Rand Packer grew up in Southern California, but his love of food and surfing frequently drew him to Oaxaca, Mexico, where he explored the region’s culinary landscape by stopping at street vendors and tucked-away restaurants. The uniqueness of Oaxacan ingredients, combined with a decade of experience cooking in Hawaii under famed chef Roy Yamaguchi, eventually inspired him to open Mekenita Mexican Grille. There, Rand surprises diners with unexpected creations that fuse Mexican and Hawaiian influences, such as pineapple-plantain nachos with passion-fruit sour cream or wood-smoked pork burritos with pineapple-papaya salsa. Patrons can also customize their meals by taking a lap around the fresh-salsa bar or monogramming their plates.
At Splash! An Ocean Grill, sounds of satisfaction emanate from guests nibbling on seared lobster, fish, or steak just like the sounds of the sea lapping the shore. A bar, located in the middle of the dining room, glows blue as soft lights evoke an under-the-waves mood and guests sip on a sweet cocktail or full-bodied wine while checking out the wall-mounted photographs. It's these details that inspired the Tampa Tribune to exclaim, "…Seafood done so well," Tampa Bay Illustrated to say, "Splash! shines like a spinning lure," and a mermaid off the bay to lament, "Why can't I grow legs?"
Christopher Fuller found his calling at age 14. As a child, he split his time between the United States and the Dominican Republic, where he was drawn to Caribbean restaurants like a robot into a pit of hungry magnets. Calling upon these experiences, Fuller worked with chef Mike Webster to create a menu that fused elements of the Caribbean, Europe, and the United States, and The Gathering Place Wood-Fired Oven was born.
Three concepts sum up The Gathering Place's modus operandi: local ingredients, eco-friendly practices, and dishes prepared entirely in-house. Within the kitchen, chefs smoke pork, roast turkeys, and cure bacon with ingredients from businesses such as Providence Cattle Company. Their efforts gives rise to a mix of sandwiches and inventive appetizers, such as tender gator tails coated in house-made chipotle sauce. Locally sourced oak stokes the flames of a brick oven, which cooks pizzas and doubles as a sauna for retired spatulas.
Outside the kitchen, Fuller creates a dining atmosphere as eclectic as the menu. Live musicians perform on weekends, sending groovy sounds across a casual dining room and into more intimate alcoves. Seating options range from standard tables, to a patio, to dining surfaces made from barrels.
A wildly successful alternative to traditional day spas?its more than 300 locations blanket 36 states and half a dozen countries?Planet Beach Contempo Spa is a futuristic relaxation station where state-of-the-art machines administer all the spa and tanning services. These friendly automatons sometimes replace familiar treatments, as in the Luminous facial, a light-based service that delivers blemish-busting results similar to those of a conventional facial. But other equipment maps out new spa territory entirely: the Hydro-Derma Fusion chamber moisturizes the whole body with nutrient-rich steam in order to offset the effects of a dry climate or a rear-end collision with a salt truck. Other machines whiten teeth, spray tan skin, and massage muscles.
Planet Beach operates on a gym-style membership system, meaning that members purchase packages or pay flat monthly rates. As members spend more time at the spa, they get to know the helpful assistants who are always on hand to demonstrate how to use the equipment without activating its ability to cry.
The folks at Tampa Bay Organics believe that the only things needed to grow great produce are good dirt, warm sun, and clean water. But they also believe that everyone should be able to access high-quality food in an affordable way. That's why they create and deliver hand-assembled boxes of fresh produce to locals, which are full of fresh, organic, in-season fruits and vegetables. Depending on the time of year, contents can range from apples and plums to hearty rutabagas and snowman noses.
John Pappas didn’t know much English when he first arrived on American soil, but he did know the secrets of cooking excellent Greek cuisine. The native Greek passed on his recipes and expert techniques to his son Nicholas, who would go on to open his own Mediterranean restaurant—Greek City Cafe.
Deep in his restaurant’s kitchen, Nicholas and his chefs fold juicy meats and fresh vegetables into a variety of Greek-inspired paninis, wraps, and salads. They layer pitas with juicy slices of shaved lamb and beef before adding dollops of flavorful tzatziki and creamy greek dressing. To craft specialty pizzas, the chefs shower soft pita shells in mixed cheeses, diced tomatoes, and grilled chicken. When discussing these dishes with a reporter from Westchase Patch, Nicholas explained, “We take a mainstream item and put a Greek twist to it. I make them feel comfortable, but when they taste it they realize they've never experienced that flavor.”
In the casual dining room, where sunlight streams onto soft blue and green walls, guests can linger over their last bites of these inventive eats before ordering desserts such as baklava. Countertop seating surrounds a lush olive tree in the center of the room, which was imported from Greece and lives off of sunlight and Greek wine.