Top ten food events of the decade, part 2: Tampa Bay Edition

3. OSI Restaurant Partners Expands

The beginning of the decade was a boom time for Tampa's most well-known chain restaurant group. In 2000, OSI Restaurant Partners -- owner of Outback Steakhouse -- announced that they had created a partnership with Fleming's Steakhouse and Roy's, and opened the first Le Roy Selmon's. Within a year, the company also acquired Bonefish Grill, expanding its stable of national chains to six.

Things didn't stay as rosy the rest of the decade -- the company sold off Lee Roy Selmon's, and a couple of new concepts never got off the ground -- but with over 1,000 restaurants across the world, OSI is still one of the biggest chain dining groups around.

4. Chris Sherman Retires

For 17 years, St. Pete Times Restaurant Critic Chris Sherman was the most important arbiter of restaurant quality in the Bay area (apologies to my predecessors at Creative Loafing). His style was breezy and casual, but with a critical eye. Occasionally, Sherman would throw a zinger into a restaurant review that stung all the more due to his strong boosterism for the local restaurant scene. He also had a keen eye, and palate, for wine and spirits.

Then, at the end of 2006, he gave up the gig because of ongoing health problems. Diabetes and restaurant criticism are an uneasy combination, at best.

Now he's blogging for wine retailer B-21 and editing Florida Trend's prestigious dining guides from a small office in Seminole Heights, along with starting a consulting business for restaurants. "It's a place to hang my hat and do things that interest me," he told me recently. "Exploring the brave new world outside my newspaper life."

[image-1]5. Mise En Place Celebrates 20 Years

Marty Blitz and Mary Ann Ferenc pioneered modern fine dining in Tampa when they opened Mise En Place in 1986. The restaurant was the jewel of Tampa's dining scene throughout the 1990s, offering the type of imaginative cuisine and beautiful atmosphere that -- even now -- rarely finds a foothold in the Bay area.

By 2005, Mise was almost two decades old and needed a new look. That came in a remodel of the dining room, from dated '80s-era decor to a gleaming expanse of gold and black that's thoroughly modern while acknowledging the old days. Blitz also took an energetic hand to the menu, reinvigorating Mise's food (although menu descriptions may take longer to read than the meal will to eat).

By Mise's 20th anniversary in 2006, the place was shiny and new, ready for another 20 years at the top of Tampa's must-eat list.

(See part 1 of the Top Ten Food Events: The Big Picture.)

1. St. Petersburg's Saturday Morning Market Opens

In 2002, the local farmers' market scene was limited, to say the least. Then a little market started on the streets of downtown St. Petersburg. Since then, the Saturday Morning Market has boomed, becoming the largest one-day-a-week market in the southeast U.S., with almost 10,000 customers browsing the stalls each week.

Much of that success lies with the make-up of the market. Although it does feature a few actual farmers, and some non-farm produce stands, the sheer breadth of vendors is astounding. Listen to live music, buy veggies, eat breakfast and shop for Christmas, all in the parking lot of Al Lang Field.

2. Valencia Gardens Closes

This June, a padlock showed up on the door of iconic Tampa restaurant Valencia Gardens. After over 80 years in business — all int he same location — the iconic Cuban restaurant was closing up shop.

Besides being a neighborhood landmark, for decades Valencia was a must-visit spot for Tampa's political power-brokers. As former CL editor Wayne Garcia said: "It was THE place to be and be seen in Tampa politics, for fundraisers and just to see who is chatting up who at lunch. Now, the Valencia Garden tradition of political intrigue is over. (And I need a new spot for a lunch date I had set for there next Tuesday.)"

The building was purchased from Valencia owner David Agliano by the University of Tampa as part of its ongoing expansion.

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