From the food editor: A new slate of top restaurants is headed your way

Our food critic’s annual list of Tampa Bay’s best restaurants drops Jan. 31.
Published January 28
Updated January 28

Oh boy. We are in for a real treat.

As I write this, I am salivating over each and every word in this year’s Top Restaurants of Tampa Bay list. I’m editing the annual guide from our food critic Laura Reiley, our esteemed restaurant reviewer and my oddball cubicle mate. (Seriously, her vending machine M&M habits would shock you.)

It’s always a joy for me to make my way through the list, for the past couple of years a collection of 50 places that Reiley deems the best in the bay area. (You can read the 2018 list here.)

Well, this year it’s not just 50. We’ve almost doubled the number of restaurants featured (I have no idea why I okayed so much more work), and you’ll get to read about all of them on Thursday.

I always learn a lot from reading Reiley’s picks, and this year is no exception. Aside from picking up a few new vocabulary words — “fressing” is my favorite so far — the thing that jumped out is that Tampa Bay’s food scene is changing. The arrival of three splashy food halls (Armature Works, Hall on Franklin, Sparkman Wharf) seems to have ushered in a new vibe: Tampa as food destination. I mean, have you seen how much folks are charging for poke bowls around here these days? We can thank the area’s rising culinary profile for $15 lunch entrees and similarly priced cocktails.

The food explosion here has been fast and vast and shows no sign of slowing down. I can’t wait for you to see this year’s list of our favorite spots.

The theme for this week’s featured recipe is “party time.” I’m celebrating the publication of Top Restaurants for sure, but also movie awards season (is it weird that I have the Feb. 24 Oscars telecast written on my calendar?) and this weekend’s Super Bowl. There is plenty of food-centric revelry to be had.

These are sweet tea cakes, but you don’t have to call them that if you’re plunking them down on a tailgate table; try “chocolate bombs” or something. They are the result of wanting a treat that was not totally desserty but had chocolate in it. Oh, and used the gorgeous in-season strawberries I had just bought. Oh, and contained some almond flour, because I have a lot of it left over from Christmas cookie baking.

I started with an almond cake and went from there, using a mini muffin tin, the small morsels all the better for party platters. The batter is simple, then you can get creative with the presentation. I left some plain, dusted others with powdered sugar, dolloped some strawberry jam into the center of a few — and went with sprinkles to really drive home that celebratory mood.

Hunker down with one of these cakes and a cup of coffee on Thursday and make your way through our Top Restaurants of Tampa Bay, in the Weekend section or online at tampabay.com. You won’t want to read this thing on an empty stomach.

Strawberry Chocolate Tea Cakes

¾ cup unsalted butter

1 ⅓ cups almond flour

½ cup all-purpose flour

1 ¾ cups confectioners’ sugar

½ teaspoon salt

5 large egg whites

2 tablespoons honey

1 teaspoon almond extract

¾ cup fresh strawberries, diced

½ cup semisweet chocolate, crushed into small pieces, or chocolate chips

⅓ cup slivered almonds, optional

Strawberry jam, for serving

Confectioners’ sugar, for serving

Sprinkles, for serving

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease the cups of a mini muffin pan.

Melt the butter in a medium-sized saucepan set over medium heat. Swirl the butter in the pan and continue to cook until it turns golden and smells nutty.

Pour the browned butter into a heat-safe bowl and let it cool to room temperature.

In a separate bowl, stir together the almond flour, all-purpose flour, sugar and salt.

Mix in the egg whites, honey, almond extract and browned butter.

Gently stir in strawberries, chocolate and almonds, if using, until just combined.

Scoop the batter into the prepared muffin cups. Bake the cakes for 18 to 20 minutes, until they’re golden brown around the edge and firm to the touch in the middle.

Remove the cakes from the oven and cool them in the pan for 5 minutes before turning them out onto a rack to cool completely.

Repeat with the remaining batter if necessary.

Garnish with strawberry jam, confectioners’ sugar and sprinkles.

Makes about 20 tea cakes.

Source: Adapted from King Arthur Flour

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