Best Of 2005

In all honesty, it’s tough to even consider handing this one to another place, though we did find several new and worthy contenders this year. Those looking for a hip, “authentic” version of straight-from-the-kitchen Southern cooking in a trendy environment need look elsewhere. But if you want ribs, chicken, greens, okra, tomatoes and cornbread the way families have been making ’em for generations, you come to the south side of St. Pete, and to Atwater’s. 895 22nd Ave. S., St. Petersburg, 727-823-7018.

Food & Drink

Bern Laxer tends to his steaks in the early years of BERNS STEAK HOUSE, where CL3000 shared tips from the 22nd century on how to grill the perfect porterhouse. (Photo courtesy Berns Steak House)

Food & Drink 2011

Runners-up: PF Chang’s
Jasmine Thai

BEST BAGEL

It’s hard to make a really bad bagel — even those frozen Lender’s jobs can come through in a pinch. And it’s equally difficult to make a really good bagel, let alone a perfect one. But St. Pete Bagel Company comes deliciously close, turning out pumpernickel, poppy and cinnamon raisin delights that rival anything you’d find in New York. They’ve got great coffee too, and their egg and cheese sandwich is the real deal (no microwaved circles here folks). But it’s the bagels that make this spot worth the trip. Baked daily on premises, they pass the ultimate test: You can eat ’em without butter or cream cheese and they’re still damn good. 5835 Memorial Highway, Tampa, 813-889-7710; 7043 Fourth St. N., St. Petersburg, 727-522-3377.

BEST BAKERY

The rustic Italian loaf here is a revelation, the rosemary focaccia decadent. The pizza is thin-crusted and eclectically topped with anything from carmelized onions to olive tapenade. Since moving into a new and bigger space on MacDill Avenue in South Tampa earlier this year, Pane Rustica and its owners, Kevin and Karyn Kruszewski, have transcended its status as a tiny boho bakery to become a spacious Tuscan wonder that also serves lunches, dinners and gelato. Bread is the star here, but the ever-changing selection of pastries — including almond Danish, cherry streudel and chocolate chip croissants — is nothing to turn your nose up at either. 3225 S. MacDill Ave., Tampa, 813-902-8828.

At various locations throughout the Tampa Bay area; www.sonnysbbq.com
Runners-up: Kojak’s House of Ribs
Smokey Bones Barbeque & Grill

Runners-up: Bar Louie
Shep’s

You’d think making cheap, good bacon and eggs wouldn’t be that hard, but damned if it isn’t in this town. Even though an aching head and fat-craving body would pretty much eat anything on a hungover Sunday morning, it’s still a pre-requisite that the food be edible and quick. That’s where Mom’s Place shines … even if it looks packed when you arrive, you’re still at a table within 15 minutes, service is quick and efficient, and the fantastic gyro meat omelet comes made to order. All for under $8. That can make your head feel better. 4816 N. Dale Mabry, Tampa, 813-875-2670.

In a town full of places that serve good Cuban coffee with milk, the West Tampa Sandwich Shop stands out. Sure, the café con leche here is good — the milk steamed just right, the espresso roast strong enough to stand up to it. But the regulars here take their dose of Latinized caffeine with a side of politics. Dunking your Cuban toast here over the years would have been accompanied by visits from John Kerry, Bob Graham, Tipper Gore, Jim Davis or any of myriad Democrats running for public office over the years who have made stopping at the West Tampa café a must-schedule event. There’s not much bipartisanship here: The shop lost its resident Republican, Fred Barksdale, who passed away this year. 3904 N. Armenia Ave., Tampa, 813-873-7104.

If your taste buds are honed to anything curry or red beans and rice cooked Yardie style, Publix’s ethnic section just doesn’t cut it. Caribbean Trade has a wide range of pepper sauces and seasonings, as well as fresh yams, breadfruit, okra, plantains and all the other essentials. It’s also a perfect place to pick up a sixer of Red Stripe. 11502 N. Nebraska Ave., Tampa, 813-971-2443, www.tradecaribbean.com.