December 19, 2019

Tampa Bay's 50 best restaurants of 2019, according to the area's longest running food critic Jon Palmer Claridge

NOTE: What follows is based on a verified transcript of an email exchange with serious implications. It was not placed on a top-secret server. However, an unnamed whistleblower has brought it to light.

A short play from the life of a Creative Loafing food critic regarding the creation of the 2019 TOP 50 RESTAURANTS list.

LIGHTS UP.

Critic: You’re sure you want to attach a number to all 50?

Food Editor: It’s going to be a little cutthroat but that’s the most exciting part. This whole anonymous thing will come in handy!

BLACKOUT.

While this mini play has not yet been independently produced, it is proof that compelling theatre may rise from pithy dialogue and walk the knife’s edge between comedy and tragedy.

Each of us brings individual preferences to the dining table, so my list of the Top 50 restaurants is obviously very personal. For me, as a reader of any criticism (of either food or art), part of the value is understanding the viewpoint of a particular critic. That way, I can know that my personal preferences either align or don’t align with that critics’ taste. My goal is never to convince you to like something or other; I endeavor to describe my dining experience, in order that you may make a decision as to whether my visit sounds appealing (or not) for you to choose where to spend your valuable dining dollars. Regular readers know that I value balance in a dish and give high marks for invention and surprise.

For that reason, I’ve skipped steakhouses on this list (excepting Bern’s wine program) because you’ve got plentiful excellent choices for aged beef and all the regular accouterments that accompany our obsession with grilled chunks of red meat. This list is weighted toward peak gastronomic experiences where surprise is around every corner.

I’m impressed by technique and chefs whose food shows imagination and finesse. My hope is that you’ll be inspired to try someTHING and somePLACE new. There’s no need to rail against these rankings if you disagree or if your favorite has been excluded. Failure to appear here should not be seen as undervaluing any restaurant. If you love it, that’s terrific. Narrowing down my list and trying to rank this group of 50 restaurants was indeed “cutthroat,” obviously subjective, and while it may be exciting for you, it was excruciating for me.

Some restaurants that I reviewed very favorably disappointed on a return visit. Others may have fixed what I saw as flaws but I never returned. I’ve reviewed every ranking I could find of the cuisine across the Bay. Quite a few eateries highly ranked by others, left me cold. There are simply too many choices, and many worthy candidates. But, unlike with politics, there are no primaries. So, here we go. I hope you’ll be inspired to try a restaurant new to you. - JON PALMER CLARIDGE

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Tampa Bay's 50 best restaurants of 2019, according to the area's longest running food critic Jon Palmer Claridge
CL Staff

No. 50 Ciro’s Speakeasy and Supper Club

2109 Bayshore Blvd., Tampa.
Once you’ve used the password to gain access, the void slowly comes into focus — revealing a dark mirrored wall that multiplies the hipsters and creates endless rows of colorful bottles behind a huge bar. You’re quickly ushered down the narrow corridor and disappear into an intimate dining suite behind gauzy curtains. This is the dark clandestine world of the Bay area’s best craft cocktails. So settle in and imbibe the spirit of the Roaring 20s.

Photo via Ciro’s Speakeasy and Supper Club/Facebook
 No. 49  HEW Parlor & Chophouse   
The Fenway Hotel, 453 Edgewater Dr., Dunedin. 
The menu is selective, but includes the luxurious ingredients and treatments that reflect the Fenway’s historic origins. In addition to the ubiquitous filet mignon, there’s a wild boar chop, pork porterhouse, beef tomahawk for two or lean bison culotte. And Chef Adam Hyatt knows how to make veggies sing. Go early and check out the enchanting views of St. Joseph Sound from the rooftop bar.
Photo via HEW Parlor & Chophouse/Facebook

No. 49 HEW Parlor & Chophouse

The Fenway Hotel, 453 Edgewater Dr., Dunedin.
The menu is selective, but includes the luxurious ingredients and treatments that reflect the Fenway’s historic origins. In addition to the ubiquitous filet mignon, there’s a wild boar chop, pork porterhouse, beef tomahawk for two or lean bison culotte. And Chef Adam Hyatt knows how to make veggies sing. Go early and check out the enchanting views of St. Joseph Sound from the rooftop bar.

Photo via HEW Parlor & Chophouse/Facebook
 No. 48 Roux   
4205 S. MacDill Ave., Tampa. 
Whether you crave a bowl of spicy gumbo, a plate of grouper meunière, bourbon bread pudding or a bracing Roux Carré (my favorite cocktail), Roux’s food and decor will transport you to the Mississippi Delta and the wondrous tastes of NOLA.
Photo via Roux/Facebook

No. 48 Roux

4205 S. MacDill Ave., Tampa.
Whether you crave a bowl of spicy gumbo, a plate of grouper meunière, bourbon bread pudding or a bracing Roux Carré (my favorite cocktail), Roux’s food and decor will transport you to the Mississippi Delta and the wondrous tastes of NOLA.

Photo via Roux/Facebook

No. 47 Marchand’s Bar & Grill

The Vinoy, 501 5th Ave. NE, St Petersburg.
There is no greater food bargain in the entire Bay area than the early bird special in this most handsome of dining rooms. From Sunday through Thursday between 5:00 p.m. – 6:30 p.m. you’re invited to celebrate the opening year of the Vinoy with a prix fixe three-course dinner for only $19.25. The choices vary seasonally from Chef Ross Clingmann’s regular 4-star menu. You need to try it to believe it. But you must wait a fortnight, it’s hibernating till the New Year.

Photo via Marchand’s Bar & Grill/Facebook