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July 19, 2007

Tampa - Day III

Dominic Armato
You don't top a day like day two. But that said, day three was a nice, laid back finish. After two days of Cuban and seafood, a little change of pace was in order. So I went for the simplest, most comforting option on the hit list.

I cruised down Dale Mabry in search of another LTH recommendation, Wright's Gourmet House. The intelligence indicated sandwiches. Lots of sandwiches. And it was clear upon stepping in the door that these weren't going to be all manner of oily grilled faux panini with "Tuscan" flatbread and ancho garlic mayonnaise. First clue? The austere oil painting of Marjorie and Pete Wright hanging over the register. Second clue? A refrigerator case filled with, among other things, three kinds of potato salad and an abundance of pie. The chalkboard menu was filled with plenty of creative concoctions, but they were creative in a grandma's secret sandwich recipe kind of way. I picked out a couple of specialties, and ordered a half of each.

Dominic Armato
First up was the Wrights' famous Beef Martini... more appetizing than it appears due to some camera wonkiness. It was the kind of combination that's easy to dismiss as old hat, except that it's really, really good. There was roast beef the way it should be, not overcooked, tender and juicy. A few strips of bacon and mushrooms that had been sautéed in butter, wine and herbs and served warm rounded out the fillings. And the bread? Nothing fancy here. Plain old white sandwich bread spread with butter that had been touched up with a bit of garlic and herbs. I can't remember the last time I had butter on a sandwich, and it's high time it came back. Though she was more of a braunschweiger and pickles kind of gal, the style reminded me of Grammy Jo's supper table in Jeff City, Missouri. No pretentiousness, just simple goodness. Delicious sandwich.

Dominic Armato
Even more delicious, however, was another Wright specialty. The Golden Gate was another white bread concoction, a triple decker layered with very lightly seasoned sliced roast pork, more bacon, Jarlsberg swiss, buttery planks of German dill pickle, lettuce, a mustard sauce and the secret weapon, a fantastic house-made peach chutney. The Golden Gate is a satisfying combination across the board, but the chutney is what makes it. And what makes the chutney is that it has body. This isn't peach flavored sugar syrup. It's a pile of sweet, tart, spicy chunks of peach. I don't mean to oversell Wright's. I mean, these are sandwiches, and fairly simple ones at that. But they're good, satisfying, and just creative enough to be interesting without being annoying. This would be a regular stop for me if it weren't in Tampa.

Dominic Armato
For dinner we wanted to get one more fresh seafood fix, but couldn't stray far owing to an evening flight. The answer was Crab Shack. Not A crab shack, mind you... just Crab Shack. Just off the bay, across the bridge from TPA, Crab Shack is so close to the edge of a six-lane highway that when you park out front... well... let's just say you're better off not trying to retrieve anything from the trunk. Plus, backing into 60 MPH traffic on the egress is a hoot. I'm not going to suggest that Crab Shack is worth getting smeared across the pavement, but it IS a cute little place that serves up some fresh, no-frills seafood. When it comes to decor, "shack" is the operative word here. Claustrophobics may be a little on edge, but it has the kind of dusty, quirky, flair-festooned quality to which endless national chains aspire, except here it's the genuine article. Or at least it feels that way. Are they trying? Sure. But it doesn't feel contrived. We took a seat at a long table flanked by benches, and ordered up some sea critters.

Dominic Armato
My starter was a little disappointing. I'm a sucker for clams, so half a dozen steamed with butter was pretty much irresistible. But I think they spent a little too long in the sauna. Anything doused in butter tastes pretty good, but they were mostly just tough and chewy. Thankfully, things looked up from there.

My ladylove, still basking in the glow of the previous evening's fried grouper sandwich, opted for an encore. All of the elements were there -- fried fish, light bun, fresh vegetables and tartar sauce -- the only differences being that Crab Shack's went breaded instead of battered, and this particular take didn't quite have the magic of the previous night's catch. But still, a good sandwich, crispy, fresh and delicious.

Dominic Armato
I decided to start prepping for Baltimore by going with Crab Shack's crab sampler, a simple trio of blue, snow and golden or stone crab (depending on the season) and more butter. I am, admittedly, a crab novice. Aside from softshells, the occasional chilled cocktail-style and a small quarter here and there in China, I hadn't cracked into a whole crab since seventh grade. Naturally, I made a complete fool of myself. It's an art, not a science, and I have yet to develop the feel. But I still managed to get through the larger legs and three whole blues in just under an hour, which left us with juuuuuust enough time to catch the plane. The blues, coated with garlic butter, were delicious. It's no wonder these fellows are coveted, and the intensity of the meat is the only thing that makes the effort worth it. Of the other two, both quarters with large legs, I wasn't certain which was which, but one was delicious while the other was borderline tasteless. I should've taken notes. But everything was fresh and it's a fun joint. I'd happily return.

All in all, one fantastic food trip. I understand the American Board of Pathology has recently instituted a maintenance of certification program that involves additional testing every ten years. Clearly, they're looking out for me. Ted Peters will still be there in 2017, right?

Wright's Gourmet House
1200 S. Dale Mabry
Tampa, FL 33629
Mon - Fri7:00 AM - 6:00 PM
Sat8:00 AM - 4:00 PM
Crab Shack
11400 Gandy Blvd.
St. Petersburg, FL 33702
Mon - Thu11:00 AM - 10:00 PM
Fri - Sat11:00 AM - 11:00 PM
Sun1:00 PM - 10:00 PM


I had one of the best meals I ever had about 5 years ago in Tampa. I remember the dish, herb crusted grouper, but for the life of me I can't remember the restaurant. Damn shame.

I would be interested in trying different kinds of crab side by side. I never had the opportunity to compare tastes.

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