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Florida Inside ... the best dining, shopping, beaches and more


return to the place where memories are made After a year and a half of historic challenges, we are all due some TLC. While we’re not out of the woods yet, people are feeling cautiously optimistic. Taking road trips, visiting family, going to the movies or to dinner, gradually taking back their particular version of normal. Shops, restaurants, bars and entertainment venues are opening up, too. Maybe at reduced capacity, with temperature checks, more space between tables, or only al fresco; but they are doing what they can to make sure customers and staff stay healthy while enjoying themselves. However you decide to spend your summer, spend some of it in the Sunshine State. Florida’s restaurants, shops, bars and entertainment venues are doing everything they can to make sure you have the best time possible without risking your health. With that said, if you have not yet been vaccinated, expect to wear a mask indoors, for the public good. It may not happen as quickly as we’d like – and the “normal” we return to may not look the same as the one we knew before COVID – but eventually, this pandemic will be behind us. Until then, remember your mask, and always check ahead first before making plans. Here’s to our best summer yet!

TIMES TOTAL MEDIA Destination Florida was designed and produced by the Marketing department of Times Total Media. WRITER / DESIGNER: Sally Moe Scan QR code to read and share digital version. For information, call 800-333-7505 ext. 8725 or email


|  Sunday, June 20, 2021  |  Tampa Bay Times 

Tampa Bay Times  |  Sunday, June 20, 2021  | 


BEACHES and camping facilities sustained significant damage from Hurricane Michael and repairs are in progress). Good to know for future reference: William J. Rish Recreational Park is undergoing post-Michael renovations; when in operation, Rish Park serves as an “all-access pass” to the beach for those with physical or cognitive disabilities, so they can enjoy the beach safely. It is hoped that the facility will be ready for visitors again in the next 12 months or so. Amenities include cottages and dormitories, an Olympic-sized pool, an event hall, and two miles of wheelchair-accessible boardwalks and ramps. rish-park


paradise! In Perdido Beach (on barrier island Perdido Key, south of Pensacola) there are spots where beaches seem to stretch in every direction. Extending into Alabama, this is the furthest west you can get in Florida’s panhandle. Discovered by the Spanish in 1693, Perdido Key is 16 miles long and part of the Gulf Islands National Seashore. While swimming or beachcombing, you might well be treated to a heart-pounding flyover of the Blue Angels (right) – Navy jet pilots with mad skills who train in Pensacola. Heading east, the coastline is pretty much uninterrupted all the way to the undeveloped beaches of St. George Island, just east of Panama City Beach – roughly 200 miles of some of the most ravishing coastline in the country. Further east in the panhandle, Grayton Beach – Dr. Beach’s #1 beach in 2020 – wows all who set eyes on it with the undiluted spectacle of the Emerald Coast, but a more family-oriented vibe. Sand like bleached 4EF 

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flour gives way to stunning emerald-colored waters – hence the area’s name. Closer to Panama City is Rosemary Beach (designed in the neotraditional mode of nearby sister properties Seaside and Alys Beach), a walkable community of whitewashed homes, boutiques, restaurants and local businesses hugging the brilliant ivory shoreline and overlooking those jewel-bright emerald waters. For those who crave quiet, seclusion and crystal-clear water, Cape San Blas may be the perfect beach, with its mix of pristine shoreline, a bay with abundant sea life and a laid-back lifestyle. The Cape is about a 20-minute drive from Port St. Joe, southeast of Panama City. Running the length of the cape is Loggerhead Trail, an eight-plus mile paved recreational pathway. The T.H. Stone Memorial St. Joseph Peninsula State Park is open during the day, but not yet for overnight visitation (cabins

North of Jacksonville, immediately south of the Georgia border, and roughly the size and shape of the island of Manhattan, Amelia Island is not hard to get to but feels deliciously set apart. With 13 miles of wide open Atlantic beaches and abundant native wildlife, this barrier island is surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean, Intracoastal Waterway, Nassau Sound and one of the East’s largest and deepest inlets, Cumberland Sound. On the beach, leashed dogs are welcome, and activities include horseback riding and looking for fossilized sharks’ teeth in addition to the usual beachy goings on. In the enchanting town of Fernandina Beach, the 50-block National Historic District teems with history and charm to spare, with horse-drawn carriage tours and a profusion of eclectic shops, inns, galleries, restaurants and bars. South of Daytona, Canaveral National Seashore’s 24-mile-long beach offers an entirely different experience, with the longest undeveloped beach on the east coast of the state. With wild, windswept views for days, the area provides choice habitat for many threatened and endangered species, as well as a plum spot to watch rocket launches from Kennedy Space Center. On the Gulf coast, Anna Maria Island, due west of Bradenton, is a beach bum’s dream come true, with that old Florida vibe and carefree flip-flop lifestyle. Several beaches dot the shore of this barrier island: Bean Point on the northern tip, Holmes Beach, Bradenton Beach, and finally Coquina Beach at its southernmost. Arrive early to nab a parking space. BEACHES, p.6

Tampa Bay Times  |  Sunday, June 20, 2021  | 


Continuted from BEACHES, p.4 Heading south, cross the Longboat Pass Bridge into the quieter 10mile stretch of beach on Longboat Key, a more upscale barrier island just north of Lido Key. Lido Key is home to picnic-perfect Ted Sperling Park, family-friendly Lido Beach and the more than 130 shops, galleries and restaurants of perennial favorite St. Armand’s Circle. Further to the south is artist-friendly Siesta Key (connected to the mainland but not to Lido Key) and its award-winning beach of 99% ground quartz, which stays cool underfoot even on the hottest days. Visit Point of Rocks at Crescent Beach for some great snorkeling; it has a rocky bottom, so be sure to wear swim shoes. South of Naples and a stone’s throw from the Everglades, the beaches of Marco Island are just about as away from it all as you can get before the Keys. This quiet island community has an easygoing feel, gentle waves and miles of pristine white shoreline. Explore the nearby Everglades on an airboat tour. You’ll learn all about this precious ecosystem and how critical it is to Florida’s ecological health and natural resources. Maybe you’ll even get to pet a baby alligator and hear its adorable chirpy little bark. Two popular tour providers are Corey Billie’s in Naples and Jungle Erv’s in Everglades City. Fort Desoto Park, Dog Beach and Paw Playground, west of St. Petersburg, is a prime spot for a puppy play date. Fort Desoto’s beach has placed on a number of top 10 lists throughout the years. Pack a picnic and let your buddy free to play and swim off-leash. Hoses and water fountains just for dogs will help them stay hydrated, and get them cleaned up and refreshed before the trip back. For more dog-friendly beaches in Florida, go to A short drive north of Fort Desoto Park is St. Pete Beach – named 2021’s No. 1 beach in the U.S. (and No. 5 worldwide) by TripAdvisor’s Travelers’ Choice awards. Its calm surf, clear water, and beautifully manicured white sand that glows lavender as the sun sets create a blissful ambience. Watch the sunset from the open-air Harry’s Beach Bar at the Sirata Resort, right on the beach. Cool down from the heat of the day with a mango daiquiri or a dewy bottle of Dos Equis while you wait for the elusive green flash. Thanks in part to its miles of breathtaking coastline, Miami Beach has mastered the art of having fun in the most fabulous way possi6EF 

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ble. Best known among its beaches is South Beach, adjacent to the Art Deco district and a mecca for glitterati both local and international. Daytime walking tours explore the overlapping eras of Art Deco architecture that give this area its unique style. If you have money to burn, spend a weekend in one of the Art Deco hotels (the Colony, the Fairwind Hotel with its rooftop pool, and Shelborne South are just a few standouts), channel the rat pack aesthetic at the gorgeous Fountainebleau, go for Kardashian-style glam at Nikki Beach, or luxuriate in the shameless opulence of Villa Casa Casuarina, located in the former mansion of the celebrated late designer Gianni Versace. The decor, furnishings, pool and courtyard are breathtaking. Dine like a one-percenter at Gianni’s Restaurant. This is the place to pull out all the stops. For the ultimate in romantic atmosphere, dine al fresco by the pool. Start with a signature cocktail and perhaps the decadent truffle gnocchi. Put the diet on the back burner. Unabashed decadence is the point; resistance is futile. At the southern tip of Key West is 54-acre Fort Zachary Taylor State Park – a mere 105 miles north of Cuba – situated in that sweet spot where the Gulf of Mexico meets the Atlantic Ocean. With crystal-clear aquamarine water on its southern rim, the beach is perfect for picnics, birdwatching or snorkeling above colorful undersea life. The fort itself played a critical role during the Civil War and is now designated a National Historic Landmark.

Seventy miles west of Key West, Dry Tortugas National Park (above) is accessible by a daily ferry, private boats, charter boats or seaplane. Enjoy the length of beach, explore historically rich 19th-century Fort Jefferson, snorkel or dive the incredibly clear water to photograph amazing sea life, or camp among the palms for gorgeous sunsets that give way to heartstopping views of the Milky Way, undimmed by light pollution. t

  Tampa Bay Times  |  Sunday, June 20, 2021  | 



girls just wanna have FUN Nothing embraces the ethos of summer quite like an epic girlfriends getaway. It could look any number of ways. Maybe your dream getaway is all about rejuvenation – as in renting an island beach house and bringing a pile of books and DVDs. Stock up on the necessities at a local market, plug in the coffeemaker and the blender (because margaritas, of course) and voilà: bliss at the beach with your besties. Or maybe blowing off steam is your dream – biking, paddleboarding, and exploring the local food and bar scene. Perhaps you absolutely must have a massive pool and spa wherever you stay. Regardless, no worries. We’ve done some digging to see what’s possible for gal pals craving some R&R.

AMELI A ISL A ND Fairbanks House, a beautifully decorated 8,000 sq.ft. 1885 Italianate villa bed & breakfast in the Spanish moss-draped historic district of Fernandina Beach, on Amelia Island, knows how to do up a girlfriends getaway with their Girls Just Wanna Have Fun Getaway. Their concierge service can arrange dinner 8EF 

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reservations, spa appointments, tickets to ghost or carriage tours and more. Guests enjoy daily gourmet breakfast; have complimentary use of bikes, beach chairs, umbrellas, towels, backpacks and coolers (the beach is a short ride away and there’s an inground pool on the property). There’s a daily social hour with complimentary beverages and hors d’oeuvres. Plus? A 20% discount on items bought in their gift shop. Nice. If you have money to spare, indulge in luxe spa pampering at the ultra-posh Ritz-Carlton Amelia Island, on the beach. Signature services include the Heaven in a Hammock massage, which combines touch therapy, gentle rocking and the illusion of zero gravity to echo the movements of the tide. The therapeutic Ocean Healing bath uses vigorous sea salt exfoliation to stimulate circulation. Chakra balancing, reflexology, meditation and yoga are also on the spa menu along with a healing saltwater pool. Seasonal activities are available for guests as well, including the Shell & Shark Tooth Hunt, Naturalist Exploration Walks and Bicycle Tours. Eco-Kayak Waterway Tours and fishing

charters can be arranged through the concierge. Or rent a cabana by the outdoor pool and dig into the latest bestseller. It’s entirely up to you how active your getaway will be. Plus, with three restaurants and two bars on property and the option of in-room dining, the temptation to stay put might be strong.

M OUN T D ORA Central Florida has an altogether different personality than the coastal areas – one of sparkling lakes, quaint towns and sheltering live oaks draped with curtains of Spanish moss. The pace is friendlier and more easygoing. Mount Dora (left) is exactly that sort of place, and shows up frequently in Best Small Town lists, whether for Florida in particular or the South in general. Its

manicured streets are rich with Victorian architecture and historic charm. Particularly well-known for its antique shops and annual festivals, Mount Dora is an ideal spot to lower the blood pressure and savor simple joys like late breakfasts, horse-drawn carriage tours, antiquing jaunts and refreshing paddlewheel cruises on the lake. Overlooking Lake Dora in the town’s historic district, the beautifully maintained Historic Lakeside Inn (est. 1883) is the oldest continuously operating hotel in the state and the last of the Grand Victorian era hotels still remaining in Central Florida. At the entrance, the 200-foot veranda with its row of white rocking chairs sets the nostalgic tone and offers an irresistible invitation to all who visit. Two restaurants, one tavern and a (seasonal) poolside bar offer plenty of options for drinks and dining. Be sure to check out the Gate House, a delightful gift shop and gallery also on property. If you like your getaways heavy on conversation, antiquing, shopping, and exploring at a leisurely pace, the Lakeside Inn in picturesque Mount Dora will make a terrific home base.

G U L F POR T What’s not to love about a funky beach town whose motto is “Keep Gulfport Weird”? South of St. Pete and facing Boca Ciega Bay, Gulfport has an easygoing vibe that invites old-school pleasures like bike riding and exploring one inviting shop or gallery after another. Make your home base the lovingly renovated, dog-friendly Historic Peninsula Inn (which has its own restaurant, award-winning Isabelle’s), just a few blocks from the shoreline. There are scads of world-class beaches a drive away, but if you want to keep things easy and uncomplicated, 6.8 acre Gulfport Beach is within walking distance with volleyball, a fishing pier and restrooms. Twice a month (the first Friday and third Saturday) the Art Walk covers six blocks of the downtown area with a colorful explosion of art for sale including sculptures, stained glass, handmade clothing, jewelry, crafts, wood and ceramics. Restaurants in the area stay open late for the event, and live entertainment adds to the party atmosphere. Plus, every Tuesday morning, the open-air Fresh Market offers an appetizing array of fresh produce, cheeses and baked goods, along with handmade jewelry, clothing, art, teas and fresh flowers. Annually, on Labor Day weekend, GeckoFest celebrates the end of summer with live music, artists, crafters, vendors, street performers and costume contests. Finally, be sure to check out the tasting room at the Florida Orange Groves Winery, in neighboring Pasadena, where you can taste, compare and purchase wines that are uniquely Floridian – made from tropical fruits (mango, guava, kiwi, honeydew, banana), citrus fruits (orange, tangerine, lime, grapefruit), and berries and stone fruits (blueberry, raspberry, cherry, peach). A crowd-pleasing souvenir in their own right, these delicious FUN, p.10   Tampa Bay Times  |  Sunday, June 20, 2021  | 


Continued from FUN, p.9 fruit-forward wines are the only Florida wines allowed to participate in the annual Epcot International Food & Wine Festival. Yes, please.

S T. PET E B EAC H Being named TripAdvisor’s #1 beach in the U.S. for 2021 is proof of what the locals have always known: beaches don’t get any better than St. Pete Beach. And it’s right here where the Postcard Inn on the Beach offers a retro-beachy vibe that is perfect for a relaxed girlfriends getaway. Weekenders can kick off their Sunday morning with a visit to the Corey Avenue Market in St. Pete Beach proper; browse a selection of foods, produce, plants, and arts and crafts – and potential souvenirs. Fifty to 80 local vendors participate and it’s always a crowd pleaser. As for where to eat, you could do all your dining at the Postcard Inn – at Beach Bar & Snack Shack, Stamps Restaurant and P.S. Grind for breakfast – or venture out to one of the terrific assortment of restaurants up and down the beach. Rumfish Grill is just a few doors south of Postcard Inn; with its aquarium wall and attached shopping, it’s a full-on experience. You can even make a date to snorkel in the 33,500 gallon tank as


|  Sunday, June 20, 2021  |  Tampa Bay Times 

part of the “Swim with the Fishes” program – offering a glimpse into Florida’s native sea life while you’re at it. Talk about a bucket list adventure! To the south, in Tierra Verde, pay your respects to another breathtaking sunset with a frosty cocktail on the patio at the Island Grille and Raw Bar. (They’ll even cook your catch – good to know after a day of fishing in the Gulf.) In Pass-a-Grille, the rustic Hurricane is a popular spot for happy-hour sunsets and living la vida tropical. If your posse is feeling the urge to celebrate a little more extravagantly, start dinner with tapas at sunset, while you take in the 360° views from the rooftop lounge at the upscale Mediterranean-themed Castile Restaurant, in the whitewashed Romanesque Hotel Zamora on St. Pete Beach. A little further south is the fabulous Don CeSar, (right). Recent renovations have added still more luxe style, comfort, choices and functionality to this posh landmark. (The resort refers to the effort as The Don of a New Era, wink,

wink.) The Don offers their own Girlfriend Getaway package, which includes two-nights’ accommodations, breakfast for four at their new restaurant, Society Table; and four Bali Breeze mani-pedis at Spa Oceana. (Valet parking for one vehicle is included.) t


the nosh, omigosh Thanks to a multicultural history and attempts by many countries to own and tame this beautiful place, Florida’s cuisine reflects a blend of influences from its original native inhabitants to the deep South, Europe, Cuba, Mexico, Africa and the Caribbean – not to mention the flora and fauna that thrive on our land and in our waters. Shrimp and grits, anyone?

what happens between drinks and dessert that will make the ultimate impression. From pork belly French carbonara to the fragrant, seafoodlavish bouillabaisse, there’s a richness of choice and creativity that will tempt the most jaded palate. If your mood craves fun, head to Casa Tina’s, for “fresh, healthy, authentic Mexican” food in an eye-popping setting. A labor of love from Javier and Tina Marie Avila, the restaurant’s intense colors, winged and flaming hearts, crosses, ornate mirrors, Mayan sculptures, punched tin lighting and dia de los muertos accents all compete for your attention. But the sheer variety of re-imagined, top-shelf margaritas and page upon page of scrumptious dishes on the menu – smoked salmon nachos, anyone? – will keep the rest of your senses aflame as well. ¡Buen provecho!

F ORT M Y E RS Occupying prime real estate near the lower left coast, Fort Myers is quietly building its own food scene with intriguing new spots popping up on a regular basis. One of the most exciting is award-winning BLANC, which hit the scene in 2017. First, about the decor – brushed steel, glass block and glistening white surfaces, bathed in the recessed glow of icy blues and lavenders, with a subliminal hint of its diner origins. It all adds up to a treat for the eyes – as well as a perfect backdrop for innovative dishes and appetizers (some with a sense of ice-breaking mischief, like the toasted bread jenga tower with cheesy dipping sauce). BLANC’s menu draws on French and Asian influences, as well as American classics. Meat selections include beef, chicken, and lamb along with fresh seafood and vegetaNOSH, p.14

DU NEDI N Belying its small size (population roughly 36,000), Dunedin is growing into quite the foodie destination. It is also home to multiple breweries – including Florida’s oldest microbrewery, Dunedin Brewery – which makes it a great spot for a brewery crawl as well. The restaurant that put Dunedin on the foodie map has to be the Black Pearl, a cozy, softly lit gourmet restaurant on Main Street that serves French and New American cuisine with artistic flair. This is an event restaurant to be sure (no less so if your idea of an event is Hump Day). Enticements include the duck confit ravioli and the white truffle lobster risotto – but room must be saved for the falling white chocolate cake (its molten center is stuffed with cherry compote and silky, decadent dulce de leche). Challenge accepted. Does an appetizer of crawfish beignets, followed by sea scallops with basil pecan pesto and herbed ricotta in a balsamic-vinegar reduction sound amazing? Then explore the NOLA-inspired French cuisine of Parlor House Bistro (also on Main Street). Nestled in a speakeasy-style environment, signature cocktails feature exotic accents like Absinthe, Chartreuse and Lillet Blanc; and desserts channel New Orleans with such classics as bananas Foster, crepes Suzette, handmade chocolate truffles and apple beignets. But it’s   Tampa Bay Times  |  Sunday, June 20, 2021  | 



On the edge of downtown, the Oxford Exchange is many things – a restaurant, a bookstore, a shop, a members’ coworking space – so your time here can be many things as well. Get to know the place at leisure in the restaurant; let your mood determine what comes next. Shopping for books? Moroccan bowls? There’s a Warby Parker retailer on premises. Maybe a mod pair of specs to update your look? Drive north from Tampa to Lutz, so you don’t miss Bella Home Market and its eclectic array of home decor, art and jewelry, lamps and clocks, raku pottery, windchimes and mobiles, baskets, vases, soaps, mirrors, rugs, florals ... tons to explore here.

SARAS OTA In a city with a world-class art school (Ringling College of Art & Design) shoppers are well advised to expect the unexpected. Start with The Bazaar on Apricot & Lime (open 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Thursday through Saturday). Described as an indoor indie market, it has a flea market feel and individual vendors who sell art, collectibles, gifts, decor, antiques, clothes and jewelry, as well as food. There’s live music after noon, and the building is hard to miss, painted as it is in brilliant hues of ... apricot and lime, of course. If you are known for finding diamonds in the rough when you shop, this just might be your jam.

shop it off Florida teems with great malls, absolutely. But for a more personal shopping experience that reflects the personality of each city, check out the smaller, local places.

ST. PET ERS BU RG Situated appropriately in a classic craftsman-style home in the Grand Central District, the Craftsman House Gallery Cafe and Pottery Studio is an arts and crafts lover’s dream come true, offering a rich assortment of functional and decorative ceramics, glassware, tiles, textiles, baskets, jewelry, art, furniture and wood crafts. The broad shaded porch is ideal for lingering on a cool morning with a cup of steaming coffee and something fresh from the cafe, or just to catch your breath before you make another pass inside. There are so many things to see, you will probably want to. A few blocks east is The Bungaleaux on Central, offering an eclectic mix of furniture and accessories for the home (as well as some things to wear). From 12EF 

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candles and lampshades to mirrors, pillows, rugs and throws, eccentricity rules the roost with unexpected items around every turn. An irresistible treasure trove for shoppers who love to explore and get inspired. Further east is ZaZoo’d, where having fun while you shop is not only encouraged, but expected. With its collection of coral, squids, anchors, mermaids, sailors and colorful glass floats, ZaZoo’d leans into the seafaring theme, with a sprinkling of neon and naughtiness added to keep things interesting. There’s a lot to take in, so repeat passes are recommended.

TA M PA Close to Hyde Park, Magnolia (on Magnolia Avenue, naturally) offers a selection of textury, upscale home decor, from artwork, lamps and linens to glassware, baskets and furniture. If you’d like design assistance, skilled interior design services are available for purchase as well. Their signage is subtle; look for the black and white bold striped awnings over tomato-red doors.

Now for a gastronome’s paradise and one of the top five reasons why some of us will never be thin: Morton’s Gourmet Market. This huge space offers every possible resolution-busting treat from microbrews, fine wines, breads and cheeses to sandwiches, prepared salads and dinners, an olive bar (!), fresh seafood, meats and produce, and an array of chocolates, beautiful cakes, pastries and desserts. If you want the fixings for a picnic or a gourmet dinner you don’t have to cook yourself, this is your place. Just remember, drooling in public is not a good look. In the Historic Downtown Village on Fruitville Road, a cluster of bungalows was built in the 1920s by John Ringling to house his circus workers. This village has since evolved into a Historic Shopping District, where you’ll find, among others, the Artful Giraffe Gift Shop & Gallery, which offers gifts handcrafted by local artists. Pieces found on any given day might include droll message tees, whimsical paintings, jewelry, mirrors, lamps, windchimes, suncatchers ... there are also classes and workshops on painting and pottery.

K E Y WES T In Key West’s Bahama Village neighborhood, a shop called Bésame Mucho sits in a bright little cottage right off Petronia Street. Pass through the double doors, where its vintage-romantic interior holds a cornucopia of treasures including luxe body care products, home accents, butter-soft leather journals, letterpress stationery, boho accents, jewelry, handbags, pillows, throws, loungewear. A wonderful spot to discover your next obsession. On Duval Street, get your freak on at Earthbound Trading Co. with new age accoutrements like geodes, incense, dreamcatchers, salt lamps, handmade soaps, and all things boho – wall hangings, tapestries, tie-dye, mandalas, singing bowls, jewelry, chindi rugs. If it looked at home during the era of the Summer of Love, you’ll probably find it here. Great place to outfit a dorm room ... or soothe the pangs of a midlife crisis. Hey, whatever works. On Southard Street, women-owned Vignette Key West specializes in flowy, flattering, easy-to-wear fashions, accessories and jewelry for women. If you’re having trouble making a selection, just ask – the shop’s proprietors are uniquely skilled at helping you figure out what will work on you, what will best express your personality and the way you like to live. t

  Tampa Bay Times  |  Sunday, June 20, 2021  | 


Continued from NOSH, p.11 bles. (Worth noting: BLANC is very vegan-friendly.) Their Robata Grill enjoys a starring role in many menu items, resulting in dramatic and intense flavors. “Almost Entrees” encourage sharing, leading to a more festive dining experience. On the other side of the spectrum visually, with its darker tones, whitewashed brick, mix of urban textures and industrial chic vibe, is LYNQ, which also opened in 2017. Explains co-owner Chris Whitaker, “LYNQ comes from an idea I had about linking different cultures, cuisines, people and music.” True to this vision, the menu pulls inspiration from across the globe, serving steaks, seafood, pasta, a variety of classically prepared ramen dishes, plus vegan items, burgers and a range of tacos. Their goal is to have something for just about everyone who comes through the door. Mission accomplished. Newest to the scene is women-owned Oxbow, a casual downtown riverfront bar & grill on the banks of the Caloosahatchee. Nautically themed with an industrial chic feel, the vibe is easygoing and the menu leans into seafood and meats, with a nod to low country influences. What’s not to love about the fried green tomato salad with lump crab, avocado, arugula and spinach with a buttermilk vinaigrette? Or the andouille-crusted snapper with creamy mashed potatoes? Yum. And when the cocktails have names like I Don’t Give a F...ort Myers and Mccan’t Tell Alice Anything, you know you’re in a place that wants you to have fun.

TA MPA BAY American Freedom Distillery is located just blocks from downtown St. Petersburg in the Warehouse Arts District. Stop by and tour the distillery, try some of their crafted spirits, and learn more about the art of whiskey and rum tastings. Or make a night of it: Their cavernous restaurant, the Urban Stillhouse, done up in rich, masculine tones of tobacco and leather, offers elevated takes on new and traditional American cuisine. Explore signature cocktails for creative ways to get a buzz on (droll names include Basil Ganglia and Bless Your Heart). As for dinner, expect weekly bourbon-inspired rotating specials highlighting the wood-fired grill. Choices include soft shell crab puttanesca and wood-grilled bison ribeye with Horse Soldier bourbon peppercorn sauce. Yes, please. For the unabashed carnivore, Rococo Steak in downtown St. Pete offers a luxurious dining experience and a more decadent twist on the traditional steakhouse. Lauded for the quality and to-order preparation of their steaks, rave reviews also go to their crabcakes, grilled octopus, and watermelon/feta/pork belly salad, as well as their impeccable service, creative cocktails and extensive wine list. The atmosphere inside is luxe and romantic, perfect for date night; but you can also dine al fresco.


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In Tampa, which never sits still for long when it comes to food, visit buzzworthy Sparkman Wharf to explore its array of container-based restaurants. Sparkman Wharf is like a mini city within a city, offering open areas for socializing and play, shops, a fitness club, 180,000 sq. ft. of bright, contemporary loft-style office space, and water views. Container restaurants range from Jeni’s for ice cream (whimsical flavors in dairy or nondairy) and Gallito, a taqueria with a twist, all the way to elevated Southern cuisine – the Black-owned 7th + Grove (whose atmospheric flagship restaurant is in Ybor City). At either location, feast on such life-affirming deliciousness as shrimp and grits (with apple sausage, fried okra and gouda grits) and jerk chicken collard green egg rolls. On Tampa’s Riverwalk, native-inspired restaurant and brewery Ulele combines its great location with an airy, art-infused atmosphere and a killer menu full of unexpected flavors. Maybe start with the alligator hush puppies and follow up with the Gulf of Mexico fresh grouper fillet with smoked Gouda ale béchamel? For dessert, don’t miss the dense, flourless chocolate torte with raspberry port wine reduction.

Also in the Riverwalk District is the 3-acre Armature Works, which, along with coworking and event space, offers a foodie’s dream cornucopia of places to dine, take out, or pick up the ingredients for your own feast (at food hall Heights Public Market, which has around 15 vendors and a communal dining space of its own). Armature Works’ restaurants include the upstyled Southern-influenced chophouse cuisine of Steelbach, full-service seasonal Euro-American cuisine of Oak & Ola (above), the all-day breakfast and brunch of Graze 1910, the wood-fired Neapolitan pizzas of Ava, the small plates and wines by the glass at wine bar Cru Cellars, Southern soul food at Soul Food Street Kitchen ... there are so many, and the best way to discover them is to go there. You can also order online for pickup or delivery. t

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|  Sunday, June 20, 2021  |  Tampa Bay Times 

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Destination Florida 2021  


Destination Florida 2021  


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