Cheap eats: Tanglin's, Alessi, Fortunato's

Bust a gut, not your wallet, at these area eateries.

click to enlarge LIKE BEING BACK IN PHILLY: Grill man David Maffei cooks cheesesteaks at Alessi. - Eric Snider
Eric Snider
LIKE BEING BACK IN PHILLY: Grill man David Maffei cooks cheesesteaks at Alessi.

These days, thanks to the fabulous economy, a night out on the town or a big lunch date often comes with a side of fries. That doesn't mean it has to be McDonald's, Wendy's et al when dining out, though. Starting this week, we'll be giving you a weekly serving of Cheap Eats on our website (tampa.creativeloafing.com), every Friday. These reviews will be by CL staffers — you know, common folk who don't have the benefit of my ginormous restaurant-reviewer expense account (and unfathomable expertise).

Here's a sneak peek of what you'll find: three inexpensive joints that have touched our hearts, stomachs and wallets.

Tanglin's Bombaly and Curry House, 6931 Fourth St. N., St. Petersburg, 727-526-7300, tanglins-to-go.com.

Day after day, week after week of driving by this mysterious place called Tanglin's had me making like Pavlov's dog. The place had a pretty sign, cute little delivery cars in the lot. It took a long time for the joint to open. Then it did.

It was an idle Friday night several weeks ago when Bonnie and I decided to give it a shot. We found out that Tanglin's is an offshoot of Moon Under Water, an English/Indian restaurant, in St. Pete. Tanglin's calls its food Colonial Cuisine to Go.

A couple curries would do the trick, we figured. I called for delivery. No more delivery, the woman on the phone said, too expensive. So what's a fella to do? Send the wife out to pick it up, of course. (OK, ask the wife very nicely.)

Bonnie brought back chicken khorma ($9) and beef tikha ($10), both accompanied by basmati rice. While the meals didn't blow us away, they did the trick. I prefer the delicate white basmati rice of Indian restaurants over Tanglin's version, which is yellow and thicker. The khorma was velvety and smooth, while the tikha was red and bold. Khorma gets the nod. The beef that night was just on the chewy side. A nice surprise was an order of baked fries ($3), potato-y without the grease.

I've been hoping for an Indian restaurant to pop up in northeast St. Pete, and while my wish has not yet been granted, Tanglin's takeout is a reasonable alternative for the time being.

By the way, although Tanglin's is a to-go outfit, it also has a comfortable dining area. Bonnie said so.

—Eric Snider

Alessi Bakery, 2909 W. Cypress St., Tampa, 813-879-4544.

Yeah, I know, Alessi is a landmark in town. Its cannoli are reputed to have been Santo Trafficante's favorite. Its owner has been a prominent boxing promoter around these parts. Alessi's baked goods are top-notch.

But lunch? Well, the noontime meal was always a bit of a letdown: a cafeteria-like line of serving trays kept warm on a hot table, with Cuban pork, turkey and dressing, and other nondescript dishes.

All that changed in February. Losing money on the cafeteria meals, Alessi ditched the hot table, installed a new grill and transformed itself. You can still get pressed Cubans ($5.50) or grab an enough-for-two Sicilian focaccia ($7.50) in the cold case, but the high point now is the grill.

Take the cheesesteak. Lots of places around these parts offer what they describe as a Philly, with flabby meat and half-done onions. Not Alessi. Its cheesesteak ($7.50 with a free 20-ounce bottle of Pepsi product on the lunch special) is 9 inches of Philly heaven on a freshly baked roll, with well-caramelized onions and green peppers (on request) diced in among "100 percent shaved USDA Midwestern Sirloin beef." You get your choice of four cheeses, including Swiss, provolone and American, but for my money it's best to go native and get the Cheez Whiz. In all, these beauties are the best I've had outside Philadelphia.

Alessi also whips up a big ol' ground-chuck hamburger ($3.49 for a single; $4.79 for a double) and puts it on a fresh bakery bun that is crisped right next to the grilling meat. Dressed with the works, it is a hot, messy treat.

Perhaps you have the self-control to pass up the bakery counter, but it's impossible not to grab one of the individually wrapped goodies at the checkout, like the peanut butter chip brownie ($1.95).

There's no seating inside, just tables beneath an outdoor tent. But even with summer's heat, the cheesesteak makes the schvitzy weather bearable.

—Wayne Garcia

Fortunato's Italian Market, 259 Central Ave., St. Petersburg, 727-898-4888.

My girlfriend Heidi loves to ride bikes around downtown St. Pete, but I need some prodding. Yes, exercise and the great outdoors are dandy, but to sweat my ass off in Florida's summer swelter I need a little more than promises of long-term good health. That's where Fortunato's Italian Market comes in.

A downtown St. Pete staple, Fortunato's resembles the pizza joints I frequented with my dad as a youngster in Long Island, N.Y. The setup is cafeteria-style, though they make-to-order anything more complicated than pizza or basic pasta. After a recent ride around the 'Burg, Heidi and I stumbled into the Central Avenue storefront looking for a quick fix of carbs and cheese.

Heidi doubled up on fabulous slices of New York-style pizza (there's also big, square Sicilian-style), leaving nothing behind but a delightful streak of oily orange runoff on the plate. I, on the other hand, needed something more substantial than bread and cheese to quell my exercise-induced appetite.

Just add chicken! The chicken parm sub and an order of curly fries worked just fine, the chunk chicken breast mixing perfectly with Fortunato's tasty marinara and mozzarella. We split the fries and were back on the road, $15 lighter.

I'm sure that the meal's lack of nutritional value negates any health benefits of the bike ride. For pizza and subs this good, however, it's a trade I'll make every time. —Joe Bardi

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