There are distinct differences between the Middle East and Eastern Europe. Different climates, traditions, for sure, but some areas feature intriguing overlaps, where coastal areas build on the olive oil-garlicky traditions of Mediterranean cuisine and interior countrysides, with takes on hummus and baba ghanoush, while mountainous regions offer heartier, meatier, fattier and starchier fare that’s inexpensive, easy to come by and assists in insulating chilled bones — oh, and absorption for massive amounts of vodka.
Pierogi Grill. Don’t be confused by the Egyptian decor; Pierogi Grill is far, far away from Africa. Actually, it’s right on the way to Clearwater Beach. The menu offers 12 styles of pierogi, stuffed cabbage rolls (golabki), grilled Kielbasa with cooked sauerkraut, potato pancakes and stews. Vegetarians should try the sauerkraut and mushroom pierogies. Deli in the back has imported soups, salads and chocolates. Charmingly quirky, the restaurant even has its own cop car. So, no Polish jokes! 1535 Gulf-to-Bay Blvd., Clearwater, 727-216-3055, pierogigrill.vpweb.com.
Baltic Amber. Here you’ll find heavy comfort foods, so toss back some Stolis with Richard and Eva Sikorski, the friendly proprietors who laid out this kitschy little haven with dining rooms boasting murals and decor themed after the four seasons, and little bar at the front. It’s an offshoot of their Sikorski Polish deli in Largo — a successful double venture catering to the 180,000 Polish-born and people of Polish descent living in Pinellas County. Lunch and dinner menus available. Choose from kielbasa, sauerkraut, potato pancakes and pierogies. Be sure to order the Polish Hot Plate ($9.99) which has all of the above with golabki draped in a savory-delicious mushroom sauce. 552 Clearwater-Largo Road, Clearwater, thebalticamber.com.
Anna Polish Deli. Nothing like colorful shelves of foreign brand names. The shop/deli is in one of Pinellas’ worldly little strip malls, at the corner of East Bay Drive and Highland. Browse Kubus carrot juices, packets of zupas, veggie and fruit preserves, paczki (doughnut-like pastries) and, of course, Polish hot and cold deli fare. Heck, they even have CDs. Owner Mark Bienkowski — his wife is the store’s namesake — says he can help you get the right ingredients to help you make your own authentic Polish meal. 1300 E. Bay Drive, Largo, 727-953-7763.
Gengiz Khan Turkish Grill. After dulling your senses with vodka and high-cholesterol dishes, head here for spice: the South Tampa eatery named for a crazy tyrant. The menu is far from oppressive, and the only thing you’ll find impaled here is a delicious variety of grilled meats on skewers. Intoxicate your taste buds with a blend of aromatic spices. Fresh vegetarian-friendly salads, appetizers and flavorful concoctions fill the bellies of the more humane diners. Appetizers include zucchini pancakes and rolled cheese pies. Enough to chill out a despot, for sure. 6102 S. MacDill Ave. Tampa, 813-805-6400.
Beirut Cafe. Lots of satisfied customers here (91 percent score on UrbanSpoon.com). Try the lentil soup with spinach or fresh-made leban (yogurt). Don’t come in a rush as all of the food is made from scratch on the premises, except for some desserts. The baklava is homemade. 5281 Park St. N, St. Petersburg, facebook.com/TheBeirutCafe.
Petra. No-fuss, no-muss halal Middle Eastern fare. Decent prices, Lebanese TV via satellite on an overhead flatscreen adds a special touch to the atmosphere. Try the schwarma and veggie plate. Note: the eatery/grocery store has been closed for remodeling. Call before you go. 4812 E. Busch Blvd., Tampa. 813-984-9800.
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