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.
+ MEDITERRANEAN +
Adega Cafe & Wine Bar $$-$$$
This restaurant offers food tied to Portugal's chief crops and catches: olives, olive oil, cod and clams, with lots of potatoes, beans and pork. And from the vineyards come some of the best undiscovered bargain bottles in Europe, as well as the famous port. The food is best suited for casual eating, including the Portuguese version of tapas, plus classically robust Portuguese flavors such as pork with clams and potatoes and caldeirada, spicy seafood stew. Beer, wine. 3121 Beach Blvd., Gulfport; (727) 343-4755. www.adegacafe.com.
+ ITALIAN +
This small chain's menu is overwhelmingly Italian, all the usual ravioli, manicotti, parmigiana, marsalas, marinaras and such, with creativity in sautes and baked combos. Portions are enormous, so be prepared to take home a doggie bag. 13883 Walsingham Road, Largo, (727) 595-8382; 33180 U.S. 19 N, Palm Harbor, (727) 772-7874. www.angellinos.com.
Bernini $$ to $$$
Italian-style innovation, big-city hustle and flash make this old bank a glam spot where the people-watching is choice, and the food is, too. Classy appetizers, rich soups, bright salads, wood-oven pizzas, creative risottos and raviolis. Plus martini madness and fine cigars. Full bar. 1702 E Seventh Ave., Tampa; (813) 248-0099.
Cafe Cibo $ to $$
Sauce is the star here, a thick orange potion served with the bread. It has a little marinara, chopped herbs and a hint of anchovy, but the secret is that it's bound with butter. Longtime fans put it on everything in this bright, lively space (pronounced CHEE-bo). This isn't novello Italian, but pizzas and Mama Mia dishes of the south of Italy and old Italian neighborhoods, served up with fresh style. 8697 Fourth St. N, St. Petersburg; (727) 579-1570. www.cafecibo.net.
Part Continental, part veal-and-seafood Italian and part thin crust pizza with Chicago crispness and an un-Chicago range of toppings (from sausage and pepperoni to feta, pineapple and grouper), Caleb's wows with incredibly reasonable wines and an irresistible family atmosphere. Beer, wine. 6700 Gulf Blvd., St. Pete Beach; (727) 368-0081.
Spartaco Trattoria $$
Spartaco Giolito tries to stick to his roots in Rimini, the best of Emilia Romagna plus a love of seafood. Hand-kissing is allowed and there's a bit of a society crowd, but the splurge here is for food, not fuss: handmade pasta with a light touch of Mama's sauces, big shrimp and lots of fennel. It's small, informal and takes no reservations, but you'll be glad you waited. 3215 S MacDill Ave., Suite B, Tampa; (813) 832-9327. One of Chris Sherman's best restaurants of 2003.
+ SEAFOOD +
Backwater's on Sand Key $$
Firmly anchored in real-life Florida, Backwater's isn't afraid of the fryer, serving seafood with no frills, including high-quality fish and shellfish, most of it local. The menu brags there's "no fu-fu" food here, but it still offers fun (and serves Thai pork and asparagus ravioli, too). Look for the Cajun touches throughout the menu. Full bar. Shoppes of Sand Key, 1261 Gulf Blvd., Clearwater; (727) 517-7383. backwatersonsandkey.com.
Boston Cooker $$
New England delicacies such as Maine lobster, fresh scrod and Ipswich clams are the specialty, backed up by raw oysters and a wide variety of seafood. 3682 Tampa Road, Oldsmar, (813) 855-2311; and 5375 Spring Hill Drive, Spring Hill, (352) 684-6000. www.bostoncooker.com.
Catch 23 $$
The menu is standard-issue modern: four or five grilled fish with contemporary sauces, mussels, pasta and steaks, with a mild tropical accent in the sides. The greater distinction is the careful choice of ingredients, raw and prepared, the starting point of all good restaurants. The restaurant brags about the freshness of its seafood by listing the home ports of all its products on its daily menu. Full bar. 10103 Montague St., West Park Village Town Center, Tampa; (813) 920-0045.
Island Way Grill $$-$$$
The water view, wine cellar and gallery of art glass are impressive, but the real bait here is fish so fresh it wows sushi chefs and Cracker fisherfolk alike. Look for monster lobster tails and fish still in a white Igloo. Built for crowds, the grill and the raw bar can turn out delicate sushi plates and a killer Sunday brunch, all with Frank Chivas service. 20 Island Way, Clearwater Beach; (727) 461-6617. www.islandwaygrill.com. One of Chris Sherman's best restaurants of 2003.
Mystic Fish $$ to $$$
Chef Doug Bebell would win kudos just for fresh fish, good vegetables, $20 wine and adding a bit of style to a strip mall. The bonuses start with house-made extras like that salmon pastrami (gravlax should be so rich), mushroom ravioli and Estonian vodka infused with fresh fruit. Meat buying is smart too: There's lamb sirloin and bison as well as beef. 3253 Tampa Road, Palm Harbor; (727) 771-1800. www.3bestchefs.com/mysticmain.php. One of Chris Sherman's best restaurants of 2003.
Sea Critters $$
With ample boat docks and the Pass-a-Grille beach close at hand, you can get by with just a good grouper sandwich. Critters has them and more: red beans and rice, baby lettuce salads, almond-crusted fish, beer-battered fries, olive oil with fresh bread, plus clever specials. 2007 Pass-a-Grille Way, St. Pete Beach, (727) 360-3706. www.seacritterscafe.com.
+ BARBECUE +
Big Tim's Uptown Bar B Q $
Big Tim made his name with barbecue, especially chicken and ribs, smoked in a pit you can smell up and down 34th Street. Sweet potato pie is as good as it should be; fried corn on the cob when it's fresh from the fryer is the real surprise. 530 34th St. S, St. Petersburg; (727) 327-7388.
Eli's Bar-B-Que $
The notion that good food doesn't happen every day holds true for the barbecue of Elijah Crawford. He fires up his cooking rig next to the Pinellas Trail only on Fridays and Saturdays, and then only from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. That's enough. When something is as precious as a thin end rib out of Crawford's cooker, it's worth waiting for. 360 Skinner Blvd., Dunedin; (727) 738-4856.
Kojak's House of Ribs $
This is strictly a come-as-you-are place. Your fingers will get messy, and the hot sauce will show your taste buds a good time. Sit inside the old house or outside under the big trees. Nothing fancy, but the red-and-white-checked tablecloths make you feel at home, or at least on a picnic. The barbecue is no-nonsense, too: filling and fun. 2808 Gandy Blvd., Tampa; (813) 837-3774.
Roger's Real Pit Bar-B-Que $
Roger's homegrown, home-fired barbecue is good and quick, and draws enough of a crowd that you have to wait to be seated most Friday and Saturday nights. Barbecue comes in sandwiches and plate dinners. Alternatives include catfish and a salad bar. Draft beer. 6851 66th St. N, Pinellas Park, (727) 544-6671.
+ BREW PUBS +
Hoppers Grille & Tap Room $ to $$
Neighbors on the New Frontier get more than a local pub with warm food and friendly service: At Hoppers they get a national champ of a minibrewery. Hoppers makes the most difficult and elegant home brews, such as a Royal Bohemian pilsener. Solid fare is fine, too, from hefty London broil, burgers and onion straws to soups, salads and blackened scallops. 36221 East Lake Road, Palm Harbor; (727) 786-2966. www.hoppersbrewery.net.
Hops Restaurant, Bar & Brewery $ to $$
The first microbrewery around Tampa Bay was strong stuff; more than a decade later, it's a chain with 50-plus units. Hops brews beer on all premises and keeps its food fresh and simple. Borrowings from the Caribbean and Asia add up to better-than-usual fern bar fare. 18825 U.S. 19 N, Clearwater; (727) 531-5300; and locations around Tampa Bay. www.hopsonline.com.
New World Brewery $
This is the biergarten that home brewers built, brick by brick as well as brew by brew, in the middle of Ybor City. It no longer brews its own, but beer on tap is well-chosen: 18 or more drafts, from microbrews to great imports such as Belgian ales. Pizzas, quesadillas and tacos for munching. 1313 E Eighth Ave., Tampa; (813) 248-4969.
St. Sebastiaan's Belgian Microbrewery $$
The grand brewing tradition of Belgium has been imported to Hernando County and produced a Spring Hill Blond, a native-born bombshell. It's a worthy descendant from Europe's great blond ales and the newest member of a local brewing fraternity. Craft brews may be Tampa Bay's best artisanal products. Full bar. 1320 Commercial Way (U.S. 19), Spring Hill; (352) 666-2141. One of Chris Sherman's best restaurants.
Tampa Bay Brewing Co. $ to $$
Ybor pub brews a larger variety than other local brew pubs _ and cooks up a more exotic, beer-laced menu. 1812 N 15th St., Tampa; (813) 247-1422. www.tampabaybrewingcompany.com.
+ 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. A full selection of deli sandwiches and salads is served as well. 5236 16th St. N, St. Petersburg; (727) 528-1410.
Pane Rustica $
You can feast on Kevin's bread alone, preferably the rustic Italian, but it's so much better as a sandwich stacked with turkey and onion jam or fig and prosciutto. Salads, soups, pizzas are made with the same artisanal craft and imaginative zest as the pastries. Pane Rustica moves to larger quarters a few blocks down the street this year, but it'll still serve California quality for less than $10 on plastic plates. 3225 S MacDill Ave., Tampa; (813) 902-8828. One of Chris Sherman's best restaurants of 2003.
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. www.panera.com.
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. www.mazzarosmarket.com.