Friday, December 15, 2017
Restaurant News

Dining planner: Our favorite country and Southern restaurants

Our favorite country & Southern restaurants

With a stellar lineup of country all-stars in town this week, it got us digging for the best country cooking.

Loretta Lynn, the most awarded woman in country music history, starts things off Sunday (Mahaffey Theater $35.50-$65.50), and then Feb. 24 is a twangy day bringing us Travis Tritt (Mahaffey $35.50-$55.50) as well as Vince Gill and Lyle Lovett (together at Ruth Eckerd Hall $48.75-$125) before Rosanne Cash brings Grammy-winning country royalty to the Capitol Theatre on Feb. 25 ($35-$75).

All this country goodness reminds us that there's been a wave of upscale, down-home cooking in the Tampa Bay restaurant scene and here are some of our recent favorites:

The Mill Restaurant

200 Central Ave., St. Petersburg; (727) 317-3930

The place is steampunk-cool, festooned with gears and tooled leather and vintage waterwheels, and the food is vibrant, with a globe-trotting knack for bringing in Spanish or Southeast Asian or Middle Eastern flavors without seeming incoherent. Its menu concerns itself with gamier meats and humbler cuts (boar ribs, braised lamb belly, venison saddle). A meal alone could be made on the Brussels leaves salad with grilled radicchio and pork belly croutons (what kind of black magic is that?), and a pork tomahawk is the kind of Flintstone-sized dish you'll be dipping into fridge-side at home for a couple of days.

Fodder and Shine

5910 N Florida Ave., Tampa; (813) 234-3710

What started last year as an academically rigorous re-creation of Florida Cracker food from about 1820 to the Depression has morphed into a more broadly appealing Southern restaurant in the hands of four-time James Beard Award semifinalist Greg Baker and his wife, Michelle. The Florida-raised and classically trained chef puts out a no-flour skillet corn bread with a satisfying crispy edge and just the right amount of sweetness; vinegar-zingy braised greens with a deep smoky bacon flavor; simple, earthy roast beets sweetened with cane syrup; and soft butter-braised cabbage and turnips. All of these are served in little individual bowls that are easily passed as shared sides (or put together as a vegetarian dinner).

Urban Comfort Restaurant and Brewery

2601 Central Ave., St. Petersburg; (727) 623-9823

The sister restaurant to Urban Brew and BBQ, with made-from-scratch menu items, craft beers on tap and an open kitchen that puts out a very solid fried chicken (juicy interior, fairly thick crunchy batter, very greaseless). It tips into memorable territory with a little ramekin of honey hot sauce, but you've got to pay an extra buck for that. There's a homey chicken pot pie (they also offer a vegetarian version), the bechamel-style sauce cradling familiar veggies and big shreds of white-meat chicken (and a few unfortunate bone pieces). The overall effect, served in a super-hot cast iron skillet, is inviting and old-timey. Same goes for the house hush puppies and biscuits, both fairly airy and light, offered as a side to the solid fried fish of the day. The single best menu item is the fried green tomatoes, offered at lunch as the centerpiece of a BLT.

Hog Island Fish Camp

900 Broadway Ave., Dunedin; (727) 736-1179

The name is a nod to the area's history and the hog farm that was once on Honeymoon and neighboring Caladesi, renamed and rebranded as a honeymoon spot in 1939. Owner Walt Wickman is paying tribute to the area's past, but hog is also germane to the menu. There is an excellent blackened or fried hogfish sandwich and plenty of pork, from a sandwich with sweet-zingy house-made bread and butter pickles to a rustic pork "steak." The Southern-style buttermilk fried chicken is a big pile of crunchy-exteriored, juicy-interiored poultry pieces that serves two or three people with a choice of three sides. Salt-and-pepper fried seafood options from shrimp to oysters. As at Wickman's other restaurants, seafood is unmistakably fresh and very Florida-centric.

   
Comments
Ranking America’s top 10 chain restaurants. How does your favorite stack up

Ranking America’s top 10 chain restaurants. How does your favorite stack up

People love to pick on chain restaurants. Like used car salesmen, the mass feeders are easy targets. Their uniformity and ubiquity seem to go against a culture increasingly bent on personal customization. Indeed, it has been a rough past few years f...
Published: 12/15/17
Hotly anticipated Ichicoro Ane is now open in St. Petersburg

Hotly anticipated Ichicoro Ane is now open in St. Petersburg

Noel Cruz seemed remarkably chill. As did his partner Kerem Koca. All around them in the Station House building in St. Petersburg, workers pounded the last nails, bartenders unpacked boxes of glassware and jewel-toned bottles of Amari, and the kitche...
Published: 12/12/17
Restaurant review: Let the food and outstanding cocktails at CW’s Gin Joint transport you back to the 1920s

Restaurant review: Let the food and outstanding cocktails at CW’s Gin Joint transport you back to the 1920s

TAMPAMaybe it’s the twinkling chandeliers. All skajillion of them. Or maybe it is the rhythmic syncopation of ice cubes in shiny shakers. It could be the old-timey metal dessert cart with its silver cloches and chafing dishes, or else the chummy-but-...
Published: 12/11/17
Restaurant review: 1895 Kitchen Bar Market needs to do a lot more to stand out in downtown Tampa

Restaurant review: 1895 Kitchen Bar Market needs to do a lot more to stand out in downtown Tampa

TAMPA Just a block away from CW’s Gin Joint, the folks at Urban Juice Co. have retooled, taking the historic Franklin building, one of the city’s oldest, erected in 1895, and re-envisioning it in September as 1895 Kitchen-Bar-Market, a "...
Published: 12/11/17
A vegan soul food eatery is opening in St. Petersburg

A vegan soul food eatery is opening in St. Petersburg

SOUL FOOD: VEGAN STYLERay Milton is a boxing instructor and former pastry chef and proprietor of Sugar Ray’s Bakery in St. Petersburg. In the past couple of years he has branched out with something entirely different. He runs a food truck that sells ...
Published: 12/08/17
Updated: 12/13/17
Food news: Byblos reopens in South Tampa, Arab food festival this weekend

Food news: Byblos reopens in South Tampa, Arab food festival this weekend

REOPENING: BYBLOSYou know that hour before people show up for a dinner party where you think, "Holy smokes, I’ll never be ready in time. What was I thinking?" Nearly every restaurant opening, or reopening, is like that. I scooted by Byblos, a long-st...
Published: 12/06/17
Updated: 12/08/17
These Tampa Bay restaurants took honors in the Golden Spoon Awards

These Tampa Bay restaurants took honors in the Golden Spoon Awards

Florida Trend’s annual Golden Spoon awards were announced last week, honoring Florida’s best restaurants. Although Florida Trend serves the state’s business community, the Golden Spoons are a valuable consumer tool. Because Florida restaurants seldom...
Published: 12/04/17
Updated: 12/05/17
Free iced coffee Monday as Dunkin’ Donuts offers #CupOfThanksFlorida

Free iced coffee Monday as Dunkin’ Donuts offers #CupOfThanksFlorida

Dunkin’ Donuts is giving thanks to Floridians with a free small iced coffee on Monday.The #CupOfThanksFlorida promotion is aimed at thanking customers for weathering Hurricane Irma as some locations had to close or change their hours, according to br...
Published: 12/04/17
Restaurant review: Clear Sky on Cleveland Global Bistro tries to cover every food on the planet

Restaurant review: Clear Sky on Cleveland Global Bistro tries to cover every food on the planet

CLEARWATERAll three of the Clear Sky restaurants read like the work of someone who’s been paying attention to what folks want.Co-owner Dan Shouvlin has got the proper curriculum vitae (a background in TGI Friday’s, Chi Chi’s, Olive Garden and then a ...
Published: 11/30/17
Updated: 12/04/17
This week’s food news: Clearwater Beach Uncorked, happy 25th birthday to Guppy’s

This week’s food news: Clearwater Beach Uncorked, happy 25th birthday to Guppy’s

HAPPY BIRTHDAY: GUPPY’STwenty-five years for a restaurant is a stupendous achievement in an industry with a two-thirds failure rate. So let’s bake a cake for Guppy’s on the Beach, or at least go there and eat cake. It opened its doors at 1701 Gulf Bl...
Updated one month ago