They didn’t appear in a puff of smoke, with the wave of a wand. But the changes are no less dramatic at an Arcadia brick-and-mortar, a beloved Port Charlotte food truck and a W. Marion Avenue eatery.

RAVENOUS RHINO SUPERSIZES, SORT OF

Their logo grew like reverse evolution.

Big, cuddly rhinoceros with googly eyes and slobbery tongue shape-shifts, almost overnight, into a ferocious T-rex — straight out of Jurassic Park but sporting a chef’s toque.

Charlotte County’s pioneering food truck, the Ravenous Rhino, had evolved from food truck to café and caterer before the sad day in 2018 when the iconic vehicle went out to pasture, sold to an infocom CEO for his and his family’s use.

But Fieri-inspired excesses like the signature HogZilla (a half-pound beef burger stuffed with bacon and cheese and topped with even more bacon and cheese) and Dixie Tots (tater tots smothered in cheddar sauce and topped with pulled pork, chopped bacon, barbecue sauce and green onions) still pounded in its owners’ veins.

After 50 years in food service, co-owner Brian O’Flaherty couldn’t help himself.

“It’s all I’ve ever done my whole life,” he said.

So, he and wife Lee Caglioti reinvented the Ravenous franchise, this time as the dino-themed Ravenous Rex.

“I’ve always liked dinosaurs,” said O’Flaherty. “I just think they’re cool, kids love them, and they’ll get a free dino toy with every meal. There’s nothing like this around, except for Universal Studios’ Jurassic Café.”

As you might guess, the food is even more ginormous than the Rhino’s, from the 10-ounce HogZilla Rex Burger to Brontosaurus BBQ and Pterodactyl (turkey) Wings, stuffed with mac and cheese, wrapped in bacon, and roasted.

O’Flaherty will man the paradoxically smaller Rex trailer while Caglioti does her day job, marketing, webmastering and baking.

They can hardly wait to do something special for the “Jurassic World Dominion” movie premiere in June.

Meanwhile, as of this writing, they were scouting out a semi-permanent Port Charlotte-area location for service and storage of the trailer.

They posted: “If you’re a business owner/commercial property owner and would be interested in having our colorful rig draw attention to your business and have your page tagged every time we do service, please reach out to us. And of course, we’ll feed ya, it’s a win-win.”

Ravenous Rex ($-$$), 941-249-0540, appearances announced on Facebook @rav.rhino.


THEY’VE GONE QUITE MAD

Mary Margaret’s Tea & Biscuit in Arcadia is a favorite place for both big and little girls to have tea parties or luncheons.

It’s famous for its multi-tiered cake stands laden with authentically English tea goodies prepared by authentically English owner Helen Cooke. Where else around here can you get sticky toffee pudding and clotted cream?

But Mary Margaret’s is less well known for a semi-secret back room, chock-full of antiques and just as Victorian as the rest of the place. Used for private parties and occasional overflow seating, it had potential, Cooke thought.

Turn the corner into the back room today and you’ll gasp like an owner at a “Restaurant Impossible” reveal.

The floor is sodded with faux grass; two walls have morphed into rose-covered hedges; one wall seems to open onto an enchanted forest of jolly trees that are happy to pose for pictures; puffy clouds drift across a sky-blue ceiling strung with lights; and the air twinkles with magical music. Teapots and Mad Hatter top hats sit on every table.

Helen Cooke spent three weeks on a ladder, finishing the ceiling and stenciling the plate glass, preparing to unveil the room as Hatters Tea Room, a kids’ or adults’ party space that can be booked for an English garden party, indoors.

She created a Hatters menu that’s slightly different from Mary Margaret’s, adding themed choices like Dormouse Mac and Cheese, Knave BLT, Jabberwock Club, and March Hare Lasagna.

“We thought it would be fun!” said Cooke.

Mary Margaret’s Tea & Biscuit ($-$$, O), 863-494-0615, 10 S. Polk Avenue, Arcadia, is open 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday, to 3 p.m. Tuesday, to 4 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Friday, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Beer and wine for grownups.

TOULA’S GOES ALL OUT

Well, not quite ALL out, but Toula’s has added 36 new outdoor seats on its paved patio and under what had been an unused gazebo, recently walled off from next-door Wildwood Pizza.

All this nearly triples your choice of a seat at a downtown Punta Gorda restaurant that still holds the value line with its single-dollar-sign menu.

The backyard is also the perfect place to relax and enjoy the little Greek eatery’s new dessert menu of ice cream cones, sundaes and ice-cream-topped baklava, chocolate chip cookie or (be still our hearts!) deep-fried, honey-drizzled feta.

Toula’s ($, O), 941-621-8015, 119 W. Marion Ave., Punta Gorda, is open 10:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday to Thursday, to 6 p.m. Friday and Saturday.

Send restaurant and bar news and recommendations to columnist Sue Wade at suewade47@aol.com.

Average price ranges are $ = inexpensive (under $10), $$ = moderate ($11-$30), and $$$ = pricey (over $30), including tip and beverage. Outside dining available = O.

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