Collection of the ‘reviews’ Category
The last time I wrote about this subject, Beach Drive in Downtown St. Petersburg was getting ready to explode with Bella Brava moving in and Cassis was making a statement with their Balthazar-ish New York lookalike space.
Since then, Central Avenue has had its ups and downs. Acropolis moved into the old Bella Brava space, St. Pete Brasserie opened and closed and opened (now under new ownership with Wilko on staff) and lots of small ethnic places have given it a go.
The Grand Central District continues to climb, plateau and then climb some more. The seafood spot owned by Elizabeth Moch didn’t make it, but Taco Bus flourished nearly across the street. Nitally’s with their odd-sounding-yet delicious Thai/Mex fusion continues to prosper. QueensHead lost an amazing chef but seems to be adjusting. Beak’s Old Florida has new ownership under Dan Soronen (previous owner of Old Northeast Tavern and Shackleton’s Folly). Beak’s hired Chef Domenica Macchia to uplift the menu and it seems to be going well.
The most notable development however, is the number of restaurants opening up in the St. Pete Beach area. Just recently, The Riviera made an appearance with its supper club themed menu, looking like a winner in a sea of maybes. Madfish and Snapper’s keep on rolling, serving up seafood, but it looks like The Boulevard which held promise as a charming little bistro, didn’t make it very long.
Silas Dent’s amazingly, stays on, and continues to draw a dinner crowd, even with a temperamental chef and some pretty questionable food being served. The last time I visited, I literally could not eat the food. Meanwhile, a gentleman at the next table said he was sick from his steak.
The Wharf, in spite of its “hole in the wall” shack atmosphere, consistently serves up some good dishes. The lobster nuggets are large, tender and tasty. Nearly across the street is Gennaro’s, a tiny place offering traditional Italian food with a warm atmosphere and friendly servers. Verducci’s is another must-try for Italian food, and is also a small place, so arrive early.
For music lovers who also like low lighting and great food, Middle Grounds has a diverse menu from tuna to steak to my favorite dessert, the flourless chocolate torte.
Other beach restaurants to visit are Salt Rock Grill in Indian Shores for the best oysters around, open fire grill and stone crab (when in season). Island Way Grill in Clearwater has a romantic atmosphere and a menu heavy on seafood.
Interestingly enough, many of the more popular restaurants out by the beach don’t get involved in as much social media as do the downtown restaurants. Some experts believe that constantly courting the same customers through social media and special offers can be counterproductive. Regulars love it, but new customers can be put off by the same clique hanging around the bar every week, snubbing strangers who come in to try the restaurant.
Bottom line, if you want your restaurant to grow, follow the stable model of the restaurants by the beach with long-time track records and don’t let one small group of customers dictate how you do business. They could be gone tomorrow, off to the next “trendy” place.
Elizabeth Dougherty has been a food writer for over 10 years, attended culinary school and holds a Bachelor’s degree, Magna Cum Laude in Hospitality, Business and Labor Relations from NYIT. She has been a talk show host of nearly 200 episodes of Food Nation Radio which airs each Saturday afternoon at 4 on WWBA AM820 News and other stations. You can read her articles and hear previous shows on her podcast page on the Food Nation Radio Network website and on Facebook.
This week on Food Nation Radio Network (WWBA/WXMR) we talked about what produce is ready right now. However, we’ve been holding out on you, because we’ve been growing our own veggies/herbs with a tower from Prodigal Organic Towers.
The whole container recycles the water in it, there is no soil, no bugs and it’s on a timer. They couldn’t make it any easier to grow your own organic plants at home. Here is their website for more info: http://prodigalorganictowers.com/
In addition to growing things, I’ve been cooking up some menus for the Easter holiday. Here’s a couple of tested menus you can access right here at http://elizabethdougherty.com:
More and more, I’m so proud and excited to live in the Tampa Bay area with chefs and restaurants that are really dedicated to providing fresh, local food. Yes, we eat healthily for the most part, but sometimes you’ve got to just let go and live a little.
This is the Mezza Luna from Bella’s in South Tampa. It’s fried from their fresh Mezza Luna (half moon) pasta stuffed with cheese, however, it still manages to stay light and the sauce has that rich tomato taste without being too acidic.
There are many things I love about this restaurant, there are too many to list. It’s not that it’s full of snooty culinary masterpieces. That’s not the point of this place. It’s a true neighborhood restaurant. When you walk in, you feel warmly at home. The servers are friendly without being intrusive and the food is generally very good. (The tiramisu, which I’ve written about before, is the best I’ve ever eaten.)
The pizza oven does not disappoint with crispy pizzas served all day and on their late night menu. (The only change I requested is I wanted the prosciutto put on after the pizza was baked, otherwise it gets a little tough.)
If you have kids and you are looking for some house-made meals instead of the super-salty overly processed choices, check out Outback. Have you been lately? My son swears by their version of mac n’ cheese made with penne pasta. I tried it too. So cheeeesy.
I had always been taught that when you want a great steak, go to one of those very expensive steakhouses where they tell you the whole story of the cow’s life and how long they age their steaks, etc. When I found out that Zagat had rated Outback’s steaks as the best in the country by a chain restaurant, I wanted to taste it for myself. I hadn’t eaten at an Outback in years, and my last impression was “meh”. That has all changed now.
The filet with a wedge salad is a reasonably priced, very flavorful dish. The filet I tried was fork tender and perfectly grilled over wood. It had that smoky flavor going on in the background and the cool, blue cheese dressing on the wedge was a great counterpart. There are some dishes where simple is just fine by me, as long as the quality is there. This is one of them.
If you want a special night out, away from the franchises and chains, check out one of my favorite restaurants in Tampa, Pane Rustica. These people have a habit of making their meat dishes brontosaurus-sized. About a week ago, I tried their short rib and there was nothing short about it. It was huge and tender and savory and completely satisfying. Wow. I just had a little flashback there. Here’s a picture so you can share the yearning with me.
That’s not all I had that evening. Have you ever had a veal cheek? I hadn’t either and I dig when restaurants use all the “parts” and don’t waste anything. It’s what being a good restaurant/chef is about. That’s the challenge and they really stepped up with this veal cheek and pasta dish. Just when I thought the short rib was the most outstanding part of my evening. This was love on a plate.
You probably already know by now, neighborhood Italian places always have a soft spot in my heart. Well, recently we had Bill Murphy on the show. Remember those great one-tank trips he put together? Yep. That’s the guy. You can still find his books around town. I found some at Haslam’s, but I digress. Bill recommended this little Italian restaurant in St. Pete Beach called Gennaro’s.
It’s not big. It’s not fancy. The food is exactly what you would expect and hope for. The red sauce is made with love, the garlic bread is an actual loaf of Italian bread smeared with garlic butter and baked until toasty hot, the baked pasta dishes are overflowing with cheese, bubbly and browned on top and it’s not expensive. I really debated not even writing about Gennaro’s because I want to go back and I don’t want it to be too crowded! This was my manicotti, hot and steaming right from the oven.
By the way, if you find yourself at the Columbia Restaurant with out of town friends in Ybor or you just feel like taking in the view at the Pier, it doesn’t mean you always have to have a Cuban sandwich. They have several Italian crossover dishes like their version of an eggplant parmesan pictured here. It’s got capers and olives in it, giving it some extra pizzazz and the sauce a good kick. Did you know they also have a gluten-free menu? All you have to do is ask for it.
I’ll see what sorts of trouble I get into over the next several days, fork in hand, eating around. Have a tasty week.
Like a retired schooner that’s outlived her glory days upon the open sea, Backwaters’s On Sand Key rests at the scenic edge of Clearwater Beach dishing out galley grub to serve a variety of ocean-front appetites. Deep navy blue walls and linens meld with dark wooden paneling and furniture to create a casually ship-shape atmosphere catering to both visitors hunting an authentically seaside scene and patrons seeking relaxation at their usual table.
From guest blogger Beauty & the Feast
As I glance from the trendily clad white-blond mannequin posing in the front window, to my waiter rushing past a diner-style order window with plates on both hands and skin-tight denim shorts painting his legs down to the calf, and finally back to the vibrant chili pepper salt and pepper shakers set before me, a single word fills my brain… saucy. Even in reflecting on my experiences with the restaurant later, saucy remains the only adjective to appropriately depict the place. Jauntily standing in the heart of downtown Dunedin, the name truly says it all; this is Kelly’s, For Just About… Anything!
There are truly innumerable motivations behind creating and maintaining an eatery… love of food, passion for people, artistic expression, cultural enrichment, etc, etc. Naturally, a grand mesh of such driving forces lies at any restaurant’s core. That being said, often times, when an establishment does not necessarily match with our preconceived expectations, a diner may step away with jumbled judgments concerning said restaurant’s intentions; thus was my primary experience with Agave.
From guest blogger, Beauty & the Feast
Occasionally, you come across a truly distinctive eatery, the likes of which revives your faith in eating outside the humble abode. A place that you yearn to introduce companions to, where you feel satisfied in laying hard-earned cash on the table, a place that steals a coveted position within your go-to dining repertoire. The newly discovered destination may be a posh café, the sophisticated fine-dining venue that remains in-step with couture cuisine, or perhaps one of those relaxed types serving eclectic comforting classics… and rarely, it’s a beautiful collage incorporating all of the above. That is precisely what I found in taking a seat at Sunday’s Fine Dining, where everyday feels “easy like Sunday morning”.
Walk upstairs to the new Bishop Lounge and you may think you are in a different building. The new Lounge is nothing like the 20- something Tavern downstairs. With freshly varnished floors, granite bars and reserved tables, it is obvious the concept is aimed at another demographic completely.