The combination of pecorino, truffle fonduta, and concentrated tomato in Il Ritorno’s short rib mezzaluna is like a magic trick: When you bite into the small triangles of translucent pasta, your mouth is full of short rib, yet the braised meat is barely present. The simple filled pasta practically blows your head off with flavor. Chef David Benstock’s charred octopus appetizer is equally magical, but the trick is kept under wraps. How is the octopus so tender? (We suspect a languorous sous vide bath.) Never mind — just take a bite and lap up the sauce of broccoli rabe pesto, parmesan crisp, plus confit tomatoes and garlic with salted capers. You’ll swoon.
Order a pint at the bar (there are 14 taps to choose from) and stroll into 3 Daughters Brewing’s warehouse, near the tasting room’s staircase, where drinking games are encouraged. The open floor plan allows craft brew enthusiasts and first-timers to imbibe and play while taking in the scenery — a 30-barrel brewhouse. Cornhole, life-sized Jenga and Connect Four, two ping-pong tables, darts, chess, checkers, tabletop shuffleboard and an 18-hole mini golf course make 3 Daughters a Toyland for grown-ups. It’s truly a boozy recreationalist’s paradise.
The arepa, for those of you who didn’t know, is a Colombian or Venezuelan cornmeal pancake. It can be sweet but it’s usually unsweetened, and it is often eaten hot with melted white cheese. El Chuzo’s Arepa Rellena (stuffed arepa) is a quintessential item on their menu (along with their famous hamburger) and a great rendition of authentic Colombian street food. You have the option of getting it with shredded beef (ropa vieja), shredded pork or chicken — the best part is the yummy pink sauce it comes with, which we suspect is a mix of ketchup and mayo. Then you get to choose from some amazing, very authentic sides.
Runners Up: Einstein Bros Bagels, Clearwater Bagels
Runners Up: Jamison B. Breadhouse Bakes, Alessi Bakery
The Hub is interesting in the daytime. It really shines at 2 a.m., though, as you and all of your closest booze-swilling friends collectively experience the sway that comes standard with your third or fourth Maker’s on the rocks. Standing firm behind that iconic horseshoe bar are the familiar faces of resilient bartenders (plus head barback Charles Fox) who put up with package requests, indecipherable orders for a “ffdkah, soooduh,” and the absolutely horrendous dancing by the girl and guy who are probably going to scrump after getting reacquainted at their 20-year high school reunion. The Hub staff deserves gold medals (or at least a weekend off from our debauchery), but we’re cheap, so we’ll give ’em a nice framed piece of paper to show our appreciation.
Runners Up: Urban Brew and BBQ, Sonny's BBQ