NOW OPEN: MEKENITA CANTINA
One of my favorite Mexican spots has pulled up stakes in Lutz, changed its name from Mekenita Mexican Grille to Mekenita Cantina and moved to a central spot at 6707 N Florida Ave. in Seminole Heights. Bodega and Mandarin Heights just had a glorious opening in their new spot at 5901 N Florida Ave., so the area is swinging. Tiffani and Rand Packer, who was once the chef at Roy’s, had a charming Oaxacan (a region often referred to as the "land of the seven moles") fast-casual spot they opened in 2007.
At the end of last year they announced the move, but it was a long time coming (they opened at the end of June). They’ve shifted to a full table-service concept with a full bar, with lots of dazzling margaritas, other craft cocktails and a laudably long list of nonalcoholic quaffs. The menu is much expanded from the Lutz location, with dishes like smoked chicken and black bean egg rolls, tortilla-crusted crab cakes, a range of enchiladas and "grande platos" like a chipotle miso charred butterfish. (Hey, is it an homage to Roy’s?) Look for a review soon, as well as one of Bodega and Mandarin Heights.
STAY COOL: BEACH SNOBALLS
Feel like a little summer sno? Beach Snoballs in St. Pete Beach will host a grand relaunch on Saturday at noon, with celebrity co-owner Desmond Howard, Heisman Trophy winner, Super Bowl XXXI MVP and ESPN football analyst, and Tripp Welborne, University of Michigan Wolverines alum and first-team All-American, scheduled to appear 1 to 2:30 p.m. Need more of a draw? This is authentic New Orleans-style snoballs with 65 flavors, including natural and sugar-free options, served alongside a variety of toppings. Adults 21 and up can indulge in "spiked snoballs" infused with vodka, rum or tequila for an extra kick in the pants. Fifty percent of the day’s proceeds go to the local chapter of the Boys & Girls Clubs of America and Academy Prep St. Pete. 7350 Gulf Blvd., St. Pete Beach.
COMING THIS MONTH: LEFT BANK
In late August, owner Susanne Byram will debut the Left Bank Bistro at 1225 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. St. N in St. Petersburg. Kate Gorr, previously of Stillwaters Tavern, has been tapped as chef, and the lunch and dinner menus will run to French brasserie classics, with a full bar of classic and contemporary cocktails. The 3,200-square-foot property will feature a wide porch and 150 seats split between inside and out.
COMING IN SEPTEMBER: NÉKTER
Soon, the first of at least five planned Nékter Juice Bars will open in Tampa, by Tampa resident and former professional soccer player Scott Hileman. The first will open in September at 4001 W Kennedy Blvd., next to the new Metro Diner. The second will open shortly after that in Valrico at 3482 Lithia Pinecrest Road. Hileman will open several more after that — he anticipates hiring for 60 full- and part-time positions.
The Southern California-based company founded in 2010 now boasts 115 restaurants in 11 states, with a menu that includes superfood smoothies and acai bowls with no added sugars, processed ingredients or artificial colors. Hileman also says a big draw will be a dessert called "Skoop," a vegan, gluten-free, low-sugar ice cream.
"I personally understand the power of healthy living, and that starts with what we put in our bodies," Hileman said. "As I’ve traveled the country, I’ve been a loyal fan of Nékter Juice Bar for years, and when I learned they were expanding nationally, I knew I had to bring this … brand to my hometown."