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Tampa Foodies - where are they?

What's happened with Tampa food? I've been all over Florida (Tally, Jax, MIA, Orl, etc.) and can honestly say that Tampa food is overrun with chains and lacks originality.

Yes, I know the Columbia, Berns, Sideberns, Mise en Place, etc. are all great- but where are the truly avant-garde restaurants?

I'm looking for something on par with Kool Beans or Mosaic in Tallahassee; Abracci, Les Halles, or Romeo's in Miami; Big Pink or the Forge in Miami Beach; or BBs or Bistro Aix in Jacksonville.

Any suggestions would be most welcome!!!!

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  1. Drive up and down Armenia around Hillsboro

    1. I guess you'll just have to get out more, girl. Or leave town.

      1 Reply
      1. re: Tandoori Girl

        LOL. Maybe do a Tampa search before asking for suggestions and slamming the town.

      2. Can't help you there. I find it refreshing that we don't have the pretensions of a Miami.

        1. Head over to Pinellas County... Cafe Ponte - Largo/Clearwater area, Cafe Alma - Downtown St. Pete, Black Pearl - Dunedin

          1. I think Pane Rustica at dinner is as good or better than anything I've had at Kool Beans or Mosaic in Tally, and I like them both (though I lean more towad Cypress). Not much French to equal Les Halles in Tampa, though the Gulf Bistro in Madeira Beach is excellent. But you asked about Tampa. It's true, though, Tampa is chain city, a point made in the St. Pete Times last week in an interview with San Francisco chef Scott Howard, formerly of Tampa. Lots of reasons for that, IMHO, including the ever-changing population, the lack of excellent produce and other local foods (compared to California, anyway), the influx of tourists who aren't really looking for cutting-edge food and, let's face it, an insufficient concentration of sophisticated diners (OK, you can start flaming me now!). You can read the intereview: http://www.sptimes.com/2007/07/25/Foo...

            1 Reply
            1. re: Bergerman

              I agree with the thoughts on pane rustica- love that place. And yes- Cypress in Tally is awesome as well. I have not tried Gulf Bistro in Madeira, but I will now. Thanks so much for the suggestion.

              The Miami Herald recently published a similar article about Miami restaurants- so it's not just Tampa!

            2. My fav independents in Tampa include:
              Laughing Cat - Italian in Ybor
              Acropolis - Greek in Ybor
              Thai Corner - Thai in downtown Tampa
              Arco Iris - Cuban in West Tampa
              Crab Shack - Casual Seafood in St. Pete
              Red Mesa - Tex-Mex in St. Pete
              Jimbo's - BBQ in South Tampa
              Bern's/Charley's - Steaks in Tampa
              Mangroves - Seafood in SOHO
              Side Bern's - American in SOHO
              Yoko's - Sushi in South Tampa
              Ceviche - Spanish/Tapas in St. Pete

              20 Replies
              1. re: rshally

                I want to try them all since I am now on weekly trips to Tampa. I disagree with Berns. It is totally coasting on rep. I was there last year and had one of the worst overpriced meals of my life with a group of six other foodies. We all came up psyched about it and every aspect was terrible. I won't go into detail other than to say I will never go back and I had made pilgrimmages there annually for almost 20 years. That said, any suggestions in the Temple Terrace area where I am stuck due to business reasons.

                1. re: phneale

                  I haven't found a great rest. but if you are in the Temple Terrace area - Don Jose's isn't to bad. www.cafedonjose.com 11009 N 56th St Tampa, FL 33617(813) 980-1021.
                  There's a couple of Indian Rest's that aren't too bad.
                  Stonewood Grill - it's a chain but pretty decent food

                  1. re: dmfnole

                    I completely agree with phneales assessment of Bern's. I would also recommend don Jose. My wire loves their Sangria, they lace it with brandy.

                    I haven't tried it, but some good friends who are long time Temple Terrace residents like LaLa at 10918 N 56th

                    1. re: dmfnole

                      I agree with the Bern's assessment. Even the dessert is not that great!
                      I like Don Jose's. If you go to Stonewood, try the chocolate bread pudding- to die for!

                      1. re: dmfnole

                        In the same plaza as Cafe Don Jose, there is a deli that is to die for. I can't remember the name, but every time I am up in the area I have to drop in. In addition to their meals they also sell many gourmet cheeses, crackers, etc. As well as beer and wine. The sandwiches all have hokey names, my favorite has roast beef, brie, and their homemade horseradish sauce on pumernickel.

                        1. re: LunasMom

                          You're probably thinking of the Olde World Cheese Shop, but Cafe Don Jose isn't located there anymore, it's North on 56th across from the bowling alley.

                          1. re: rikkikm

                            Yes, Olde World Cheese Shop! wow my mouth started water just thinking the name. Thanks.

                      2. re: phneale

                        In Temple Terrace try Don Jose, Anotnios Pasta Grille and Saavy Jacks.

                        1. re: phneale

                          The Taj near USF is very good if you like Indian food. I also think the pizza and the chicken bianco at CDB's is worth trying, if you don't mind the kind of dumpy atmosphere. I would second Saavy Jack's, too. I haven't been there in a long time, but they had the best sweet tea. I don't know if they still serve dinner (they stopped at one point), but they had great southern-style food.... fried chicken, biscuits, etc. Also, Mel's hot dogs over by Busch Gardens is awesome, but they're mostly a lunch place. They have better Chicago style hot dogs than I've ever had in Chicago. Plus, Mel is usually there overseeing and making wisecracks.

                          1. re: JB222

                            I think I read an article in the Trib a few weeks ago that Mel's is closed, but I could be wrong.

                            1. re: queencru

                              Mel's is still open at 4136 East Busch Boulevard., the best hot dogs in town, better try the Chicago style.

                              1. re: queencru

                                it's not closed. He announced it's for sale but he will keep it open till he sells it. He's a super nice guy.

                                1. re: rhnault

                                  I know I am dating myself now but I remember when it use to be just Mel and one other person working in the small little space it started out in on the same location. And it was great then too!


                                  1. re: RibDog

                                    JEEZ - Doesn't anybody go to the greatest 'Q south of IN ? That's Big John's Alabama on 40th St., just north of Hillsborough. Makes you want to throw the stuff from Jimbo's, Kojak's and Roberts in the dumpster.

                                    1. re: shurshot

                                      good but not great. I've never been all that impressed. It certainly does the job in a pinch, tho.

                            2. re: phneale

                              Not Berns...SideBerns. Different animal, much better food and atmosphere. And it's definitely not American. Chef Pierola not only incorporates Latin flavors as per her back ground but also Pacific Rim, classical French, etc... You can't find a more exotic menu in Tampa.

                              Also Restaurant BT in Hyde Park Village is good. An exceptional new restaurant, also Hyde Park Village, is Bailey's.

                              1. re: loveinmytummy

                                What kind of food is Bailey's serving??? What have you tried?

                                1. re: dmfnole

                                  Bailey's promotes "Comfort Food at it's Finest". They specialize in catering but recently opened the restaurant space for dinner Tues-Thurs. It really is comfort food with emphasis on quality and flavor. The menu changes each week and you can view it on their website, www.baileycatering.com. I had the green salad with salmon and split pea soup and my dinner partner had meatloaf with ratatouille. If these seem pedestrian to you I suggest looking at the menu and trying it once before you write it off. I think you'll really enjoy it.

                            3. re: rshally

                              Thanks for the suggestions. I love Jimbo's (some of the best bbq in FL- along with Kojak's and Robert's).

                            4. Have to agree to some extent. It's difficult for the really good independents to survive in this market. Places like Rice & Company had a very ambitous menu when they first opened, but had to dumb it down for the local market. Think it has to do with the higher percentage of Canadians and Midwesterners on this side of the state.

                              Still there are few handful of good ones that need our support. In Tampa, there are places like Algusto's (not your typical Mexican on Kennedy), Terra Sur Cafe(Peruvian/South American on West Village Drive), Byblos Cafe (Lebanese on S. MacDill), Casa Tina (Vegetarian/Mexican in Dunedin), Pelagia Trattoria (Italian/Med at the Renaissance Hotel - International Plaza), Cafe BT (and the other off-shoots from this group on Gandy Blvd), T.C. Choy (about the only real dim sum in Tampa on South Howard).

                              1. Pinellas County is teeming with independent restaurants that have made a huge difference in the dining out experience here: Bella Brava, Cafe France
                                Pacific Wave, Cafe Alma, Parkshore Grill, Cerviche, Julian's, Marchand's @ The Vinoy
                                Salt Rock, The Maritana Grille, The Pearl, Backfin Blue Cafe, Habana Cafe, Middlegrounds etc, etc etc,

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: Check Please

                                  I agree that, if you look hard enough and are willing to try a restaurant where you aren't compelled to chew to the beat of techno muzak like you are in so many of the Miami hotspots and their ilk, you will find some amazing, innovative food at small gems of restaurants run by independent chefs whose restaurants are a labor of love. I moved here from Dallas--a town that many consider a foodie's paradise, and the home of several celeb chefs--but I have immensely enjoyed some of the smaller and quite unique and innovative restaurants in the area I agree with many of srcusa's picks above, and would add Hapa in Oldsmar (see my other posts about it); Walt's Seasonal Cuisine, a newcomer to Dunedin; and Green Springs Cafe in Safety Harbor. There are a few other small, independently-owned spots I have on my list to try. Has anyone been to Savant in Clearwater, and if so, do you have a report?

                                2. Yes, the chains are numerous & have a strong visual placement. It helps to remember that this area has a large number of transplants, tourists & retirees. (This is the reason so many chains use Tampa Bay as a test area - the demographics are right for their product.) Many of these diners are just interested in something consistent & reasonably priced. That makes less of the dining-out dollar available for innovative independents. But they are there! Often tucked away in cheaper rent spots like nondescript strip centers, they take some patience to locate. When you find them tell everyone you know so that there is a better chance they get enough business to survive! A new restaurant has very little time to devote to "catching on" before they run out of money & fold. Happy hunting!

                                  1. I'm right there with you everythinggril1 about Tampa food. It's a hard search for me and I've gone to all the so-called-right places. GRR! So disappointing for most...but! I do agree with Pané Rustica opions and love Ceviche. Both are fantastic! I also love Byblos Cafe for authentic and always pleasing lebanese food. I don't like Bern's and found Charley's pretty good, but I may just buy my own hickory chips and smoke up the bbq myself for a really good steak. For sushi...Cafe Japon in the International Mall puts on a beautiful and fresh display of sushi. Nice sake collection as well. Try the pear sake. Oh! And I've read about Spartico Trattoria on MacDill...really good italian moderately to expensively priced, but worth every penny.

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: mlpundsack

                                      The Refinery.......Florida Avenue @ Hillsborough.....

                                    2. Cafe Pointe is independent and best prepared meal in the bay area. Wake up!

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. Try The Refinery-- we have many small, tucked away restaurants that are desperately trying to peek from behind the chains. BTW, Columbia has become a chain and the quality of food at some of the satellite locations are not as good.

                                        5 Replies
                                          1. re: sarge

                                            How many restaurants do they have to open before you would consider them a chain?

                                            1. re: herbert1

                                              They have had the St Augustine and Sarasota locations for decades. I see they now have one in Clearwater, a small cafe at Tampa Riverwalk, and a spot in the Tampa Airport terminal.

                                              When they start franchising locations, they'll be a chain. Right now, they're not much different than they have been for a long time.

                                              I have been to the Original, Sarasota and St Augustine locations. I was not thrilled with St Augustine, but I liked Sarasota.

                                              1. re: sarge

                                                There is also one in Celebration.

                                          2. re: excellenteats

                                            I agree with Sarge and Herbert1. The Columbia is not a chain. Franchising is the hallmark of a chain. The Columbia is just a highly successful local restaurant with a limited number of nearby locations. I wish all chains were this good.