Storms make you thankful, right? You pause to appreciate things you might have taken for granted, knowing they could all be whisked away in a whoosh of storm surge or wind. Here are some of the Tampa Bay stalwarts for which I'm grateful.
The granddaddy of them all, the Columbia Restaurant bears the distinction of being the oldest restaurant in Florida as well as the nation's largest Spanish-Cuban restaurant, with 13 rooms extending one full city block. Some of these waiters have been here a lifetime, there are stirring flamenco shows most nights, and owner Richard Gonzmart has an evangelical zeal when it comes to authentic Cuban sandwiches and the tossed-tableside 1905 Salad. 2117 E Seventh Ave., Tampa; (813) 248-4961, and other locations.
Woody's Waterfront started as a tiny bait house for anglers doing their thing along Blind Pass, a rocky little inlet carved out by a ferocious hurricane in 1928. Back then it was burgers and such. It's still burgers and such, only now they are accompanied by margaritas and live music six nights a week. Servers hustle through the patio, tight-set with high-gloss picnic tables and turquoise sun umbrellas, hefting paper-lined baskets of fried shrimp and the ultimate Woody burger (mushrooms, fried onions, bacon, cheese). 7308 Sunset Way, St. Pete Beach; (727) 360-9165.
It's been featured on the Food Network, but that hasn't made Ted Peters Famous Smoked Fish uppity. Prized for its laid-back style and inviting picnic tables, the big-time draw is, of course, the smoked fish: Smoked fish spread with saltines is fabled, the salmon is excellent, the mullet is an intensely fishy acquired taste. But Ted Peters also produces beloved cheeseburgers and German potato salad that is balanced precariously between the zing of vinegar and the smoke of bacon. This is a beer-drinking establishment, it closes early and for a price they will smoke your catch for you (they can even make kingfish taste good, and that's saying something). 1350 Pasadena Ave., South Pasadena; (727) 381-7931.
Big bathtub planters outside, froufrou English collectibles inside, and it's dog friendly: The Chattaway in the Old Southeast neighborhood is a quirky bird with legion followers who have the bumper stickers to prove it. The central draw is the burger, a big dry cleaner's nightmare, but Chattaway is also cherished for its historic, ramshackle glory (it started as a general store with a gas pump back in the early 1920s). 358 22nd Ave. S, St. Petersburg; (727) 823-1594.
It's time travel, pure and simple. Munch's Sundries & Restaurant's booths are lined with Lakewood Elementary class pictures from the 1960s (a lot of unfortunate haircuts); on the walls are tacked-up, and down-home, morsels of wisdom; and on Tuesdays every table is topped with the fried chicken feast — two pieces, mashed potatoes and gravy. Some people swear by the fried green tomatoes and open-faced roast beef sandwich, others applaud the crazy-cheap breakfast offerings, but all hail the house milk shakes. 3920 Sixth St. S, St. Petersburg; (727) 896-5972.
Back when shakes cost 15 cents, Biff-Burgers dotted the Southeast. It stood for Best in Fast Food. They had drive-in service and walk-up windows, they had "roto-broiled" burgers topped with a closely guarded secret-sauce concoction. Now, it appears, there's only one Best left. Burger King may be responsible for the near-extinction of Biff-Burger, but St. Petersburg's George Musser stayed strong. His location still has the original Biff-Burger neon sign; the menu runs to barbecue sandwiches, burger baskets and soft serve; and on Friday nights the parking lot fills with hot rods and their devotees. 3939 49th St. N, St. Petersburg; (727) 527-5297.
Marjorie Wright is long gone, as is her vision of Wright's Gourmet House as the local go-to for caviar, truffles and other persnickety stuff. Instead, stalwarts stand in line for red velvet cakes, pecan pies and monster sandwiches (best: the turkey pecan salad or the "beef martini" with its rare roast beef, wine-marinated mushrooms and crisp bacon slices). During the holiday season, Wright's is bedlam, its refrigerators stacked deep with pies and cakes. 1200 S Dale Mabry Highway, Tampa; (813) 253-3838.