Something Fishy Happened…on Our Way to the Small Town of Tarpon Springs, FL
Earlier this week The Discover Small Town America Tour decided to explore the quirky small town of Tarpon Springs, FL (pop. 24,600). As often happens on the Tour, Bart and Rorie got sidetracked by an “on the way” restaurant they heard about on the HGTV show Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives and from some well-traveled friends. The place? Ted Peters Famous Smoked Fish Restaurant in St. Petersburg, FL (http://tedpetersfish.com). This family owned and operated restaurant has been in business in the same spot on Pasadena Avenue in St. Pete since 1952. A covered eating area with picnic tables and counter stools, and a separate smoke house with old-fashioned wood smoking trays, make up this iconic roadside eatery.
After bellying up to the counter, Rorie told Sue (who, by the way, was one of the most personable, enthusiastic and attentive waitresses ever), she and Bart had never been toTed’s before.
Well before you could say “holy smoke Batman”, Sue presented them with a sample of Ted’s famous smoked fish, amazing German potato salad and root beer served in an icy mug. The samples were all it took for Rorie to order one of their specialties sandwiches, an enormous treat overflowing with a tuna-like spread made of smoked mullet and mahi, sweet relish and mayo. Mmmm. Although the sandwich was big enough to feed 4 adults (or 2 Sumo wrestlers), Rorie and Bart managed to polish it off in record time.
Next time you’re near St. Pete, make sure you stop at Ted’s, ask for Sue and tell her Rorie and Bart sent you!
Having fed their hunger and partially satisfied the “beast”, Rorie and Bart took off for their next destination, Tarpon Springs (http://www.tarponspringschamber.com). Famous for harvesting and processing natural sponges, divers have been fishing the sponge beds and keeping this maritime industry alive since the late 1880’s. And, where there’s a large Greek population, you can bet there are gorgeous ornate churches, the smell of roasting gyro meats, colorful overflowing platters of food, and most importantly, bakeries with the sweet aroma of sugar and honey serving every treat imaginable!
Most of the sponge divers migrated to the town from Greece and today,Tarpon Springs has the highest percentage of Greek-American residents in the U.S. As soon as Bart and Rorie arrived in Tarpon Springs, they headed towards the water and The Sponge Docks and Sponge Exchange (http://www.spongedocks.net). Both historic and touristy, this area has numerous statues and plaques honoring the original sponge divers who created the industry, aging sponging boats listed on the U.S. National Register tied up at the dock and beautiful old buildings lining the side streets.
Barely out of the car, Rorie tested her newfound conviction to reduce her sugar intake when she passed up the chance to indulge in an ice cream cone at Sweeties Ice Cream Parlor. With it’s red, white and black interior, Sweeties is a blast from the past where they serve 32 flavors of ice cream, 8 flavors of Italian Ice, hand-dipped waffle cones and monster milkshakes. It was a tough decision.
Beginning their stroll on Dodecanese Boulevard which runs along the waterfront docks, Rorie and Bart encountered hundreds of sightseers, colorful locals stopped in the narrow streets and sidewalks carrying on animated conversations in Greek, all types of Greek and seafood restaurants, bakeries, marketplaces, an aquarium, gift shops, and of course sponges in every size and shape imaginable. These are not your pot scrubbing sponges! The sponges in Tarpon Springs are various shades of beige, and are big enough to be vases, wall ornaments or sculptures! Grab a sponge, some locally made soap with olive oil and get ready to scrub your way to a glowing complexion!
And speaking of restaurants and bakeries, Bart and Rorie’s neighbors recommended they stop by Hellas (http://hellasbakery.com), a cornerstone of the Tarpon Springs Greek community since 1970. This large establishment was jam-packed with locals and tourists and the attached bakery had huge cases filled with the largest selection of pastries and treats Rorie and Bart had ever seen. There were so many delicacies to choose from it was both awe-inspiring and a little bit overwhelming. After eyeballing and drooling over every sugary confection, Rorie denied herself the perfect dessert…chocolate dipped baklava overflowing with cinnamon, nuts and honey!
Before you leave Tarpon Springs, grab some pastry to go (just in case you get hungry during your trip home), drive along Spring Bayou to see the gorgeous Victorian mansions built by wealthy Northerners who wintered here, take a stroll downtown and browse the many antique stores lining the streets. And, say hi to this cute little guy who you’ll see in the window of one of the many storefront shops you’ll pass.
P.S. In case you’re wondering why Rorie’s been on a new and temporary “Just say no to sweets” kick, it’s because she and Bart are taking the Discover Small Town America Tour to some small Caribbean island towns next week and she wants to be able to “Just say yes” to every delectable treat she encounters. Stay tuned for our report about small towns in “El Caribe”…