Yes, its in a hotel. And yes, that hotel happens to be attached to a giant shopping mall. But despite the locale, theres no escaping the fact that for years Pelagia Trattoria has been one of the most consistent and excellent dining spots in the Bay area. Much of that is owed to chef Fabrizio Schenardi, who brings to the restaurant a Mediterranean sensibility that fits Floridas climate and style better than any home-grown cuisine. His touch is subtle, shown in the many plates that are merely clever arrays of simple but stellar ingredients like teasers of cheese and honeycomb, or grilled romaine leaves with a dip of decadent Caesar dressing. Hes devoted to seafood, usually with sauces that extract maximum flavor from a few fresh ingredients. And with meat, Schenardi is inclined to homey, hearty dishes that evoke the distinct comfort most feel when confronted with a slab of protein. There are also many more benefits to being in a hotel than you might think. Pelagia serves breakfast and lunch, as well as dinner. And any food ordered in the hotel, from room service to banquet rooms, comes from the Pelagia kitchen, controlled by Schenardi. Earlier this year, the Italian chef told CL that many American restaurateurs seem to need so many ingredients to make flavor. Then, his face in a trademark grin, he remarked all you need are a few things, then the flavor comes. For you, Fabrizio, it does. 4200 Jim Walter Blvd., Tampa, 813-313-3235. pelagiatrattoria.com
If a restaurant doesnt have a chardonnay on a wine list in this town, theyre just pleadin for a beatin, but manly Acropolis doesnt care: Were Greek, dammit, so were pouring Greek wines. And only Greek wines. Conveniently labeled from sweet to dry, the foreign grapes are embarrassingly difficult to pronounce but the staff can help you drink your way through this tongue-twisting territory. Bonus: On a Friday or Saturday night, plant yourself at the bar, order a glass of tasty makedonikos and gawk at the gyrating belly dancers. 1833 Seventh Ave., Ybor City,, 813-242-4545;14947 Bruce B Downs Blvd., Tampa, FL 33613, 813-971-1787, acropolistaverna.com
Theres a lot of history at Three Coins. You can see it in the well-worn upholstered booths, tired servers and the classic Greek diner menu. But in the middle of the night really, at any time that history shows itself best in house-cured corned beef stacked high between a few pieces of toast. The slices of meat look lacy from the long boil, the massive fat rendered into the salty, spicy liquid, then re-absorbed by the beef. Throw in a schmear of mayo and maybe a little cheese or onions, and youve got a sandwich that will absorb alcohol, wake you up and fortify you for that rapidly approaching 7 a.m. alarm. 7410 N. Nebraska Ave., Tampa, 813-239-1256, threecoinsdiner.com
The Deck is well known for its many frozen-drink concoctions, but none can compare to this adult update of the delicious orange-and-vanilla popsicle, the summer treat of so many of our childhoods. Savor it slowly to avoid brain freeze. And know your limit. Daiquiri Deck, 14995 Gulf Blvd., Madeira Beach, 727-393-2706
As writers, we love our coffee. Indigo, the Globe, the quickie mart down the street it doesnt matter where we get our fix, as long as were awake, alert and typing 60 words per minute by the time the cup is finished. But then come the jitters, the crash and our doctors advising us to lay off the java. Whats a caffeine addict to do? Join the millions of South Americans and drink Yerba Mate, a tea brewed from the leaves of a small Brazilian tree, which tastes like a stronger green tea. Yerba Mate will stimulate the mind without the nervousness and jitters. And as an added bonus, the drink contains dozens of vitamins, minerals, amino acids and antioxidants, along with the caffeine. You can find pre-packaged Yerba Mate teabags at some health food stores, but the best (and cheapest) place to grab the unadulterated, loose-leaf version is at the Hispanic market Abuelas. 402 E. Sligh Ave., Tampa, 813-236-4890
It aint your mamas Wonder Bread and Jif, folks. This creation by The Kitchens Margaret Guidicessi is bigger and badder, with three layers of hearty, toasted whole-grain bread layered with chunky bananas, rich peanut butter, crunchy granola drizzled with honey and a healthy schmear of habanero jelly thatll burn your mouth and have you grasping for a tall, frosty, cold one. Do you prefer 2 percent or skim? Unfortunately, The Kitchen has closed its doors for good, according to reports, to reopen as a co-op kitchen for vendors at St. Pete's Saturday Morning Market. Hopefully market regular Guidicessi will find it in her heart to serve this PB&J along with the staple granola she sells at her table.
After a semi-scathing review here in CL and another in the St. Petersburg Times, restaurateur and nightclub impresario Doug Illman of DeSanto Latin American Bistro and closed up shop. Temporarily. It was a gutsy play, sacrificing a month of revenue in order to show a dedication to better food. Even ballsier was bringing in the newly unemployed Jeannie Pierola for a three-month consultation to revamp the menu and work the kitchen staff as only she can. After almost two months, Pierola left. Post-Pierola reports were not glowing, and DeSanto closed at the beginning of September (the adjacent Push Ultralounge remains open). Still, big balls, Illman. Big balls.
Native Floridians might consider basements a curiosity, but folks who migrated here from Yankee country long for cellars like they do the changing seasons. Fortunately, for those partial to dining and imbibing underground, theres Ceviche in downtown St. Petersburg. The bar/restaurants subterranean room is an ideal location to sip excellent homemade sangria while munching on items from the tapas menu, which includes everything from oxtail to seared tuna to merengue cake. Live Latin music on the weekends transforms the place into a lively nightspot rife with dancing bodies. 10 Beach Drive, St. Petersburg, 727-209-2302, cevichetapas.com
We could have used this award to pimp Creative Loafings stellar Beer Fest (coming up Oct. 18), but that would be fibbing. The Best Florida Beer Championships Brewers Ball trumps our admittedly fantastic event (OK, well pimp it a little) with the biggest array of home-grown brews in existence. All of the gold-medal-winning commercial beers a not-so-short list of the finest suds sold in Florida are poured with abandon, along with live music and a big beer raffle. Better yet, Brewers Ball guests get to sample and judge keg after keg of Floridas best homebrews, helping to decide the seasons finest keg beer and maybe influence the award for top beer club in the state. All for a measly $25. Needless to say, the event sells out. Early. bestfloridabeer.org