Saturday, January 22, 2011

Lenny's in Clearwater, FL

OK, it’s time to talk about the home scene. After recently paying homage to pretentious meals in Phoenix for which my wallet was left much lighter, it’s refreshing to talk about a little breakfast joint around here that has been attracting quite a following for years. If there’s a better little place in Tampa Bay for breakfast than Lenny’s in Clearwater, I haven’t been there. In the shadow of Bright House Field, spring training home to the Philadelphia Phillies, Lenny’s will fill your belly with more than standard breakfast fare as long as you’re willing to stand in line for a table. Lenny’s vast menu is based on the Jewish delis that New York is famous for. Along with your standard bacon and eggs you’ll find fresh bagels with lox, knishes, cheese filled pastries, polish sausage along with other eastern European comfort food.

The Jewish Deli became a New York institution in the late 1800’s as waves of eastern European immigrants flooded in to New York harbor in an attempt to escape the volatile and dynamic political climates back home. Homesickness was combated by congregating in familiar surroundings and sharing common food. Never fancy or ornate, these establishments were as much a social distraction as they were restaurants. As time has passed, though, these restaurants have become some of the most coveted and visited restaurants New York City has to offer. Katz’s Deli, Stage Deli, Carnegie Deli, 2nd Ave Deli are just a few of the must try places the city has to offer. Sadly, outside of Gotham, there are few –and I mean few –truly great delis of this genre. Also sad is that Tampa Bay is no exception.

The good news is that Lenny’s does a pretty good job with the breakfast component. I used to frequent Lenny’s some years ago when I worked in the Clearwater area. Unfortunately, I just hadn’t been back there in quite some time. Mostly, it was the distance. There are at least 5 decent places to get breakfast closer than the 30 minute drive to Lenny’s and combined with the fact we only go out to breakfast once a month or so, my absence from this great little spot grew. For the past few weeks my 6 year old daughter, Olivia, has been attending a basketball camp on Saturday mornings in Clearwater so I decided to introduce her to Lenny’s and reacquaint myself.

I’d forgotten how long the wait is to get a table. The line at 10AM on Saturday mornings looks painful. If you’re willing to have counter service though, there’s pretty much no wait. So Olivia and I bellied up to the bar ready to eat. She’d been practicing her dribbling, passing and shooting skills for the past hour and had worked up a good little appetite. Me? Well, I’m always hungry –much like a goldfish. The menu is 3 substantial pages long full of specialty omelets, special egg dishes, various breakfast combos and, of course, the aforementioned deli breakfast fare. I ordered a special for the day –Lobster Benedict –while Olivia stuck with her tried and true pancakes. While sipping our coffee and chocolate milk, respectively, we caught the attention of a wandering minstrel of sorts. On Saturday mornings, a gentleman meanders from table to table making the most elaborate balloon sculptures that I’ve ever seen. At our counter spot he stopped and made Olivia a pretty cool looking dolphin.

He also performed a magic trick where he changed the length of three strands of rope and then changed them back. We liked him. It turns out, he is a professional entertainer and has performed at venues both big and small. He shared with me his vision for a new restaurant where guests are entertained in small groups before dinner in a similar fashion to Hibachi chefs at those Japanese joints like Benihana’s. Seems viable to me.

Shortly thereafter we were presented with our food. Knowing I wouldn’t finish, I also ordered a potato knish. Frankly, I hadn’t had one in a while and I just wanted a few bites. These pillowy potato pastries are perfectly savory and especially good with some spicy mustard. Mine was no exception. The benedict was also delicious. Rich hollandaise with sumptuous warm egg yolk over the sweet lobster meat was breakfast nirvana. Judging by the clean plate in front of Olivia, she enjoyed her breakfast as well.

Most neighborhoods have a good little breakfast spot but I think Lenny’s is a cut above. I suggest venturing out from your favorite place and give them a try. Personally, I have 6 more weeks of Saturday mornings to reacquaint myself before Olivia’s basketball commitment ends. I plan on taking full advantage of both that one on one time with my little girl and a thoroughly scrumptious breakfast. Win win.

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