Best of the Bay 2010: Best New Restaurant and Best Chef

Seminole Heights' restaurant scene has come a long way, especially in the past year, and some of its eclectic dining spots took the top awards in the Best of the Bay Food and Drink category this year.

Best New Restaurant - Readers' Poll: Ella’s Americana Folk Art Café, Seminole Heights

" interesting melange of upscale fair food, American classics, Tex-Mex and Asian-fusion, often with a vegetarian bent." "It’s fun food, done well, but there is one standout: Ella’s burgers are easily among the best in Tampa. Although the restaurant’s signature versions are stacked high with toppings, you should order it as plain as you’re willing, clearing the way for the impeccably seasoned, crisply crusted, organic beef flavor to hit your mouth unimpeded." Brian Ries. 5119 N. Nebraska Ave., Tampa, 813-234-1000,

Runners-up: The Refinery, Toasted Pheasant Bistro, Burger Monger

Best New Restaurant - Critics' Picks: The Independent, Seminole Heights

In spite of the economy, there were many potential contenders for this coveted award. However, there was only one new spot that combined all the qualities that signify a great restaurant: good atmosphere, fine service and food that is far better than a diner might expect. Surprisingly, that restaurant was a beer bar where food wasn’t even on the menu for the first six months. Thankfully, The Independent Seminole Heights has Christopher Tolan in the kitchen putting small but meaningful touches on a simple menu of exceptional bar food, making each dish into something special, creating an experience that both suits and transcends the humble nature of the restaurant. 5016 N. Florida Ave., Tampa, 813-341-4883

Taking the title of Best Chef as voted in The Readers' Poll and the Critics' Picks (the first time in BOTB history): Greg Baker, The Refinery, Seminole Heights

The Refinery could easily have taken the top spot for Best New Restaurant this year, except for one thing: chef/owner Greg Baker likes change. He recreates his menu every week, usually with all brand new items, many untried and little tested. He’s talented, so usually he pulls it off in style. Sometimes, though, items struggle to find their identity. Sounds like a criticism? It’s not. This experimentation and constant striving makes him one of the most interesting and driven chefs around. No other chef in the Bay area seems to work as hard, or love food as much, as Baker does, and it shows every Thursday night when people flock to The Refinery to check out the debut of his latest menu. 5137 N. Florida Ave., Tampa, 813-237-2000,

Runners-up: Peter Leonavicius, Toasted Pheasant Bistro; Suzanne Crouch, Ella’s Americana

Check out the rest of the 2010 BOTB winners in the Readers' Poll and Critics' picks.

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