Best Of 2015

Best Almost an Arcade

Fodder & Shine may have had a bit of a hard time finding its identity in burgeoning but not completely avant-garde Seminole Heights. But, while chef Greg Baker had to tweak his authentic Florida cracker cuisine to appease the unseasoned palates of thought-they-were-brave foodies, the restaurant’s bar offerings plus video games and pool table have made it a pretty great spot to kick it into the late night. 5910 N. Florida Ave., Tampa, 813-234-3710, fodderandshine.com

Best Bar When You Need a Break from Local Beer

Hey, sometimes you’re just not in the mood for another hoppy IPA or citrus-smoked bacon whatever. Cigar City’s getting the jump on the burgeoning cider and mead markets the same way it got ahead of the Bay area craft beer curve, and is putting out the area’s best stuff as a result. From sweet summery ciders to more subtle, textured concoctions and a fearless attitude toward experimenting with the ancient (and misnamed, really) “honey wine” known as mead, the staff at this casual Ybor City brewery and tasting room is friendly, skilled and schooled. If you’re willing to be curious and more than a little fearless yourself when it comes to new flavors, they’ll help you find a new obsession in something you’ve never tasted before. 1812 N. 15th St., Ybor City. 813-242-6600, cigarcitycider.com

Best Basement Retreat

Hidden beneath a Central Avenue Italian restaurant in downtown St. Pete is The Underground, a speakeasy-style jazz bar. Older generations of St. Pete residents marvel that the old Kress building, once a five-and-dime, has morphed into a bustling nighttime hub. Perfect for relaxing on vintage furniture under the glow of candles and live jazz, The Underground is truly the best basement in the bay. 475 Central Ave., St. Petersburg, 727-322-4313, moscatosstpete.com

Best Beer Troll

Early in 2015, Cigar City Brewing founder Joey Redner crowned himself the troll of all trolls by playing into the patently unbelievable notion that beer giant Anheuser-Busch might purchase Tampa’s pride & joy. He admitted to ‘taking a meeting’ with AB, but when the internet caught fire after an alarmist TBO.com article, Redner went full on, getting an AB logo on the tasting room door and even emblazoning some work shirts with the symbol, too. Well played, sir.

Best Brainy Bartender

Opening a speakeasy ain’t easy. No one since Ciro’s has managed to pull off the exact combination of clandestine atmosphere and classic cocktails that turn an ordinary room into something seductive. Until, that is, the folks at Station House St. Pete came along. GWR (God’s Waiting Room) is a dark, intimate back room that taps into the restaurant’s already cozy underground feel without the pretensions of passwords or secret doors. And the real draw is the expertise of the bartending staff, none more enlightening than Brian Mulay, a quiet crusader of a mixologist who likes to turn vodka lovers into gin lovers, patiently explains the thinking behind cocktails like the Bathtub Negroni, tries delicious twists on old standards like the Manhattan, and diplomatically handles the eclectic crowds, from middle-aged couples canoodling at the low-slung tables to exuberant 20 and 30something ladies and their entourages. 260 1st Ave S., St. Petersburg, 727-895-8260, stationhousestpete.com

Best Buzz on Davis Islands

With the relocation of Yeoman’s to downtown Tampa, some Davis Islands residents had to scramble to find a new spot to catch a buzz. Thanks to the cortado, americano, and cappuccino creators at DI Coffee Bar, you can catch one (albeit via caffeine and not alcohol) as early as 6:30 a.m. and then come back for happy hour to imbibe adult beverages within the shop’s come-get-your-work-shit-done-and-then-relax atmosphere. 214 E. Davis Blvd., Tampa.

Best Caffeinated Battle

Why do all the wrong people hate Joel Davis? The Tampa millennial has brought an innovative pressure-brewing and nitro-propelled delivery to Bay area coffee lovers, and his local tap list grows every week. He still can’t seem to get settled in with his sweet coffee tricycle, though, and has been banned from pushing it around Ybor and even received the boot from his first downtown Tampa corner spot. Davis, for his part, wants to play nice, but for some reason city brass keeps giving his ass a hard time. Can’t we get this figured out already?

Best Caffeinated Cloning

It’s no secret that Bay area hopheads have a lot to cheer about with our local breweries getting mad love across the beer world, but what about the caffeine crusaders and general disciples of that brown nugget of roasted gold we call the coffee bean? Watching local leaders Banyan, Kahwa, and Buddy Brew add stores and expand to other markets is a sure sign that Tampa Bay could soon be a roasters’ mecca, too.

Best Carnival Food Not at a Carnival

Instead of the state-fair-OMG-are-you-going-to-eat-that-whole-humungous-thing funnel cake, Engine Rose smartly takes the same batter and serves long, thin, funnel cake “fries” dusted with powdered sugar. They share the popular newly-fried-batter-hot-from-the-grease flavor, but are much more manageable and easily shared. Eat them plain or with the chocolate and triple berry dipping sauces. 2901 Central Ave., St. Petersburg, 727-498-8951, no9burgers.com

Best Chef

The Mill opened just a few short weeks ago, but chef Dorsey’s cuisine demonstrates a culinary mind in command of exciting juxtapositions of flavor. Scallops with curried cauliflower mash, rare tuna with ginger-carrot purée and radicchio marmalade, prosciutto and blackberry, frog’s legs and chili brown butter, and on and on. Best of all is (are?) The Naughty Bits: seared foie gras and sweetbreads atop dark and savory pork pomegranate molasses, accompanied by an anise-tinged blueberry corn muffin and a confit of soft scallions, fire-tamed until their brashness fades to become a malleable garnish for an inspired plate that’s one of the year’s best. But then, every plate at The Mill brings surprise to your taste buds and a carefully calibrated balance of exciting favors. It’s an adventure you never want to end.