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.
The snarling mouth of a coal-fired oven dubbed “The Wolf” chars the crusts of Bocca Lupo’s pizzas and calzones to a crunchy golden-brown. The pizzeria’s no-frills menu boasts eight specialty pizzas, including a spinach and ricotta combination ($14 for a 14"; $17 for an 18") and a meatball pie loaded with fresh mozzarella ($14 for a 14"; $18 for an 18"). Patrons can watch chefs hand stretch pizza dough across a custom-made marble slab before topping it with ricotta, mozzarella, and romano cheeses ($12) along with extras such as anchovies or sun-dried tomatoes ($1.50 each). While the main course bakes on glowing coals, platefuls of garlic fries ($4.50) temper belly growls and keep freeloading vampires at bay. For dessert, diners can sit in the glow of the coal fire and recount ghost stories around a s’mores pizza crowned with marshmallows, chocolate, and a crumbly garland of graham crackers ($7).
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.
Closer to the Vine's menu of café fare collects an assortment of light bites, sandwiches, coffee, and microbrews. Customers can scarf down a vegan panini filled with hummus and marinated portobello mushrooms ($7.95) or savor a smoked-salmon plate accompanied by cream cheese, cucumbers, and capers ($9.95). For patrons with reservations on Friday and Saturday evenings, beer-based cheddar fondue ($10) awaits dips from fresh vegetables, and semi-sweet chocolate fondue ($15) coats the bittersweet reminiscences of granny smith apples. As they sink into sofas or admire Floridian sunsets from an outdoor perch, diners can wash down solid grub with pours of wine from the diverse menu including selections from New Zealand, Chile, and Napa Valley, or opt for a microbrew, cup of coffee, or tea. In addition to offering complimentary WiFi, Closer to the Vine hosts local musicians every Friday and Saturday night and always welcomes visits from canine companions with water bowls, treats, and scratch 'n' sniff translations of the Wall Street Journal.
The culinary crew at Torch Bistro crafts a fusion menu filled with American bistro fare and Japanese dishes, which pair with eclectic cocktails mixed by the dexterous bartending staff. The eatery grabs diners’ attention with hearty entrees such as a shrimp and scallop duet ($16), a slow-roasted beef pot roast ($13), and an apple-bourbon-roasted half duck accompanied by carrots and parsnips ($17). Showing a passion for things flat and flour-based, Torch also hauls out four different BLTs ($7–$8) and an equal number of stuffed crêpes including the cordon-bleu crêpe filled with black forest ham, roasted chicken, and swiss cheese ($7). Torch’s bar staff pours a sassy selection of drinks, rumtinis, and after-dinner coffees spiked with irish whiskey ($4) or accurately aimed volleyballs.
The blonde wood paneling and walls of windows thrown open to the sea-enriched air make the interior of Porto Bello look more like an enchanting island retreat than an Italian and American eatery. The menu, however, keeps the experience firmly grounded in the old world, with such delights as braised short ribs in green onion crepes, gnocchi, and chicken marsala. The chefs embrace local flavors, as well, with Cajun-spiced shrimp and the catch of the day, an ever-changing helping of fresh Gulf fish.
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.