For many Tampa Bay restaurateurs, the past 18 months provided an opportunity for reflection and renewal. Sometimes that meant rethinking business plans and the restaurant’s internal structure. Other times, it meant taking the opportunity to remodel the eatery’s physical attributes. Several local spots emerged completely renovated, even changing menus and entire restaurant concepts.
These six restaurants underwent significant revamps during the pandemic and are worth a revisit sometime soon.
This story is part of our 2022 Top Restaurants series. Read the other stories:
5 new Tampa Bay bars where the food steals the show
5 Tampa Bay restaurants with great outdoor seating
The 10 best dishes our food critic ate in Tampa Bay in 2021
The Black Pearl
The fine-dining favorite has always been a go-to when celebrating a special occasion, and now the swanky space is even more inviting. The downtown Dunedin restaurant recently underwent a full remodel, which included new flooring, velvet booths, hand-painted wall coverings and custom light fixtures, including Kate Spade lamps next to every table. Next up, the owners plan to renovate the exterior, adding outdoor patio seating and a full-service bar inside an adjacent greenhouse space.
Diners can rest assured that the menu at the popular date destination is still helmed by executive chef and partner Christopher Artrip, and that the white truffle lobster risotto isn’t going anywhere.
315 Main St., Dunedin. 727-734-3463. theblackpearldunedin.com.
As if anyone needed another excuse to dine at Michael Buttacavoli’s contemporary Italian stunner, the restaurant now features an expansive covered outdoor dining area and a new pizza menu. The renovations to the Channel District restaurant include the outdoor walkway and seating area between Cena and Pour House at the Grand Central Kennedy building. In addition to fire pits and seating for roughly 40 people, there’s also a full-service bar.
Guests sitting outdoors can order off Cena’s regular menu (don’t skip the crispy eggplant with truffled fonduta) or from the new pizza menu, which includes a number of pies topped with everything from nduja sausage and ricotta to pistachios, mortadella and buffalo mozzarella. One caveat? The pizzas can be ordered for dining outside or to-go, but not while dining inside the restaurant.
Outdoor seating and takeout available.
1120 E Kennedy Blvd., Suite 112, Tampa. 813-374-8840. cenatampa.com.
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Following a grand reopening inside the former Moon Under Water space on Beach Drive NE this summer, the relocated and revamped Ceviche is back and better than ever in downtown St. Petersburg.
The croquetas and the patatas bravas haven’t budged. But the expanded menu includes 14 additional dishes, and time-honored favorites received some polishing.
The new space is gorgeous, too, outfitted with white oak floors and dark turquoise accents. Cozy up in one of the plush, burnt salmon banquettes lining the far right wall or sidle up to the 12-seater bar, where an overhang of teal fish-scale tiling lends the space a nautical vibe. A glance straight to the back reveals a partially open kitchen and a carving station where aged Iberian ham is sliced to order.
The outdoor seating is also great, and if you can time it just right on a weekend night, snag a seat near the front, where flamenco guitarist Javier Hinojosa is a regular guest.
Outdoor seating and takeout available.
332 Beach Drive NE, St. Petersburg. 727-209-2299. ceviche.com.
Edison: Food + Drink Lab
Where the menu is concerned, Jeannie Pierola’s lauded Tampa restaurant hasn’t skipped a beat. But the space off W Kennedy Boulevard looks a lot different than it did pre-pandemic. A patio flanked by plants and greenery provided by Yura Vine Brothers, dangling pendant lights and heat lamps now provides outdoor seating for those looking for an al fresco experience. Inside the restaurant, the revamped space allows for more socially distanced seating arrangements, including a plush leather sofa banquette for larger parties that divides the room.
Food-wise, Pierola’s team is still hitting it out of the park, with a constantly rotating menu that’s recently included foie gras- and Iberico ham-topped nigiri and duck confit with crab enchilado tamales and a chipotle beurre blanc. Don’t worry, the potato-crusted oysters are still there.
Outside dining and takeout available.
912 W Kennedy Blvd., Tampa. 813-254-7111. edison-tampa.com.
The Little Lamb Gastropub
What was once a petite 38-seat bar and restaurant tucked inside a Clearwater strip mall has since expanded to include an additional 125 seats, several outside tables and a separate, 18-seat bar. Chef James Renew’s contemporary gastropub fare is as creative as ever, and features lunch service on Fridays and Saturdays in addition to a dinner spread. The menu is pretty straightforward, with a number of sandwiches and burgers served at lunchtime, including the lamb Juicy Lucy with feta and tzatziki on a brioche bun.
Dinner still drives home global touches on composed plates, like steak tartare with caramelized shallots and a smoked beef aioli; shrimp toast with spicy tomato broth, sausage and ciabatta; and a snapper amandine served with almonds, green beans and a lemon brown butter sauce.
Some outside seating and takeout available.
2475 N McMullen-Booth Road, Clearwater. 727-401-3339. thelittlelambgastropub.com.
The celebrated Dunedin restaurant went through plenty of changes over the last year and a half. After relaunching as a takeout concept (and briefly changing its name to The Temporary) and a short-lived experiment with outdoor seating, the petite Dunedin eatery underwent a full interior renovation in fall 2021. The polished new dining room now features darker hues, including stained floors and the long wooden bar that anchors the space. The revamp also included new chairs, bathroom decor, ceramic plates by local pottery business NGWPottery, a cozy back table with room for an additional six diners and exposed brick walls adorned with photographs of places the owners or their families have called home.
But the biggest changeup might be the restaurant’s new stove and range hood — before, everything was cooked on induction burners.
As has been the case for so many years, chefs and owners Jason and Erin “Cricket” Borajkiewicz are still wowing diners with their contemporary and innovative takes on New American cuisine. The short menu changes weekly (sometimes daily) and still features delightful starters like the popular naan bread with herbed butters and creative entrees including an excellent tilefish, served with a murasaki sweet potato puree, fiery salsa macha and burnt lime.
420 Patricia Ave., Dunedin. restorativerestaurant.com.