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….Clearwater/St. Pete Beach, Florida!
Spontaneous travel is definitely one of our “things.” Danny and I like to block out some time, throw around some possible destinations, and then book something anywhere from a few weeks to a few days before we leave. We talked about Aruba and Grand Caymen, but ultimately decided on Clearwater/St. Pete Beach, Florida.
Staying in the States was important to us (for several reasons) and we enjoyed visiting both Hollywood and Destin last year, so Florida won out again this year. Wanting to still visit somewhere new, I immediately scanned through my long-term memory of places I’d said I’d like to visit and the Clearwater Marine Aquarium<;/flashed through my mind. This place may seem familiar if you saw the movie A Dolphin’s Tale with Ashely Judd and Harry Connick Jr. The movie is about a dolphin named Winter that lost her tail and the lengths that the aquarium took to help her thrive.
I’m a sucker for animals in need and I like the idea of the underdog winning in the end. There is also something inspiring about the ability to overcome physical disabilities. If you are anywhere similar, then Clearwater, Florida may be a good vacation destination for you too. I like the idea of dolphins/wild animals being in captivity only when they need our help to survive. Dolphins are definitely awe inspiring, but I’ve also seen the Oscar Award winning documentary The Cove, and I prefer their well-being over satisfying my curiosity any day.
St. Pete Beach, Florida proved to be a wonderful place to visit with tons of activities and several great restaurants to enjoy. The best restaurant in the area is Verducci’s Pizzeria Trattoria.
TripAdvisor was completely accurate with this #1 rating. Verducci’s is owned by two Italians who take great pride in serving up the freshest, most spectacular Italian food I’ve tasted to date. It has been several weeks since dining there and I find myself still wishing that I could trade in my so-so restaurant pasta for any dish at Verducci’s.
The server explained to us that their philosophy is really quite simple. In Italy, what distinguishes one Italian food place from another is the freshness of the ingredients they use. In order to stay at the top of your game, you have to bring in the best produce, meats, and cheeses several times a day….and this is exactly what Verducci’s does for us in the States and at great prices! We were able to spend about $60 on a dinner (drinks, appetizers, salads, entrees, and desserts) that in Dallas would be comparable for $120. All entree prices include a house or caesar salad and bread. This place is one of the few restaurants that gives Danny’s Kitchen a run for its money. Basically, this means that it is likely I’d choose Verducci’s over a meal at Danny’s Kitchen, and this is just not true of most anywhere else.
I’m happy to share the highlights. Warning! Your mouth will be watering.
Let’s begin with the bread basket and olive oil. Oh my goodness have they nailed this! After running my bread through this plate, I will never be happy with run-of-the-mill olive oil dips again. Roasted red pepper, olives, and crushed red peppers all come together in a heavenly mix and are paired with focaccia and twist tie rolls (my favorite due to its light sweetness).
Here is the special bruschetta of the day that combined their typical bruschetta and the caprese salad. The texture of the crostini contributed to the appetizer being absolutely divine. Sure the tomatoes, basil (from their garden), and mozzarella were fresh, but the firm bite of bread into pillowy softness underneath made it unbeatable. It had a texture that made you feel like you are accomplishing something when you bite in to it.
Calamari and Zuchinni: Be warned that they run out of this often. Get there early if you want to catch this delicacy before it’s gone. We missed out the first time we dined here. The zuchinni was a nice compliment and fared well in the made-from-scratch marinara dipping sauce.
Danny’s absolute favorite meal was the Grouper Livornese, the very one that was written up in the New York Times! It is often a featured special and includes grouper, capers, and cherry tomatoes in a light sauce. He added red pepper flakes for kick and polished off every last morsel.
Coming in second for Danny was the Sausage and Broccoli Rabe. For those of you not familiar with this entree…it contains no broccoli, rather a vegetable more like spinach.
My all-time favorite dish (we did eat here 3 times, so I feel like I’m qualified to say this) was the Shrimp Aurora special. When I think of my perfect pasta dish…it does not come closer than super fresh shrimp in a pink brandy sauce with mushrooms, cherry and sundried tomatoes over linguine. It is like they GET me on a psychic culinary level! If you like pink vodka sauces, you will go NUTS for this. Honestly, this dish is worth the trip to St. Pete Beach. If I had a private plane, I’d be flying this dish in on a weekly basis or flying me to the dish (note to any of you with private planes who are looking for a new restaurant import…look no further).
The desserts, though good, were not better than ice cream, which is my general measuring stick. I felt I needed to at least mention because you know my love for all things sugary, and vacationing brings about 2-3 times my usual intake. I did find the perfect dessert place and more on that later.
You cannot go wrong at Verducci’s! The owners make this nearly impossible due to the freshest ingredients and perfect blends of spices (Danny even mentioned that they use similar spice/herb combinations that he does, which is probably another reason we were in love with the place). It truly seemed like we were at home because they take pride in serving the best food, just like we do. Verducci’s is a major reason why we will be returning to St. Pete Beach, sooner rather than later (and we are typically not vacation destination repeaters). Next time I will be trying one of their amazing looking pizzas and homemade gnocchi.
Where to Go/What to Order:
Verducci’s Pizzeria Trattoria: 7736 Blind Pass Rd, Petersburg Beach, FL
3. Shrimp Aurora
4. Grouper Livernase
Note: If you are traveling, eat here the first day of your trip. I have a feeling you’ll return. We did…three times! Thank goodness for Internet research.