Best Of 2008

If a restaurant doesn’t have a chardonnay on a wine list in this town, they’re just pleadin’ for a beatin’, but manly Acropolis doesn’t care: We’re Greek, dammit, so we’re 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,

Corned Beef Sandwich at Three Coins Diner.
Corned Beef Sandwich at Three Coins Diner.

There’s 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 you’ve 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,

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 doesn’t matter where we get our fix, as long as we’re 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. What’s 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 Abuela’s. 402 E. Sligh Ave., Tampa, 813-236-4890

It ain’t your mama’s Wonder Bread and Jif, folks. This creation by The Kitchen’s 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 that’ll 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, there’s Ceviche in downtown St. Petersburg. The bar/restaurant’s 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,

We could have used this award to pimp Creative Loafing’s stellar Beer Fest (coming up Oct. 18), but that would be fibbing. The Best Florida Beer Championship’s Brewer’s Ball trumps our admittedly fantastic event (OK, we’ll 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, Brewer’s Ball guests get to sample — and judge — keg after keg of Florida’s best homebrews, helping to decide the season’s 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.

There are more extensive lists — like the one at the new Taps in downtown Tampa, among others — but quantity isn’t always the key to success. Peg’s beer list is targeted, striving more to engender a sense of place than to be a completist monster for aficionados. The one-pager, loaded with selections that range from good to great, easily hits the highlights of the brewing art from around the world, but never will customers feel that they have to wade through an alcoholic bible to pick just the right ale to go with that enchilada plate or pepperoni pizza. The menu’s a treat for educated, appreciative drinkers, but it can also create educated, appreciative drinkers out of casual beer consumers, without the fuss and indecision that comes from an overwhelming selection. A lot of Bay area restaurants could learn a thing or two about their wine lists by reading this loving celebration of hops and barley. 3038 Beach Blvd., Gulfport, 727-328-2720.

Citing “irreconcilable differences,” Jeannie Pierola and David Laxer parted ways after a nine-year relationship centered on Bern’s Steak House and SideBerns. Pierola injected a strong hand in guiding the cuisine of the venerable steak emporium, as well as transforming SideBerns from a struggling café/wine bar into one of the Bay area’s most well-regarded restaurants. Pierola wasn’t fazed — she’s not the type — and moved almost immediately to a temporary gig revamping the struggling DeSanto in St. Pete and working on her own project, a restaurant near Ybor slated to open soon. Laxer soon found someone to warm the spot vacated by Pierola, tagging a few in-house chefs to fill in at Bern’s and SideBerns. Only time will tell, but we suspect that even though she was the one who lost a job, Pierola will come out ahead on this one.