The difference between a “pop the question” restaurant and a “clinch the deal” restaurant? For the latter, a little bustle is okay. You want to be in the room where it happens, where the big dogs are fressing. And right now, this is Steelbach, the anchor restaurant at Heights Public Market at Armature Works. It has an extensive whiskey selection stored dramatically in a 100-year-old brick vault. It has its own herd of wagyu cattle naturally raised in Kenansville, Fla., aged four to seven weeks, grilled at 1,000 degrees over Florida oak, then served on rugged boards with a swipe of butter, a caramelized shallot and several kinds of salt.
The decor is all brick and rustic dark beams and industrial ductwork. Sounds like a manly-man kind of place, eh? That’s where chef Nathan Hardin and his crew surprise you. Some of the most memorable dishes are veggies: the charred heirloom carrots with tangy yogurt, the hearth-roasted broccoli with a perfect soft egg yolk, the kale and apple salad - all rock star. Service can be spotty, but they have exceptional desserts and very solid brunch offerings. steelbach.com
Address: 1902 N Ola Ave., Tampa
Phone: (813) 693-5478
Bob Heilman’s Beachcomber
There’s a definite Mad Men atmosphere here, and with 700 bottlings on the wine list, many of them deep-pocket Burgundies and California and Oregon pinot noirs, this 70-year-old classic is suitably served by an expense account. That’s not to say it’s pricey across the board: One of the biggest sellers is the Back-to-the-Farm Chicken dinner, a half Bell & Evans chicken golden and batter-dipped, served with mashed potatoes, dusky pan gravy and a daily veg, preceded by a soup of the day, creamy slaw and the fabled relish tray, all for $19.48. I’ve eavesdropped on a lot of men in suits talking shop while slicing into rosy prime New York strips (maybe it’s all the corporate acronyms these days, but some of this talk reads like stone-cold gibberish to me), although it’s equally prized as a date-night spot and there seems to be a deep bench of longtimers at the bar.
There are a couple of dining rooms with dramatically different personalities, plus an outside patio with sailcloth tenting, festive strings of white lights and space heaters that makes for prime seating in ideal weather. Heilman’s is a textbook example of a restaurant that has shifted with the zeitgeist but always stayed true to its core vision; it feels relevant. heilmansbeachcomber.com
Address: 447 Mandalay Ave., Clearwater Beach
Phone: (727) 442-4144
Eddie V’s Prime Seafood
I’m going to make a prediction: In the high-end steakhouse space, we’re going to see a contraction. Maybe I’m anticipating a market correction and all the belt-tightening that goes along with it, or maybe I’m just taking the temperature of millennials and it’s not a $50 center-of-the-plate protein entree. In Tampa, especially clustered along Boy Scout Boulevard, it’s steakhouse row, with lots that I think do a great job (Ocean Prime, Fleming’s, Del Frisco’s Grille, etc.), but the reason Eddie V’s rises to the top for me is service. It has been a tough couple of years for restaurants intent on maintaining excellent front-of-the-house professionals. Too many shiny new possibilities for folks with talent. Eddie V’s is a chain concept launched in Austin, Texas, sold to Darden for $59 million cash in 2011 and opened in Tampa in 2013. It has maintained its commitment to menu training, reading the room, effective pacing, the art of kibbitzing. The restaurant has doubled down on its oyster program, loads of offerings from both coasts: Champagne pairings, caviar, the Big Eddie shellfish tower when you’ve got something to celebrate. (For the record, they claim “prime” seafood, which is not a legal standard.) But prime steaks still seem to be the menu’s sweet spot. eddiev.com
Address: 4400 W Boy Scout Blvd., Tampa
Phone: (813) 877-7290