The Weekend dining guide is a listing of restaurants around Tampa Bay sampled and recommended by Times food critic Chris Sherman and other staffers. Recommendations are not related to advertising. Each week Weekend will run a portion of the guide. You can also find these dining listings at www.sptimes.com/weekend.
Price: Cost of a dinner for two with tax and tip is indicated by the number of dollar signs: $ _ Inexpensive (less than $25); $$ _ Moderate ($25 to $50); $$$ _ Expensive ($60 and up).
Hours: Hours and days of operation change frequently, so it's wise to call ahead.
Reservations: Most restaurants welcome reservations. If you cannot keep a reservation, notify the restaurant promptly.
Credit cards: Accepted unless otherwise noted.
Tip us off: Got a favorite restaurant we haven't reviewed? Contact us at weekendsptimes.com or send a note and a menu to Weekend Dining Guide, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731.
+ BREAD & MORE +
Fray's Donut House $
Real doughnuts for real doughnut lovers, and real big too. Fray's are made the old-fashioned way, without a nationwide name brand. They're made and glazed fresh daily, sugary enough to put a smile on a cup of black coffee _ and green eyes on Krispy Kreme lovers. 5236 16th St. N, St. Petersburg; (727) 528-1410, and 3441 Central Ave., St. Petersburg; (727) 327-2138.
Pane Rustica $
Starved for bread as crusty as the Old World? Buy it here and you'll think you've died and gone to Italy _ or Seattle. Great breads on their own, with coffee or terrific sandwiches, and exquisite French pastries made with intense global chocolates. 2821 S MacDill Ave., Tampa; (813) 902-8828.
Sleek chain of bread bakers brings hip taste and ancient crunch to the malls: peasant breads, fancy pastries, bright salads and all manner of bagels and sandwiches. Brandon Town Center, Brandon; (813) 653-3837; more locations planned for Bardmoor, Feather Sound, Palm Harbor, the USF/New Tampa area and near West Shore.
Mazzaro Coffee and Italian Market $
Huge red brick oven is heart and hearth of this Italian grocery. Fresh rustic breads and big-city cookies with cold cuts and entrees to go. Take a loaf home or sit down in the middle of it all for a gorgeous sandwich. Live music adds zest to Saturday shopping. 2909 22nd Ave. N, St. Petersburg; (727) 321-2400.
+ FRENCH +
Cafe de France $$
Leave the beach sun outside. Behind the white lace curtains, you'll find la belle France and long-beloved specialties. Look for frog legs, coquille St. Jacques, great bearnaise sauce, pork chops in Calvados and chevre salad. Beer, wine. 15225 Gulf Blvd., Madeira Beach; (727) 392-8627.
Cafe Largo $$$
Don't be surprised to find polished French food in a small office complex in Largo. For 10 years it has been the place to come for souffles, sweetbreads, duck, pate, lamb or a taste of Provencal, the sunny side of France. 12551 Indian Rocks Road, Largo; (727) 596-6282.
De France $$
A bistro in a Carrollwood strip center, De France is intimate yet affordable and offers classics such as trout meuniere, roast chicken, country pate and onion soup with crisp frites, potato gratin, good sauces and stocks and reasonable wines. 1721 W Fletcher Ave., Tampa (813) 961-4553.
La Tour Eiffel $$ to $$$
Longtime French fixture has been refreshed with the Provencal touch of Francoise and Pascal Elisabeth. Style is classic and near Continental, updated slightly with goat cheese, duck breasts and tuna steaks. Genuine ambience of small-town France. 796 Indian Rocks Road, Belleair Bluffs; (727) 581-6530.
Le Bordeaux $$$
A bungalow/bistro with French food and American jazz (and a pinch of Piaf). Chalkboard menu is country French with house-made pates and desserts, great salads and full choice of meat, poultry and seafood, all in traditional garnish. Wine includes reasonable choices and food is hearty, not frilly or silly. 1502 S Howard Ave., Tampa; (813) 254-4387.
+ INDIAN +
A rare serving of Indian cooking for Pinellas and handsomely done with creamy kormas, butter chicken, cheese dishes of homemade paneer. Trim them with a subcontinent of side dishes, pickle, condiments, exotic drinks and fresh bread from tandoori naan to puffy puri and crackling pappadoms. 25000 U.S. 19 N, Clearwater; (727) 723-1117.
A banquet of the best eating from north India with stylish presentation and smart service, too. Chicken and great breads come from the tandoor oven, curries from an infinity of ingredients and an endless spice cabinet. Don't pass up the ice cream. Beer, wine. 2734-B E Fowler Ave., Tampa; (813) 971-8483.
+ LOCAL FLAVOR +
Nickel City Bar & Grille $
Come here for the full Buffalo; it's more than wings and blue cheese: beef on 'weck, Locker Room chili, curly fries, blackened hot dogs, Mother's cheesecake and a Friday night fish fry. The feel of a genuine tavern and a bottle of Labatt's or Genesee makes it taste even better. Beer, wine. 7658 Park Blvd., Pinellas Park; (727) 545-9325.
Palios Bros. $
Fried chicken, fresh fish and football memories make this a neighborhood fixture for South Tampa. Seafood includes shrimp, soft shell crabs and more, not just fish filets. Portions are huge, even Greek salads, but prices are low, making for easy eating whether you grab a seat or order seafood by the box to go. Beer, wine. 2302 S MacDill Ave., Tampa; (813) 253-3334.
Steak 'n' Shake $
Last of the real 24-hour drive-ins. Pull up to the spaces outside, eat indoors or use the drive-up window. You also can stare at impromptu car shows of tricked-out ponies and not so little GTO's. Great for strong coffee and late-night breakfasts or a short-order steak, but best bites are classic drive-in fare. Have a burger or chili with a milk shake, and don't forget the cheese fries. No credit cards. 8101 M.L. King (Ninth) St. N, St. Petersburg; (727) 568-9169; 1450 E Fowler Ave., Tampa; (813) 971-9700. Other locations in St. Petersburg, Clearwater, Tampa, Brandon, Largo, Port Richey, Spring Hill.
Mel's Hot Dogs $
The big daddy of hot-dog places in the area. Mel's only does dogs and sausage-like relations. Service is assembly-line, but the atmosphere puts the accent on the hot dog. Beer, wine. No credit cards. 4136 E Busch Blvd., Tampa; (813) 985-8000.
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 family meals. Burgers, hot dogs and grouper sandwiches are up to beach-bar standards, and there's often live music. Full bar, no credit cards. 7308 Sunset Way, St. Pete Beach; (727) 360-9165.
+ SEAFOOD +
AJ Catfish $ to $$
Southerner's fish of choice comes grilled, blackened or fried. Home-cooked greens, cole slaw, sweet potatoes and jalapeno hush puppies available on the side. Rest of the menu includes Italian dishes, steaks and poultry. 8751 N Himes Ave., Tampa; (813) 932-3474.
Backfin Blue Cafe $ to $$
Crab's namesake status is deserved in great crabcakes, chowder and the stuffing of almost anything else. Prime rib, meat loaf and vegetables are just as good. Come early to enjoy Gulfport's good vibrations while you wait. Beware Tuesday closing. Beer, wine. 2913 Beach Blvd. S, Gulfport; (727) 343-2583.
Bonefish Grill $$
Fourth Street finally gets jazzed with hip design, cool music and modern cooking: more fish than steak, good salads, crusty bread and worldly touches such as artichokes, goat cheese and risotto. Warning: Locals have waited decades for contemporary food, so they don't mind standing in line. Best dishes are smoky mussels in a tomato-citrus broth and rock shrimp over spinach fettucine. Full bar. 5901 Fourth St. N, St. Petersburg; (727) 521-3434.
Billy's Stone Crab
and Steak House $$
Florida seafood and prime cuts of red meat seasoned by old salt Billy Moore, who really knows local waters, history and tastes. Menu runs from mullet to stone crab claws, our pure-and-simple delicacy, with steaks for the unfishy. Look for Cracker side dishes, too. Full bar. 1 Collany Road, Tierra Verde; (727) 866-2115.
Frenchy's $ to $$
Forget fancy settings. These cozy, hole-in-the-wall favorites on Clearwater Beach serve up seafood fresh from the boat at bargain prices. Served with cold beer, good humor and modest fixings (plus great desserts). Look for great grouper, oysters and stone crab in season. Beer, wine. Frenchy's Saltwater Cafe, 419 Poinsettia Ave., (727) 461-6295; Frenchy's Cafe, 41 Baymont St.; (727) 446-3607; Frenchy's Rockaway Grill, 7 Rockaway St. (727) 446-4844.
Keegan's Seafood Grille $$
Locals pack this place for the big variety of fresh finfish with creative trim, from herb crusts or Parmesan batter to jalapeno cream sauces. All come with unusually fresh, well-cooked vegetables. Try the gumbos and oyster stews when it's cold outside, and the cool salads and ceviche during the dog days. 1519 Gulf Blvd., Indian Rocks Beach; (727) 596-2477.
The Lobster Pot $$$
This is top-dollar seafood, and well worth it. Menu stars the king of crustaceans plain and fancy but covers a wide range, all served in a cozy, low-key setting with first-rate service. Full bar. 17814 Gulf Blvd., Redington Shores; (727) 391-8592.
Mid Peninsula Seafood $
Before seafood went yupscale, you bought it in fish markets straight from the counter with no frills. Buy fresh whiting, sea bass, salmon and snapper, plus oysters, shrimp, crab and conch, raw or cooked to order in sandwiches, dinners or to go, broiled, steamed or, best of all, fried. Good hush puppies and prices under $5, too. Beer, wine. 400 49th St. S, St. Petersburg; (727) 327-8309.
Salt Rock Grill $$ to $$$
Flashiest place on the beaches, with a broad view of the Intracoastal Waterway and food as polished as the high style interior. Best meats and fish are from the big oak-fired grill; other goodies include Greek pasta and creme brulee. 19325 Gulf Blvd., Indian Shores; (727) 593-7625.