a landmark on the quiet side of John's Pass in Treasure Island. Best, freshest eating comes from the raw bar and some interesting concoctions with Italian, Cajun and Mexican modifications, cooked to order _ sometimes as you watch.

_ 12789 Kingfish Drive, Treasure Island, 360-0881. Full bar. No reservations. Non-smoking area provided. Children's menu available.

KINJO. Kinjo has first-rate sushi and a full menu of tempura, plus meat, fish, shrimp and chicken fixed with usual samurai showmanship. Eat at the bar, on the floor in a tatami room, at a teppanyaki grill or a Western-style table; the lucky get water views.

_ 4615 Gulf Blvd., St. Petersburg Beach, 367-6762. Full bar. No reservations.

LEE'S CRAB TRAP I & II. There's crab in many forms and sizes (including mini-platters for light eaters), but Lee's does well by the fixin's, too. Perfect go-withs for the Maryland crab cakes are onion curls or New England clam chowder, spinach salad and sweet potato fries. If you're not in a crabby mood, there are alternatives on the menu.

_ U.S. 19, Terra Ceia Bridge, Palmetto, 722-6255; Memphis Road, Ellenton, 729-7777. No reservations. Beer, wine.

OMI'S BAVARIAN INN. The music is taped, and the decor is kitschy, but there's plenty of oompah on your plate: huge schnitzels, kraut, red cabbage and potato dumplings. Soups are homemade, and German hospitality is as genuine as the beer.

_ 14702 Gulf Blvd., Madeira Beach, 393-9654. Beer, wine.

PARADISE PIER. In John's Pass, everything's supposed to look old, but this place is close to it in Florida terms. John and Dolly are New Englanders who have cooked fresh fish and steaks without much fuss for more than a decade. If there's a line, enjoy the view from the pier.

_ 196 128th Ave., Madeira Beach, 393-1824. Beer, wine.

RED ROE RESTAURANT. Ozona sounds out-of-the-way and it is. This moss-draped chunk of Cracker coast is just the place to fill a picnic table with fried catfish, smoked amberjack and mullet and peel-your-own shrimp, some of it fresh off the owner's boat.

_ 303 Orange St., Ozona, 784-0535. Beer, wine.

BIG NIGHT OUT

THE BLUE HERON. A quiet nook in a shopping center is home to the most progressive and flavorful cuisine in Pinellas, a New American mix of seafood, fresh pasta with Thai, Latin and Jamaican spices and sauces. If that's too radical, try the roast chicken or pork chops or make a light meal of salads and appetizers. Smart decor and sharp service.

_ 3285 Tampa Road, Palm Harbor, 789-5176. Full bar. Reservations suggested.

BRUNELLO. Italian on the beach in high style. Mood is casual and prices manageable but food is elegant. Start with rich soup or zesty salad. Risotto, pastas with wild mushrooms, carbonara and grilled fish are top entrees, but look for New American tricks too. Tiramisu is a must dessert.

_ 3861 Gulf Blvd., St. Petersburg Beach, 367-1851. Beer, wine. No non-smoking section.

BRUNO'S TRATTORIA ITALIANA. This rather dainty setting serves up quite lusty Italian food, good bread and pasta with a wide spectrum of rich sauces. Try red pesto, creamy carbonara or any sauce with tomatoes and herbs.

_ 432 75th Ave., St. Petersburg Beach, 367-4420. Beer, wine.

CLEARWATER BEACH HOTEL. The grande dame of the strand decorates her dining room with the charm of the turn-of-the-century beach. Food, however, adds contemporary class and nouvelle touches to traditional top-dollar gourmet fare. Duck, salads and vegetables show flair; service is unobtrusive and gracious.

_ 500 Mandalay, Clearwater, 441-2425. Full bar. No non-smoking section.

THE LOBSTER POT. Inside the nooks and crannies of a corny nautical setting is one of the best local seafood houses. The chefs concentrate on lobster in classic versions, but they handle all seafood well and as simply as you wish.

_ 17614 Gulf Blvd., Redington Shores, 391-8592. Reservations recommended. Full bar.

SABALS. Behind the old storefront, the interior is deco and the food moderne; stylish and pricey yet atmosphere is almost casual. Octopus and shrimp appetizers are good for starters; house salad is a treat, as are soups and breads. Entrees range from game hen and pork to scallops on brie and spinach.

_ 315 Main St., Dunedin, 734-3463. Reservations recommended. Beer wine.

WINE CELLAR. This is old-school indulgence of the first order _ good steaks, chops, seafood and a bit of caviar, usually dolled up with cream and butter. But there's also sun-dried tomatoes, wild mushrooms and other trendy fancies. Have some soup and sample a good German wine. Favorites were lamb and trout, but I'd be willing to try the chef's full-course surprise.

_ 17307 Gulf Blvd., North Redington Beach, 393-3491. Full bar.

Up next:TODAY'S QUIZ

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