Photography by Patrick Foley

Fall Flavor

Satisfy Your Appetite for Atmosphere

Story by Janan Talafer

Now that summer’s soaring temperatures are finally behind us, we celebrate the arrival of fall with a toast to area restaurants that overflow with that special vibe known as atmosphere. It’s an ingredient critical to any great dining experience. Fall is the perfect time to step outside to savor the sights and sounds of Tampa Bay by dining alfresco, whether overlooking the water, in a courtyard garden or at a sidewalk café. Here are a few favorite restaurants that serve up plenty of atmosphere, both indoors and out.


GREATER TAMPA BAY—Since 1905, the Columbia Restaurant has been a Tampa Bay icon showcasing the area’s colorful past as a thriving center for Cuban culture and commerce. The restaurant has remained in the family all this time, but it has blossomed from its original Ybor City location to six additional destinations—St. Petersburg, Clearwater Beach, Sarasota, St. Augustine, Celebration and the newest location—downtown Tampa inside the Tampa Bay History Center. You’ll find mouthwatering, authentic Spanish food at The Columbia, starting with the famed 1905 Salad and inspired entrees including Paella “A la Valencia,” Snapper Alicante, Pollo Riojana, La Completa Cubana and more, along with a full tapas menu and fabulous desserts. Experience the rhythm and heat of the Flamenco dance with the Columbia Restaurant Dance Troupe, which performs nightly at the restaurant’s Ybor City location.


TAMPA—This lively destination on Franklin Street is hot, hot, hot with the locals and should receive credit for almost single-handedly kick-starting downtown Tampa after dark. Fly is packed with people of all ages who love the urban energy, great selection of micro-brews and imports, signature cocktails and live music on Friday and Saturday evenings. Original paintings by local artist Sean Spoto decorate the interior walls, while the rooftop deck offers an amazing view of downtown’s city scene and the Hillsborough River waterfront. It’s the place to go for happy hour after a long day at work.


TAMPA—Anchoring a shopping center in Carrollwood, the white, nondescript exterior of Grille One Sixteen successfully disguises the chic treat hidden inside. Upon stepping through the entry, you’ll discover a sleek, stylish, cosmopolitan ambience reminiscent of South Beach, complete with leather booths, billowy white curtains and a lounge in the center of the room. The restaurant is noted for its outstanding organic, dry-aged steaks cooked on a wood-fired grill. Pan-seared sea scallops and Pan Asian grouper are also favorites. For lighter fare, select a few dishes to share from the “Lounge” menu like the grilled Kobe beef or blackened grouper sliders. Be sure to leave room for dessert. Try the decadent doughnuts—four homemade cakes topped with chocolate, caramel and raspberry sauces.


GULFPORT—This authentic Brazilian experience is quite a surprising find in low-key, artsy Gulfport. The fabulous contemporary décor and mouth-watering prime meats served traditional South American churrascaria style—brought to your table on long skewers—truly satisfies the appetite for a cultural dining experience. The soup and salad bar has a strong Asian influence and is equally sumptuous. But there’s more. After dinner, stroll over to Bellini’s, La Fogata’s upscale lounge that offers a sexy, modern interior and a romantic outdoor patio, complete with waterfall. Lean back and look at the stars while sipping a Caipirinha, Brazil’s national cocktail. It’s a great alternative to the Mojito.


CLEARWATER—Tucked inside the Sandpearl Resort, a new luxury hotel on Clearwater Beach, you’ll find Caretta on the Gulf, a glamorous, AAA Four Diamond restaurant with an old-world elegance. Caretta offers expansive views of the Gulf, white linen tablecloths and a great menu that includes Red Snapper, Dry Aged New York Strip and Wild Florida Grouper. For a memorable romantic evening, request a table outdoors so you can enjoy the cool breezes as the sun melts into the horizon. For lighter fare, ask to see the Sushi, Ceviche and Raw Bar menu, which you can enjoy in the beautiful lounge with its highly polished wood floor. For a special private party, inquire about booking Caretta’s wine room, which offers an extensive collection of international wines.


ST. PETERSBURG—A colorful collection of bright blue umbrella-covered tables fills one corner of downtown St. Petersburg’s exclusive Beach Drive, which has a surprising cosmopolitan flair these days. One of the best places to take it all in is the Parkshore Grill’s popular sidewalk cafŽ, where diners have a perfect view of boats moored in the Vinoy Basin and the beautiful Museum of Fine Arts across the street. This is the ideal location for people watching. If you prefer to eat indoors, the restaurant also has an equally-attractive interior where a mahogany bar, waterfalls, mosaic tiles and a quieter atmosphere greet diners. The contemporary American cuisine featuring Beef Wellington, Grilled Rack of Lamb and Pan-Fried Grouper Cake, among other dishes, is highly praised and consistently mentioned in area top 10 lists.


TAMPA—For the absolute best view of Tampa Bay, grab your friends and head to the outdoor wraparound patio at Whiskey Joe’s, located right off the Courtney Campbell Causeway. Whiskey Joe’s has been around for years, but more recently took over the former Castaway Restaurant, noted for its rustic wood beamed ceiling and big dining room featuring sprawling views and booths adorned with seashells. Enjoy happy hour from 5-7 pm and 9-11 pm and Reggae music every Sunday.


DUNEDIN—Dunedin is unique in the Tampa Bay area with its tree-lined streets, boutiques, restaurants, restored bungalow homes and nearby waterfront all blending together to create a quaint, small town charm perfect for an afternoon or evening stroll. Best of all, you’ll find dining options that run the gamut from the award-winning, upscale Black Pearl with its gourmet menu to Casa Tina’s, perfect for great Mexican food. Don’t miss the eclectic and colorful Kelly’s, a place with definite attitude. Kelly’s sprawling establishment encompasses a restaurant, The Chic-a-Boom Room lounge and the Blur nightclub, famous for Drag Queen shows and Saturday night dance parties.


ST. PETERSBURG—For breathtaking, panoramic views of the Gulf of Mexico, nothing beats the Hurricane, the landmark restaurant in the charming village of Pass-A-Grille, a small oasis famous for its white sandy beaches, beautiful sunsets and quaint inns. The three-story Victorian-style Hurricane, directly across the street from the beach, is popular with locals and a great place to bring friends from out of town. For the ultimate in laid-back casual dining, select a table in the courtyard patio. Or, ask for a table inside—both the first floor Key West style dining room and the second floor Stormy’s offer tableside views of the Gulf. Along with a great meal, sip one of the Hurricane’s famous frozen drinks while you watch the speedboats and catch a spectacular sunset from the rooftop lounge.

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