Chad Johnson, SideBern’s
Although recent years have seen a pronounced upswing in the Bay area’s culinary talent pool, there is something to be said for having both the talent and the means. When Chad Johnson took over the SideBern’s kitchen a few years ago, he had big shoes and a big stage to deal with. He’s filled both of them with a vengeance. Johnson checks off the list of modern chef concerns — seeking out local ingredients, utilizing unusual foods, stretching his cuisine past genre and cultural boundaries, seasonal menus — and even though he’s a very serious dude, Johnson still seems to enjoy playing with his food. The result is often fabulous, in a setting that is easily one of the most elegant and modern in Tampa. 2208 W. Morrison Ave., Tampa, 813-258-2233, sideberns.com.
It’s a classic tale of the little restaurant that could. After years in the catering biz, dabbling with blogging and an online cooking show, chef Greg Baker and partner/wife Michelle Baker decided to open up their own place, focused more on their culinary philosophy than mass appeal. The result was The Refinery in Seminole Heights, a restaurant that uses local ingredients whenever possible, changes its menu weekly and serves the kind of food that chefs like to eat. It also happened to garner a semi-finalist spot on the James Beard Foundation’s nationwide Best New Restaurant list, as well as a cease-and-desist order from McDonald’s because of Baker’s take on a McRib. With the constant menu tweaks and the influx of new customers, the restaurant has had some consistency issues, but for some folks that’s part of the charm. Call me charmed. 5137 N. Florida Ave., Tampa, 813-237-2000, thetamparefinery.com.
BEST NEW RESTAURANT
Technically, the closing of Restaurant BT’s Hyde Park location and its phoenix-like re-emergence in the now-thriving MacDill restaurant scene doesn’t qualify it as “new,” but for all intents and purposes BT has been reborn. The space is considerably smaller, elegant but humble, a far cry from its sprawling former home. And the chef herself — BT Nguyen — seems to have rediscovered the core of her cooking style, producing fabulous dishes that are familiar to her fans, but display a hell of a lot more soul than they did in the Hyde Park years. 2507 S. MacDill Ave., Tampa, 813-258-1916, restaurantbt.com.
BEST CHEAP EATS, PINELLAS
For a restaurant that serves a $5 hot dog, Alesia is a stunning place to eat, with clean lines and the kind of effortless, casual beauty you despair of ever accomplishing in your own house. Same with the hot dog, a massive link of sausage nestled in a toasty baguette, drizzled with rich sauce and covered in a gentle blanket of Gruyere cheese, with an impeccable tomato bisque on the side. Add in excellent pho, a killer banh mi and other Vietnamese treats, along with a smattering of French-inspired sandwiches, and you have a meal that will cost you well under $10 and taste better than most high-end restaurants, in a setting to match. 7204 Central Ave., St. Petersburg, 727-345-9701, alesiarestaurant.com.
BEST CHEAP EATS, HILLSBOROUGH
Four words: $3 banh mi sandwiches. And, as an added bonus, they happen to be the best banh mi sandwiches in the Bay area. 3692 W. Florida Ave., Tampa, 813-932-0300.
Best Interactive Cheap Eats
“Make Your Own Rolls”
at Pho Quyen
For $10, you’re provided with a huge plate of meat, foliage, noodles, veggies and herbs to construct your very own fresh rolls, using the accompanying stack of steamed rice paper wraps. Lemongrass beef and curry chicken are favorites, perfect for a fun, inexpensive date. Caution: Newbies may not want to wear nice clothing as the process can involve dunking your creation into a little bowl of fish sauce (that can be made spicy/sweet/salty using table side condiments). 8404 W. Hillsborough Ave., Tampa, 813-885-9424.
Best Vegetarian Restaurant Even a Carnivore Could Enjoy
No meat on the menu, no problem; carnivores can’t tell what’s missing. The Cyprus BLT has Syrian cheese, olive tapenade and tempeh bacon on grilled flatbread. The hummus sampler is a great way to try different Middle Eastern flavors — baba ganouj, bessara, tzaziki, or any variety of chick pea hummus listed on the menu. The falafel is made from scratch, served the true Israeli way. A well-thought-out, eclectic wine and beer list rounds out an intriguing dining experience. 119 Second St. N, St. Petersburg, 727-498-8627, meze119.com.
BEST VEGETARIAN DISH AT A PLACE THAT SERVES DEEP-FRIED BACON
Vegetable pie at 3 Birds Tavern
Created by noted pork aficionado and gadfly chef Domenica Macchia, Three Birds’ vegetable pie is a rich stew of squash and peppers, with a sizable dollop of creamy mashed potatoes in the center. It is a truly satisfying dish, heavy but lightened by a powerful dose of black pepper — almost as good as Macchia’s deep-fried sugary bacon. 1492 Fourth St. N, St. Petersburg, 727-895-2049,threebirdstavern.com.
Best meal that just happens to be vegetarian (or vegan, or raw)
Grass Root Organic Restaurant
Owner/executive chef Sabrina Aird and her team prove that everything you know about vegetarian, vegan and raw food is wrong. Take, for example, the sweet, rich and satisfying Ginger Chick-un — it’s anything but bland, boring or bird feed. Grass Root also houses one of the Bay area’s best smoothie and juice bars. 4334 S. Manhattan Ave., Tampa, 813-839-7668, thegrassrootlife.com.
and Fried Chicken
Love’s Artifacts Bar & Grill
By now you’ve likely heard of Love’s phenomenal fried chicken. Its delicate homemade-style crust is perfectly spicy, keeps the meat juicy and tender, and is served in a portion large enough for leftovers. But Love’s also has a veggieburger that’s equally worthy of adoration. The patties are perfect: fluffy, filled with vegetables, and buttery crisp. Times it by two, then pile so high with fresh toppings that you need both hands. There’s nowhere else in town that can claim the best of both. 4914 S. MacDill Ave., Tampa, 813-831-3273, lovesartifacts.com.
BEST CHAIN RESTAURANT
It’s still early days at this nascent chain concept created by the Melting Pot crew in concert with local star chef Chris Ponte — with a second location opening in Carrollwood in October — but early returns are extremely promising. Largely, that’s due to simple things, like perfectly cooked patties and thoughtful burger construction. We’ll see if more outlets means less influence by Ponte, but in the meantime this is a chain we don’t feel guilty supporting. 9664 W. Linebaugh Ave., Tampa, 813-475-5921, burger21.com.
Best guilt-free pizza
Pizza Fusion serves pies you can feel better about for two reasons. First, their additive/preservative/hormone/pesticide/trans fat-free pizza is made with only organic ingredients and can include options like whole grain crust or all vegan ingredients. Second, their stores are all LEED certified, 100 percent of their power consumption is offset with renewable wind energy certificates and they deliver their goods in hybrid cars. So have that extra slice and don’t feel as guilty about the carbon emissions you’re creating by driving to one of their locations. 777 N. Ashley Drive, Tampa, 813-463-1600; 9556 W. Linebaugh Ave., Tampa, 813-792-1516, pizzafusion.com.
Best Salad for Someone that Actually Wants a Pizza
Caprese Salad at Doormet
Doormet’s concept focuses on delivering gourmet food to your door (hence the funky name), but dining at the restaurant is also a great option. Their Caprese Salad comes with baby mozz, gorgonzola crumbles, tomato, onion, balsamic drizzle, EVOO, candied walnuts and more, on top of organic baby arugula. It smells as good as it looks, and it looks as good as it tastes. At lunch, a half salad with a cup of soup is under $10 and worth every penny. 1155 S. Dale Mabry, Tampa, 813-287-DOOR.
Best thing to happen to a potato
Mise en Place
“Creamy bacon Maytag bleu fingerling ragout” — just the description is poetry, hitting just about every culinary pleasure point. But anyone can write a menu. It takes Marty Blitz and company to make you forget every combination of potatoes, bacon and cheese you’ve ever had (yes, even that stuffed thing at Wendy’s) and then make you keep stabbing and spooning at the empty dish in the vain hope that there’s a morsel left. It’s dishes like this that have helped Mise En Place stay vital to the Tampa Bay dining scene for 25 years. 442 W. Kennedy Blvd. #110, Tampa, 813-254-5373, miseonline.com.
BEST LOADED FRENCH FRIES
Loaded french fries are nothing new, but rarely are they anything more than a hefty pile of grease, potato and cheese. At Twisted Cork, however, the fun starts with the fries themselves, sturdy and crisp, able to maintain structural integrity after being drizzled with an elegant and velvety Gorgonzola cream sauce. Then bacon in hunks and chunks instead of bits, as well as a scattered handful of diced scallions. More bleu cheese is tossed over the top, this time in crumbled, creamy masses to accent the sauce. The crowning glory are tiny, spicy, pickled diced peppers that add a burst of acidity and heat to shock your senses out of a potential fatty coma. 3405 34th St. N, St. Petersburg, 727-525-2675, twistedcorkgrille.com.
Best pieces of meat
The hunky servers AND the food at Texas de Brazil Churrascaria
There are more than a few Brazilian-style steakhouses in the Bay area where you can get yourself a lovely protein coma. But at the newest, Texas de Brazil Churrascaria, the juicy, flame-broiled meat on the long skewers isn’t the only thing coming out of the kitchen that looks hot and tasty. The dashing young “gauchos” who visit diners’ tables with their huge pieces of meat (culinarily speaking) serve as the restaurant’s resident eye candy and are another great excuse to dine here. 4112 W. Boy Scout Blvd., Tampa, 813-871-1400, texasdebrazil.com.
Best use of bleu cheese
Blackened Blue Burger at Tampa Tap Room
Bleu cheese on its own is great, but combine it with the flavors of blackened seasoning, hardwood smoked bacon and a medium-rare Certified Angus Beef patty and serve it with lettuce, tomato and red onion on a toasted brioche bun and you have a polyandrous match made in heaven — a juicy, smoky, crunchy beauty of a burger that can quickly become an addiction. It’s a good thing, then, that the Tampa Tap Room has plenty of them to spare. 13150 N. Dale Mabry, Tampa, 813-961-2337, facebook.com/TampaTapRoom.
Best cheese and charcuterie plate
There’s so much more than just “meat and cheese” on SideBern’s list of cheese and charcuterie offerings. Manager Kira Jefferson (whose name you’ve seen on her regular CL cheese column) artfully pairs her picks of artisan cheeses and imported meats with Chef Chad Johnson’s housemade pâtés, terrines and accoutrements. Where else can you find a Repenaer 2-year aged Gouda served with with housemade bacon molasses, or Serrano ham alongside Spanish Mahón drizzled with olive oil and topped with fresh rosemary? Forgo dinner and have a gourmet meat and cheese spread here instead. 2208 W. Morrison Ave., Tampa, 813-258-2233, sideberns.com.
Best Thing to Happen
to Lunchtime in Ybor
New World Brewery’s BBQ Buffet
Some of the city’s best falling-off-the-bone barbecue, formerly available on Wednesdays for dinner only, is now served during the lunch rush — and the stockpile of slow smoked meats (chicken, pork shoulder, ribs, sausage) is offered amid a full-on buffet that includes sides like baked beans, pasta, salad, cornbread and more. The best part — you load your own plate and pay by the weight. Beginning at 11 a.m. Wed.-Fri., 1313 Eighth Ave., Ybor City, 813-248-4969.
Most Confusing BBQ
Ice Cream’s Turkey Legs & BBQ stand, just north of Ybor, offers solid side-of-the-road BBQ and is run by Ice Cream, the guy, not to be confused with ice cream, the ice cream — although recently Ice Cream, the guy, has started selling ice cream, the ice cream, as indicated on a sign out front reading “Ice Cream’s: Now Serving Ice Cream.” 22nd St. N near Osborne Avenue, Tampa.
We know lunchtime can get busy at this hugely popular Argentinian Ybor restaurant, but sometimes we can’t help but feel neglected. Still, while the service might leave something to be desired, and lunch may turn into a two-hour affair, something continually keeps us coming back for more. It might be the El Puerto Steak, or maybe the Chicken Milanese with spicy Aji sauce or the huge Totones. Whatever it is, when we finally do get served it feels like hitting the crack rock after waiting all day for the dealer. Or so we can only assume. 1623 E. Fifth Ave., Tampa, 813-248-8222, elpuertoybor.com.
Best Loose Interpretation
of a Cuban Sandwich
“Havana Hottie” at Datz
Datz’s Havana Hottie has house-smoked pulled pork & house-baked ham, jarlsberg and dill pickles, and is topped with a deliciously sweet and spicy honeycup mustard. Add some of their cinnamon-salted house-made potato chips, which are juuuust a bit addictive, wash it all down with one of their 40 draft beers and you have an inexpensive meal not soon forgotten.
Best place to get
your peanut butter fix
The Bricks of Ybor
As if its roles as restaurant, bar, coffee house, art gallery, music venue and event space weren’t enough, The Bricks also serves the best PB&E (i.e. everything) around. Whether you like it smooth, crunchy, organic or otherwise, they’ve got you covered with everything from sandwiches (try the Amsterdam with gouda) to the George Washington Carver (a PB-flavored double-shot latte) to Brickin’ Nuggets (sliced apples and bananas topped with PB, granola, agave nectar and raspberry sauce). Choosy diners choose The Bricks. 1327 E. Seventh Ave., Tampa, 813-247-1785, thebricksybor.com.
Best Lunch Buffet
The Laughing Cat
A scrumptious buffet each weekday for only $10 at one of Tampa’s best authentic Italian restaurants — unbelievable. And now that The Laughing Cat has moved across 15th Street to roomier quarters in the former home of Streetcar Charlie’s, it’s got even more space for buffet fans. The lunch offerings include fresh caprese salad, various pasta dishes, chicken milanese, and our personal favorite, the poached, chilled salmon, resting in a pan covered in olive oil, garlic, and herbs. Even when we’re not in a pasta mood, we’ll go to Laughing Cat just for the salmon. 811 N. 15th St., Tampa, 813-241-2998, thelaughingcat.com.
BEST DOGGIE FINE DINING
Parkshore Grill is known for serving high-end steaks and seafood along St. Pete’s beautiful and bustling Beach Drive. The clientele has always included the businessmen, upper-crusty socialites and tourists that populate downtown St. Pete, but Parkshore has really gone to the dogs with the availability of doggie dining. Grab an outdoor seat, and your server will have a silver water bowl at the ready to quench your pooch’s thirst during the hot summer months. We recommend throwing a leash on Fido and heading down to Parkshore for lunch, with a menu of burgers, wraps and salads that are pricy but won’t break the bank at $10-15. 300 Beach Drive NE, St. Petersburg, 727-896-9463, Parkshoregill.com.
Best Fantasy Chef Death Match
Franco LoRe of Laughing Cat and Gordon Ramsay
Pull up a front row seat and make some gourmet popcorn. If any of you have ever encountered the impassioned and highly beloved Laughing Cat owner Franco LoRe blowing his top over mishaps in the kitchen, you know that even just imagining a confrontation between him and the perpetually pissed-off scolder of meth-addled sous chefs would be a bleeping-bleepity-bleep-bleep-bleep hoot to watch.
Best Outdoor Patio
With as much coastline as Tampa has, there are surprisingly few restaurants with quality outdoor patios. This gem is hidden away behind the Grand Hyatt Tampa Bay, but offers so much more than your typical hotel eatery. Expansive views of perfect sunsets from every table and an elegantly unfussy atmosphere make this the prime patio spot in town. It’s not cheap, but it’s worth it. 2900 Bayport Drive, Tampa, 813-207-6815, oystercatchersrestaurant.com.
Best trend to
FINALLY hit Tampa Bay
About damn time. Tampa is one of the most awesome cities in the Sunshine State and we just now finally have mobile gourmet food trucks. We as a city were more than ready for them; within hours of the announcement of the upcoming first Tampa Food Truck Rally on Sept. 24 (see p. 95 for details), there were hundreds of supporters on the Facebook page, and thousands of hits on various websites containing information about the event. Wicked ’Wiches helped pioneer the local scene, and a great number of trucks began popping up shortly after. We’ve got some work to do to catch up to Miami, but the market certainly exists.
Best revamped eatery
Michelle Faedo’s devil
crab shop-turned-food truck
After announcing the closing of their shop in East Tampa last May, Michele Faedo and her husband have taken their tasty and well-seasoned devil crabs and gone mobile with them. A new food truck on the scene, Michele-Faedo’s-On-The-Go can be found parked in locations such as Cigar City Brewing, or near 275 and MLK, and If you haven’t yet tried her devil crab, it’s a must. The corn crab chowder is also a cut above the rest, and their Cuban sandwich isn’t bad either. See their Facebook page for serving locations around South Tampa. 813-784-6933, facebook.com/pages/Michelle-Faedos-On-The-Go.
BEST NEW BUS STOPS
The burgeoning Taco Bus empire
The fine people at TBARTA could learn something from Chef Rene and his rapidly expanding Taco Bus empire. From humble beginnings serving excellent tacos and Mexican fare out of a stationary bus on E. Hillsborough Avenue in Tampa, the Taco Bus now has a stop in St. Pete near the Trop and a just-added third location in downtown Tampa. Residents are lining up to get on board this bus. If only HARTline would add taco fixins to the free wi-fi provided by their city buses, rapid transit might finally take off in the Bay area.
Best bagel shop turned drive-thru
St. Pete Bagel Co.
Bagels and schmear are dear, but who wants to bother getting out of the car to buy them? Lame. If you’re 76 and hankering for the o-shaped baked good, simply drive through the front of the building for service like the woman at St. Pete Bagel Company did back in April. Her foot “slipped” from the brake to the gas, she said, but honestly — the bagels there are so good they can cause people to do crazy things. Plus, St. Pete Bagel was featured on Groupon that very day, so there were bargains to be had, too. Luckily, despite the fact it was a Monday morning, no one was injured and the shop is back in business. Lesson learned? If there isn’t a drive-thru, just make one! 7043 Fourth St. N, St. Petersburg, 727-522-3377, stpetebagelco.com.
BEST FAST FOOD
Da Kine Hawaiian Cafe
This food truck’s sauces are sweet and salty across the board — two tricks that the chains use to keep people coming back. At Da Kine, however, that salt and sugar is a natural homage to Hawaii instead of a cruelly calculated formula. Just take a bite of the salty-sweet, crispy beef or the tender marinated chicken and it likely will be one of the best things you’ve ever eaten on the side of the road or in the front seat of your car. 3316 S. Dale Mabry, Tampa, 813-531-3035.
Best Coffee Break
King Corona Cafe
For those of us who live in St. Pete and work in Ybor, life sure has its percs, and access to all the great Bay Area coffeeshops is not the least of them. Honorable mention here goes to Kahwa South, Cafe Bohemia and Cafe Hey, but there is definitely something magical about sipping the best espresso in the Bay while people-watching on Ybor’s Seventh Avenue. King Corona, 1523 E. Seventh Ave., Tampa, 813-241-9109, kingcoronacigars.com.
Best tea party that has
nothing to with the tea party
TeBella Tea Company
Now here’s a tea party we can all get behind. TeBella Tea Company is one of the newer tea stores to crop up, and once you get hooked, you’ll forsake the tea bag and learn how to make your own loose leaf brew at home, with the help of some of the nicest customer service around. Owner Abigail St. Clair has a tea for every palate. For those seeking a twist on a classic, try the Lavender Fog, which infuses the traditional Earl Grey with lavender and jasmine. Herbal fans will enjoy the delicate floral hints in the Magnolia Oolong, while those trying to beat the heat can rehydrate with an iced Mango Melange. With such a wide selection, you can literally spend months trying every new blend (we’ve tried). Oh, and if you think no tea experience is complete without something to nibble on, TeBella commissions a Bern’s pastry chef to make mouth-watering cupcakes, scones and macaroons. Seating is limited so stake your claim early and get your $2 Tea of the Day special. Honorable mention: Hooker Tea Company. 227 E. Davis Blvd., Davis Islands, Tampa, 813-254-1212, tebellatea.com.
Best Dianetic Diuretic
Living amongst the Scientologists as we do — the Church of Scientology bought Ybor Square last year, thus becoming CL’s landlords — we’ve had a relatively acrimony-free relationship, except when CL decides to write something with the word Scientology in it. So, knowing that we risk a visitation from large contingents of steely, smiling PR people, we’re still going to come out and say it: Scientology coffee is great! Nice to have it right across the courtyard, too, and Calvin the barista rocks. PS: We read the New Yorker parody. Nice try at appearing to have a sense of humor.
BEST ALMOST ICE CREAM
Paciugo’s gelato is so good it would make Ben and Jerry cry for their mommies. The texture is smooth and light, more like the whipped cream you would normally douse your ice cream with than the frozen treat underneath. Paciugo will cram multiple varieties of gelato into one cup, and they overfill the brim like they’re paid per artery clogged. Sliding from your tongue to the back of your mouth, the flavors explode in a cold shower of sweet bliss that will have you wondering how anyone could eat simple ice cream again. Third Avenue & Beach Drive, St. Petersburg, paciugo.com.
Best Ice Cream Parlor
for Aspiring Shop Owners
Strachan’s Homemade Ice Cream
This old-fashioned, family-owned ice cream parlor exudes charm. Bill and Susan Strachan offer a three-day ice cream course for aspiring shop owners. They teach students the entire process of making ice cream, plus the business aspects of opening, operating and owning an ice cream parlor. 105 Alt U.S. 19 N, Palm Harbor, 727-781-0997; 310 Main St., Dunedin, 727-733-3603, strachansdesserts.com
Sweetest Retail Trend
Frozen yogurt shops
It’s raining froyo shops! As we speak, three more of them have probably opened up overnight to bring self-serve, pay-by-the-ounce, low-fat goodness to the Bay area. Like Tanya & Matt’s Froyo Fresh in Westchase or St. Pete’s Yogurtology, their delights are as tasty as they are tricky. On your first trip it’s likely you’ll load up your peanut butter yogurt with a brownie, cookie dough, hot fudge and fruity bobas. Then they’ll weigh it. You think an ounce can hold so much more, but alas — the first yogurt journey will cost a pretty penny when a blind eye is turned. Still, where else can you get an endless buffet of frozen yogurt toppings, bound only by the limit on your credit card? Tanya & Matt’s Froyo Fresh, 12211 W. Linebaugh Ave., Tampa, 813-475-5900, froyofresh.com; Yogurtology, 3043 Fourth St. N, St. Petersburg, 727-895-1393, yogurtology.com.
Best Reason for Foodies to Cross the Bridge from Tampa to St. Pete)
Mazzaro’s Italian Market
A Tampanian writes: If I were to move to St. Pete I would get a house right next to Mazzaro’s so I could go there every day. Maybe even twice a day. I would change my name to Francesco, grow a mountain of chest hair that my mostly unbuttoned shirt couldn’t hope to contain, and fill my soul with cured meats, pesto, fresh baked bread and house-roasted coffee. 2909 22nd Ave. N, St. Petersburg, 727-321-2400, mazzarosmarket.com.
Best Way to Buy Local
Amy’s Fresh Delivery
When you choose to buy locally, you help our community by keeping dollars circulating nearby. As a bonus, locally grown produce is healthier, saves energy, and supports small farms. Amy’s Fresh Delivery takes the work out of buying local by delivering your hand-picked grocery list right to your doorstep. The Bay area’s freshest fruits and veggies are only a few clicks away. amysfresh.com.
Yes, it’s probably too expensive, and the food isn’t necessarily organic (or even healthy), but we just can’t help ourselves when we step inside Fresh Market. From the décor (think Whole Foods mixed with the cramped aisles of a big-city supermarket) to the beautifully stacked produce, fresh-cut meats and mouth-watering prepared foods, Fresh Market infects our pores and makes us want to shop, shop, shop — even if what we’re buying can probably be had elsewhere for less. You have to love a place that skips the household cleaners and paper products that clutter other supermarkets, but finds space to include two aisles of candy sold by the pound. Pro tip: Don’t miss the delicious pre-made Yukon Gold mashed potatoes. Four locations locally, find yours at thefreshmarket.com.
Best Bad Attitude
Garden of Eaton
There are many runners-up for this category: Lightning fans, Plant High School parents after their kids fail a test, and Ronda Storms when the sun shines on gay people. But the best bad attitude of all is when you innocently inquire, “Is this local produce?” at Garden of Eaton, a farmer’s market on South MacDill. Go ahead and try it yourself. Tell ’em Catherine sent you.
Best use of red velvet
Red velvet pancakes at Datz
Suzanne Perry of Datz isn’t afraid to try anything, and I love her for that. Take two things that are already great on their own: pancakes and red velvet cake. Now have the two make sweet, sweet love to each other and BOO-YAH — you now have Red Velvet Pancakes. Oh, don’t stop there, throw on some cream cheese icing/frosting, some candied crunchy nuts, and some thick-cut smoked bacon — now it’s a party. Hell, go for broke — finish the meal with a slice of Datz’s three-layer red velvet cake. You’ll be happy to find out that the center layer is a full cheesecake. 2616 S. Macdill Ave., Tampa, 813-831-7000, datztampa.com.
Best buy-in-bulk grocery
store for which you don’t
need a membership
Sanwa Farmer’s Market
This huge warehouse caters to Latin and Asian restaurant owners, yet is open to the public. You can find fresh bok choy, pork belly, duck and every type of rice and dried legume you can imagine, all at rock bottom prices. Many of the items are sold in small quantities so you are not required to purchase a five-gallon bucket of soy sauce, although they have it if you need it. 2621 E. Hillsborough Ave., Tampa, 813-234-8428, siwffarmersmarket.com.
BEST JAZZ WITH A SIDE OF BREAKFAST
The Hangar Restaurant
& Flight Lounge
The Hangar is worth the trip just for the good food and stellar views of aircraft taking off and landing (and sometimes crashing) at Albert Whitted Airport. On Monday, Friday and Saturday nights, the restaurant sweetens the deal with live jazz in its second-story dining room. Take in the swinging sounds while gorging yourself on The Hangar’s excellent chicken and waffles. It’s like eating breakfast and dinner while hanging out at a cool jazz club past midnight — all at the same time! 540 First St. SE, St. Petersburg, 727-823-7767 thehangarstpete.com.
BEST MARRIAGE OF
OVEREATING AND THE BLUES
Saturday night at
Taste of Pinellas
St. Pete had the blues all right, and not just because its residents sat all day in the blazing sun scarfing down fried munchies during this year’s Taste of Pinellas. Saturday night was blues night at the festival, and legendary axe man Buddy Guy laid waste to the crowd with his six-string carpet-bombing before smoky-voiced heroine Bonnie Raitt broke out her slide and gave ’em something to talk about during her smooth, enjoyable closing set. Fans were buzzing about the show afterwards as they split antacids on the walk to their cars.
Best Bartending Couple
Judah and Levi Love, The Emerald
A self-described “dive bar” isn’t the kind of place you’d expect to find standard-bearers for transgender tolerance and gay marriage. But The Emerald is not just any dive bar — it’s a smoky, noisy, wood-paneled joint, yes, but it’s in downtown St. Pete and its motley clientele is a microcosm of what makes the city cool: hipsters, rockers, old drunks, young drunks, friendly people of all stripes, with all pretensions left at the door. And no one’s cooler than Judah and Levi: Married two years ago in Boston, they’re genial and expert bartenders with a gender-fuck sex appeal that transcends categories. 550 Central Ave., St. Petersburg, 727-898-6054.
Best thing to happen to a hookah
Just when you thought the whole hookah thing was over, in comes Zoya to make it hip again. An expansion of the Czar Nightclub empire into the space next door (formerly occupied by Buddha Lounge and various other doomed restaurants), Zoya has an elegantly louche atmosphere — all curved banquettes and pillows and dim lighting — that seems just right for taking deep drags from ornate Aladdin-esque waterpipes (preferably in a reclining position) or sipping artisanal cocktails. Plus, the variety of fresh shisha tobacco flavors is positively giddy-making. Taste test ‘em and see for yourself. 1430 E. Seventh Ave., Ybor City, Tampa, 813-247-2664.
Best locally inspired cocktail
Homage to 7th Avenue at Ciro’s Speakeasy & Supper Club
Its name is a nod to the once-again-bustling brick street that runs through the heart of Tampa’s historic district, where a century ago cigars put this city on the map. Appropriately, this cocktail’s distinctive flavor — dry, spicy notes of rye whiskey balanced perfectly with sweet, smoky cigar-infused simple syrup — turns out to be every bit as rich as Ybor City’s heritage. Drink ’em if you got ’em. 2109 Bayshore Blvd., Tampa, 813-251-0022.
Best friend to the
Local bars are finally pouring fewer vodka-and-Red Bulls in favor of more sophisticated spirits, and no small measure of thanks goes to Hurst. Whether it’s through his work at SideBern’s, the inspired drink lists he’s written for other notable Bay area restaurants or his tireless efforts organizing and representing the Left Coast Bartenders Guild (including at such high-profile events as New York’s Cocktail Classic and New Orleans’ Tales of the Cocktail), Hurst’s influence on the elevation of local cocktail culture has been immeasurable.
Best legal high
It turns out mai tais and pina coladas are for tourists. Real islanders gulp kava, a drink derived from the roots of a plant found in the South Pacific. For most users, its physical effects are akin to those of a muscle relaxer or sedative, only it leaves their mental clarity fully intact. At this tropical tiki shack — apparently the only kava bar on the Gulf Coast — the full-body buzz makes it worth chugging down what tastes like dirty water from a coconut shell. Bottoms up! (Or is that down?) 2500 Fifth Ave. N, St. Petersburg, 727-498-8913, http://www.bulakafe.com.
Best Beach Bar
Away from the Beach
Rumba Island Bar and Grill
For a “beach bar” in the heart of Clearwater, look no further than the intersection of Gulf to Bay Boulevard and Keene Road. Invite a friend and enjoy a two-for-one margarita at the outdoor tiki bar and deck. Then try the Island Shrimp and Rice Bowl or grouper, mahi, catfish or tuna, filleted hourly. 1800 Gulf to Bay Boulevard, Clearwater, 727-446-7027, rumbaislandgrill.com.
Bamboo Club > The Pub
The Bamboo Club was tired. Serving typical Asian fusion, it was frequently empty despite the gigantic space and phenomenal location. The British invasion of The Pub is a welcome change, featuring the most dramatic interior redesign of any venue in Tampa this year. Authentic details with a twist and an attention-grabbing behemoth of a bar grab your attention. Add kilts galore, authentic British pub food, and a unique “Pour Your Own Beer Wall,” and you’ve got the most unique spot at International Plaza. 2223 N. West Shore Blvd., 813-443-5642, experiencethepub.com/tampa-bay.
BEST BUILDING AUGMENTATION
The Old Pepin/New
Hooters on Fourth Street
When St. Pete’s legendary Pepin Restaurant announced it was closing after more than 35 years of service, residents were sad, even if the ’Burg’s younger denizens never really hipped to the oldster hangout. Enter Hooters, who bought the building and immediately went about renovating the exterior. Gone was the old flat façade, replaced by a new, more rounded profile. We’d love to crack on the finished product, but the fact is that the new Hooters looks great — even if there’s something artificial and prefab about it. 4125 Fourth St. N., St.Petersburg, Hooters.com.
on a Friday night
Tampa Bay Brewing Company
You can dine outside on the patio and get a good view, but if it’s too hot out, ask for a booth by the window inside, where you can peer out upon the Centro Ybor corridor. One recent Friday, the booths offered views of cellulite-ridden hoochies with skirts so high they revealed ass cleavage; a modest Indo-Asian couple; South Tampa yuppies in their finest Tommy Bahama; gangsta kids with droopy drawers; and a slew of overly made-up and awkward college-age women. The grand marshal of this parade: the Castle-flocking goths, looking like Marilyn Manson run amok in the Dollar Store.
Best Local App
The local programming and mobile developer scene has a long way to go before we catch up with the likes of San Francisco’s silicon hub or Austin’s post-Midway explosion. However, there are people doing exemplary work in and around the Bay Area, and one of those companies is Winter Haven’s Apps Versus Robots, producers of “Brewski Me” — an app (currently available for iPhone) that lets users know what their friends are drinking and where. It also allows you to rate your brew (can, bottle or draft), read peer reviews, select featured beers from the “Beer Garden,” add rare finds to a “Wish List” or store your favorites in “The Cellar.” Yes, an app for beer snobs. Damn it, why didn’t we think of that? brewski.me.
BEST SAVORY SUNDAY MORNING MEAL
Dim Sum at Yummy House China Bistro
On the weekends, YHCB’s parking lot is packed with cars that overflow into the bank’s lot next door. Shiny metal carts cruise through the dining room, dispensing metal bowls filled with steamed buns and fried chicken parts, plates of beautiful bok choy and handmade noodles glistening with sauce. Diners reach across tables with their chopsticks to snatch choice bits from their companions’ plates, or reach into the center of the big family-style tables to spin the lazy susan like a culinary roulette wheel. Who knew you could eat the best meal of the week before noon on a Sunday? 2620 E. Hillsborough Ave., Tampa, 813-237-3838
BEST THING TO HAPPEN TO SUNDAY DINNER
Pearl in the Grove
There’s already been plenty of good buzz about this homey spot on the outskirts of Dade City and the farm-to-table cuisine of its chef-owner Curtis Beebe, a former IT guy who turned his love for cooking into a new career. But the best way to try it, especially if you like the idea of a leisurely weekend drive in the country, is to reserve a space for Sunday dinner. The entree, sides and salad are all served family-style; depending on what Beebe's got in the kitchen (or in his head), the day's bill of fare might include pork shoulder (smoked the day before) and vegetables just delivered by a local farmer, plaus a yummy homemade dessert. Beebe and his wife, Rebecca, chat with customers, invite you to have seconds — just like mom and dad. And best of all, it’s ridiculously inexpensive — $18 for the whole shebang — so you don’t even have to fret about how much gas you used on that Sunday drive. 31936 St. Joe Road, Dade City, 352-588-0008, pearlinthegrove.com
BEST NEW ADDITION TO THE
YBOR RESTAURANT SCENE
Sunday’s Fine Dining
It seemed an unlikely site for a white-tablecloth, three-meals-a-day place: next door to a rock club (the re-located Orpheum) on an outlying block of Seventh Avenue. But the airy interior, welcoming attitude and good cooking — a mix of comfort food (BBQ meatloaf sandwich, spiced rum banana French toast) and more sophisticated fare (panko-crusted oysters, lobster gnocchi) — has been winning raves. The restaurant’s name, by the way, has nothing to do with the day of the week; the chef/owner is David Sunday, whose Long Island fishing roots are reflected in the menu’s emphasis on seafood (including a very tasty variation on a lobster salad roll called a Knuckle Sandwich). 1919 E. Seventh Ave., Ybor City, Tampa, 813-248-4000, sundaysfinedining.com
BEST BUDDHA WITH A SIDE OF EGGROLLS
Wat Mongkolrata Temple’s Sunday Morning Market
Ever wondered why Buddha is always depicted as overweight? Our guess is he’s been bellying up to Wat’s terrific Sunday Morning Market, which offers a great selection of authentic Thai dishes (Phat Thai, chicken curry, guiteow, etc.) to believers and the just-hungry alike. The market takes place at Wat’s beautiful three-acre complex in the Palm River area of Tampa. Come for the God, but stay for the egg rolls. 5306 Palm River Road, Tampa, 813-621-1669, wattampainenglish.com.