The Big Game Guide: Eat to win

Most Tampa dining guides give you the popular choices; we tell you where you should really go.

click to enlarge Fabrizio Schenardi, the Best of the Bay-winning chef from Pelagia Trattoria. - Brian Ries
Brian Ries
Fabrizio Schenardi, the Best of the Bay-winning chef from Pelagia Trattoria.

Where they tell you to eat: Mise En Place
Where you should eat: Savant Fine Dining
(2551 Drew St., Clearwater, 727-421-9975,
Mise En Place is a fine restaurant — and one of the first to bring truly modern cuisine to Tampa — but it's an obvious choice. It'll also likely to be mobbed during game week. Instead, get ahead of the curve by taking a drive to Clearwater and trying Savant. This hidden gem serves up incredible cuisine cooked by David Miller, an ambitious young chef who's as concerned with the look and composition of his dishes as he is with the flavor. That dedication also garnered Savant one of the highest Zagat food ratings in the state, if that's important to you. Miller is also an accomplished pastry chef, so the final course will be as good, or better, than the first.

Where they tell you to eat: Armani's
Where you should eat: Pelagia Trattoria
(4200 Jim Walter Blvd., Tampa, 813-313-3235,
Armani's has a great view overlooking the Bay, while Pelagia is in the Renaissance Hotel at International Plaza Mall. Still, when it comes to food there's no comparison. Pelagia chef Fabrizio Schenardi's cuisine is dedicated to maximizing flavor in updated Mediterranean dishes that are usually healthful and always profound. Schenardi's menu also concentrates on seafood, which is the kind of cuisine you'd expect in our Gulf-side city.

Where they tell you to eat: Columbia Restaurant
Where you should eat: Ceviche Tapas Bar and Restaurant
(1502 S. Howard Ave. Tampa, 813-250-0203 and 10 Beach Drive, St. Petersburg, 727-209-2302;
The Columbia has a rich, 103-year history uniquely tied to the area, but it's largely a tourist joint with rather pedestrian fare. Ceviche offers the real deal, with almost 100 different tapas selections made from classic ingredients — imported directly by the restaurant group — along with a killer wine list. The Tampa location is pleasant and has lots of outdoor seating, but the St. Pete location is a Spanish stunner in an historic Florida hotel.

Where they tell you to eat: Channelside
Where you should eat: Downtown St. Petersburg

Channelside is a glorified suburban mall with an entryway that smells like the pool at your local YMCA. Downtown St. Petersburg is a funky, walkable city center loaded with interesting restaurants. Top choices include Primi Urban Café, Z Grille, Red Mesa Cantina and Grillside Central, but there are plenty of other nice options. (See the downtown St. Petersburg map for a full list.)

Where they tell you to eat and freak: Anywhere and Mons Venus
Where you should eat and freak: Penthouse Club
(1801 N. West Shore Blvd., Tampa, 813-288-9200,
If your evening plans include both dinner and a trip to a strip club, why not do both in one stop? Not only will Mons be the destination for every out-of-towner — thus creating pricey competition for quality dancers — the place doesn't even serve alcohol! At the Penthouse Club, you can nosh on prime, dry-aged steaks cooked by experienced grill maestros, down an expensive bottle of California cab or aged Pomerol and tickle your sweet tooth with luscious crème brulee, all while sizing up the talent for your after-dinner festivities. After dinner, just mosey down to the main floor fully prepared, with at least one of your cravings sated.

Where they tell you to eat: Bern's Steak House
Where you should eat: Bern's Steak House
(1208 S. Howard Ave., Tampa, 813-251-2421, or Council Oak Steakhouse (Seminole Hard Rock Casino, 5223 Orient Rd., Tampa, 1-866-502-PLAY)
In this one case, the out-of-towners are right: There is no substitute for the incredible aged steaks, kitschy décor and world's finest wine list offered at Bern's. But it's going to be a bitch getting a reservation during game week, so here are two alternative options: 1. Eat at the bar. It'll be packed, but no reservation required and you can order anything you want off the regular menu. 2. Head over to the Seminole Hard Rock and eat at Council Oak Steakhouse, a gorgeous restaurant with meat that's just as good as Bern's.

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