By Laura Reiley
Forget what the M, O, T, H and E stand for. On May 11, the "R" is for reservations. Mother's Day brunch is a serious annual tradition for many families, love and gratitude spelled out in waffles and eggs over easy. Certain restaurants reliably fill to capacity — Oystercatchers at the Grand Hyatt in Tampa, Marchand's at the Vinoy in St. Petersburg, Castaway on the Courtney Campbell Parkway in Tampa — but there are plenty more Mom might enjoy. Here are a handful of Tampa Bay area restaurants that could expand her horizons.
Unveiled along with the lovely new wing at St. Petersburg's Museum of Fine Arts, the MFA Cafe may prove to be one of the museum's most appreciated works of art. The cafe is really a cordoned-off section of the soaring atrium, with light streaming in from floor-to-ceiling windows. It's a prime locale for special parties and glamorous soirees, but during the day it's given over to some of the most sophisticated lunches around: soups (a stunning creamy smoked tomato), salads (smoked duck paired with citrus-dressed frisee, crisp apple and toasted walnut) and a burger that alone justifies the museum admission price.
For Mother's Day, chef James Canter and staff have prepared a special menu ($39 adults, $19 children 12 and under), and there will be live jazz. Stations will be set up around the atrium. Salads will include grilled Caesar with plush white anchovies and an Asian-inspired salmon salad with toasted sesame seeds and crunchy wontons. Carvers will slice prime rib and free-range turkey, and Florida-style French toast will get a delicate vanilla flavor and be served with grilled pineapple and papaya.
If that sounds too serene, Mom might enjoy the hubbub of dim sum at T.C. Choy's Asian Bistro. This Tampa SoHo old timer is pretty, with vibrant mango paint, a wide view into the bustling kitchen, fish zooming around jauntily in a big tank, and large, round tables that accommodate just about everyone with whom you'd care to dine. The interior has a glamorous, slightly hip feel, but the prices stay rooted in terra firma.
Dinner is fairly authentic Cantonese cuisine and other pan-Asian dishes, but at lunch the main attraction is the dim sum carts zipping around, laden with many enticing avenues for carboloading. Still-crisp Chinese broccoli provides a vivid green foil for the dumplings, custards and other exotica.
In what was once a sweet little house at the water's edge in Lake Vista Park in Largo, the Skinny Rooster has a lot to crow about for Mother's Day brunch. A special menu will feature prime rib and HoneyBaked ham, pork tenderloin with an onion-sherry cream sauce, Belgian waffles and apple crepes, bananas Foster, an omelet station and a pasta station.
Brunch can also be enjoyed, mimosa in hand, on the glorious lakeside patio. Because it's more affordable ($21.95) than some of the big-name brunches, it's not hard to appreciate Largo's best-kept breakfast/lunch secret. One caveat: The parking lot is troublingly small.
From one kind of poultry to another, the Toasted Pheasant is a newcomer in Tampa. For Mother's Day, owner Peter Leonavicius (formerly of Le Bouchon in Belleair Bluffs, a brunch superstar in its own right) is doing a special a la carte menu, complete with glass of bubbly. The French bistro's strong suits are crepes, offered on Mother's Day filled with shrimp and salmon with white wine and saffron; roasted lamb with rosemary sauce and caramelized onions; chicken Provencale; and wild mushroom ragout and blue cheese sauce. Oh, and fruity dessert ones drizzled with dark chocolate sauce and poufs of whipped cream.
If Mom likes her accent more Southern, take her to newcomer Country Legends Cafe in Dunedin. With Garth, Tim, Faith and Shania watching over from a wall mural, diners plow into hearty plates of waffles, pancakes, French toast (plus that deep-fried cautionary tale that is the Monte Cristo sandwich) and omelets with all the fixings. Country music-abilia festoons the walls of the casual restaurant while owners Chris and Tammy Dunne add their own down-home warmth.
Live country music will be a special treat for Mother's Day, but if Mom wants to get in on the action, she can come back for open mike night on Wednesday and Thursday, or country karaoke on Tuesday.
Laura Reiley can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 892-2293. Her blog, the Mouth of Tampa Bay, can be found at www.blogs.tampabay.com/dining. Reiley dines anonymously and unannounced. The Times pays all expenses. Advertising has nothing to do with selection for review or the assessment.