This is the haven I struggle down to in the wee hours once or twice a week. It’s just a few blocks from home and on cool mornings it’s fun to walk there in the dark. It’s the Central Coffee Shoppe! It’s been there forever. The decor is 100% Marilyn Monroe memorabilia. It’s family owned and run: dad, daughters, sons, daughter’s daughter (a guess, but there’s a strong facial resemblance). Service with long-legs and short-shorts! Cash only. Excellent breakfast food and Night Hawks ambiance. My favorite on their menu is the Big Meat Omelet with feta cheese, stuffed with sausage, bacon, and real ham. This is a place so Southern, the breakfast menu has catfish and eggs! If you ask for hot sauce, you get the best: Crystal.
The clientele is varied and sometimes vocal. The Republican, folk-rock-guitar-playing mayor eats there often, as do a number of homeless folk. Of course, frequent contingents of fire fighters and EMS crews mix it up with early hour coffee klatches of trios of blue-haired ladies and gents from a nearby condo. The occasional 60s radical with 80s hat-pins will sometimes get into friendly arguments with buttoned-down yuppie lawyers in ties and starched stripped shirts, but no matter how vocal, the general tenor is always co-existence. The political lines are clearly drawn, albeit with the utmost civility.
The seating spills over onto the sidewalk with a couple tables for those who like to eat and/or smoke outside. This happens at a number of other places in downtown St. Pete. I wish it happened at all restaurants. I no longer smoke, so that’s not my issue. I just like things–especially restaurants–that blur the lines, flow into the streets, spill over onto other things. Sort of like sunny side eggs running over onto the grits which ooze over the potatoes that are smothered with sausage gravy.
There’s no separate kitchen at the Central Coffee Shoppe. Just a grill in the front underneath the window where, in plain view, everything is cooked before your eyes. The smells are a perfect way to come alive over your newspaper. Speaking of newspapers…that’s the one thing that is not so hot about the Tampabay area: there are no longer any independent newsstands carrying international and national newspapers! I needed to find an Italian newspaper for an opera stage prop last year and did an intensive search for the traditional newsstand on both sides of the bay. Even the newsstands in the airport carry, at most, the Herald Tribune. No “Le Monde,” no “Der Spiegel,” no “Corriere della Sera,” no “Guardian.” Forget anything from Asia. Maybe I’ve missed my calling! Should I open a newsstand/flower-stand at the corner of Central and 5th Street? There’s an empty store front there that has the right dimensions and foot traffic!
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