Best Of 2014

Best Adult Playground
Todd Bates

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.

Best Arepa Sandwich

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.

Best Bar Staff

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.

Best Barbecue That Makes You Want to Get Your Hands Dirty

Like Sen. Frank Underwood in House of Cards, we all crave good barbecue, preferably in a place as unpretentious and expert as Frank’s beloved (and betrayed) Freddy’s. As soon as you smell the aroma of grilling chicken when you enter Al’s Finger Licking Good Bar-B-Que in Ybor, you’ll know this is one of those places. The restaurant definitely lives up to its name. Once you’re done eating the delicious potato salad, baked beans and, most importantly, barbecue chicken or pork, you’re going to literally lick your fingers clean.

Best Breakfast for All

The monthly Sunday brunch has been called a meal for all persuasions, offering meat-free, dairy-free, gluten-free  and a handful of decadent meat-dairy items. Typical menu items include the Vegan Eggs Benedict, a Vegan Cobb Salad, Vegan Biscuits and Gravy, and a Vegan Chicken and Waffles. For the carnivores, the Heysters serve a popular Coffee Rub Brisket, Comfort Food Bacon Bowls and Fully Loaded Mac and Cheese. Wash it all down with their bottomless mimosa or fresh-brewed coffee drinks.

Best Breakfast Spot/Community Center
Todd Bates

A must not only for those lucky enough to live nearby, but for non-Gulfporters fond of the kitchen’s homemade goodness and owner Barbara Banno’s homespun warmth. If you don’t already know everybody in the sidewalk café or in the booths inside, you’re bound to make friends or see people you know before long. And if you’re offered a baked good made by server Melissa “Mel” Lowe, just say yes. You will not be sorry.

Best Cheesecake

The yuzu (an East Asian citrus fruit) provides zip; the mascarpone amps up the creaminess quotient; and the tasty innovations — gingersnap instead of graham cracker crust, blueberry ginger compote on the side instead of a glop of gelatinous fruit on top (plus a crisp sesame almond cookie) — make this the apotheosis of cheesecake.

Best Chef
Chip Weiner

Rooster & the Till explodes all the benchmarks and upends any preconceived notions about what constitutes the highest level of fine dining across Tampa Bay. And the food, from a menu of plates designed to share, is, in a word, spectacular. Every dish delivers surprise, fresh farm-to-table ingredients, and an unfailing sense of balance so there’s nary a false note.

Best Coffee House Renovation and Expansion

Take out your phone, Instagrammers, this place is the ultimate backdrop to your next food-related update. Feeling nostalgic about your last trip to Brooklyn? Don’t even worry about it. Get yourself to the new and improved expansion of Buddy Brew on Kennedy. Feel those hipster vibes wash over you as you drink locally roasted, pour-over coffee while sitting by an artisanal wooden table overlooking a vibrant, flowery mural and friendly baristas. Oh, and don’t forget to try their poached egg on yummy whole grain toast — it is simple, but delicious.

Best Coffee Shop Without An Actual Shop

Don’t use Google Maps to try and find Commune + Co.’s headquarters. The budding Tampa-based, hand-crafted coffee company doesn’t have a brick & mortar store quite yet, but their pop-up shops are imperative for anyone prone to goosebumps after putting their lips to a good cup of caffeinated magic juice. Their slow bar service is excellent, but spring for a snifter of Commune + Co. pressure-brewed, nitro-pushed cold brew. It looks as cool as it sounds and tastes the part, too.