Dig in, the Golden Spoons have been distributed.
Last week, Florida Trend's annual restaurant awards were unveiled, many Tampa Bay area accolades among them: Tampa boasts 14 award-winners this year, with St. Petersburg, St. Pete Beach, Clearwater and Clearwater Beach pulling in a combined eight awards. Several restaurants in this area were singled out for "best new restaurant" status, including Bianchi's Enoteca in Tampa, Carmel Cafe in Tampa and Pearl in the Grove in Dade City.
The area's hall-of-famers include Bob Heilman's Beachcomber, the Maritana Grille in the Don CeSar Beach Resort, the Renaissance Vinoy Resort & Golf Club, Bern's Steak House, Ybor City's Columbia Restaurant and Mise en Place in Tampa.
Each year, these awards are determined by Florida Trend's dining editor, who spends his year eating around the Sunshine State. Former St. Petersburg Times restaurant critic Chris Sherman took over as dining editor in 2007, when longtime editor Robert Tolf retired after 34 years. Tolf's name lives on in the name of the Golden Spoon's annual highest honor, the Tolf award for best new restaurant, which this year goes to 'Town, a gastropub in Jacksonville.
We caught up with Sherman in New York via email to discuss this year's awards.
What are the most exciting Golden Spoon newcomers in our area?
Carmel Cafe in Carollwood (there's also one in Clearwater) and Bianchi's Enoteca in Tampa.
Why do you think Tampa seems to have it over Pinellas County?
I don't think that Tampa has that big a lead over Pinellas. It's just that Tampa's restaurants are clustered in a smaller area. Tampa has more food trucks, Pinellas has a better market and it has Mazzaro's. Both cities are behind Orlando and South Florida. It may just be a natural cycle, but both cities are in low biorhythm for new, good restaurants. But some older restaurants are rebounding, like Cafe Dufrain.
What are the places in Florida you're most excited about right now?
I'm excited about Jacksonville in general, specifically in the central city area. The city is long on French restaurants and neighborhood bistros. 'Town is the latest but Chew, Orsay and Taverna are full of new energy and old warmth.
Are there any trends you have noticed this past year in your dining around?
Obviously, modern decor is here, especially in St. Petersburg after decades of stodginess. With new ingredients it's pork belly, Marcona almonds and the usual suspects. I pay little attention to most claims of "green," organic, local and sustainable, because it's all prefaced with the caveat "whenever possible." Which is not often. There are more websites and T-shirts about local food than there are local farms and producers.
The biggest positive trends are food trucks, again with Miami and Orlando far in the lead. I almost made food trucks "best new restaurant of the year." And we've seen an updating and upscaling of Greek and Turkish food and Middle Eastern cuisine. And a broader redefinition of "Mediterranean'' to include the eastern end of the Mediterranean.
For a full list of 2011 Golden Spoon winners, go to floridatrend.com.
Laura Reiley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 892-2293.