Peg Wesselink and Tony Dodson are college professors-turned-restaurateurs. They spent the 1990s and early 2000s teaching weighty subject matter –– political science, world ideology, women’s studies, international relations and environmental science –– at the University of South Florida and later SUNY Potsdam in Upstate New York.
In 2004, after earning their tenure at Potsdam, they returned to Florida and opened their first restaurant, the cramped-but-wildly-successful Peg’s Pizza Cantina in a Gulfport strip mall. In 2007, Wesselink, 56, and Dodson, 55, gambled on the restaurant’s profit and reopened as Peg’s Cantina in a renovated bungalow in the heart of downtown Gulfport. The move quadrupled the restaurant’s seating capacity and solidified its culinary clout in a town ripe with prized eateries.
Wesselink’s son, St. Pete brewmaster Doug Dozark, followed in his mother’s footsteps. He cut his teeth brewing beer at Cigar City Brewing and Peg’s, where he garnered a following among craft beer devotees. In 2013, the 32-year-old opened his own homegrown venture, Cycle Brewing, on Central Avenue in downtown St. Pete. When the bar’s taps started flowing, beer drinkers showed up in droves for a glass of Dozark’s fabled Rare D.O.S., a world class-ranked barrel-aged stout.
The dive that feels like home: KC’s Korner Restaurant. Peg: “The food is exactly what diner food should be like. I like their homemade desserts, steamed vegetables and egg salad.”
The greasy treat that’s worth every calorie: Bacon at Trip’s Diner. Doug: “It’s like a steak it’s so thick. I don’t even want to know what it looks like when it goes on the grill.”
The dish that’ll make you consider a vegetarian diet: Vietnamese tofu salads at La V. Peg: “They cut the tofu out of big chunks and sauté it small and serve it with rice. It’s a really nice light lunch.”
The brew everyone wants to taste: Cycle Brewing’s Rare D.O.S. aged in oak whiskey barrels. Peg: “It’s Doug’s original style beer. People line up for that beer.”
The sports venue with the best fans: St. Petersburg Shuffleboard Club. Doug: “Certainly not every city has a shuffleboard club. There’s a club in Brooklyn, N.Y., but does it have bands coming out to play on a regular basis?” Pat: “Doug got married at the shuffleboard court. It has a special place in his heart.”
The event that forces you to meet your neighbors: Bungalow Fest in Kenwood. Peg: “It’s a fundraiser for the Kenwood Neighborhood Association. People open up their yards for you to explore. One woman had a group of people doing synchronized swimming in a pool in her backyard.”
The route that’s best traveled by bike: Bishop’s Harbor in Palmetto to Terra Ceia. Tony: “You wind your way through country roads and waterfront. It’s about 15 miles.” Peg: “It’s a very pleasant ride.”
The 150 acres you never knew existed: Florida Botanical Gardens in Largo. Peg: “I just took my granddaughter to an event there and was really impressed. It’s the perfect place to let a child run around.”
The slice of beach that always feels private: Behind the Jefferson Motel on Treasure Island. Tony: “There are a couple access points with no parking meters and the beach is wide and quiet. It feels secluded. There are not a lot of sunbathers.”
The best getaway in under an hour: Harrington House Beachfront Bed and Breakfast on Anna Maria Island. Peg: “It’s really charming and delightful.” Tony: “You eat breakfast at the pool looking out at the beach. We wish we could find more places like it.”
The bar where craft beer nerds go to drink: Willard’s Tap House. Doug: “It’s in a strip mall next to a pizza place and fishing supply store. It’s an incredibly unlikely spot for craft beer. You only see regulars at Willard’s, talking mostly about beer. They care about the beer they serve because the people they serve really care about beer.”
The ice cream parlor that time forgot: The Candy Kitchen. Peg: “Who still sells candy cigarettes?” Doug: “They have every Pez dispenser ever created and Nehi soda from the 1920s.” Peg: “It’s a great place for stocking stuffers.”
The Italian restaurant for discerning eaters: Il Ritorno. Peg: “The short rib mezzaluna and scallops are particularly fabulous.”
The next local brewer to watch: Jay Dingman at Barley Mow Brewing Company. Doug: “His Quackalope IPA and Unkindness (black ale) is really popular. He’s expanding his business right now and I know he’s going to have a lot of success with it. He’s one of the best people walking the earth.”
The coolest old house in Grand Central: Craftsman House. Peg: “You’ve probably driven past it 100 times. It’s this cool old bungalow outside of Kenwood that sells great art and pieces of jewelry. You can get lunch there. too. The café makes yummy wraps.”