Best Of 2012

Best Attempt to Turn St. Pete into SoHo

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.

Best baguette

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.

Best Bartending Organization

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.

Best BBQ side

There’s lots of good BBQ around the Bay, but similar offerings accompany the smoky delights — beans, greens, potato salad, mac & cheese, etc. Luckily, most of these are pretty tasty as well. But one side blows me away. Champions’ Kansas City BBQ beans are a bowl of surprises. First, there’s the touch of cumin that perks up your tongue, then a bit of apple, and finally golden raisins that close the deal. Great ribs abound, but this side stands alone. Champions BBQ, 4400 Fourth Street N., St. Pete. 727-525-1227, championsbbq.com.

Smoked salmon from Casper's Express BBQ. Casper's has ribs, pulled pork, chicken, fish and more.

Casper’s is housed in a screened-in porch attached to Graham’s Produce on 54th Avenue North. On the first visit, the smoker’s meaty plume was the only advertisement, and the menu was written by hand on styrofoam paper plates: “full smoked chicken $7.” Casper is probably the nicest and hardest-working man in barbecue, and his smoked salmon was aptly described as “my new favorite meat candy” in a recent review. The smoked fish, meat, and Southern sides are all done down-home simple, the way it should be.

With over 100 individual events over seven days on both sides of the Bay, the inaugural Tampa Bay Beer Week was a spectacle of craft beer awesomeness the likes of which we have never seen. From beer dinners to art shows to special tastings, there was something for everyone.

Order pizza by the “spoke” or a specialty pizza, such as the award-winning McClellan, and gaze at the bicycle-themed décor. TDP’s mission is to prove that pizza and fitness go hand in hand, and owner Matt McClellan proved that by bicycling from Tampa to New York City, eating only pizza en route. 212 37th Ave. N, St. Petersburg, 727-898-5555, tourdepizza.com.

Best bread pudding

Bread pudding should be easy, but unfortunately it’s often either too dry or too soggy. When you get a good one, as at Currents in Tarpon, it is the ultimate comfort food dessert. Chef Donald’s maple bacon version with fresh caramel sauce is moist and luscious, with just the right amount of sweetness and the smoky kick of crisp bacon. It’s worth a trip, but check first as it’s not always on the menu. 200 East Tarpon Ave., Tarpon Springs, 727-940-5377, currentstarpon.com.

Best Cafe Resurrection

When Banyan Coffee & Tea Company closed suddenly in July of 2011, people wandered up to the window looking confused. Why had this local treasure closed? Most blamed the tumultuous economy, but that was not the case. Owner Erica Allums closed to take time off before her daughter left for college, but now she’s back and better than ever. We are happy for her and our tummies.

Best carrot cake

Let’s be very picky about cake; most are too dry or without complex flavor. You can constantly look for cake in restaurants that is worth eating and almost never find it. Recently, that changed. This carrot cake is the quintessential classic. The moist cake has great flavor, with carrots balancing complex spice and the sweetness of dark, plump raisins. The cream cheese icing is luscious, and the combination implants a lasting memory. Sigh! 4703 N. Nebraska Ave., Tampa, 813-231-6800, reservationsmenu.com.