With a name that’s perfectly apt — the Italian word for “Eat!” — Mangia proprietor Jill Johnson and her mom represent two generations of women with roots from the boot. Together they run a food vendor kiosk service, catering company and — just opened this past summer — a legit bricks-and-mortar cafe in Gulfport (a spot formerly occupied by Paco's Tacos, with a courtyard and outdoor seating). Mangia has the Mediterranean goodness of its culinary DNA, expert fusion cooking prepared with local, organic, low-fat, gluten-free foods. Try the quinoa salad, “cool” slaw or veggie antipasto. It all seems too good to be true, but Ms. Johnson and fam pull it off exquisitely. Find them at the Twilight, Hyde Park and Wiregrass markets or their own little spot in South Pinellas. 2930 Beach Blvd. S., Gulfport. 727-321-6264, mangiagourmet.com.
It’s with reluctance that we mention this Seminole Heights watering hole because drinking here feels like home (with a lot more selection, obviously) and we don’t wanna ruin it. There are countless reasons to be charmed by the open-to-the-public venue (there’s a cuss jar – and they use it), but a good place to start is on Thursday nights when Johnny Charro’s dance band plays tunes you can mingle and just be neighbors with someone to. Just remember to be nice; it’s not that hard, you know.
It’s been a long and winding road for Green Bench Brewing Co. The building renovations are now nearly complete, the outdoor beer garden is underway, and head brewer Khris Johnson is brewing batch after batch of delicious (and already noteworthy) beers. They’re not quite open yet, but the slated mid-September looks right on track.
Runners Up: Ella's Americana Folk Art Cafe, Bella Brava
As the name suggests, the authentic specialties of the house come from the sea. Or to be more accurate, from the aquariums that line a wall near the kitchen. Talk about fresh! Your dinner is swimming right up until you place an order. It’s especially fun to see a tank of shrimp gliding through the water doing a kind of multi-legged dog paddle. And then, like magic, fresh seafood is on your plate.
Pull into the nondescript group of shops at 1300 East Bay Drive in Largo and you’ll swear you’re being punked. This intimate plaza offers an authentic global cuisine sampler: Thai Bay restaurant, Anna’s Polish deli, Tampa Style Cubans café, German Bistro 2 and Las Palomas Latin American Market. There’s no excuse not to explore. 1300 East Bay Drive, Largo. Cuban 727-586-5797; German 727-216-6519; Latin American 727-581-1050; Polish 727-953-7763; Thai 727-584-5522, thaibayandsushi.com.
Runners Up: Einstein Bro's, Clearwater Bagel
CL food critic Jon Palmer Claridge went in search of the perfect bagel earlier this year, and he found his holy grail at Clearwater Bagels. Dense, chewy, with a moist crumb and a touch of sweet malt, these bagels stand out above all the rest. Take a bite, close your eyes, and be transported to bagel Valhalla (aka New Yawk).
Runners Up: Alessi, Publix
Runners Up: La V, Restaurant BT