It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. For good or for ill, everything on this list has had a huge impact on what many of us put into our mouths.
1 Jeannie Pierola, free agent. Citing irreconcilable differences, Bern's executive chef Jeannie Pierola split with Bern's scion David Laxer at the beginning of November. Over the nine years she ran the food at the venerable steakhouse, Pierola injected a bit of professionalism and life into a kitchen that had become tired during the previous several decades. More important, she transformed a struggling SideBerns — originally conceived of as a cafe and wine bar — into one of the Bay area's most exciting restaurants.
Pierola hasn't announced her plans, but she's committed to staying in Tampa. The unbridled potential she represents is the most exciting thing going on in the Bay area's restaurant scene.
2 Michael Jackson, beer hunter. When Jackson — who wrote about suds better, and more, than anyone else — kicked off this mortal coil in August, craft beer was enjoying a meteoric rise in sales. Over the past three years, small brewers have seen sales grow by over 30 percent; big-box beer gained less than two percent during the same period. Much of that can be credited to Jackson, who brought the world's small brewers into the limelight over the past four decades in magazines and books, almost singlehandedly popularizing America's micro-brew revolution.
Interested in getting involved? You're in the right place. The Bay area has a thriving homebrew scene, with two very active local clubs that will get you started with advice, encouragement and tasty examples of the art.
3 Nature's Harvest, independent organic holdout. When Nature's Harvest filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection earlier this year and announced plans to restructure the way it does business, it wasn't much of a shock. The 23-year-old retailer pioneered natural and organic food in the Bay area, but the times, they are a-changing.
Earlier this year, Publix announced it would be building one of its dedicated organic Greenwise markets less than a mile away from Nature's Harvest in South Tampa. Meanwhile, Whole Foods bought Wild Oats and took over the location on Dale Mabry, sending organic food lovers who prefer that corporate vibe into paroxysms of consumer joy.
Nature's Harvest isn't giving up the fight, but anyone familiar with Wal-Mart economics can see that '08 isn't going to be easy for the independent retailer.
4 Loco for locavores. Way back in '06 I wrote about how difficult, but rewarding, the search for local food can be. Finally, the rest of the world is catching up. This year saw Oxford enshrine "locavore" in the dictionary, as well as a slew of books detailing the experience of eating food grown within a 100-mile radius, from Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle to a Canadian couple's adventures in Plenty. Local food is tastier, wastes less energy and keeps more money in the hands of farmers.
Sticking to the 100-mile rule is an almost impossible task for the average eater, but the rise of "locavores" means that everybody is paying a little more attention to where that bundle of asparagus or box of strawberries in the supermarket came from.
5 Robert Irvine, celebrity chef. When Food Network star Robert Irvine — of Dinner Impossible — announced earlier this year that he would be opening up not one but two restaurants in downtown St. Petersburg, it was pretty exciting. Sure, it's not like Thomas Keller or Daniel Boulud decided to slum their world-class cuisine to town, but Irvine's a name. He's famous.
Then, he announced the names of the restaurants: Ooze and Schmooze. Huh?
Now, we're two months past the original opening date, with no progress in sight. Irvine is scheduled to come to town for an awards ceremony in January, so maybe he'll bring the Dinner Impossible crew and make Ooze and Schmooze his next episode.
6 You, fatso. I hate to tell you this America, but you are seriously overweight. Like orca fat. In the past 25 years, your obesity level has ballooned from 15 to 30 percent among adults — and it's still growing. Before your partner leaves you for that Internet chat buddy and you require the services of a custom tailor to let out those sans-a-belt slacks, it's time for an intervention. I'm not saying you need to quit the fat and sugar cold turkey, but try laying off the fast food and occasionally hitting the gym. No, seriously, I'm concerned for your health, and the health of our kids. Make an effort. Otherwise, get ready for a lifetime of insulin shots, bypass operations and the inability to ogle your own private parts, lardass.
7 Antoine Louro, comfortable In St. Pete. Antoine Louro, owner and chef of downtown St. Pete's much-lauded Chateau France, expanded and deflated his restaurant empire like a supermarket balloon this year. In short order he opened outposts of his classic restaurant in Carrollwood and SoHo, both of which garnered much criticism and little business. Just as quickly, partnerships dissolved and both restaurants closed. "I'm done with it," explained Louro. "I'm happy here in my house in St. Pete."
8 Uncle Sam, food fascist. This was a watershed year for government meddling in the food world. The New York City ban on trans fat went into effect, with Massachusetts and a slew of other municipalities following suit to eradicate the substance that fills arteries like Hostess fills Twinkies. South L.A. banned new fast food restaurants from a particularly hefty neighborhood. And Chicago's prohibition on foie gras entered its second year, despite rampant civil disobedience. Some restaurants duck the law by giving foie away with a minimum purchase, while "duck-easies" serve it under the counter to people who know the password. What's next? Duck-legging? Bathtub foie?
Uncle Sam's restaurant invasion isn't going to stop anytime soon. Chains like First Watch and the fast-food giants have already started removing trans fats, getting ahead of the governmental curve. With California's foie industry on the chopping block, soon New York will be the only state where foie gras is produced; there's legislation to change that, too.
Sheesh, it's almost enough to make me vote for Ron Paul.
9 Small Plates, immortal. Apparently, the trend of "small plates" co-opted from the tapas craze will never die. Can't we just call them appetizers and be done with it?
10 The best food I ate, month by month.
January: Ribeye at Z-Grille.
February: Deep-fried Snickers at the State Fair.
March: Caldo gallega at the Columbia.
April: Cappy's pizza.
May: Fresh fries at Five Guys.
June: Pecan-crusted salmon at Tedesco's Grillside.
July: Salmon and tuna pinchos at Pincho Y Pincho.
August: Chicken gravy at Savannah's.
September: Salt-and-pepper tofu at Yummy House.
October: Cheap's crudo platter.
November: Corned beef sandwich at 3 Coins.
December: Peanut butter, granola, banana and habanero jelly sandwich at The Kitchen.