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  1. Food

Food Network star Katie Lee filmed in Gulfport, St. Petersburg for her Cooking Channel show

Stella's is beloved by the locals in Gulfport. The breakfast-and-lunch diner is owned by partners Barbara and Jeanne. Appetizers include fried green tomatoes with spicy mayo. [LARA CERRI, Times]

When Tampa Bay Times food critic Laura Reiley published a review

Owner Barbara Banno says that for weeks after the story ran, she couldn't keep the sandwich in stock. And then, about two years later, Stella's, known throughout Tampa Bay for its breakfast offerings, was awarded Creative Loafing's Best of the Bay: Best Breakfast Spot award.

No longer a "deli" and now just Stella's, some things have changed over the years. The menu is a bit different, as with all restaurants; the reuben is still there, but the liverwurst is gone. The "Order what you want, eat what you get" sign still hangs on the wall, but the gelato case and its offerings have been replaced by more counter seating.

And now Banno is gearing up for another explosion. In May or June, an episode of Beach Bites with Katie Lee will air on the Cooking Channel, and Stella's corned beef hash and fried green tomatoes will take center stage.

"I always tell my cooks, besides eggs and bacon, there's two things I can't run out of," Banno said, "and that's corned beef hash and fried green tomatoes."

Food Network star Lee and her crew stopped by the Gulfport restaurant, and its neighbor Tangelo's Grille, in late February to film shots for the summer episode. While there, she and Banno talked about, cooked and snacked on Stella's fried green tomatoes, which can be served five ways including on a BLT, eggs benedict or in an omelette, and the corned beef hash, cooked in beer with cinnamon, nutmeg and garlic, and served crispy.

"It was just a distinct flavor, and the crispiness of it, she loved it," Banno said.

On the show, Lee hops from beach town to beach town to "find the local take on the best treats" they have to offer, according to the show's description on the Cooking Channel website.

Camera crews also stopped by Bodega on Central and Kings Street Food Counter in St. Petersburg in late February.

At Kings, open since October 2015, Lee tried the Mac & Cheezus, a grilled cheese sandwich stuffed with macaroni and cheese, jalapenos and pulled pork.

"We had fun," said Kings owner Stephen Schrutt. "We made our Mac & Cheezus, played some ping pong, got her to try a local beer."

Both restaurant owners said they were contacted in December. Banno said producers found her restaurant through Trip Advisor and Yelp reviews and, after a number of interviews and emails back and forth, Lee was in the Waterfront District restaurant on Feb. 28.

"The town kind of went crazy," Banno said, describing the whole experience as "surreal."

Banno said she'll find out when the show airs about two or three weeks ahead of time, after which she'll plan and announce a watch party. Uncomfortable with watching herself on TV, she joked that she would probably stand in the back corner throughout the segment.

Contact Carlynn Crosby at carlynncrosby@yahoo.com.

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