Philosophical Ethicist, Eggplant Connoisseur

click to enlarge TAMMY JAYCOX KAPLAN - Bud Lee
Bud Lee

John Gray at Bob Lee's

First of all, there's my neighborhood gas and service station, Bob Lee's on Fourth Street just past the new and improved Sunken Gardens. While you may have driven by without giving it a second thought, I suggest you try it on for size. For the cost of self-service, you receive the works — including the comfort of sitting in your car, having your windows cleaned, tires checked and your hood looked under. The attendants won't let you pump your own gas — so just relax. Having cultivated a relationship with Bob Lee's for several years, I've seen lots of attendants come and go, but my favorite is John. Not only does he casually shoot the shit with me while my truck fills up, he even reminds me to check the oil (he actually remembers that my truck, for some strange reason, starts losing oil about two weeks after it has been changed). He has also made me take extra oil on trips ... just in case. Now how cool is that?

Bob Lee's, 1631 Fourth St. N., St. Petersburg, 727-822-3981.


Friends of Strays

Recently, when my hubby and I wanted to make an addition to our household, we looked everywhere. We started at expensive pet stores and choked on the $1,000 price tag, and we searched the classified ads (but the kitties were always gone by the time we called). We were going to go to the pound when I remembered Friends of Strays — a local no-kill shelter (they have animals that have been there for years). When we went in to take a gander, the volunteers who spent their time playing with the animals impressed me. And the first cat I picked up was the one we took home — a cutie that we named Lucy.

Friends of Strays, 3660 Gandy Blvd. (on 34th Street across from ParkSide Mall), St. Petersburg, 727-522-6562.

Bernie's and Son

Every girl needs a little bling in her life, as well as a cool source for acquiring new pieces. My favorite jeweler is Bernie's and Son on Beach Drive. Specializing in estate pieces, as well as brand-spankin' new stuff, Bernie's is always a treat to meander through. They custom-make new pieces and repair old ones. Prices are negotiable, which is always a plus for me. My favorite example of this was when I went in to pick something up and saw an estate piece that I couldn't live without. I asked how much it was (too much), then started bargaining. And yes, I walked out with my new platinum friend.

Bernie's and Son, 144 Beach Drive N.E., St. Petersburg, 727-823-2000.

Shep's Food Mart

While I'd like to think I have more sophisticated taste, the fact remains that I've got several friends who are all about the Schlitz malt liquor (and Old English, etc.). But oddly enough, finding a decent selection can be difficult to the untrained eye. Thank God for the convenience store, and I'm not talking 7-Eleven, I'm talking Shep's. On many a lost bet, I've run over to Shep's to have the clerk look at me quite peculiarly as I check out with five or six huge bottles as I mutter quietly, "I lost a bet."

Shep's, 2001 Fourth St. N., St. Petersburg, 727-823-6565.


Moon Under Water

I can't quite remember when I first tasted the fruity libation that I've grown to love, but I do know that a fresh pint of cider from the tap is about the damn nicest way to chill out after a hard day's work. Oddly enough, it seems that my love isn't shared by many, so I've acquired a taste for cozy Irish and British pubs — where that fermented apple goodness is likely to live. And with the view of the Vinoy and The Pier, Moon Under Water is, by far, the best place to enjoy a nice pint.

Moon Under Water, 332 Beach Drive N.E., St. Petersburg, 727-896-6160.

War Veteran's Memorial Park

Ever since I was a kid, I've absolutely loved going to Veteran's Park. The playground completely kicks ass and best of all, they've got a tank. Now, this tank and I go way back. There's a picture of me with my Grammy and my sister on it when I was 2 or 3. (Granted, I was crying because my sister told me dead people lived inside it.) But as I've gotten older, I've been able to cast my fear aside and climb all over the tank with a sense of purpose. Even now when I'm pushing 30, I still love to hang out on the canon and pretend I'm a kid all over again. (NOTE: Unfortunately, the tank itself is currently off limits for climbing. Sadness. But the park still totally rocks.)

War Veteran's Memorial Park, located next to Bay Pines Veterans Hospital & VA Medical Center, 9600 Bay Pines Blvd. N., St. Petersburg, 727-549-6165.

The sidewalk along Coffee Pot Bayou

Ha! NOT Bayshore! Screw Bayshore, this place is the bomb for taking an evening stroll (or even — huff-puff — a jog). You've generally got a breeze, a great view and a nice soothing sense of peace that comes as the wind is blowing through your hair and you gaze out over the water. Why the hell go to a gym when you can go here? And an added bonus: There are even dolphin, manatee and, in my imagination, great white shark and killer whale sightings along the way.

Coffee Pot Boulevard, St. Petersburg.

ABC Pizza

The best cheap eggplant parm sandwich (and totally worth the drive to Tampa) goes to ABC Pizza, with multiple locations throughout Hillsborough county. Stopping off on the way home has become a special treat, a little reward for a job well done or even a pick-me-up for a day when I'm feeling blue. Doesn't really matter why — 'cause it's sooo good.

ABC Pizza, 1242 W. Hillsborough Ave., Tampa, 813- 237-3324.

Mazarro's Coffee & Italian Market

Next comes my pick for the best place to buy ready-made eggplant parm (i.e. take it home and pop it in the oven/microwave and voila). And that without contest goes to Mazarro's Italian Market. If you've never been there, it's like an Italian wonderland. And really, you can't go wrong with any of their ready-made entrees, but of course, I have a sweet spot for their eggplant parm.

Mazarro's, 2909 22nd Ave. N., St. Petersburg, 727-321-2400.

Jo Jo's in Citta

And finally, the best restaurant for getting some tasty eggplant, according to me, is Jo Jo's in Citta in downtown St. Pete. This little treasure serves consistently great eggplant parm with loads of cheese and yummy sauce.

Jo Jo's, 200 Central Ave., St. Petersburg, 727-894-0075.