Fla. restaurant serving phony slabs of grouper

TAMPA, Fla. - At many restaurants around Florida, the specialty of the house is a slab of grouper, blackened, grilled, stuffed or encrusted with pecans, sometimes on a roll, maybe with a slice of Bermuda onion. But not at Richard Gonzmart's place.

Gonzmart, whose family has owned the Columbia restaurant in Tampa's Cuban-American Ybor City section for four generations, won't serve grouper because he can't be sure he is getting the real thing from his suppliers.

Many restaurants in Florida have been caught passing off Asian catfish, tilapia or other cheaper species as grouper. Fake grouper is by far the biggest food-misrepresentation problem Florida inspectors handle, and it has turned up in all corners of the state - even at the Capitol cafeteria.

'I'm not going to take that chance because my reputation is more important than keeping grouper on the menu,' Gonzmart said. 'It's not worth it to take a short cut. If grouper is $20 a pound, so be it, but if we buy it for $20 a pound and it's not grouper, that's a problem.'

Rain raises lake levels in Ala.

MONTGOMERY, Ala. - While much of Alabama remains in the grip of a yearlong drought, recent rains have improved conditions in some state lakes, where the drought had threatened drinking water supplies.

Three months ago, officials in Centre in northeast Alabama were worried lake levels on nearby Weiss Lake would drop so low that the city might not be able to draw drinking water. But Centre Mayor Phil Powell said Thursday recent rains, including a downpour last week that brought more than 2 inches of rain to the area, have raised the lake's level to above the normal winter level.

'We have had some rain and that has helped tremendously. I hope it will continue. The drought has taken a toll on farmers in this area,' Powell said.

Preservationist from Ga. takes over Ala. agency

MONTGOMERY, Ala. - A historic preservationist from Georgia is the new executive director of the Alabama Historical Commission.

Commission Chairman James 'Ike' Adams announced Thursday the commission has hired Frank W. White to serve as executive director.

The position pays $125,000 annually, said Tara Lanier, spokeswoman for the state agency.

White previously worked for 11 years at the Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation, where he served as director of the endangered properties revolving fund. In that job, he promoted the rehabilitation of historically significant sites.

White replaces John Neubauer, who stepped down in September for health reasons.