St. Pete Beach, Part 1: Lunch and Art

Saganaki and a burger combined into one glorious dish
Saganaki and a burger combined into one glorious dish

The extent of my west coast of Florida travel has largely revolved around trips to Bern’s in Tampa, or to visit friends, with some outlet shopping thrown in for good measure. So, when I was offered a complimentary stay at the Inn on the Beach in St. Pete Beach, I gladly accepted. We drove north on a Friday morning, got caught in torrential downpours, and eventually made our way there, to find a cold front. 

The folks at Visit St. Petersburg Clearwater had arranged lunch and museum visits for us, and naturally we headed straight to lunch. Unfortunately, the folks at Bodega were too busy and uninterested to deal with us, so we were left to our own devices. We rallied, did a quick Google search and headed off in search of Engine No. 9.

Dali's sister.
Dali’s sister.

We seemed to be in an up and coming neighborhood, as evidenced by the taped windows and surly homeless people shouting slurs at us. That bit of charm aside, we did finally manage to get lunch, and it was awesome. Engine No. 9 has elevated bar food, and a whole page of burgers on the menu. I’m surprised that Guy Fieri has yet to feature them on Diners, Drive Ins and Dives. It would be a perfect fit.

Make no mistake, Engine No. 9 is a sports bar, with a giant bar taking up most of the front room, and tables in the back. Each table is equipped with a small tv, and a remote to watch whatever you want. I’ll admit we didn’t change the channel, or watch at all, as we were consumed by the food choices. The very first entry on the menu is “Sriracha crusted hot wings.” Yes, please. We ordered those right away while pondering the extensive burger selection.

Me, in the garden, with a giant Dali mustache.
Me, in the garden, with a giant Dali mustache.

Although many sounded interesting, we settled on the Saganaki burger. This half pound of delicious beef is topped with fried Greek cheese, tzaziki sauce, feta (because, clearly, you can never have too much cheese), pickles and Kalamata olives. Yes, olives. On a burger. It’s been a few weeks since we were there and I am still drooling over this hunk of deliciousness. It’s worth a stop in the neighborhood just for the Saganaki burger, although I am confident they are all good.

We could have stayed all afternoon enjoying beers, and despite being completely stuffed, sampled some other goodies, but it was time for some culture. Namely, The Dali Museum.

From the Chihuly Collection.
From the Chihuly Collection.

While it is possible that the visit to Bern’s impressive wine cellar could be considered cultural, that – and one Jimmy Buffet concert – was the extent of the culture I’ve experienced in the Tampa Bay area. This time, however, we were all about being tourists. The Dali Museum showcases the life’s works of Salvador Dali, most known for his awesome mustache and surrealist paintings of melting clocks. The permanent collection of the museum spans the many facets of Dali’s works, including landscapes, an amazing portrait of his sister (glad I wasn’t involved in that relationship. Yikes,) religious and historical pieces, and of course, his surrealist paintings. The audio guide (free with $24/person admission), is easy to use and enhance the whole experience, making the self-guided tour simple at any pace.

Also at the museum was an M. C. Escher exhibit, with his amazing mathematically charged artwork. FKGuy loved the exhibit, much more than some others I have insisted we see in the past. The Pompidou comes to mind, with a video of a naked man mutilating himself, urinating on his mutilated body and then drinking the bucket of urine. It was atrocious. He still hasn’t forgiven me for that one (and it was in 2002).

Escher, on the other hand, was fascinating. Learning about tessellations –  the use of geometric shapes, with no overlaps and no spaces to create pattern – was a highlight of my museum-going history. The exhibit featured 135 works, including the most recognizable Drawing Hands, as well as others. They also had on display a stone plate used to produce lithographs. All in all, the museum was fantastic. It is a must on any trip to the area, so add it to your list now.

Later in the day we visited the Chihuly Collection,  a small gallery featuring glass sculptures by Dale Chihuly. We have had the good fortune of seeing many of his works in gardens and other displays, so this was not a highlight for me. The exhibit is fairly small, but if you have never seen the impressive glass works before, it would be a worthwhile stop. Tickets are a bit pricey, at $14.95/person, but the collection is also included with the Tampa CityPASS.

It was a wonderful first day in St. Pete. Stay tuned for the rest of this series: eating, drinking, walking and enjoying all that St. Pete has to offer.

Accommodations for this trip were provided by the Inn at the Beach. Entrance to museums provided by Visit St. Petersburg Clearwater. 


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