The Weekend dining guide is a listing of restaurants around Tampa Bay sampled and recommended by St. Petersburg Times food critic Chris Sherman and other staffers. Recommendations are not related to advertising. A portion of the guide runs weekly in Weekend. You can also find dining listings at www.tampabay.com.
Price: Cost of a dinner for two with tax and tip is indicated by the number of dollar signs: $ _ Inexpensive (less than $25); $$ _ Moderate ($25 to $50); $$$ _ Expensive ($60 and up).
Hours: Hours and days of operation change frequently, so it's wise to call ahead.
Reservations: Most restaurants welcome reservations. If you cannot keep a reservation, notify the restaurant promptly.
Credit cards: Accepted unless otherwise noted.
Tip us off: Got a favorite restaurant we haven't reviewed? Contact us at weekendsptimes.com or send a note and a menu to Weekend Dining Guide, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731.
+ BREAD & MORE +
Fray's Donuts & Deli $
Real doughnuts for real doughnut lovers, and really big, too. They're made and glazed fresh daily, sugary enough to put a smile on a cup of black coffee _ and green eyes on Krispy Kreme lovers. They serve a full selection of deli sandwiches and salads as well. 5236 16th St. N, St. Petersburg; (727) 528-1410.
Pane Rustica $
Fabulous artisan bread, great lunches and the best counter service is more than enough. Yet every week, Kevin K adds something: a fig prosciutto sandwich, squash soup, a pizza with salmon egg salad and caviar and, last I checked, lollipop pork chops. Join the crowd and find what's likely to be the best food of your week at any price. 2821 S MacDill Ave., Tampa; (813) 902-8828. One of Chris Sherman's best restaurants of 2002.
Sleek chain of bread bakers brings hip taste and ancient crunch to the malls: peasant breads, fancy pastries, bright salads and all manner of bagels and sandwiches. Brandon TownCenter, (813) 653-3837; 112 West Shore Blvd., Tampa (813) 286-7119; 11878 Bruce B. Downs Blvd., Tampa (813) 866-9333; Bardmoor (Starkey and Bryan Dairy Roads), Seminole, (727) 320-8830; Feather Sound, 2285 Ulmerton Road, St. Petersburg, (727) 592-9690; 1908 Fourth St. N, St. Petersburg, (727) 895-5441.
Mazzaro Coffee and Italian Market $
A huge red brick oven is heart and hearth of this Italian grocery. Fresh rustic breads, butcher, big-city cookies, cold cuts and entrees to go. Take a loaf home or sit down in the middle of it all for a gorgeous sandwich. Live music adds zest to Saturday shopping. 2909 22nd Ave. N, St. Petersburg; (727) 321-2400.
Bon Appetit $$ to $$$
Tables with bay views and traditional indulgences such as rack of lamb, sweetbreads, escargot and Dover sole. The menu has been updated with pastas, grilled fish, fresh herbs and half-orders, but there are rich sauces and strudels as well. Brunch on Sundays, plus dock facilities. 148 Marina Plaza, Dunedin; (727) 733-2151.
Clearwater Beach Hotel $$$
This rambling replica of a Victorian seaside resort restores fine dining's bygone charms, but it's not just for vacationers. Black-tie service, classic gourmet dishes with Mediterranean and Caribbean accents, tableside tricks and nouvelle twists draw locals for special occasions, too. Full bar. 500 Mandalay Ave., Clearwater; (727) 441-2425.
Michael's Bistro $$
It's hard to imagine such a sweet, elegant little place tucked away in a bland-looking strip center behind a Long John Silver's. Inside you'll find an impressive wine list and a kitchen that knows its way around the Continental food and imaginative specials. Try scungilli, calamari and conch in marinara sauce over linguine; big tiger shrimp Parmesan; or the Burgundy sauce over chicken or veal. 2410 Commercial Way, Spring Hill; (352) 683-8420.
The Pepper Mill $$ to $$$
Omnivorous menu includes gourmet classics and contemporary sauces; some of the best comes from the grill, especially a namesake steak, and other grilled meat and fish. Rich desserts, affordable wines and smooth service. Full bar. 1575 S Fort Harrison Ave., Clearwater; (727) 449-2988.
Starship Dining Yacht $$$
A floating dinner here is surprisingly tasteful and contemporary, not a stuff-your-face buffet: Chicken and beef are best choices; salads crisp, vegetables and desserts stylish, service first-class. Appetizers, drinks, parking add up to a special-occasion price, but lively band on top deck and waterside views are free. Full bar. 603 Channelside Drive, Tampa; (813) 223-7999.
+ HEALTH-FRIENDLY +
Consciousness Blossoms $
The peaceful spirit of Indian philosopher Sri Chinmoy's teachings influences the cuisine in this former ice cream parlor, now a breakfast and lunch place. Breakfasts can be traditional eggs and waffles, albeit with soy-based bacon and smoothies. Better to try vegetarian "neat loaf," or sandwiches of tofu and tempeh. Steamed vegetables and carrot salad reach new heights here. 3390 Tampa Road, Palm Harbor; (727) 789-1931.
This millennial burger stand takes fast food back to a hipper, healthier future in a blaze of warm curves and cool colors. Team Evos fuels the apres-gym crowd with veggie burgers, salmon patties, air fries, vegan chili, tacos, wraps, smoothies and even nonmeat corn dogs. Five flavors of ketchup, plus a vibrant staff to go with it all. 609 S Howard Ave., Tampa, (813) 258-3867 and 2631 Fourth St. N, St. Petersburg; (727) 571-3867.
Lonni's Sandwiches, Etc. $
This small chain of takeout shops boasts seating and a healthful difference: Minnesota wild rice converts to bread for huge sandwiches, salads, soup and pudding. Every item has extra flair and spice. 133 First St. NE, St. Petersburg, (727) 894-1944; 1153 Main St., Dunedin, (727) 734-0121; 601 Cleveland St., Clearwater, (727) 441-8044; 513 E Jackson St., Tampa, (813) 223-2333.
Rollin' Oats Natural Cafe $
Part of a health food store, the Tampa Bay ar ea's most creative vegetarian cuisine features vegan, ovo-lacto and macrobiotic specials and a global selection of dals, soups and stir-fries. There are vegetarian sandwiches and husky entrees, too, such as stuffed portobello mushrooms over rice. Terrific field greens salad and delicious smoothies; chicken and tuna also available. 2842 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. St. N, St. Petersburg; (727) 895-4910.
Sweet Tomatoes $
Salad bar with the mostest draws a full house with endless buffets, homemade soups and pastas, along with serve-yourself efficiency and load-your-tray deals. Desserts and fresh-baked breads are good enough to put you on this "diet" full time. 13101 Seminole Blvd., Largo, (727) 584-9100; also Brandon, Tampa, Carrollwood and Palm Harbor.
+ ITALIAN +
Cafe Cibo $ to $$
Sauce is the star here, a thick orange potion served with the bread. It has a little marinara, chopped herbs and a hint of anchovy, but the secret is that it's bound with butter. Longtime fans put it on everything in this bright, lively space (pronounced CHEE-bo). This isn't novello Italian, but pizzas and Mama Mia dishes of the south of Italy and old Italian neighborhoods, served up with fresh style. 8697 Fourth St. N, St. Petersburg; (727) 579-1570.
Ciccio & Tony's $$
Upper West Side roots, New York attitude, culinary imagination make the menu mostly Italian but sometimes as Pacific as a puu-puu platter. Look for special pasta nights, when one price buys a taste of dozens of pastas in a nonstop festival. Beer, wine. 1015 S Howard Ave., Tampa; (813) 251-8406.
Domenic's Capri Italian Restaurant $$
This dark spot, with its rustic, handbuilt booths, is a respite from the sun and tourist traffic outside, much better than the beach Italian you might expect. Red-sauce dishes are plentiful and well-made, and the wine list is a jackpot of top labels at bargain prices. The menu seems to cover familiar ground until you look closer or check out the specials. The best discovery: the housemade pastas. 411 Mandalay Ave., Clearwater Beach; (727) 441-1111.
Fresh, stylish Italian in mid-Pinellas. Forget veal; they have it, but the inspiration here is Neapolitan, so the riches include tuna, shrimp, octopus, baby clams, porcini mushrooms, good breads and lots of vegetarian entrees. Beer, wine. 2475 McMullen-Booth Road, Clearwater; (727) 669-9512.
The Ravioli Company $
Two of our best culinary talents, chef Dwight Otis and pasta diva Lauren Otis, don't really have a restaurant, just a few seats outside. But it's still a gourmet destination. If you can boil water, take home her lobster ravioli or lemongrass linguine cut to order. If you can't, get his sirloin lasagne. Call ahead _ and bring a cooler. 2202 W Platt St., Tampa; (813) 254-2051. One of Chris Sherman's best restaurants of 2002.
Spartaco Trattoria $$
Spartaco Giolito tries to stick to his roots in Rimini, the best of Emilia Romagna plus a love of seafood. There's nothing formal in the setting, but big shrimp, handmade pasta, mixed grills and personalized service are luxury enough. 3215 S MacDill Ave., Suite B, Tampa; (813) 832-9327. One of Chris Sherman's best restaurants of 2002.
+ NEW AMERICAN +
Green Springs $$
An artsy small town deserves an art restaurant. Paul Kapsalis' cooking _ old Greek pizza, roasted chickens, salmon-lobster "sacks," thick soups and cobblers _ are made with care, not fuss. They show as much warmth and whimsy as the big green dragonfly bike rack out front and the rest of the art. 122 Third Ave. N, Safety Harbor; (727) 669-6762. One of Chris Sherman's best restaurants of 2002.
Rusty's $$ to $$$
While tourists go for the buffet, we know _ or should _ that the unsung chefs here crank out the most creative seasonal fare on the beaches. Sea bass is done up with fennel and lentils, and filet mignon gets a silky corn sauce. Do nibble around the edges; the house pates, souffles and martinis all have the distinct style of John Harris and team. Sheraton Sand Key Resort, 1160 Gulf Blvd., Clearwater Beach; (727) 595-1611. One of Chris Sherman's best restaurants of 2002.