News came this week that the Toronto Blue Jays are considering leaving Dunedin, their spring-training home since the team's first year in 1977, to elsewhere in Florida. Any move would no doubt be a major tourism blow, but the small Gulf-side city has more to offer than the stealing of bases and the spitting of sunflower seeds.
A fixture in Dunedin's quaint downtown is the Meranova Guest Inn. The B&B's chief draw is the innkeepers themselves, David Roy and Frank Baiamonte, who offer spot-on advice and impeccable service. "Old-school hospitality is becoming extinct," says Baiamonte, who opened the Meranova 15 years ago. "You go to the finest hotels in the world, and it seems like the computer knows more about you than the person checking you in. And the computer is only interested in your pillow preference or whether you're corporate or not."
The first time I stayed at the Meranova, Baiamonte asked about my interests and the purpose of my trip. He booked me into the room he thought best suited my tastes – the art deco room; he guessed correctly – and upon my arrival, I was provided with brandy, brownies and a loose itinerary.
Over the years, Baiamonte has seen all manner of guests. Generally, they fall into one of four categories. Earlier this spring, I sat down with him in the porch off my room as he offered his take on the best of Dunedin and surrounding area – baseball not included.
THE NATURE LOVER
Baiamonte directs outdoor enthusiasts to Honeymoon Island State Park and Clearwater Beach, just a few kilometres away. "It's a barrier island, and it's what the Florida islands used to look like."
Where to go: From Honeymoon Island, a place of mangrove swamps and osprey nests, take a ferry (or kayak or sail) to Caladesi Island, for sunbathing, swimming and saltwater angling. floridastateparks.org
Where to eat: Bob Heilman's Beachcomber, established in Clearwater in 1948, boasts old-Florida fish recipes. "Hopefully you'll get a waitress with apricot-coloured hair and and an attitude." heilmansbeachcomber.com
Where to drink: Frenchy's Saltwater Cafe in Clearwater Beach. The self-proclaimed originator of the Grouper Rueben sandwich. frenchysonline.com
SEEKERS OF OLD-FLORIDA CHARM
The best way to explore the brick side-streets and mossy oak trees of downtown Dunedin is by bike (dunedincyclery.com). Baiamonte suggests a two-wheeled trip to the Belleview neighbourhood, which is a historic residential area 10 kilometres away (take the Pinellas Trail). It's full of 100-year-old bungalows, each built in the original owner's personal architectural style.
Where to go: Dunedin Country Club, the Donald Ross-designed original home of the PGA. "It's not one of those big, flashy country clubs. It's a small wonderful course that's never crowded." dunedingolfclub.com
Where to eat: Sam's Seafood is a blast from the 1970s. "They have a tendency to deep-fry everything, but you can ask them to grill or sauté it. And you have to love a restaurant that considers macaroni and cheese with applesauce a vegetable serving." 727-736-1179
Where to drink: Rosie's Tavern: a pub where it's easy to get to know the locals and their dogs. 727-724-4209
THE YOUNG 'UNS
"When we first started this business, the young 'uns were 30 years old. Now, since we've been doing it for 15 years, they're 40 and under."
Where to go: The Blur disco: especially for drag-queen bingo on Tuesday nights. kellyschicaboom.com
Where to eat: Café Alfresco: a bright, comfortable eatery with views of both main street and Pinellas Trail. "It's effortless and diverse," says Baiamonte. "The chef has been there for 16 years, and he's still imaginative." cafealfrescoonline.com
Where to drink: The Dunedin Brewery is devoted to local beer and eclectic regional music, plus it serves up some tasty bar food. "They make to-die-for fish tacos." dunedinbrewery.com
"These are the hardest guests to please, because Dunedin is a small village," Baiamonte explains. "We sometimes send them miles away."
Where to go: The world-class Salvador Dali Museum in St. Petersburg is a must see (thedali.org; 727-823-3767), but the glass sculptures by Dale Chihuly at the Chihuly Collection (moreanartscenter.org; 727-822-7872) are also not to be missed. Nearby is the Vinoy Renaissance, a resort and golf club where the veranda invites travelling urban sophisticates. "Most of them are overdressed in Florida," Baiamonte says. marriott.com
Where to eat: Intimate and romantic, the Black Pearl is a fine-dining downtown institution in Dunedin. "It's where I send guests if it involves a little velvet box with a ring in it."
Where to drink: The Marina Café offers fine sunset views and the bartenders are committed to top-notch tippling. "It's not about martinis and margaritas there. It's about a well-crafted cocktail." bonappetitrestaurant.com
Meranova Guest Inn; 458 Virginia Lane; Dunedin, Fla.; 727-733-9248; meranova.com. Rooms from $165, includes breakfast.