Forest Hills, Tampa
For me, a good neighborhood has several specific attributes:
1. Convenient location with easy access to the rest of the city and points beyond
2. Stores that stock essentials
3. Public gathering places within walking distance
4. A diverse mix of people
5. Visually interesting, livable housing styles appropriate to the climate and heritage of the neighborhood
6. Places for outdoor recreation, such as walking, bicycling, swimming, gardening, playing ball games
7. An aesthetically pleasing combination of nature and man-made amenities.
There are trendier places to live in the Bay area, but Forest Hills has all the conveniences of urban living with the peace and greenery of a rural setting. In fact, it's a lot like a small town very close to a city. It's easily accessible to I-75 and I-275.
A 15-minute drive will get you to downtown Tampa, Ybor City and the University of South Florida. From my house, it's an easy walk to Forest Hills Grocery (901 W. Linebaugh Ave. 813-932-6025), an independently owned neighborhood market with everything from ice, milk, beer and dog food to fresh cut steaks, hot deviled crabs, damn good Cuban sandwiches and the best roast pork sandwich in town, made with real roast pork and fresh Cuban bread. The staff is friendly, fast and efficient.
It's a 10-minute walk to A&P produce for assorted seasonal fruits, vegetables and greens, from citrus and avocados to peppers, 'maters and sweet taters; Brothers Pizza, with a cranky baker who creates handmade unbaked pies you take home and pop in the oven; Curva Latina Colombian Restaurant, with hearty and inexpensive homestyle food; and Savannah's Tea Room and Gift Shop, all independently owned businesses. On the way home from these places, I can get a serviceable bottle of wine for a decent price at the Citgo gas station and convenience store. Or, better yet, I can stop at Gino's (10006 Armenia Ave., 813-933-1089) for a beer or glass of wine (they have a good selection of both) and a huge plate of seafood fra diavolo, a rich, zingy tomato sauce loaded with mussels, shrimp, scallops and clams on linguini cooked to al dente perfection. There's also CJ's Tavern (1318 Linebaugh Ave., 813-931-5897), which serves a fried grouper sandwich with the fish dredged in cornmeal, southern style, and a bartender and jukebox to rival The Hub's.
The Babe Zaharias Golf Course (11412 Forest Hills Drive, 813-631-4374) is basically a big park that runs through the neighborhood, with ponds and ducks and beautiful shade trees. At night people walk, play fetch with their dogs, ride bikes and set off fireworks on the golf course for every conceivable holiday. The neighborhood has a good mix of ages and lifestyles, from young families to people in their 70s and 80s who built houses and raised families here in the 1950s, from gay and lesbian couples to bikers, cops, firefighters and curmudgeons. Many grew up in the neighborhood and are now raising their own families there. A 20-minute walk will take you to a neighborhood that's an interesting mix of Hispanic and Asian homes and businesses with everything from Colombian, Peruvian and Vietnamese restaurants to a huge Asian market, where you can buy whole fish and exotic snacks, vegetables and gifts. Here, you'll also find a supermarket and three video stores (one of which — Unique Video — is pretty much the last remaining independently owned video store to be found).
Did I mention there are bus stops every few blocks, two dry cleaners, three drug stores, a public swimming pool and library, and a Greek diner, all within reasonable walking distance?
Forest Hills is bordered by Busch Boulevard, and Florida, Fowler and Armenia avenues in Tampa
BEST LATIN RADIO SHOW
Latino 54, WMNF-88.5 FM, Tuesday Morning
For years I looked forward to that hour and a half on Sunday nights when Franco Silva threw a dance party on the radio, playing the best music of Latin America and the Caribbean. His show was called "Oye Latino", and it made Sunday night special. I was so sad when it looked as if the station might cancel the show. Instead, after much agitating on the part of Franco and lovers of Latin music, the show was spared, pared to an hour and moved to Tuesday mornings from 9 to 10. It's now called "Latino 54" because it's 54 minutes long. I miss my Sunday night fix, but Tuesdays always start out a little brighter now. And who doesn't need a lift on Tuesday mornings, tu sabes?
Gulfport and Dunedin were a close second and third here, but St. Pete just has more urban amenities. Much as I love Tampa, it has the suckiest downtown in the area next to Largo. Downtown St. Pete far outstrips Tampa in every way. First of all, people actually live in and around downtown St. Pete in attractive buildings that look like they belong in St. Pete. Second, there are reasons to go there. It's very pedestrian friendly, with human-scale buildings, garden cafes and sheltered courtyards. There are music and food and bars and galleries, shops, people on the streets, an open and accessible waterfront, museums, parks, auditoriums, movie theaters.
BEST HISTORIC PHOTOGRAPHIC COLLECTION
The Burgert Brothers at the Tampa Hillsborough County Public Library
S.P. Burgert started his commercial photography business in Ybor City in 1899, just when Tampa was getting interesting. From then until the 1960s, members of the Burgert family took more than 80,000 photos for clients throughout Florida's West Coast. From the construction of Davis Islands in the 1920s to the tin can tourist camps, official functions in the black community, Gasparilla balls and parades, and even a Ku Klux Klan rally, these photographs documented almost every aspect of public life for more than six decades. Burgert photographs appeared in advertisements, brochures, newspapers, stores, restaurants, offices and home — even in Life and National Geographic magazines. They are an incredible historic record.
The collection was stored in a garage and nearly lost to the elements before the Friends of the Library rescued it in 1974. Some photos were beyond salvaging, but the library managed to save approximately 14,000, all of which have now been printed and most of which have been cataloged and transferred to more durable film. Most are available for online viewing, and prints can be purchased through the library. Costs run from $10 for an 8-by-10-inch print to $60 for 20-by-24-inchers. The library also sells Burgert Brothers postcards for $10 and an annual Burgert Brothers calendar for $5. The 2004 calendar commemorates the 100th anniversary of the State Fair and Gasparilla and promises to be a beautiful thing.
To view watermarked Burgert Brothers photos, go to www.hcplc.org and select "catalog" and "power" search. Type "Burgert" in the author space. After selecting the photo you want, you can go to the library to see a print and order it. John F. Germany Public Library, 900 N. Ashley Drive, downtown Tampa, 813-273-3652.
BEST BUG BUSTERS
Emergency Pest Patrol
Yes, I'm talking about pest control while other people are telling you about fun stuff. But my quality of life was seriously enhanced when I found a group of people who got rid of the creepy crawlies in my house without poisoning me and without creeping me out. These guys use organic materials that are nontoxic to humans and pets. Plus, their prices are reasonable and — unlike most pest control companies I've dealt with — their contract does not seem designed to squeeze the most money out of you while delivering the least service. Best of all, Emergency keeps after the critters till they're gone — without charging extra, no matter how many visits they have to make. After a recent Hitchcockian experience with carpenter ants, I actually came home to find the guy from Emergency just finishing trimming my trees to keep the ants from entering that way. Try getting that kind of service from the big guys with television ads. Ha!
Emergency Pest Patrol, 14805 N. Florida Ave., Tampa, 813-908-1911)