Best Of 2005

Hey, we love the independently owned haberdashers, but in all honesty we can’t really shop there. We just don’t have the scratch. Yes, these small stores do have periodic sales and you can ferret out good deals, but there are deals aplenty at Dillard’s, spread out over several thousand square feet and featuring an array of au courant designers. Bottom line: Unlike a lot of stores whose clearance racks are paltry, you can routinely get really good stuff here for 50 percent off — and often get another 30 percent off of that. We haven’t shopped at all of the Dillard’s stores in Tampa Bay, but among the ones we have, the International Plaza branch has the best selection. 2223 West Shore Blvd., Tampa, 813-342-1220.

The problem with antiquing is that unless you know exactly what you’re looking for, or have a really good idea about stuff that’s actually worth (or not worth) a good chunk of your hard-earned dollars, it’s really easy to get ripped off. Sure, antique stores are great and all, but most of the goodies you find are pricey to say the least, and not always as old or as valuable as the collector would like to believe. The best Bay area location to find cool old stuff? South Tampa yard sales, specifically Palma Ceia and Beach Park. Most likely, this has something to do with the “old money” aspect, not to mention the area’s standing as one of the most expensive places to live in town. But somehow, it seems that South Tampans have a greater need to shed non-essentials with little fuss, regardless of their subjective value.

There are several extremely good bait and tackle shops scattered about the Bay area, this being Florida and all. But if we have to spotlight one above all others, we’ve gotta go with Gandy Bait & Tackle. Six or so years ago, Gandy Bait moved half a block up the street from the little hut it occupied forever (the little hut is now the still-worthy All Pro Bait & Tackle), and has since become a full-service angler’s one-stop, offering an impressive selection of live and frozen bait, an even more impressive selection of artificial lures and other gear, and plenty of credible advice from a friendly, knowledgeable staff. Perhaps most important, Gandy Bait keeps longer hours than most — 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. Mon.-Thurs., 5 a.m. to 1 a.m. Fri. and Sat., and 5 a.m. to 11 p.m. Sun. — in order to hook you up early or late. 4923 W. Gandy Blvd., Tampa, 813-839-5551, www.gandybait.com.

The days of the three-sport high school kid are basically over. It’s all about specialization. Often before the age of 10, a child will have chosen a single sport. And then comes an entire pre-adolescence of training and playing in leagues. And instruction. Baseball, especially, requires expert individual coaching, which kids get in spades at the All-Star School. The large indoor facility, just a few months old, is located in an industrial park in St. Pete. It’s been cordoned into sections with chain-link fencing and nets, in order to create several lanes for hitting, pitching and fielding instruction. Along with it are the usual menagerie of pitching machines and other gear. This is all well and good, but the value in a place like this lies in the coaching quality, and this is where All-Star excels. Owner Chris Wilson, camp director Pete Snyder and former major leaguer John Frascatore, along with others, run kids through creative drills. (They also work with teams.) The atmosphere is fun, energetic and, most of all, designed to make better baseball players. 4801 31st N., St. Petersburg, 727-528-3186, www.allstarindoortraining.com.

You don’t need the address or even directions. Just follow your nose. The buzz-inducing smell of fresh-roasted coffee beans at the Naviera Coffee Mills in Ybor City (founded 1921) can be olfactorily detected from the Crosstown Expressway on a good day. In the front of the mills is the El Molino shop, selling a variety of the freshly roasted beans and shots of deep-brown espresso. Great specials, a wide selection and it’s cheaper than that ubiquitous coffee shop chain with the round green logo. 2012 E. Seventh Ave., Ybor City, 800-531-9587. You can order online at www.elmolinocoffee.com.

BEST DRIVE-THRU ATTENDANT

You’re looking for three things in a drive-thru experience: good food, quick service and exact change. Café Con Trey takes care of all three — there’s no better place for an on-the-run noontime egg sandwich and café con leche — but our man Carlos is the key. He’s the anti-telemarketer, full of personality and warmer than your grandma. When he asks how you’re doing, he genuinely wants to know. When he says good luck, he actually means it. And when he hands you the food, you have to hold yourself back from inviting him to hop into the passenger seat. It just wouldn’t be fair to the next person in line. 2702 W. Kennedy Blvd., Tampa, 813-875-8739.

Teaching those group exercise classes looks easy, doesn’t it? You learn the routines, climb the platform, turn up the music and off you go, whipping your minions into shape. But to be a truly good instructor takes something more — and that’s not easy. Katharine teaches classes at Lifestyle Family Fitness in Hyde Park: Body Pump, a weight-lifting session set to music; and RPM, a spinning class. Her style is to motivate through fun, humor and a bit of showmanship. Workout teachers who force out exhortations or try to conjure crowd response (“Are we feeling GOOD yet?!!!) often fail. Katharine gets everyone up, smiling and into it without even seeming to try. 1610 Swann Ave., Tampa, 813-258-0500. Ask the club for Katharine’s schedule of classes.

They don’t call the Oldsmar Flea Market “The mightiest in the South” for nothing. You’ll find row after row of dusty capitalism piled high with all manner of items. Old books, used clothing, fresh produce and computer parts compete for the attention of the scurrying masses with porn, weapons and food — lots and lots of food (Chinese, hot dogs, ice cream, oh my!). The breathless “Sale! Today Only!” signs screech in a desperate grab for the shopper’s hard-earned dollar (and often just one will do). Besides, where else can you stock up on 35 sticks of incense for 93 cents? Ah, the sweet smell of a bargain. Corner of Racetrack and Tampa roads in Oldsmar, 813-855-2587.

You can tell by the eclectic assortment of artwork on the walls that the folks at Master Art & Frame are willing and able to take on all kinds of framing challenges, from vintage palm-tree prints to Bucs jerseys; that’s John Lynch’s jersey on the wall, a gift from Lynch to the shop’s co-owners, Tony Sanders and Glen DePasse. Whatever the task at hand, Tony and Glen treat it with creative zeal, pulling out mats and frames the way a good chef pulls ingredients off the shelf, and bringing the customer into the decision-making process. 2608 W. Kennedy Blvd., Tampa, 813-354-0229.

The sign in the window reads “the Internet Hot Spot,” and St. Pete’s Finest certainly fits the bill. A robust wireless network will have you flying through cyberspace in seconds. Just crack open the laptop and go. It’s that simple. Not yet a technological road warrior? Not to worry. St. Pete’s Finest also has computers on hand at no charge for customers. The shop, in a small storefront on MLK, is cozy, stocked with quality kitsch (doors for tables; a pig standing guard at the Planet rack), and serves all the usual coffee shop staples. It’s sort of like your living room, only cooler, with better food and Internet access. Why stay home? 689 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., St. Petersburg, 727-898-8777.