Taking a Jaunt for June Five to Try

June Five to Try, here I come!

Don’t let the mid-month date fool you. This month’s creative adventures are in full swing. In fact, earlier this month, I checked off number #1 and#2 on the list – I’m just a little slow to blog about it –  a new town and one of my favorite things of all, a new restaurant… so let’s take a little trip down to South Pinellas for… drum roll, please…

Five to Try for June – # 1 and #2 Gulfport, Florida and the Neptune Grill

I’m a multi-tasker at heart, so when I hear about a networking event offering me a chance to see or do something new in the process, aha! I smell a Five to Try opportunity.

Earlier this month, LocalShops1.com  held its monthly Meet and Greet lunch in charming downtown Gulfport. Now, I say charming because that is what I heard but in all of my 19 years of exploring the Tampa Bay area, I’d never once travelled over to that part of the Bay area. So honestly – I didn’t know if it was going to be charming and you know what I learned?

It is.

Now, if I really wanted to, I could knock off THREE things for the month because I in fact attended a new-to-me event that Tuesday, June 7, too – the Gulfport Tuesday Fresh Market held every Tuesday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. – YEAR ROUND.  Even in August. Ugh. Fortunately, I wasn’t there in August…

What a cool event. I took to the main downtown area which gets cranking near 29th Av. S. and Beach Blvd., went from booth to booth to check out vendors’ wares. From gourmet sauces and teas to handcrafted jewelry to these beautiful hand-painted silk scarves…

…they’re even more beautiful in person! (And she’s there every Tuesday, folks…go see her!)… the Tuesday Fresh Market was a pleasant surprise. I’d only been to one other Fresh Market before and even blogged about in March for Five to Try. It was nice but this was much more interesting, because its surroundings are far more fun to look at and absorb as you shimmy down the sidewalk.

Gulfport’s just a cool place. If I had to use one ancient but beloved term, I think GROOVY (not GREASE) would be the word.

I’ve heard that these folks brew some pretty great homemade beer. But don’t expect to get a Coke there. They’re really big on supporting the lesser known brands. I even featured them in an 83 Degrees piece I did about 36 Hours in the Bay area when I first learned about them. Too bad I’m not going to be able to sample a tasty souvenir today. (Damn. I didn’t plan that part too well, did I?)

I didn’t get to check out the Blueberry Patch (aka hippy art commune) I’d heard so much about – but that just gives me an excuse to return another day. I did however, slink over to the beach after checking out the market. My lunch date was scheduled for noon, so I still had some time to take in the water, the sand and surrounding landscape.

There it is. Isn’t that beautiful?

For folks who find themselves frustrated with bumper-to-bumper traffic as they head over to busy beaches like Clearwater and St. Pete, don’t forget about this delicious little neighbor to the south! Lot of fun stores to check out, plenty of restaurants, events all of the time and this lovelywaterfront view.

Had you heard mention of the Gulfport Casino before? I did. And admittedly, being the lame American that I am, wondered how they were getting away with gambling over there off the Gulf until someone politely explained that “Casino” is the Native American term for “gathering place.” So no, folks — no blackjack or poker tables. But from what I hear, there are some spectacular community events, galas, fundraisers and private functions that happen here. (Sorry to disappoint you, fellow roulette junkies.)

I was able to get a little footage smack dab in the middle of the Gulf right off the Casino’s pier. Excuse the full swoops and shakiness. I’m learning. Check it out — if you dare — by clicking here. (And yes, sad to say, I really have been afraid of those little itty-bitty spaces between slats on piers since I can remember growing up in Naples, Florida. Pathetic, I know.)

When I was done exploring the seaside area and shops, I strolled into Neptune Grill for my meeting, and as I understand it, this restaurant relaunched about six months ago by new owners.

I have a general rule of thumb whenever I try a new Greek restaurant. I have to order a Greek salad and the spanokopita (spinach pie). It’s just required. Of course, given that I’m vegetarian, it’s not like I have a gigantic list of items that I can order in such a restaurant, but I do feel that these two staples must meet a particular level of quality for it to get my formal and unsolicited stamp of approval.

Yes, the portions were pretty good, although I must say that usually the spanokopita is a little more plentiful at some of my other local favorites (including the Acropolis folks at their various locations) but the salad more than made up for it and did come home with me that afternoon. Overall, yummy.

It’s hard for me to comment on the restaurant interior and atmosphere, because I spent much of my time yapping with my fellow entrepreneurs and members of LocalShops1.com. (They hold this event at different locations every month – first Tuesday – be sure to check out their event calendar at their website for details about this and other events…great resource for local business owners!) But the restaurant was nice – it definitely feels older but it’s clean and uncluttered. So no complaints here. As a fan of the original Taco Bus and Thai Terrace, I am not known for making a big deal about ambience if the food is good.

Overall, I was satisfied with the food at Neptune Grill and my table mates seemed to be pleased with their choices, too. I will probably try another new restaurant the next time I visit Gulfport, and I know for certain I will be back. It’s just too inviting a place to miss.

If you’re looking for peaceful and relaxing, you’ve got it. If you want quirky and kitschy, you’ll find it at some of the stores on the main strip. And if you’re just looking for a neighborhood that feels very at peace with itself, like it’s not trying to be anywhere else as so many “hip” districts often do, this is the place to come. You get a real sense as you shop, dine and toodle-oo through the neighborhood that this town and its residents know exactly who they are and don’t pretend to be anything but…groovy.

See what I mean?

Five to Try #3 awaits…where or where will my adventures take me next? Hmm…

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