Legend has it that during a high-stakes poker game, Johnny Leverock threw down the winning hand and won a 7-acre Tampa Bay oyster bed. The bed held a surplus of oysters—15,000 bushels a year—leading Johnny to open up his own oyster bar in 1948, which served the seafood-centric recipes his wife Bertha had perfected. Years later, new owners dubbed the eatery Leverock’s Restaurant in homage to the man, keeping the same clam-chowder recipe served on the original menu in 1948. Other standouts include sesame-seed-crusted mahi-mahi, north Atlantic snow crab, and housemade bread pudding. In line with the maritime theme, oversize fish hang from the ceiling in the dining room, and floor-to-ceiling windows provide panoramic views of Palm Island and the Intracoastal Waterway.
Visani Restaurant & The Comedy Zone set the stage for comedians from throughout the United States to fill the rows with uproarious laughter every Saturday night. Guests can munch on an appetizer platter of mini meatballs, fried mozzarella, and bruschetta before a main course of hard-boiled comedy is served at 10 p.m., which leaves ample time to warm up guffaws throughout the day. Upcoming acts include Tony Tone, an impressionist who has appeared on HBO's Def Comedy Jam and Cedric the Entertainer's DVD The Starting Line Up 1, and James Sibley, an observational comedian who has appeared on My Name Is Earl. Unlike an elitist ATM, the 200-seat theater operates on a first-come, first-served basis, so reservations are recommended.
At Sweet Cravings, dairy denizens crown cones with scoops of Working Cow ice cream, a local company that hand-blends confections in small batches. The aroma of sizzling batter inundates the cheerful, yellow-walled shop as the staff whips up fresh waffle cones. Sweet Cravings's old-fashioned batch freezers preserve the palate-pleasing smoothness of such premium ice-cream flavors as butter pecan, carrot cake, and fudge brownie delight. Soy-based ice cream and italian ice sate the sweet-tooth cravings of the dairy-free sector, and sugar-free scoops and frozen yogurt keep waistlines trim for graceful dives through rapidly closing elevator doors.
If you don't know where you are in the U.S., buying a local hot dog might help you find out. Cities from Chicago to New York each put their own stamp on the uniquely American food. Fortunately, you don’t need to get lost on a hitchhiking tour of the country to experience them all. For their menu of signature dogs, the grill masters at Mad Dogs Hot Dogs assembled more than 20 of their favorites from across the nation. They add an extra kick to the Seattle Splitter with jalapenos and BBQ sauce, while crowning the Arkansas Turkey Dog with mozzarella and balsamic dressing.
Of course, they also customize their franks for those not bound to geographical formulas. To create their own meal, customers begin by selecting a dog from 13 options, including bacon-wrapped dogs and the foot-long, half-pound "Monster." Then, they choose from 20 complementary toppings, such as spicy mustard and neon relish, before getting really adventurous with 21 additional toppings that include roast beef and cream cheese.
Behind their teppanyaki grilling stations, chefs at Kumo Japanese Steakhouse & Sushi flip lobster tails, filet mignon, and shrimp through the air as diners look on. A short distance away from the hibachi flames, chefs at the sushi bar craft fresh hand rolls based on local catches, such as the cape coral maki with salmon, tuna, and avocado, and the Top of the World roll with yellowtail, scallion, and cucumber. Staffers pour hot and cold sake and imported beer for patrons to quaff when not digging into a noodle bowl. The dining area’s decor teems with Asian accents such as bamboo shoots, a zen-garden-inspired rock wall, and a zen-garden-inspired ball pit.
Owners Ines Josupeit and chef James King join culinary forces at Table 209, a bistro tucked into the historical buildings and sunny harbor walk of Punta Gorda. James brings his 20 years of experience working in kitchens throughout San Francisco, Seattle, and Portland to the restaurant, cobbling fresh seafood, prime meats, and seasonal ingredients into innovative gourmet dishes. Every Monday night, Ines grabs the culinary baton, pulling from her own German heritage to simmer up an authentic menu of traditional German sausages and potato pancakes. Out in the dining room, local artwork festoons the walls, as guests sit around white tablecloths, illuminated by flickering candles that stop passing cavemen dead in their tracks. Outside in the patio, glimmering strands of hanging lights cascade above rows of tabletops and lush plants.