Hearty sandwiches, pizza and plenty of bread — in February, I was clearly craving carbs. This month, I was once again impressed by how far we’ve come with the takeout and delivery game. (For more on that, check out my review of Palm Harbor’s Discovery Indian Cuisine, here.)
Every spot on this month’s list offers delivery, curbside pickup or a great outdoor dining setup. From a cheesy Brussels sprouts melt to a creative spin on the Cuban sandwich and some truly great peel-and-eat shrimp, here are a few of my favorite bites right now.
Rustic loaves and Hokkaido milk bread
Atria Bread + Coffee
For several months before opening, the folks behind this artisanal bakery ran a small bread popup operation in Manatee County where they experimented with what would later become their signature naturally leavened loaves made with freshly milled flour. The buzz that they built paid off and the cafe on Lakewood Ranch Boulevard is now humming with energy. (On busy weekends, get ready to wait in line for a table.)
People come for the delicate latte art, the minimalist aesthetic and airy space imbued with natural light. They come for the porridge bowls, laminated pastries and avocado toasts almost too beautiful to eat. I come for the bread. The shop’s signature rustic loaf has a super crispy crust with a tender, chewy crumb — just as delicious on its own as it is on sandwiches or a charcuterie board. And I would drive the 45 minutes from St. Pete for their Hokkaido milk bread any day of the week. Soft and pillowy, the bread carries the most delicious brioche-like aroma, and it’s hard not to make a serious dent in the loaf before I even make it home.
The cafe opened during the pandemic and has perfected its curbside pickup game: Order and pay online and a bag of bread will be waiting for you on a table outside the shop when you arrive.
4120 Lakewood Ranch Blvd., Lakewood Ranch. 941-751-1016. atria.cafe.
Brussels Sprout Melt
There is this sandwich I dream about often: It’s the Collard Green Melt, served at Turkey & the Wolf in New Orleans — a gooey grilled cheese that’s layered with vinegary collard greens and pickled cherry peppers. The Brussels Sprout Melt at Pickford’s Counter in Tampa might be my new favorite fix whenever I get a hankering for a grilled cheese of that caliber. It’s a similarly craveable sandwich, served on crispy bread with jammy caramelized onions folded into a wilted Brussels sprouts mix, melted Swiss cheese and a creamy “special sauce.”
Because the restaurant is flexible when it comes to dietary restrictions, you can sub in vegan cheddar cheese for the Swiss, and I’m here to report that the result is just as delicious.
2606 W Hillsborough Ave., Tampa. 813-708-8985. pickfordscounter.com.
The “Q”-Bano Melt
The Wheelhouse, St. Petersburg
This casual beer bar in St. Petersburg packs a cozy neighborhood vibe with a funky skateboard theme. Though beer — served from 40 different taps — is the highlight here, the menu is equally intriguing, with creative twists on soups, salads, sandwiches and snacky bar food. Their sandwiches are particularly good, including the “Q”-Bano Melt, which, while not exactly a Cuban (there’s no Cuban bread or mojo-roasted pork to speak of) is a fitting tribute to Tampa Bay’s most beloved sandwich.
The sandwich features thick slices of ham and salami coupled with melted Swiss cheese on toasted sourdough bread with a smear of mayonnaise and mustard. But the real kicker comes from the super-fresh homemade pickles, which carry just the right amount of tang and crunch. Though the bar’s charm is strongest inside, there’s a good amount of covered outdoor seating available. An online ordering portal with text message delivery updates offers a great alternative for those still sticking to takeout.
7220 Central Ave., St. Petersburg. 727-623-0589. thewheelhousestpete.com.
Lately, a big platter of peel-and-eat shrimp has been calling my name.
My latest go-to when I’ve got a hankering is the Wharf in Pass-a-Grille. It’s a time-honored institution with plenty of well-worn charm, and while it’s not the easiest seat to snag in the house, the outdoor bar overlooking the water is the place to be. There are a few highlights here (the fish spread is another favorite) but the restaurant’s signature standby are the Peel-N-Eat Shrimp ($14.95 for a pound) — a platter of shrimp that carry a citrusy, pepper kick from a healthy dust in Old Bay seasoning. They’re served with small ramekins of butter and cocktail sauce for dipping, but really, they’re great all on their own. I like to pair the shrimp with a Jai Alai and spend an afternoon watching the boaters and pelicans pass by — peak Florida vibes.
2001 Pass-a-Grille Way, St. Pete Beach. 727-367-9469. wharfrestaurant.org.
Over the course of the pandemic, I’ve come to realize that not all delivery pizzas are created equal. I hate to admit it, but thin crust pies — as much as I adore them — do not travel well: By the time the box makes it to my front door, all that crisp and crunch I love is mostly gone. Deep dish is a fine contender, but I need to be in the right mood (and extremely hungry). And while fast-food brands like Domino’s and Pizza Hut usually pass the taste and travel test, they leave me feeling less than great later on.
I have a few favorite spots, but Fabrica Pizza, which has locations in Tampa and St. Petersburg, has been at the top of my list lately. The pies here are made in the Neapolitan-style but feature dough that’s just a bit thicker and chewier than most wood-fired versions, so they hold up well during transport. I’m a big fan of their chorizo-topped pie, but on a recent Friday night, I decided to go for something slightly healthier and gave the Verdura Pizza a shot. It arrived topped with roasted broccolini and baby spinach and was paired with fluffy whipped ricotta and melted mozzarella. Fresh garlic and chili flakes added a nice bit of zing, and a healthy drizzle of olive oil tied the whole thing together. In short, it was delicious.
101 Seventh St. S, St Petersburg, 727-290-9643. 142 S Meridian Ave., Tampa, 813-605-0764. fabricapizza.com.