Soft lights tumble from the crystal chandeliers of Empress Tea Room & Bistro, landing on white table linens and glinting off delicate bone-china sets as diners soak up the sights and smells. The restaurant hosts visitors for lunch throughout the week as well as during Saturday high-tea sessions and Sunday brunch hours. In addition to the elegant main dining room, Empress welcomes guests into an interior garden room, which surrounds them with murals of vines. After perusing the lunch menu, visitors can enjoy specialties such as the Anna Cordelia sandwich with smoked turkey, cranberry, and melted brie, or the vegetable quiche with seasonal vegetables and cheeses. WiFi access and board games are also available to provide entertainment for diners.
Bangkok Jazz Thai Restaurant is all about unexpected pairings. Thai statues stand alongside saxophones and photos of jazz legends hanging from the walls. In the dining room, a small raised stage creates an intimate performance space in the midst of a casual dining environment, with free live jazz performances on Fridays after 6:30 p.m. And amid the quintessentially American music comes a parade of traditional Thai cuisine. Outdoor seating is available, and the restaurant is located is down the street from the University of South Florida.
Like an aromatic dance, servers nimbly carry plates piled with five kinds of curry, pad thai, and signature dishes such as Jazz Sextet: a bed of pineapple and sauteed veggies in special sweet and sour sauce. Nearby, bartenders pour wine, beer, and sake to complement the food, which the kitchen can prep at four levels of spiciness. But meals often end on a chilly note, and another memorable combination. Bangkok Jazz Thai Restaurant ice cream teams a fried banana with a generous mound of coconut ice cream, sourced from the frozen palm trees that grow in Antarctica.
Drawing on culinary insights gleaned over 20 years of refining family recipes, the cooks at Antonio's Pasta Grille fill plates with sauce-draped pasta dishes and pizzas built on homemade dough. As they dip freshly baked bread into herb-infused oil, diners can stare wistfully at a mural depicting rolling hills, stone bridges, and wars between groups of talking animals from young-adult novels.
A careful combination of spices serve as the foundation of every dish at Cilantro Indian Cuisine. Each dish starts off with a base layer of coconut or lemon rice or a choice of Indian flatbreads. They then begin stewing, grilling, and simmering meat or veggie options in flavorful sauces that employ their signature spice blends. These include the vegetarian aloo gobhi masala—potatoes and cauliflower cooked with tomatoes, peppers, and fresh herbs—as well as the saffron-seasoned goat biryani and the spicy chicken vindaloo. Like the best Shakespeare plays, some dishes pair together meat and veggies in a starring role; try varieties such as the lamb and spinach in a creamy sauce.
Located in the Sherwood Forest Shopping Center, Old World Cheese Shop, a longtime staple of the area, forges freshly sliced feasts from food and folklore. The Robin Hood cold sandwich ($6.75) robs from the kitchen and gives to the stomach with delicious ham and turkey, crisp bacon, cheese, and golden dressing stacked between three slices of pumpernickel bread, while the Sir Galahad steamed sandwich ($6.75) is a gallant warrior of roast pork, cheese, and sweet-pepper jelly served hot on an onion roll. Those hungry for tie-dye-tinted trips into the subconscious may opt for the Pita Fhonda pita ($5.95), featuring Old World Cheese Shop's acclaimed tuna salad.
Cooking always came naturally to Sunita Chheda. When she wasn’t frolicking through the bustling avenues of Bombay with her seven brothers and sisters, Sunita was in the kitchen, learning the ins and outs of traditional Goan cooking from her mother. Today, Sunita brings her family’s time-honored recipes and her lifetime of Indian cooking experience to her own restaurant—Saffron Indian Cuisine.
Sunita’s kitchen is flooded with the aromas of ginger, coconut, and freshly ground herbs as she folds fresh meat, seafood, and vegetables into the traditional dishes lauded by reporters from the New Tampa Neighborhood News. The nimble chef simmers pans of creamy butter chicken and spicy goan fish curries before darting over to the clay oven to check on the baking naan. Sunita even offers a kids’ menu featuring youngster-friendly specialties such as french fries and invisible curry for invisible friends. Servers bring her still-steaming dishes out into the sunlit dining room, where a vivid mural of the Taj Mahal stretches across the wall.