I was asked the other day, “How has Best of the Bay changed over its 25 years?” Not having been at CL for that entire quarter century, I can’t say, but I do know there was a time (I remember a similar task at the paper where I worked in Philly) when these kinds of issues were completely reader-driven, and the staff’s only responsibility was to somehow write something that didn’t betray their utter despair when Pizza Hut came in first for the umpteenth time. It was out of such sloughs that papers like ours began pairing the readers’ polls with staff and critic’s picks, so as not to have to write ever again about the Olive Garden.
But guess what? We don’t have Olive Garden to kick around anymore (or at least it isn’t nearly as likely to overwhelm interest in, say, a Bella Brava or an Il Ritorno). One of the joys of checking through this year’s record-breaking number of submissions for the Readers’ Poll was to realize how aligned the paper’s interests are with our readership. Sure, we can argue about, oh, morning radio shows (boy, your fans are rabid, Bubba and Mike). But the fact is, little by little, Tampa Bay is leaving behind its image as a giant chain-restaurant petri dish and becoming a place where indie spirit and creative energy are yielding an engaged citizenry that is not willing to stand for the ordinary. We want the Best. And at CL, 25 years from that first BOTB issue in 1990, we’re still invested in helping you find it.
Note: Because we’re observing a major milestone, this issue highlights an array of other big birthdays being observed this year. See who’s aging well as we wish happy 10th, 25th, even 110th anniversaries to a slew of local institutions.