1. Food

Chris Ponte will open a new restaurant at Midtown Tampa

Chris Ponte, one of the Tampa Bay area's culinary leaders for the past decade-plus, is opening a new restaurant at Midtown Tampa.

The 1.8 million-square-foot Midtown Tampa project is planned for the intersection of N Dale Mabry Highway and I-275 will include dining options in addition to office buildings, apartments, a hotel and a Whole Foods Market. Ponte's new space joins the previously announced True Food Kitchen, the first Tampa Bay location for the health-conscious restaurant co-founded by Dr. Andrew Weil and backed by an investment from Oprah Winfrey.

Ponte is a James Beard-nominated chef who has trained at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris and cooked with notable chefs around the world. In 2002, he opened Café Ponte off Ulmerton Road in Pinellas County, an upscale spot that made a name for itself long before the area's recent culinary boom. Our former food critic Laura Reiley placed it on her 2019 list of the area's most romantic restaurants, saying it's a reliable place "for business lunches and amorous assignations fueled by wild mushroom bisque, classic steak tartare and short ribs with Moroccan carrot puree and sesame dates."

In 2016, Ponte and his wife Michelle partnered with former Outback Steakhouse senior vice president Trudy Cooper and former Bonefish Grill president John Cooper to open On Swann in Tampa's Hyde Park Village. (We think it's one of the best small plates restaurants in Tampa Bay.) The Pontes are also set to open Olivia, an Italian restaurant named after their daughter, soon at 3601 W Swann Ave.

Their 5,000-square-foot Midtown Tampa restaurant will seat 200 guests and include a full bar and lounge. It will be open for lunch and dinner daily, with brunch on the weekends.

In a press release, Ponte said: "Midtown is a first-class, one-of-a-kind destination. The location just off I-275 makes Midtown the perfect choice for our new concept in the Tampa market. In addition to opening an exciting restaurant as a destination for Tampa foodies, it will be easy for our long-time Cafe Ponte patrons from Pinellas County to cross the Courtney Campbell bridge and join us for lunch or dinner."

He said the restaurant will serve food similar to Cafe Ponte's fare: elegant American cuisine with French and Italian influences.

Michelle Ponte added: "Set near the heart of Midtown's central square just off the main entrance at Cypress Street, we'll have a lively, dynamic location."

No opening date for the restaurant was given, but Midtown Tampa aims to open in early 2021.