When brothers Daniel and Douglas Casey were growing up in Chicago, their dad took them on special trips to local diners. After he passed away, they founded MadFish inside a spacious Chicago train car—complete with a black-and-white checked diner floor—as their tribute to him, and as a throwback to travelers who used to come to the area via train. They’ve dialed up that diner vibe by adding interior saltwater tanks and tossing white cloths across the tables.
Chef Chris works with fresh, local seafood and prepares plenty of fine-dining steak specialties, including Angus prime rib paired with aged gorgonzola blue cheese and showered with bacon-wrapped shrimp. But there are also casual dishes and regular specials, including a daily $9.99 early-bird deal that includes salad, dinner, iced tea or coffee, and key-lime pie. The team also has fun with desserts. The deep-fried Snickers bar, for example, is lavished with raspberry topping, Belgian chocolate, whipped cream, and powdered sugar, then sprinkled with purple sugar crystals. It turns a “fair type of dessert into a five-star dessert,” says Douglas, adding that they also serve vanilla-bean shakes and hot, homemade cookies on 45-record racks.
Chef Chuck draws upon a degree from the New England Culinary institute while presiding over Silas’ creole-inspired spreads of seafood, po boys and burgers, and house-cut steaks. Brandish gleaming cutlery to slice into thick chops such as the slow-roasted 16-ounce prime rib ($21.99) or the 8-ounce filet mignon ($24.99). The spicy creole seafood pasta invites diners to dig into a feast decorated with maritime morsels of shrimp, clams, mussels, and fresh fish like a love letter from Poseidon ($12.99); the pasta primavera pairs tongue-tickling tendrils with sun-soaked summer veggies ($8.99). The shrimp po boy surrounds a coterie of six jumbo shrimp, which cooks blacken or fry depending on customer preference ($6.99).
When searching for the perfect place to open up their new eatery, Fish Tales Seafood & Steak House owners Dan and Peggy Wesner got all the way to the edge of the ocean, threw up their arms, and said, "good enough." Today, their endeavor has paid off, and diners from near and far come to feast on the restaurant's flaky fish sandwiches. Each day, the kitchen releases its bounty of freshly caught whitefish and tuna onto plates, serving it in steak, fillet, or sandwich form. Chefs also assemble steak, chicken, and salmon into skillets, which arrive to tables chock-full of potatoes, tomatoes, onions, and green beans.
Fish Tale’s marina-side location attracts visitors from water and land, with room to dock your sailboat or warmongering naval flotilla. Wooden benches and tiki accoutrements adorn the dining room, and bartenders at the eatery’s two waterfront bars dispense a bevy of frosty brews.
Gigi's Italian Restaurant is a family-owned eatery that has been injecting diners with the recommended dose of pizza, pasta, and parmigiana since 1967. Initiate meal time with appetizers such as the calamari, lightly fried to crispy resistance ($8), or Gigi's bruschetta, a toasty platform topped with fresh tomatoes, zesty snips of red onion, and dewed by balsamic vinegar and olive oil ($7). The specialty brick oven pizzas tempt taste seekers with the minimalist pizza margherita ($14.17 for a medum) and Gigi's special, an ensemble of pepperoni, mushrooms, onion, sausage, and green pepper peacefully playing culinary bocce ball within the boundaries of a thin-crusted circumference ($21.94 for a medium). Gigi's dinner menu represents the full gamut of authentic Italian favorites, including creamy pasta carbonara ($12), chicken piccata sautéed in a lemony garlic sauce ($15), and eggplant a la parmigiana, where slices of thick, breaded and fried eggplant are crowned with Gigi's sauce and accompanied by a hearty portion of pasta ($14). Pair plates with beer and wine, or a libation from the full liquor bar at the South Pasadena and St. Petersburg locations.
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.
Dale Del Bello remembers everything about his first hibachi experience. While stationed in Korea as a part of the Air Force National Guard, Dale and a group of friends visited Tokyo on leave. They followed a traditional route among his fellow service people, which took him to a hibachi restaurant. Immediately he sensed that he’d stumbled upon more than just dinner. The chefs’ showmanship fascinated him as they seared meats and vegetables on their tabletop grills, allowing guests to sample forkfuls directly off the 600-degree surface. After returning to Buffalo, New York, in 1971, Dale opened his first Arigato location, attempting to recreate what made that dining experience so remarkable. Since then, he has distilled the authentic experience into something that families can enjoy without traveling abroad, establishing Arigato restaurants throughout New York and Florida and staffing them with more than 60 chefs from Japan.
Surrounded by 8–10 diners, these chefs act not only as the restaurant’s culinary creators, but also as showmen and magicians of sorts, dexterously slicing ingredients, flipping shrimp tails into their hats, and conjuring soy sauce out of thin air. Away from the flaming tabletops, meanwhile, bartenders make use of their own skill sets as they mix specialty cocktails, which occasionally use splashes of plum wine or sake to imbue familiar-sounding drinks with new dimension.