Thursday, February 17, 2011



People ask me what I do in the winter when there's no baseball. I'll tell you what I do. I stare out the window and wait for spring.
                           Rogers Hornsby, Baseball Hall of Fame

Sandpearl Resort Offers Fine Dining After the Game

CLEARWATER, FL. Since the early 1900’s, springtime in Florida resonates with the shout, “play ball.” Today, in cities that host Major League baseball exhibition games, “bon appetite” has equal billing. The gourmet relationship is deep and the possibilities endless.

Clearwater has the Phillies and, tucked seamlessly into the Gulf, the incomparable Sandpearl Resort. After a Yankees–Phillies game, fans have luxury dining options ranging from upscale to toes-in-the-sand. Sandpearl's restaurants have hosted many baseball stars and celebrities, including Chipper Jones, Pedro Martinez and Chase Utley along with comedians Bill Maher, Ron White and Chris Rock. Named for the Loggerhead Sea Turtle, Caretta on the Gulf offers a fine dining experience featuring seasonal cuisine. Chef Kyle Latsha’s tasting menu with wine pairings and dessert is one of my Florida favorites.

The Atlanta Braves play for a month in  Disneyworld. Mickey Mouse and pals are Braves’ fans, cheering them on in a facility nest to unsurpassed entertainment amenities. A perfect dining experience is Luma on Park in Winter Park, one of America’s loveliest cities, Before dinner, take in the Morse Museum which features the most comprehensive collection of the stunningly-beautiful works by Louis Comfort Tiffany.

Where else can you watch the Braves play archrival Mets, hook a trophy billfish in the Gulf Stream and enjoy real barbeque?  St. Lucie County is comprised of two cities on the mainland and a barrier island with the Indian River Lagoon, the most diverse estuary in North America and home to over 4,000 species of plants and animals, in between. Port St. Lucie hosts the Mets during spring training while Fort Pierce offers a renewed and revitalized downtown.

After baseball or fishing, there’s good barbeque. Entering Dale’s BBQ, a prophetic sign greets diners:  Through these portals pass the most critical Bar-B-Q eaters on Earth.  May the Lord Have Mercy on Our Competitors. Smoky’s BBQ & Grill specializes in “Hog Size,” menu items, while Boomer’s BBQ encompasses true St. Lucie flavor--the meat is marinated in Indian River citrus fruit.  St. Lucie’s offshore waters are home to a wide variety of game fish: Permit, tarpon, jacks, grouper, snapper, cobia, sailfish, dolphin, wahoo, kingfish, tuna and swordfish. The Indian River Lagoon offers anglers abundant snook, trout, jacks, snapper, tarpon, ladyfish, flounder and reds.  

The Pittsburgh Pirates train at McKechnie Field in Bradenton. Mattison’s Riverside features a spectacular riverfront location.  Both the Sandbar on Anna Maria Island and Beachhouse Restaurant on Bradenton Beach are owned by Ed Chiles, son of Florida's legendary Governor, Lawton Chiles. Diners at the Sandbar who guess the time of the sunset win a bottle of champagne.  

Jupiter is home to the St. Louis Cardinals and the Florida Marlins. Palm Beach County is the epicenter of great dining and legendary watering holes. What could be finer than an afternoon game between the Cards and the Braves, then dressing up for an evening at L’Escalier, the flagship restaurant in The Breakers, America’s luxury hotel? Virginia Philip, the internationally respected Master Sommelier, oversees an impressive cellar.


Yankees players and fans have access to the epicurean wonders of Tampa, their home away from home. Tampa’s Ybor City offers New World Spanish and Cuban cuisine. Gems include The Columbian and Copa’s Latin American Café. The right to be called a gourmet should require at least one meal at Bern’s Steak House. An American legend, Bern’s features a cellar with more than 6,800 impressive wine labels and the wine list, chained to a lectern, is the size of a Guttenberg Bible. Give it up for Bern’s! Five gold stars.

Lakeland’s 74-year relationship with the Detroit Tigers is part of the cultural core of this charming, pedestrian friendly city. Popular with tourists, Lakeland harkens to original Florida, showcasing the majestic Florida Southern College, the only institution designed and built by Frank Lloyd Wright.  Built in the 1920’s, The Terrace Hotel, restored to its original splendor, has the Terrace Grille for exceptional dining and the adjacent bar serves remarkable cocktails. For steak lovers like me, Texas Cattle Company has a national following.

Sarasota is the Baltimore Oriole’s spring training home and the dining mecca where, among many other restaurants, Phillippi Creek serves fresh Gulf seafood and Ophelia’s near Siesta Key presents wonderful food surrounded by romantic ambience. Anna Marie Island’s Beach Bistro remains a gourmet hot spot. The Ringling Museum and Asolo Theater make Sarasota a popular destination for visitors.

Major League baseball combined with fine Florida dining is a home run for tourists. The many cities with major league baseball and fabulous restaurants are just part of the adventure. In the words of Yogi Berra, “If you can’t find it, you ain’t there.”



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