Back in the 1920s a barbecue place on Florida Avenue in Tampa's downtown transformed into a drive-in restaurant that thrived all through World War II, then the heydays of the 50s, 60s and right up until its closing in 2005. The days of curbside service, carhops and finned cars cruising the lot had long since disappeared by the time Tampa's famous Goody Goody Drive In Restaurant closed forever. The neighborhood wasn't the same, traffic through the doors had dropped way off, and the property alone was worth well over a million dollars. But unlike so many of my favorite, can't-live-without restaurants that close their doors and it's goodbye forever, never to be seen or tasted again, this isn't the case here. Not entirely. It seems that like with Palios Brothers and other places, the menu items you've grown to love and near die for go into some never-to-be-prepared-again black hole somewhere. But this story has a different, far happier and delicious ending. For a small dining establishment, a lot has been written over the years about Tampa's Goody Goody. I posted a while back about about the Colonnade on Bayshore, my hangout years ago and a place that for generations was a mainstay; it's where you met your friends, dated, ate burgers and fires and formed teenage memories. It has changed but at least the name and place remain even if the food isn't quite as your remember; we do visit from time to time (even if I still miss their burger sauce that's been gone 30+ years.) This isn't a sad tale of a Tampa food tradition that died and your taste bud dreams could never again be satisfied. You've got to admit, it's hard to not feel sadness for a Closed sign on a restaurant that was a part of your life.
After the Goody Goody closed and the entire building was leveled and the lot cleared for development, the owner (and keeper of the secrets) made a deal with a restaurant that is miles away but still on Florida Avenue. The Pine Grove Restaurant agreed to serve Goody Goody's original burgers with their extra special - and secret - sauce. The recipe for the burger, including the exact bun, pickles and sauce, could not altered in any way. And they succeeded. It's not a beauty queen kind of burger, but it has a glorious and proud way of oozing sauce while keeping its bun in place over the onions and pickles. We decided to go there in the pouring rain to enjoy a taste that remains unchanged after seven decades. It's a little unusual for us to go out this far from home; we have just about every great restaurant one can imagine or crave almost within walking distance, but this is certainly worth the long drive. Oh how it delivers. No equivocation. Amazingly, if I close my eyes, I am sitting in the old metal chairs at Goody Goody, unwrapping the burger, and taking bite after sloppy, sauce-filled bite, alternating crispy french fries with slurps of chocolate milk shake. A savory combination of tastes and smells that are hard to describe. It just doesn't get much better on the gastronomic meter. It's a messy burger but every near-historic bite is a little taste of my past. And, that is a very good thing to keep alive.