Ted Peter’s Famous Smoked Fish
St. Petersburg, Florida
While living in Louisiana, it seemed that every other conversation revolved around food. The locals were always curious how I liked the regional fare; if I liked alligator, if I sucked the heads of crawfish, or if the food was too spicy (answers: of course, yup, and “Hah, pass the Crystal”). While Southeast Louisiana has been able to maintain its way of life with more passion and pride than just about any other region in the US, Florida, on the whole, has surrendered to the snowbirds and the settlers, with each new wave looking for the convenient and familiar. While I can’t claim to hail from one of the Minorcan families that settled St. Augustine, or from one of the many Cracker families that settled the interior of the state, my family has always made it a point to learn about and to respect our state’s rich history.
Every once and a while, conversations would turn to Floridian foods. While Pilau (pronounced per-loo) was always an easy sell with its similarity jambalaya, and a variety of fried, stewed, and smothered shellfish, reptiles, and amphibians usually struck resonant chords with Louisianans, there was one thing that was met with instant dismissal from several cajuns and coonasses. Smoked mullet.
The usual responses were “Mullet’s a trash fish.” or “That’s bait!” Sure, mullet make good bait, but it’s also delicious. With flaky, flavorful meat that’s nowhere as fishy as sardines, the smoked fillets are considered a local delicacy. And smoked mullet dip? Mmmmm…
That brings us to Ted Peters. We stumbled on the place while driving back from visiting family in the Tampa area, cutting through St. Petersburg on our way out. With a small outdoor bar and a simple smokehouse, Ted Peters offered four types of smoked fish and little more. They started over 50 years ago with only mullet, but have since added mackerel, mahi mahi (known locally as dolphin), and salmon. The bar offers fillets with sides of cole slaw and frosty mugs of beer. Old men gather on wooden stools at the bar while a line steadily flowed through the take-out counter in the smokehouse.
If you’re ever in the area, pick up a few fillets and enjoy an old Florida delicacy.