Pierola revamps Gaspar's Grotto
Jeannie Pierola strikes again. The celebrated former Bern's chef has kept herself busy since her departure from the fabled steak house more than a year ago. First, she swooped in to retool the menu at flailing De Santo in St. Petersburg. More recently, she worked with old buddy Eric Schiller, owner of Gaspar's Grotto in Ybor City (1805 E Seventh Ave.; (813) 248-5900) to rethink the menu there.
Tampa's beloved memorabilia-laden (and dog-friendly) pirate bar got a major makeover in the kitchen. The "Set Sail" menu was unveiled slowly over the past several months: littleneck clams Alfredo; smokin' pulled pork sandwich with fancy slaw; New York strip with yucca fries, marinated tomatoes and chimichurri; Maine lobster roll with housemade potato chips. Its once basic-food-and-grog menu has been given a gleam of sophistication. At the end of December, Pierola and Schiller put the finishing touches on a new Sunday brunch menu. The overarching theme is laid-back, pirate-pumped, Ybor-style fun, but with high-quality food (price: $29.95). They've experimented with a beignet recipe; the plan is to shake them in a bag with sugar and pass them around the dining room (a tribute to the way Phil Alessi did it years ago).
A new Cupcake Spot
The Cupcake Spot, the oh-so-indulgent Tampa treatmaker, has expanded to downtown St. Petersburg. Among owner Nicole Rogers' specialties are "Better Thans," as in better than (insert sin here), a dense chocolate cake with cream cheese frosting, and the Paint the Town Red Velvet. Check the Spot out at 405 Central Ave.; (727) 825-0572.
Ocean Prime at IP
Cameron Mitchell Restaurants recently added another property to International Plaza (2205 N West Shore Blvd.). Ocean Prime, the Modern American Supper Club, aims to be "sexy, sophisticated and fun." The restaurant has five private dining rooms, a patio terrace with outdoor dining and a 1,600-square-foot cocktail lounge. Lunch and dinner served daily. For reservations, call (813) 490-5288.
Lobster Pot is back
The Lobster Pot, which closed in September, is set to reopen today at its old location (17814 Gulf Blvd., Redington Shores). The concept will stay the same. The new owners also operate South Beach Sports Bar & Grill in Clearwater Beach.
Dig the dogs in Ybor
James DeVito, the owner of Taps on the ground floor of SkyPoint condominiums in downtown Tampa, will not be opening his next SkyPoint venture, RAWBar, until sometime in March. However, he has a new project that opened Tuesday. It's FATDOGS, a hot dog stand at 1200 19th St. in Ybor City. He's using Nathan's dogs and tops them with a range of possibilities, from classic Chicago-style to the intriguing-sounding mac-n-cheese dog.
Mobil's 4-star spots
Mobil Travel Guide recently announced its 2009 Four- and Five-Star awards for hotels, spas and restaurants across North America. This year, only 72 hotels, restaurants and spas across the United States and Canada have been awarded a Five-Star rating, none in Florida. Forty-six properties in Florida (19 hotels, 11 restaurants and 16 spas) have been recognized by Mobil Travel Guide. Here's what ranked four stars in the Sunshine State:
• Azul, Miami
• Blue Door, Miami Beach
• Cafe Boulud, Palm Beach
• Artisans in the Dining Room, Naples
• La Palme d'Or, Coral Gables
• L'Escalier, Palm Beach
• Norman's, Orlando
• The Restaurant, Palm Beach
• Vernona Restaurant, Sarasota
• Victoria and Albert's, Lake Buena Vista
• Wish, Miami Beach
Free coffee at Panera
The coffee is free, but you'll want to leave a donation for the Children's Cancer Center. Panera cafes throughout the Tampa Bay area will be giving away free java and samples of its new breakfast offerings during business hours today. Your donation will go to Panera's Operation Dough-Nation Community Breadbox. All funds, up to $250 per cafe, will be matched by Panera.
Compiled by Times staff writers