In the world of Italian eating, few things pair with dinner as well as company. This is something Mama Mia's owner and head chef Joseph Franco takes to heart, and for more than a quarter century he has been striving to fill his restaurant with the best of both. Homemade pasta stuffed or tossed with Ovalini mozzarella, fresh basil, whipped ricotta, or South Florida seafood complete a mosaic of traditional Italian dining when set alongside stuffed meatballs and grandma's engraved lobster hammer. And for every entree there's a wine: reds and whites from Europe and America that line the walls on wooden racks.
Together these flavors, coupled with a breezy dining room and outdoor patio speckled in red and white, draw in guests. Mama Mia's has been host to the Miss Florida pageant as well as a range of other local events, including a special Valentine's Day celebration.
Eggs, ham, and bacon not only make a great start to the day, but also a fine end to it when they top Alley Cat Bar and Grill’s breakfast burger. It’s one of the bar’s many evening edibles, which range from local Gulf Coast oysters to Angus steaks or grilled chicken paired with housemade chimichurri sauce. The bar's cooks showcase their versatility, too, by preparing vegetarian-friendly main dishes such as pizzas crowned with spinach and Alfredo sauce.
These feasts unfold amid nightly entertainment, from 8-balls sinking into pool table pockets to big-screen TVs showing much-touted games. Throughout the week, guests can also croon karaoke, rock out to live bands, and groove to tunes spun by live DJs, rather than iPods wearing hoodies.
Seven days a week from 9 a.m. to 2 a.m., Downtown 28 fuels its motley mob of sports fans, pool sharks, and hookah-huffers with a menu of sizzling American pub grub accented with Tex-Mex flourishes. Nibble on zesty chicken wings ($7.95 for 10) or join jalapeños, bacon bits, sour cream, and inch-high mountaineers in an attempt to summit a heap of Texas cheese fries ($5). Large flat-screen TVs awash with stunning home runs and brutal croquet brawls keep diners enthralled as they wait for shrimp ceviche ($8) and Smokehouse burgers topped with bacon, barbecue sauce, and onion rings to converge on their table ($8). More voracious appetites may seek out the half roasted chicken, a rare breed of one-legged, one-winged bird typically found nesting in onion rings or fries ($14). A full bar drenches dry esophagi throughout an extended happy hour (noon to 8 p.m.) that generously bestows tequila to shot glasses ($3) and overflows tankards with import drafts ($3).
In a dining room decorated with Egyptian-inspired artwork, visitors to Exotic Bites enjoy a tableau of Mediterranean dishes that range from tender gyros to rich and creamy hummus. Warm pita wraps around sizzling shawarma, lamb kebabs, or kebah, a combination of minced beef, pine nuts, and ground lamb, and stuffed falafels are comprised of a crunchy chickpea patty filled with minced beef, chicken, or sautéed vegetables. The occasional tendrils of hookah smoke spiral into the air, spun from the lips of friends chatting at a table or reclining in a cushioned corner decorated with a vivid wall hanging. More hookah pipes line up against a wall shelf, spaced between the chalkboard menu of daily specials and framed pictures.
Voted "Best Bar" in 2011 by the New Times, Whiskey Tango All American Bar & Grill whets appetites with an eclectic menu of dishes inspired by America's culinary topography. Chef Elliott’s spaghetti sandwich gives dizzy forks a whirling respite with its buttery loaf of toasted garlic bread stuffed with juicy chicken, mozzarella, tomato sauce, and cascading ringlets of spaghetti ($8.95). Pursed lips can slurp spoonfuls of Georgia sweet vidalia onion soup, crowded with caramelized slivers of vidalia petals and capped with melted cheddar cheese ($5.95) before bare teeth shred tender morsels off a main course of St. Louis–style ribs ($13.95 for a half rack; $16.95 for a full rack). Like eating steak with chopsticks, the San Diego tuna nachos synthesize distinct food identities by topping fried wanton chips with slices of sushi-grade tuna cooked rare, seaweed salad, and pickled ginger ($13.95).
The aromas of spice-rubbed meats, curries, and simmering coconut milk mingle in Ginger Bay Cafe's dining room, giving visitors a taste of the tropics as soon as they enter. These vibrantly complex scents only grow stronger when orders arrive, such as plates of curried-chicken spring rolls with pineapple-ginger chutney, creole lobster, or jerk chicken with a secret blend of spices.
Inside the dining room, mottled orange and yellow walls evoke the look of an ocean sunset or really cool geometry book. The restaurant comes alive at night as live jazz bands and dance parties with reggae, R&B, and Caribbean soca rhythms echo throughout the space.