St. Pete’s Grand Central has experienced a vibrant resurgence in recent years, especially when it comes to dining options. That may seem contrary to the downturn in the local housing market, but even people who are stuck in their historic bungalows and restored cottages need places to grab a meal. Although the area isn't necessarily packed with options, there are plenty of spots to grab a tasty lunch or dinner, and Grand Central has a surprising number of late-night options at hand thanks to places like Taco Bus and Queenshead.
Swing through the area early in the morning, however, and coffee and pancakes have been in short supply.
Enter Parrot Cafe, a brightly decorated but unassuming spot in the heart of Grand Central, open for breakfast, lunch and the occasional dinner. Despite the eponymous and colorful parrot-themed interior design and richly painted walls, Parrot Cafe is not trying to be anything special. Instead, it neatly and simply fills a void: eggs, toast, pancakes and coffee with no frills and a price to match.
Which means you can load up with two eggs, hash browns, four pieces of breakfast meat and two pancakes for under $6. Want toast instead of pancakes? Less than $5. Big omelets stuffed with cheese and your choice of fillings clock in at $5.30. When a restaurant starts charging for things in increments of $.30, you know it's looking out for both your and its bottom line.
Of course, those prices will get you the most fundamental and unaccented breakfast cuisine in the market. Shredded hash browns are exceedingly buttery and barely crisped on the outside. Sausage links are a tad rubbery, but spiced well enough. Bacon is flat and fatty, toast is white or wheat and pancakes need the help of whipped butter and maple-y syrup.
It is a diner, after all, and you get what you pay for. Hard to argue with that.
At lunch, the restaurant strives for a little more pizzazz while still keeping with its back-to-basics formula. You can add tomato to your butter-crusted grilled sandwich of sliced luncheon meat ham and swiss cheese. The turkey burger comes with sliced avocado, sour cream and salsa. A salty grilled chicken breast is tricked out with chipotle mayo. The chicken salad is dotted by nuts, the club sandwich is a classic and the BLT is loaded with crisp bacon, albeit at almost $6, which seems a tad high considering the breakfast prices.
Parrot Cafe's salads up the game even more, although most are built on the same hunks of iceberg lettuce you'd expect from a diner. Top that refreshing crispness with strips of grilled steak and peppers or black beans, corn avocado and grilled shrimp, a Mexican nod that's continued in a series of straightforward Tex-Mex standards like tostados, burritos and quesadillas.
Those Mexican-inspired dishes are actually the tastiest options when it comes to post-breakfast fare at Parrot Cafe. The tortillas leave a bit to be desired, but the kitchen is free with the seasoning when it comes to the interior, resulting in flavorful and filling dishes — especially the shredded beef burrito — that still tend to stay under the $6 price point. Like many diners, Parrot Cafe also dips into pasta for a few entrees, but those are largely forgettable.
The restaurant is open during standard breakfast and lunch hours, except on weekends when it keeps the lights on until 8 p.m., to catch local early birds interested in a quick sandwich before enjoying the rest of their evenings. But, like I said, that’s not when Parrot Cafe’s Grand Central location will shine. At 7 o'clock in the morning, on the way to work, with a hunger for protein and caffeine, Parrot Cafe is not only the sole choice in the immediate area, it's also a bargain, the kind of restaurant that will make regulars like they make eggs, since almost everyone can afford to drop in for either a big breakfast or a continental bite almost every day.
Not only does the place fill a business void in Grand Central, it fills bellies just fine as well.
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