Haven

Haven restaurant features its cheese and meat board. [BRONTE WITTPENN | Times]
Haven restaurant features its cheese and meat board. [BRONTE WITTPENN | Times]

I’m guessing chefs Chad Johnson and Courtney Orwig are inundated with hundreds of requests to cook for fundraisers, to donate meals and their time to good causes. And darned if they don’t say yes to the lion’s share. In 2018, I saw them and their team sweating on behalf of a James Beard scholarship, Feeding Tampa Bay, the Frogman Feast and others. Meanwhile, Haven continues to shine, with 60 cheeses in the gleaming glass-fronted cave, 300 bourbons and ryes, 40 wines by the glass and one of the area’s buzziest happy hours from 5 to 7 p.m. Monday to Saturday.

[BRONTE WITTPENN | Times]
[BRONTE WITTPENN | Times]

There are a bunch of new faces at the bar (it used to be all male mixologists, now it’s swinging to the XX-chromosome side) and lots of dynamism with new cocktail offerings. In the stylish space that used to house Bern’s spinoff SideBern’s, Haven has refined a menu that is largely small plates and shareables, and an array of house-made and imported salumi and pates. Haven also welcomed a stunning new mural in 2018, done by the famous L.A.-based muralist Faith XLVII, that depicts a majestic ram with the full moon rising behind its horns.

Address: 2208 W Morrison Ave., Tampa

Phone: (813) 258-2233. haventampa.com.

Price: $$

Annata Wine Bar

With the charcuterie plate, you can pick three, five or seven different meats and cheeses to be plated with an assortment of nuts, fruits and olives. [MELISSA LYTTLE | Times]
With the charcuterie plate, you can pick three, five or seven different meats and cheeses to be plated with an assortment of nuts, fruits and olives. [MELISSA LYTTLE | Times]

Before I ditched anonymity as a food critic, I declined to be Facebook friends with chefs, restaurateurs and readers. I tell you this because I now realize what I was missing. The past few months when I have an idle moment, I see what Annata’s executive chef Joshua Breen is posting, snaps of plate presentations as artfully composed as any Dutch Golden Age still life. In upcoming weeks, Breen with Mazzaro’s owners Kurt and Mary Cuccaro will open seafood restaurant Alto Mare in the space next to Annata.

Sauteed Wild Mushrooms, Heirloom Tomatoes, Ricotta, Quail Egg and Truffle Oil is served on a flat bread, like a gourmet pizza. [MELISSA LYTTLE | Times]
Sauteed Wild Mushrooms, Heirloom Tomatoes, Ricotta, Quail Egg and Truffle Oil is served on a flat bread, like a gourmet pizza. [MELISSA LYTTLE | Times]

Annata is still the place to go if you want to concoct a board of cheeses and salumi (pick three for $14, five for $20, 12 for $50, etc.), served with excellent accoutrements and crackers. But don’t neglect the rest of the menu, from really lively salads, a good bowl of mussels with melted leeks and a winey, buttery broth, to the daily fish special that seems to be one of Breen’s chief social media muses. annatawine.com

Address: 300 Beach Drive NE, No. 128, St. Petersburg

Phone: (727) 851-9582

Price: $$

Armani’s

A spicy cheddar cheese can be seen at the charcuterie bar at Armani's. [BRONTE WITTPENN | Times]
A spicy cheddar cheese can be seen at the charcuterie bar at Armani's. [BRONTE WITTPENN | Times]

Perched on the 14th floor of the Grand Hyatt, this has been the site of countless proposals, business deals and important dates largely on the strength of its killer panoramic views, live piano players and suave Italian fare. But it’s also because of this: They had a long antipasti bar that for many italophiles was like being a kid in a candy store; point to these roasted peppers, those marinated artichokes and, prego, they are yours.

The charcuterie bar at Armani's. [BRONTE WITTPENN | Times]
The charcuterie bar at Armani's. [BRONTE WITTPENN | Times]

I visited recently and noticed that the long U-shaped antipasti bar has skewed much more to charcuterie and cheeses, the gentlemen behind the counter able to discourse fluidly on precisely how this bresaola was air-dried and where that cheese hails from. We did the “medio” for four people, $60, and had a hard time soldiering on to entrees and desserts. Chef de cuisine Jonathan Wilson’s menu leans toward wild game in the colder months, rack of elk or elk meatballs, wild boar sausage, but classic pastas like a spaghetti carbonara with duck egg or pillowy little ricotta gnudi with butternut squash and walnuts remind me of the glories of Italian carbs. Tip: Take your cocktail to the terrace and watch the sunset between courses; you may see roseate spoonbills in the nature preserve below. hyatt.com

Address: Grand Hyatt, 2900 Bayport Drive, Tampa

Phone: (813) 207-6800

Price: $$$

Brooklyn South

A rosemary chicken sandwich with fresh mozzarella. [CHERIE DIEZ | Times]
A rosemary chicken sandwich with fresh mozzarella. [CHERIE DIEZ | Times]

Matt Bonano is an expert in affinage. He likes to wash rinds. His idea of a good time is to be a cooler captain for the American Cheese Society Judging & Competition. I feel you looking blankly at this text. For years, Bonano has spent several days at a clip in a 45-degree trailer filled with tons of American farmstead cheeses, stacking them, cataloging them, preparing them like a trainer at the Westminster Dog Show. He also owns Brooklyn South, a small cafe storefront in St. Petersburg. He has worked with the biggest cheesemongers in the country, slogging through cheese books and learning how to carefully age and ripen cheese to bring out its fullest potential (that’s affinage).

Green Bench Imperial Ale is poured on the raclette to be brushed onto the rind of the cheese. [CHERIE DIEZ | Times]
Green Bench Imperial Ale is poured on the raclette to be brushed onto the rind of the cheese. [CHERIE DIEZ | Times]

He left the New York area and struck out on his own with this little shop, humble at first, just a few tables, the core of the business a big handful of sophisticated sandwiches requiring many napkins (rosemary ham with caramelized apples and Brie; corned beef with roasted peppers and Peter Luger sauce). He also does charcuterie and cheese boards, and it’s a great place to buy ripe-and-ready-to-rumble cheeses for your next soiree. brooklynsouthcheese.com

Address: 1437 Central Ave., St. Petersburg

Phone: (727) 914-4967

Price: $