Great plates: My most memorable meals of 2010

Not too far outside of the Tampa City limits is Rapscallions in Land O’ Lakes. This Jimmy Buffett/pirate-themed restaurant is famous for seafood chowder. It’s creamy, perfectly seasoned and chock full of conch, shrimp and other unidentifiable veggies. Do yourself a favor and order a whole bowl (or two). 4422 Land O Lakes Blvd., Land O Lakes, 813-235-6511.

The Don CeSar’s Maritana Grille does seafood justice. If I had to pick just one dish from their fresh and creative offerings to add to this list, it would be the Hamachi tartare with compressed watermelon and microgreens. It was like buttah, melting away in my mouth and leaving just a hint of the fish and concentrated watermelon tastes. 3400 Gulf Blvd, St. Pete Beach, 727-360-1881.

St. Pete Beach’s Sloppy Pelican serves basic bar food and burgers, and as I learned this year while scouting spots for our Summer Guide, they’ve also got some killer nachos. The “regular” size is a heaping mound of tortilla chips with all the fixins and is easily a meal for four in itself. 677 75th Ave., St. Pete Beach, 727-367-5556.

Further proving my refinement, at this last year’s Strawberry Festival I consumed the end-all, be-all of corn dogs: the foot-long. There’s nothing like gnawing on a warm corn dog straight from the fryer, with a slightly sweet cornbread exterior surrounding a good ol’-fashioned hot dog and just a dash of mustard. And everyone knows that corn dogs at the fair always taste the best.

Baklava is a favorite sweet treat of mine and, of course, Tarpon Springs’ Greek bakeries know baklava. On my first visit to the historic downtown area, I picked up some of Hellas’ flaky, buttery, sticky and sweet version of the traditional dessert and learned what real baklava is supposed to taste like. 785 Dodecanese Blvd, Tarpon Springs, 727-943-2400.

I know this is cheating because the following restaurant isn’t in the Tampa Bay area, but Raglan Road Irish Pub and Restaurant in Downtown Disney serves the Smokie City, which is reason enough to visit the place. It’s smoked whitefish, potatoes and cherry tomatoes in a small dish that’s topped with Irish cheddar and baked to ooey gooey, smoky goodness and served with grilled crusty bread for dipping. It is, quite simply, cheesy heaven in a bowl. Grab a pint of one of the locally-brewed offerings from Orlando Brewing to wash it all down (I recommend the Red Ale).  1640 E. Buena Vista Drive, Lake Buena Vista, 407-938-0300.

Here they are, the 10 most memorable meals I’ve eaten in Tampa Bay this year (and would gladly go back and order again):

Blu Figs Gourmet Lounge in Carrollwood serves a red wine braised short rib which I enjoyed earlier this year. It was a small, fairly simple dish in theory, but executed perfectly and was further complemented by the shallot jus. 15463 N. Dale Mabry, Tampa, 813-963-3447.

Mr. Dunderbak’s Red Reuben contains sweet red cabbage used in place of sauerkraut, which pairs well with the tangy Thousand Island dressing and melty Swiss cheese. It’s perfectly toasted and just a hint on the greasy side (a good thing). I do feel guilty often neglecting the rest of Dunderbak’s menu of homemade German fare, but the Red Reuben’s call is too loud. 14929 Bruce B. Downs Blvd., Tampa, 813-977-4104.

Formerly in Carrollwood, Down Under Pizza’s kangaroo-topped pizza was a very memorable meal because it was the first time I had eaten kangaroo! The crust had a pleasantly chewy texture, its soy-lime sauce added a hint of tanginess and the strips of kangaroo meat were spicy and a tad gamey. Sadly, Down Under Pizza is now closed and they took with them my beloved ’roo pie.

SideBern’s creative cocktail list holds a special place in my heart. Manager Dean Hurst creates seasonal cocktail creations and the autumn High Road, with añejo tequila, muddled apple, agave nectar and oak aged bitters, hit the jackpot with this tequila-loving gal. (Okay, it wasn’t a meal, but a very memorable drink nonetheless.) 2208 W. Morrison Ave., Tampa, 813-258-2233.

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