Thursday, September 18, 2014

Creative Loafing’s Best of the Bay 2014

Last night we went to Creative Loafing’s Best of the Bay Awards Party.  We scored 2 tickets for only $20 through LivingSocial (normally $40).  Each year, Creative Loafing publishes a special issue featuring Tampa Bay’s best restaurants, businesses, and people for that year.  My favorite section is the Reader’s Poll, which shows what all the CL readers voted for each category (which starts on page 90 of this digital edition). 

The party last night was at The Coliseum in St. Petersburg – I had never been there before, but what an incredible venue!  It is a huge ballroom built in the 1920’s with a beautiful arched ceiling.  It was featured in the 1985 sci-fi movie Cocoon (along with the shuffleboard courts across the street). 
The Awards Party tickets including sampling of various foods & drinks.  We weren’t sure how much we’d end up eating since it was advertised as just samples, but there were so many small bites that we actually filled up fast. 

I think our favorite food from the night was the peanut butter stuffed cookie from Gigi’s Cupcakes!  I discovered a new bakery & pizzeria called The Bake – which is right down the road from us so sure I’ll head there soon (they had amazing donut samples).  Mad Dogs & Englishmen was serving samples of their bangers & mash.  Shell’s Seafood gave out generous portions of clam chowder.  One of the best ice cream companies, Revolution, was there sampling their Eurotrash flavor (made with Nutella and Biscoff cookies).  Anise Global Gastrobar had Boozy Brownies with Rye Whiskey and Blood Orange Liquor.  Ashworth Artisan Chocolate had all sorts of sweet goodies, including crème brûlée and PB&J truffles and pumpkin pie fudge.  CD Roma, Spaghetti Warehouse, and The Bake all had meatball samples, which was a little overkill for me (I do like meatballs, but a bit more variety would have been nice).  And Pipo’s had a Cuban rice dish – I wish they’d done plantains or a meat dish, but I guess the rice is easiest to feed a crowd.
Jerk Hut’s line was actually so long that we didn’t end up getting a sample (but we’ve eaten there before and it’s great Jamaican food).  Looking back, we somehow also missed the pimento cheese crostini samples from Sono Café and whatever Maggie on the Move was handing out.

There were also a few drink sample stations – New Belgium Brewing had their Fat Tire and Ranger beers.  Cuestion Tequila gave out half shots (which was more than enough for me).  Kahwa Coffee had free coffee (with it being a night event I only had a little bit to dip my peanut butter stuffed cookies.) And Swami Juice gave tastes of their healthy fruit and veggie juices (I liked the one with carrot, orange, apple, ginger, turmeric & cinnamon). 

The longest drink line was for Roux’s Pink Fairy drink – made with Florida Cane vodka, Pernod Absinthe, St. Germaine Elderflower, lime, coconut water, and blueberries.  We actually did wait in that line a few times since that drink worth it.  It took longer than the other drink lines since they weren’t pre-made – the bartender was meticulously handcrafting the cocktail, muddling blueberries, and straining the drinks into sample cups. 
They had a photo booth set up that printed out free pictures, so we grabbed some goofy props and took a few photos (although it really didn’t give any idea of timing, so we messed up our last photo moving around).  Dunedin Fine Arts Center also had models walking around in elaborate tree costumes. 

The event was a bit too loud to actually hear the announcements of this year’s winners, but we took home a copy of the new CL Best of the Bay issue which outlined everything. 
Here are some of the highlights from the Reader’s Poll (although there are WAY more categories than I have shown, so check out the full list):

Best All-Around Restaurant: The Refinery (runners up: Pinky’s and Datz)

Best New Restaurant: Rooster & The Till (runners up: Il Ritorno & Bodega on Central)

Best Bargain Restaurant: Taco Bus (runners up: Bodega on Central & El Cap)

Best Splurge Restaurant: Bern’s Steakhouse (runners up: Eddie V’s Prime Seafood & Mise en Place)

Best Downtown Tampa Restaurant: Anise Global Gastrobar (runners up: Fly Bar & Bamboozle Café)

Best Seminole Heights Restaurant: The Refinery (runners up: Ella’s Americana Folk Art Café & Rooster & The Till)

Best Ybor City Restaurant: The Columbia (runners up: The Bricks of Ybor & Stone Soup Company)

Best Soho/Hyde Park Restaurant: Piquant (runners up: Daily Eats & Datz)

Best Downtown St. Pete Restaurant: Bellabrava (runners up: Red Mesa & The Moon Under Water)

Best Dunedin Restaurant: Casa Tina (runners up: Dunedin Brewery & Kelly’s)

Best Safety Harbor Restaurant: Whistle Stop Grill (runners up: Green Springs Bistro & Southern Fresh)

Best Gulf Beaches Restaurant: Salt Rock Grill (runners up: Frenchy’s & Guppy’s on the Beach)

Best Farm-to-Table Restaurant: The Refinery (runners up: Boca & Rooster & The Till)

Best Vegetarian Restaurant: Meze 119 (runners up: Leafy Greens Café & Café Hey)

Many of the food & drink winners are places that I’m already familiar with, but there are a few new restaurants and bars I’m excited to try out!  I’m sure you’ll see a lot of them featured on the upcoming blog posts…

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