ABOVE BOARDS: CHEESE AND CHARCUTERIE
I know you've noticed this. It's there on the menu, usually after the appetizers and before the entrees, with its own little section devoted to things that are hard to pronounce but delicious to eat: robiola due latte, tartufotto, caciocavallo. Cheese and charcuterie boards are popping up all over the place. I'm in the midst of getting chummy with that at Ted Dorsey's the Mill in downtown St. Petersburg (look for that review in Taste on Wednesday), but here are others of the species that are worthy of some swooning.
Haven (2208 W Morrison Ave., Tampa; (813) 258-2233), which opened earlier this year where SideBern's was, has the kind of cheese cave that fromage fiends dream about. Here's what you do (but it's a big commitment, so you're going to have to work deep): Go with a bunch of friends and order the $47, 18-cheese assortment arrayed on a white ceramic deviled egg tray with a cheat sheet that lets you keep track of what's what. Then pair that with the $42 butcher's choice plate of charcuterie. That's dinner right there. You may experience the duck summer sausage or the foie gras and beef tongue terrine, or maybe the fennel salami and the pork liver pate.
At Annata Wine Bar (300 Beach Drive NE, St. Petersburg; (727) 851-9582), a project of Mary and Kurt Cuccaro of Mazzaro's Italian Market fame, it's pick three ($12), pick five ($18) or pick seven ($25) from a hefty list of gorgeous cheeses and meats. Cheeses are served at appropriate temperatures with sturdy bread or crackers and a range of accompaniments from good olives to cornichons and marcona almonds and something sweet like quince paste or honeycomb, and archetypal meats include salami, soppressata and chorizo. Right now, my fetish cheese is Bay Blue from Point Reyes, with a yeasty, nutty, peppery ripeness and just the right amount of tang and salt.
With lots of wood and cozy hightops in the bar area, two intimate dining rooms with glamorous lighting and cool rock posters, Boca Kitchen Bar Market (901 Platt St., Tampa; (813) 254-7070) feels like an old South Tampa hangout. I'm often inclined to get the unspecified "staff meal, market price," but I'm a thrill seeker like that (also: tiny shishito peppers blistered on the grill and served with a drizzle of roasted red pepper coulis, where every 12th pepper is wicked hot). But Boca has always had a very solid cheese and charcuterie plate for $18. The details change up, but it's usually a lovely mix of artisanal soft, hard, stinky and tangy cheese, paired with local honeys, imported olives, dates and other accoutrements, with luscious swaths of prosciutto and such as contrast.
John Zias' Cuvée 103 (2454 McMullen-Booth Road, Clearwater; (727) 726-0350) has the added bonus of live jazz many nights and an intriguing 100-selection wine list, with a range of quaffs by the glass from affordable to splurgy and covering the gamut of countries of origin and varietal. The cheese and charcuterie plate ($15) pairs three meats and three cheeses, attractively arrayed and accessorized. That and a grilled Caesar salad or heirloom caprese, and dinner is dialed.
NEW TASTES: FOURTH STREET N
Fourth Street N in St. Petersburg is heating up. Or rather, cooling down. Hilda's Italian Ice (8275 Fourth St. N; (727) 201-9643) opened at the end of April. Part craft beer and wine quick-stop, part custard and Italian ice shop, it is the brainchild of Peruvian Hilda Echevarria. Here's what you do: Order the housemade vanilla soft custard and then layer it with vibrant, fruit-flavored Italian ice (think watermelon, mango or lemon). Or if root beer floats float your boat, marry that custard with root beer-flavored sorbet. Flavors are dynamic, and the texture isn't as dense or heavy as traditional ice cream. Plus, how many ice cream shops also offer 60 craft beers?
And not far away, iChills (7901 Fourth St. N; (727) 317-3970) is an adorable newcomer that hung up its shingle at the end of June. It offers six different flavors of froyo (sold by the ounce, nice touch) with toppings, Working Cow ice cream, Kahwa coffee, Skipper's kettle corn (the kind at the Saturday Morning Market) and other treats.