BEST MUSIC VENUE THAT FEELS LIKE HOME
Although Jannus Landing has gotten its deserved share of love from Best of the Bays past, I'd be remiss if I left this home-away-from home off my very own personal page. The place transcends the concerts. It's a cool hang. And what shows! Over the years, let's see: Pearl Jam's combustible local debut in the early '90s; African juju titan King Sunny Ade, and then a double bill of King Sunny Ade and Jimmy Cliff; Bonnie Raitt before she bagged all those Grammys; a double bill of the Neville Brothers and Was (Not Was); any number of very cool Little Feat shows; The Band, two days before Richard Manuel hung himself; Chili Peppers goin' off in the late '80s; the Zawinul Syndicate. I could go on. JL Management makes the environment laid back but very secure. Sight lines are good, sound is usually great. There was a time, in '89 I think, when the St. Pete City Council tried to shut the joint down by using the noise ordinance. Folks came out of the woodwork and beat 'em back. I was a rock critic then, and took part in the fight. It's still some of my most satisfying journalistic work. Long live the Landing. And thanks to Rob Douglas, Tony and Dave, Bob Barnes, Jack, Gene and everyone else involved through the years.
Jannus Landing, 16 Second St. N., St. Petersburg, 727-896-1244.
BEST PLACE I CAN ONLY EAT ONCE A MONTH OR SO (...CAUSE I DON'T WANT TO END UP LIKE A BLIMP)
Sometimes, while I'm gorging myself at the Laughing Cat's lunch buffet, I get to thinking that it can't really be possible to eat this good, and this much, for so little. For $7.95, this boisterous Ybor bistro serves up a veritable feast of top-shelf stuff: fresh fish, chicken, pork and beef dishes; pasta; vegetables; salad; antipasto. Chef/owner Franco LoRe makes like a mad scientist in the back, improvising the buffet as he goes. And he's really not stuck on any style, although I guess you could say he skews Italian. Many a time, I've been stuffed to the gills and ready to leave when Franco implores me to stay because he's almost done with swordfish something-or-other in a white wine sauce and "you must try, please." I love to brag on the place, then take friends there and watch as their minds get blown.
Laughing Cat, 1811 N. 15th St., Ybor City, 813-241-2998.
BEST BODY SHOP
Not long ago, I had a bad little stretch behind the wheel where I caused three fender-benders in just over a year. I don't recommend this. I've become a poster boy for skyrocketing insurance rates. Now, you really don't want to be on a first-name basis with a body repairman, but if you have to, his name should be Lonnie. Unlike the sharks at the dealerships — guys working on commission, trying to soak the insurance companies for exorbitant payouts — Lonnie has actually tried to save me money. When one woman whose bumper I scraped in a parking lot came back with a $1,400 estimate from a Toyota shop, I pleaded with her to let Lonnie have a look. His price: $200. Recently, I had someone back into me in a parking lot. I'm going to get my car fixed at AutoNet to get the job done first-rate and save these folks who dinged me a few bucks in the process.
AutoNet Specialists, 3198 23rd Ave. N., St. Petersburg, 727-323-4461.
BEST GAS STATION
Fred's Super Texaco
Being generally able-bodied and modern-minded, I'm a self-service, pay-at-the-pump man. What I need in a D.I.Y. pumping station is a certain ergonomic friendliness, and Fred's has it in spades. Here's how it goes: Pull up, insert card. Hit the "Pay Outside: Debit" button. While this is processing, twist off gas cap and place in holder. Turn back quickly and hit "Yes" to "Would you like a receipt?" Turn and shove pump handle in fuel hole. Wheel around and hit "Regular Unleaded." Now here's where it gets really good. Fred's pump handles have notches so you don't have to squeeze it. Hands-free pumping, just like the old-time gas jockeys. While the fuel chugs into the tank — quickly, I might add — sometimes I squeegee the windows, sometimes I just go into a brief reverie. When the handle clicks, top off the tank, replace handle, grab receipt and go. It's like I'm my own pit crew.
Fred's Super Texaco, 6201 Fourth St. N., St. Petersburg, 727-526-0550.
BEST AND MOST CONSISTENT DISH AT A RESTAURANT
Roast Pork Verde at Red Mesa
Mmmmmm. Mm Mm Mmmmmmmmmm. You don't get anything other than exceptional meals at Red Mesa, an upscale Southwestern/Mexican eatery in northeast St. Pete. The food has pizzazz, originality and overall yumminess, but the restaurant's consistency is what makes it extraordinary. I've had a variety of dishes there, but I always go back to the Roast Pork Verde, chunks of pork served stew-style with peppers and onions and other tasty stuff. Sides of rice and black beans. Mix it all up and inhale it.
Red Mesa, 4912 Fourth St. N., St. Petersburg, 727-527-8728.
BEST MEN'S HAIRDRESSER
Joyce Hanson at Janet Mittendorf's Salon
She's easy on the eyes, but can be one of the guys. She got mad scissors skills, yo. And she kicks it with the clippers, too. She's expert at finessing certain follicly challenged areas — but tastefully, very tastefully. You will look much better when you walk out than when you walked in. And you will have had a few laughs in the process.
Janet Mittendorf's Salon, 8850 Fourth St. N., St. Petersburg, 727-577-0980.
BEST BEACH BAR
Developers are trying to rid Sunset Beach of its image as a hippie enclave. In June, two of its long-standing dives, Nick's Seabreeze and Beach Nutts, closed. They'll be razed to make room for homes and condos. Caddy's perseveres. It's a combination beach bar, sports pub and damn fine barbecue restaurant. Most of the joint is open-air but covered. There's a nice stretch of beach behind it. Probably best of all: Sunset (part of Treasure Island) still permits alcohol on the beach.
Caddy's, 9000 W. Gulf Blvd., Treasure Island, 727-360-4993.
BEST BAR THAT SPONSORS CITY-LEAGUE TEAMS
The Sports Bar
You should see all the damn trophies. Dozens and dozens of 'em, arrayed all over. Mostly softball, but quite a few are for basketball — basketball trophies won by the Sports Bar's only hoops team, of which I am a proud member. The bar provides us money for entrance fees; in turn we come in every Thursday, drink like fish and eat like pigs. It's a win-win, baby. Beers are cheap, food is good, service is beyond excellent (kudos to Danielle, Michelle and Rommie). So is the b-ball team. We dominate the St. Pete Beach over-30 league, even though our average age is 40. We are the BEST LOCAL BASKETBALL TEAM WITH AN AVERAGE AGE OF 40 (currently accepting challenges). Charter members Bob Jorgenson, Craig "Lil General" Parker, Vince Scruzi, Al Cowan and me; veterans Brett "Rainbow" Rowles and Rick Smith; newcomers Bob "Woody" Woodford, Ron Schmidt and Greg Roberson. Great players, great drinkers (most of 'em), and great guys — my Best Buddies of the Bay.
The Sports Bar, 9685 Bay Pines Blvd., Seminole, 727-393-9110.