Tampa Thai Island is a tiny treasure

Thai Island's dishes are big on sweet, sour, salty flavors.

By Mary D. Scourtes

Penn McElmurray skillfully weaves the  sweet, sour, salty and spicy flavors of lemongrass, coconut milk and galangal root into fragrant salads, soups and stir fries. Penn, a native of Sukothai, and her husband Clay, a Davis Islands product, operate their 50-seat, Thai Island restaurant on East Davis Boulevard. If you drive by too fast, you can easily miss it. But its friendly staff and change-of-pace dishes compensate for its lack of visibility.

When you move on to appetizers, opt for the ground pork,  shallot and cilantro larb, which has good snap from crispy rice and fresh cabbage leaves to roll it in. A brisk pork nam sod, dressed in lime and mint, gets points when cooks stoke up the heat. I seldom have the willpower to pass on their spring rolls, which are a respectable mix of chicken, sprouts and vegetables. A bowl of tum yum, which the menu touts as “world famous,’’ marries sheets of chicken in a broth rich with lemongrass, cilantro and galangal root undercurrents.

Moving on to entrées, it’s hard not to slurp mouthfuls of  green, red and other curries. Panang’s pork, pepper and ground peanut-enhanced curry is a lovely, thick curry perfumed with lime and basil. Masaman curry, heavily laden with potatoes, coconut and peppers, is redolent with cinnamon and nutmeg. Rice is a staple in Thailand so it’s not surprising that the pineapple and cashew-flecked, shrimp fried rice, is enticing. Pad Kra Proa, a reasonably-priced stir fry, beckons with a concoction of pork, chilies, bell peppers and onions .

If  your eating out menu is on a stay-cation budget, you’ll feel you’ve gotten a getaway for the buck with a trip to  Thai Island.

Thai Island Restaurant
Where: 210 E Davis Blvd, Tampa, FL
Hours:  11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m., 5 pm-9:30 p.m., Tues.-Fri.; 5-9:30 p.m. Sat.-Sun.
Pay: MC, V, Discover
Call: (813) 251-9111
Urban Spoon Page

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A taste of history: Ken Lucci had an idea to combine the joy of travel: sightseeing, food and history galore.  His Ambassador Limousines & Sedan debuts Day Tours Tampa Bay, which squires guests around Ybor City followed by dining at the Columbia Restaurant.

“We’re giving visitors a one-of-a-kind opportunity,” says  Ken, who says his tours will showcase the neighborhood’s rich heritage.  His limousine buses and coaches offer conversational seating for two dozen guests, flat screen TVs, and liquid libations to sweeten the scenery.

I recently got a behind-the-scenes tour of the 15-dining rooms of the Columbia Restaurant from 82-years young, Joe Roman, who serves as an “ambassador.’’ Joe showed me the 108-year-old, ornately hand-carved bar where guests sipped coffee during prohibition. As a waiter for 49 years, Joe talked about the first air-conditioned dining room (the Don Quixote), the 1935 Murano Venetian chandelier, and the kitchen, which underwent a $4 million expansion  almost 10 years ago.  He knows his stuff.  The basic tour costs $45 per person; call (866) 508-9050 or find them on the internet.

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Nathan Lippy, from left, Tyson Grant and Ernest Hooper take part in a cook off before Dine Tampa Bay Restaurant Week(s).

Weeks to eat: The Bay Area’s restaurant “week” is an opportunity to sample our best places… in two weeks: Aug. 19 to Sept. 2. Enjoy Asian, Italian, fondue, steak  starters, entrees and desserts as part of Dine Tampa Bay Restaurant Week(s). Sponsored by Tampa Bay & Company and the Florida Restaurant & Lodging Association,  the event whets appetites for Tampa Bay area eateries, such as Roy’s Hawaiian Fusion, Chart House, Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse, Mise en Place  and Side Bern’s (Tampa). Mystic Fish (Palm Harbor), Parkshore Grill (St. Petersburg), Watercolour Steakhouse and Grille (Clearwater) and Marchand’s Bar & Grill (St. Petersburg) are also among the eateries that are participating.  Prices vary ($25, $35 or $45) and seats go fast. To make reservations, go to  http://www.dinetampabay.com.

Thai Island on Urbanspoon

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