Rooster and the Till
This New American restaurant in Tampa’s Seminole Heights neighborhood has earned a reputation in recent years – so much so that the Tampa Bay Times named it Restaurant of the Year in both 2018 and 2019.
The menu seamlessly blends Southern, Floridian and global. The Cobia Collar takes what is lowkey and one of the tastiest fish found off Florida and combines it with Vietnamese fish sauce nuoc cham, cilantro and Thai chilies; Fazzoletti Pasta combines eggplant agrodolci and shredded pork cheeks. And just so we’re clear that this doesn’t have to be fancy, the Smashburger’s just an old-fashioned cheeseburger – albeit with raclette cheese. The substantial wine list hits many different price points – this is a top-quality meal that won’t break the bank.
Not far north of downtown, Seminole Heights has emerged as Tampa’s coolly bohemian neighborhood. Early 20th-century craftsman-style homes line streets that are sprinkled with neighborhood cafes and interesting shops. Just down the road from the Rooster and the Till, Angry Chair Brewing serves up excellent beers. Ella’s Americana Folk Art Café does just what it sounds like – great down-home food, lots to look at and frequently, music to listen to. Ichicoro Ramen serves up hearty Japanese fare – and you can’t miss their stylish black-and-gold sign.
For tourist stuff, Seminole Heights sits just across the Hillsborough River from Zoo Tampa at Lowry Park. And of course, you’re not at all far from downtown just in case no trip to Tampa is complete without doing the whole Ybor city thing.
2. Winter Park
The Ravenous Pig
There’s a cool backstory to the Ravenous Pig. It was founded by a couple who both grew up in Winter Park but met in New York’s prestigious Culinary Institute of America. After working through the ranks elsewhere in the country, James and Julie Petrakis returned to their hometown and, in 2007, opened the gastropub that’s become the anchor of a growing restaurant business.
The menu is fun, diverse and unmistakably Floridian. Start off with crab beignet or grilled octopus panzanella, then maybe try the grilled bone-in Florida flounder, truffle fried chicken or lobster tagliatelle. The Ravenous Pig Brewing Company sits next door, so if you don’t feel like something off the wine menu there’s plenty of good beer that hasn’t traveled far.
Nearby, Winter Park offers plenty of other options, both for dining and days out. If you’d like an Orlando trip that’s not entirely parks-centric, this enclave north of downtown is worth a stay. It’s got a college vibe thanks to the presence of Rollins College and its Spanish-style campus on the banks of Lake Virginia, which is always worth a stroll.
One unique place to stay and dine is the Alfond Hotel at Rollins College. The college owns the hotel and built it with a grant from the Harold Alfond Foundation, hence the name. Built in the same Spanish style as the campus, it displays works from the Alfond Collection of Contemporary Art at Rollins College. The hotel’s restaurant, Hamilton’s Kitchen, offers a largely Southern cuisine menu with some twists – that teriyaki Faroe Islands salmon might also be worth a try.
3. Tarpon Springs
Mama’s Greek Cuisine
Less than an hour north of St. Petersburg, the town of Tarpon Springs has been known for more than a century for Greek culture and the many Greek-American families who have for generations called it home. Greek sponge divers originally settled in what was once called “the sponge capital of the world” – today, that influence is present in everything from the ornate St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church to the restaurants on and around waterfront Dodecanese Boulevard. (It’s been claimed the town has the highest per capital number of Greek restaurants in the US.)
One favorite spot is Mama’s. This unpretentious locals’ spot has been open for 42 years – the original “mama” emigrated from Greece and was married to a sponge diver.
The menu will be familiar to fans of Greek cuisine. For a real Greek-Floridian mashup, try the Grecian Grouper – a Florida grouper filet boiled in olive oil with garlic, lemon and oregano, then topped with feta, grilled tomatoes and onions.
Elsewhere in Tarpon Springs, the town’s 19th-century sponge-based prosperity is evident in a historic district where many of the buildings now house art galleries and other interesting detours.
Today the Historic Sponge Docks are home more to operations such as Spongeorama Cruise Lines, which take guests around the Gulf and Anclote River, taking in such sites as the Anclote Lighthouse on Anclote Island. Some tours even stop to explore the island.
Note: These recommendations presume open restaurants and the opportunity for safe dining. Fort Lauderdale Magazine recommends checking ahead and following all relevant guidelines.