Don’t let the strip mall exterior of this perennial Zagat fave fool you. Chef Chris Ponte and his team of wizards consistently turn out some of the Bay area’s most sophisticated and delicious food. When I celebrated a special birthday here this year, a friend from NYC went crazy for the 24-hour braised short ribs. So I recently returned to check them out. WOW! The fork-tender beef with a creamy parsnip puree, tiny sweet carrots, sautéed baby spinach, and caramelized shallot red wine sauce will bring you to your knees. 13505 Icot Blvd., Clearwater, 727-538-5768, cafeponte.com.
Runners-up: Ella's Americana Folk Art Cafe, Datz
Watch: Greg Baker shares the secret dish he makes for his wife Michelle that he never makes for anyone else. The winners of several Best of the Bay awards this year, including Best Restaurant Tag Team, Greg & Michelle spoke with CL's David Warner during the Best of the Bay awards reception Sept. 19 at Creative Loafing.
When St. Pete changed its drinking curfew to 3 a.m., the downtown area exploded with new bars. Instead of continuing to try luring drinkers from St. Pete over the bridge to Tampa, a few popular SoHo hangouts set up sister establishments in the ’Burg. In November of 2011, World of Beer and MacDinton’s opened their doors, catering to patrons who put a premium on drinking beer over mixed drinks, and who prefer to sing along to cover bands rather than dancing to DJs. MacDinton’s Jannus, 242 First Ave. N, St Petersburg, 727-565-0544, macdintons.com/Jannus-St-Petersburg; World of Beer. 100 Fourth St. S, St. Petersburg, 727-823-2337.
Runners-up: Einstein Bros., Panera
Outside of France, good baguettes are hard to come by. You know the kind. They crackle, and spray you with crumbs when your teeth pierce the crisp, chewy crust to reveal what seems an impossibly airy interior. Luckily, Café de Paris Bakery brings France to you in the person of master baker Xavier De Marchi. He’s the real deal, and so is his bread. 2300 Gulf Boulevard, Indian Rocks Beach, 727-593-0277, cafedeparisbakery.com.
Runners-up: Mazzaro's, Housewife Bake Shop
Runners-up: Five Bucks, Fly Bar
Runners-up: Holy Hog, Kojaks
Runners-up: 220 East, La Teresita
Tampa has done an amazing job of attracting members to its guild from all aspects of the business; there are “cocktail bartenders,” but also club bartenders and dive bartenders. It’s inspiring to see a small community come together and work harmoniously. I was lucky enough to return to Tampa for their Sunset Tiki party and experience that same energy. I find myself taking pages out of their book here in Boston.
David Delaney Jr is the VP of Boston USBG.