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Grapefruiting 2017: Where to eat in and around Clearwater

The Redneck Benedict, one of the many monstrous breakfasts at Lenny's.

The Redneck Benedict, one of the many monstrous breakfasts at Lenny’s.

The Phillies’ spring training facility – the Carpenter Complex, which includes the recently renamed Spectrum Field – has long had the reputation of being one of the best training destinations for players and fans alike. Even when the franchise was falling behind on things like advanced analytics and progressive in-game tactics, its player and fan accommodations in Clearwater were written about as being ahead of the curve.

As with any place worth traveling to, availability of food and quality dining are part of the allure of Clearwater. Spring Training Connection depicts Spectrum Field itself as having fare that will make sojourners from Philly feel at home: cheesesteaks and, for the adult crowd, a selection of what Wheels and T-Mac used to call “adult beverages” during their joint broadcasts. Obviously, no one is going to make the trek from the Philadelphia area to Florida just for stadium food, but there’s always comfort in knowing cheesesteaks are available within a certain radius.

The most ubiquitously recommended dining destination for Phillies fans in Florida is Lenny’s, a diner with an Americana feel and appropriately substantial breakfast menu. It’s definitely a breakfast hotspot for the seasonal spring training crowd. Its popularity among Phillies fans (and proximity to Spectrum Field) also leads to it drawing a serious crowd on days the team plays home games, so hungry visitors may have more luck on days the team is away from Clearwater.

ESPN writer Keith Law describes Lenny’s as being a draw more for the amount of food than the quality of it, but he also misses out on part of the experience by not being a Phillies fan. Beyond the food, the eatery is dressed up as a Phillies haven each spring – including paintings of the Phanatic on the windows – and has been seen by some as a rite of passage for Phillies fans in the area for spring training. Members of the Phillies have been known to show up from time to time, but the fans alone make the place feel like a home away from home.

Another dining hotspot popular among Phillies fans is Frenchy’s, a beachy, laid-back destination best known for its grouper sandwich and fresh seafood. The name may sound familiar from being associated with the Tiki Pavilion at Spectrum Field, but there are multiple Frenchy’s restaurant locations throughout Clearwater Beach. Guests can eat on an open-air patio right on the beach and enjoy, in addition to seafood options, drinks from the bar. Frenchy’s seems to capture many of the characteristics people from the Philadelphia area ascribe to Florida— namely, beachside relaxation and fresh food.

Another seafood-by-the-sea option is The Bait House, which eschews the flashiness many associate with Florida but still delivers fresh seafood in a peaceful environment with a view— the restaurant sits right atop a marina and includes outdoor deck dining. There’s no pretense here, and the restaurant has a no-frills tavern vibe and affordable bites and brews. They advertise the opportunity to take in a sunset while you eat, but they also advertise spicy tuna nachos. Tell me which is the real draw.

While not one for nightlife myself – unless “nightlife” means homemade pizza and episodes of Sherlock – I’ve been told that the best thing one looking for after-hours fun in Clearwater can do is leave it. Tampa is about a half-hour drive from Clearwater and has more of a reputation as a place for those looking for bars, entertainment, and Latin American food and culture.

While you’re there, check out El Puerto Restaurant & Grill, which offers a lot more than just seafood. Its authentic Latin American menu features dishes and influences from Argentina, Peru, El Salvador, Cuba, and Mexico that hit all the major food groups— including steak, pasta and dessert. Yes, those are food groups now.

If the length of the menu is overwhelming, go for the Parrillada Argentina, which incorporates a variety of cuts and dishes—sausage, short-rib, chicken breast and more.

Also in Tampa are well-reviewed staples of various cuisine: the “rustic chic” Ulele, the “modern American” Mise en Place and the family run Columbia Restaurant. All good choices.

In your travels, remember that the purpose of spring training is to gear up for the regular season. As batters improve their timing and pitchers ramp up their velocity, our duty as spectators is to work our way up to the crab fries and dollar dogs we’ll be living off this summer. Fortunately, Clearwater has a variety of options to get you started on that.

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