Featured on WTSP’s Flavors of Tampa Bay, El Lago Ranchero serves Mexican fare amidst warm yellow walls and mission-style tiled archways. Waiters shuffle tamales, shrimp tacos, and fajitas—each paired with rice and beans—to tables inside the eatery or on a patio shaded with umbrellas. Guests can quell sweet cravings with fried ice cream and flan or sangria and margaritas as they try to find the courage to tell their date their second, secret middle name.
Bill Shumate's career as a restaurateur began in 1964 when he opened a small burger shack that catered to the hearty appetites of University of Oklahoma students. After spending the next several decades opening and operating eateries, Shumate decided that his next venture should somehow honor his burger roots. He partnered with Joanie Corneil in 2006 and developed a concept choosing the name Square 1 Burgers to reflect this full-circle journey. Unlike that original restaurant, though, Square 1 Burgers grew over the years, eventually expanding to several locations throughout west central Florida.
Although the concept was intended to be a return to basics, Square 1 isn't constrained by traditional conventions. Patties of Meyer's all-natural red Angus beef, Kobe, lamb, ground buffalo, and portobello mushroom caps all appear between the buns, providing a wealth of options to consider before even thinking about toppings. This eclectic spirit is also apparent in the menu's selection of appetizers, which includes everything from sun-dried tomato and artichoke hummus to homemade double-dipped onion rings. Even the milkshakes made with Blue Bell ice cream seem like faithful renditions of an American classic at first. However, the grown-up versions with Baileys, vodka, and Kahlua or brandy, cr?me de cacao continue to demonstrate Square 1 Burgers' playful spirit.
“I believe that if you’re not cooking with all five senses, you’re not cooking,” declares Derek Barnes in his feature for Sarasota’s Hot Chefs. It’s this maxim that earned him a lifetime of culinary achievement, starting with a four-year stint under the expertise of Emeril Lagasse and leading to a Zagat rating for his own restaurant and the title of semifinalist in the 2009 James Beard Awards. Derek channels these achievements into the innovative dishes he creates at his eponymous restaurant, which specializes in what he calls progressive American cuisine. That “progressive” moniker can mean a lot of things, whether it’s anointing a dish of foie gras with hazelnut honey and walnut streusel or braising a savory lamb shank in the tart flavors of lime and cilantro. Unlike a time-traveling Byzantine explorer, the chef doesn’t obsess over his plentiful spice cabinet, as the menu’s simple-grill selection serves up fresh cuts of steak, fish, and poultry in a simple, unadulterated form. Each flavor note finds its ideal complement in a wine list that features 100 bottles, many of which are available by the glass.
Ceviche Tapas Bar & Restaurant not only imports ingredients and products, but also recipes. With roots in northern Spain and Catalonia, these dishes come together on a menu of more than 100 hot and cold tapas selections, along with paella and cazuela. Paella, a widely varied rice dish cooked at length in a wide pot over open flame, can contain Serrano ham, scallops, pork, chorizo, and saffron rice the stunning golden hue of an alchemist's magazine advertisements. Though the restaurant spans multiple locations, each one presents guests with some charming element: a poolside patio at the Tampa location, a central tapas bar in Orlando, and a flamenco room in St. Petersburg. Meanwhile, no matter the location, events bring about live music and joviality, all supported by an ample list of Spanish and Portuguese wines.
Sarasota Bay Roasting Company's knowledgeable staff curate a gallery of savory sips including house-roasted coffees, loose-leaf teas, and specialty wines. Crafted in small, Ambex roaster batches before customers' eyes, custom bags of joe ($10.99+ for 12 oz.) keep drinkers alert during nights spent balancing checkbooks or days spent mowing bankers’ lawns for lower interest rates. Slather tongues in Costa Rican tarrazu, full-bodied, bold and sans the bitter bite, or let the Mexican high grown's intricate flavors jolt awake snooze-happy central nervous systems. Iced coffee options abound, which utilize a 16 hour cooling process to prevent bitterness. An assortment of organic fair-trade loose-leaf teas ($2.50+/ounce) coat mouths in fruits and florals including blooming-black-peony, blueberry-cheesecake, and banana-dulce-tisane. Sarasota Bay Roasting Company’s cellars house dozens of wine varieties, including specialty vintages ($9.99+). Wine sages stay on hand to help pair customers with fermented soul mates, and a taste testing ensures tongues know a merlot from a cabernet and a wine glass from a cleverly disguised bowl of chili.
Following a move from New York City, Mark Rebhan and his father Henry opened Alpine Steakhouse in 1975, considering it to be the next progression of a family tradition that dates back hundreds of years to the family’s roots in Germany. Today, 35 years after they cut the metaphorical ribbon, Mark and his newly employed son continue to operate the meat market and steak house by hand-cutting filet mignons, frying up free-range chicken, and crafting their own polish kielbasa and spicy Cajun sausage for hungry diners and unarmed nunchuck assassins. The father-son duo sources many of their meats from Karl Ehmer’s esteemed butcher shop, another family-run New York-based business with a long tradition of meticulous culinary care. True to the family roots, Alpine Steakhouse specializes in German dishes such as knockwurst and wiener schnitzel. The restaurant has also racked up accolades for its eccentric specialty, turducken, which caught the eyes and moistened the tongues of Guy Fieri and his crew on Food Network’s Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives. The delicacy is a Russian nesting doll of avian culinary favorites, with a boneless duck stuffed inside a boneless chicken, which is then stuffed inside a boneless turkey, all finished off with sausage-laden cornbread stuffing, spinach stuffing, parmesan, fresh garlic, andouille sausage, roasted bell peppers, and a silent prayer that someone, someday, will invent an edible kitchen sink. The behemoth bird takes 16 hours to cook, weighs in around 22 pounds, and has only been sighted in the wild twice.