There's consensus. Holiday spending is off to a good start, and experts say restaurants scooped up their fair share of the bounty. Head over to the brand new Cafe DePaz in Dunedin if you need a little corroboration: This place is booming.
The bar is swinging, the patio tables are cheek-to-jowl and the intimate indoor seating keeps the waiters at full tilt. In this charming house that was briefly the Living Room (loved it) and then Dunedin Smokehouse (missed it), David DePaz, Jeff Wheaton and Sal Troiano launched Cafe DePaz on Oct. 17. And now I'm back to "loved it."
Many of the things that made the Living Room a treat are still here. Slightly away from Main Street's main drag, it's a free-standing house with an inviting deep porch and an indoors with one long wall of bookshelves, warm lighting and lots of wood. There's a long bar that seems to have its own vitality, meaning it's not just a way station for the soon-to-be-dining. You could hang at this bar, meet friends, eat a little something.
The little something you might eat is almost uniformly delicious. Chef DePaz hails from Israel, where he ran restaurants and clubs. The concept here draws inspiration broadly from the Mediterranean, with moderately priced Italian brick-oven pizzas as well as Moroccan tagines and the odd Greek or Israeli dish.
All of this is best sampled via a grazing or sharing approach, preferably using your hands. Breads replace the fork: olive oil-lush focaccia, crunchy crostini, chewy pizzas and Israeli-style bourekas provide the platform. And then, feel like lamb chops? Five little frenched chops — meaning the bone is cleaned of meat, and as a posh Southern lady once said to me, "if the good Lord gave it a handle, you're allowed to pick it up" — come with a spicy aioli and a cool cuke tzatziki and a cup of deeply addictive fries.
It's enough to be a meal by itself, but better when shared with buddies, maybe along with a creamy burrata (it's a fresh mozzarella that's got a gooey center) dabbed with mint and basil pesto and paired with sweet roasted tomato and a buttery crostini ($10) and a brick-oven pizza. Pizzas go red or white: If you opt for bianco, the eggplant, artichoke, fried caper, preserved lemon, olive version ($13) is ridiculously good, and for roso, the plain-Jane margherita ($12) brings the kind of tangy-sauce-to-molten-moz ratio that most people can get behind.
I need to stop blathering about the food to get to the drinks, but first: Desserts are housemade (seriously, and sadly, a rarity in these parts), with things like a custard/buttery shredded wheat spin on kataifi with a berry puree and a lush custard. And service? New restaurants often need to mellow out. We don't need an earnest disquisition on the concept — just give us the menu and let it rip. But servers are nice.
Wines, a diplomatic world-beat list at fair prices, are mostly offered by 3-, 6- and 9-ounce pours as well as by the bottle. Lots of good choices, but the house cocktails are more come-hither. A selection of shandies, refreshing concoctions of beer, wine or booze mixed with citrus-flavored soda, carbonated lemonade, ginger ale or cider, get the imagination going. Like, picture a hot day in Basque country: fruity red wine and Coke. Seriously, don't hate; it's quenching and tasty. Cafe DePaz has a whole lot of fun ways to whet your whistle, in a setting that, yet again, makes Dunedin's cup runneth over.
Laura Reiley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 892-2293. She dines anonymously and unannounced. The Times pays all expenses. Advertising has nothing to do with selection for review or the assessment.