The alternative dinner date

A guide for people who hate the traditional romantic excursion.

| February 13, 2013
CUSTARD’S LAST STAND: Cooks at the Thai temple make coconut custards called khanom krok. They’re part custard, part pancake, and fully delicious.
CUSTARD’S LAST STAND: Cooks at the Thai temple make coconut custards called khanom krok. They’re part custard, part pancake, and fully delicious.
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So Valentine’s Day is over, and none too soon. But that doesn’t mean you’re necessarily against dining out with your human of choice. And besides, you’ve still got the weekend. Try these wallet-friendly alternatives to the cheesy romantic candlelit cliché.

Friday: Love and biscuits

St. Petersburg’s Dairy Inn, opened in 1947, is home to the classic burger, fries and milkshake. Swing by for the perfect patty and fries, served for an upcharge with a thick chocolate malt milkshake (about $8 for the meal), then head out to the St. Petersburg Shuffleboard Court for some seriously good clean fun. The court opens up Fridays from 7-11 p.m., and games are free (though donations are strongly encouraged). Food and drinks are allowed (just not on the courts themselves) and many folks pull up a cooler of bevvies to sip on during the game.

One of the court’s dedicated volunteers always organizes a fabulous playlist of tunes that are amplified throughout. Live music from bands like Sons of Hippies, the Happiness Machine, and Types (CL’s own Joey Neill and Scott Harrell) takes place on the first Friday of every month. Shuffle your biscuits (that’s what the little discs are called) and fall in love under the twinkling lights and open skies.

Dairy Inn, 1201 Dr. Martin Luther King St. N, St. Petersburg, 727-822-6971, $5-$10. St. Petersburg Shuffleboard Courts, 559 Mirror Lake Drive N,St. Petersburg,, FREE.

Saturday: Dirty dancing

Grab a latte and a homemade pastry or gelato ($3-5) at Cassis American Brasserie’s adjacent bakery, open until 11 p.m. on Friday and Saturday nights. Then meander over to Ceviche and sway to ancient licks from flamenco guitar steps below Beach Drive. The downtown St. Petersburg basement bar feels like a secret locale, just discovered, especially when the flamenco plays around 11 p.m. on Saturdays.

Somewhere upstairs, bread is baking and the smell wafts below as loaves are hustled to hungry patrons seated in booths against the wall. Order a large clay pitcher of sangria (about $35) for a big group or two hearty drinkers.

Unlike the rest of our dancing locales, top 40 remixes are nowhere to be heard and neither are the people who listen to them. In the words of Stevie Nicks, “you see your gypsy” all around. Gray-haired businessmen shimmy like wild teenage boys next to their far-too-young female counterparts. Everyone, except the few staid men by the bar, gives into Sombras Flamencos guitarist Javier Hinojosa at some point; it’s only a matter of time.

A long greasy-haired man in a paisley shirt, too-tight embellished jeans, and pointy-toed shoes grabs a girl and begins to twirl her. Around and around and around they go in tight circles. Hinojosa’s riffs don’t relent, the percussionist forcing hips to move faster and hope that feet will follow.

Cassis Bakery, 170 Beach Drive NE, St. Petersburg, 727-827-2927, $3-$5. Ceviche, 10 Beach Drive, St. Petersburg, 727-209-2299, $25-$50.

Sunday: Goin’ to the Temple

Go down Palm River Road in Tampa, past Neyda’s Fly & Buy (gas station, tire shop, and supply of Cuban edibles), beyond the corner 7-11, and over the train tracks. There you’ll find the Wat Mongkolratanaram of Florida, or “the Thai temple,” as it is lovingly referred to by those in the know.

A shimmering red and golden mass rises up over the Florida brush, mirror mosaics glinting in the Sunday morning sun. Every Sunday from 10 a.m.-1:30 p.m., volunteers from the temple cook up a storm of authentic Thai treats for the huddled and mostly non-Buddhist masses. Arrive early and bring cash, as all the food is by suggested donation.

Order some coconut custards first; they’ll be ready by the time you’re hungry for something sweet. Called khanom krok in Thai, they’re part custard, part pancake, and fully delicious. Rows of half-moon indented cast-iron skillets are filled with two different batters, one to form the crispy outer layer, the other for the inner coconut custard ($3-$5). Eat them alongside a Thai tea ($1), a sweet strongly brewed tea topped with milk.

For a main course, wait in the crazy long line and get a piping hot bowl of noodle soup (beef or meatball, $5). Then down to the rice and noodle line with an array of toppings (vegan, meat, or veggie, $5-$7). Haul the feast out to a picnic table along the Hillsborough River. Tampa’s Wat Temple is a prime people-watching spot, with everyone from rednecks to hipsters passing through. Wander over to the waterfront plant sale and pick up a kumquat tree, lemongrass plant, or blooming orchid. Note: The plant man likes to bargain. Inside the temple (take your shoes off before entering), a little boy and girl strike an ancient gong along the east wall. Its vibrations reverberate through your core like a tidal wave.

Before leaving, stroll through the boardwalk labyrinth filled with Buddhist parables like “when the sun shines, make hay.”

5306 Palm River Road, Tampa, 813-621-1669, $10-$30.

DOWN BY THE RIVER: The temple is scenically situated on the Hillsborough River.
DOWN BY THE RIVER: The temple is scenically situated on the Hillsborough River.


Comments (1)

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Great description of the experience at the Thai Temple. I don't suppose I'm the first to point out that Palm River Road runs on the south side of the Palm - not the Hillsborough - River?

Posted by shema711 on 02/14/2013 at 3:41 PM
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