If 2011 left a bad taste in your mouth, there's something you can do to change it.
Namely, make 2012 a more flavorful year than the one we're about to leave behind.
You owe it to yourself. Your taste buds are valuable real estate. The food that passes over them costs money, and you deserve as many interesting flavors as your interest and wallet can muster.
Here are our suggestions for grub that is not only worth the drive but more than worthy of your consumption.
Think of it as your eating agenda for the year. One fascinating flavor a month. That's all we ask.
1. Coconut-lime gourmet ice pops by Whatever Pops. Sold at farmers markets in Wiregrass, Hyde Park and Seminole Heights, the pops are a refreshing alternative to the syrupy, overly sugared frozen pops you get at the grocery. These healthy pops make you want to change your lifestyle. Maybe take up yoga, grow an orchid. That kind of thing.
2. Crispy, Panko-crusted crab cakes with jicama apple slaw and chipotle mayo at Beachwood BBQ & Burger inside the Postcard Inn on St. Pete Beach. We've eaten enough soggy-bread-filled crab cakes in beach restaurants to know this is the real deal. The crust, made with Japanese bread crumbs, and smoky chipotle spice had us rolling our eyes and moaning with pleasure. We know this because of the stares from other customers. .
3. Rib dog with mustard barbecue sauce on white bread at Carter's Bar-B-Que in Mulberry. Take a soft bite, slide the rib meat off the bone and you have a delicious, surprising, mustard-flavored sandwich. Definitely worth the drive from Tampa or Brandon. Or California..
4. Hummingbird Cupcake at Crumb de la Crumb Bakery in Valrico. Traditionally made with banana, pineapple, cinnamon and pecan, this cream-cheese-frosted cupcake is a Southern tradition with Jamaican roots. As one friend recently said, "This cupcake is so good, I want to cry."
5. Italian BLT with pancetta, tomato and lemon mayo at Bianchi's Enoteca in South Tampa. This pressed panini is crazy crunchy and so very satisfying. Ask about the wine pairing. You won't be disappointed.
6. "Indie" grilled cheese sandwich at The Independent Bar and Café in Tampa. One of the area's great nighttime hangout spots, the Independent makes its sandwich with pears sautéed in honey and creamy gouda that oozes from between slices of pressed rye bread. So intoxicating is the creamy flavor, you may want to call a cab for the ride home.
7. Duck tacos at Besa Grill in Clearwater. The caramelized onions, mango, Napa cabbage, currant chocolate mole and queso fresco combine for flavors that are deep and rich, yet fresh and creamy. Go for a side of guac. And another order of tacos.
8. Cuban burger at BGR, The Burger Joint in Carrollwood. All of the expected Cuban sandwich flavors are here – tangy pickles, moist, roasted pork, salty ham and creamy Swiss cheese – only with a humongous burger attached. Is it traditional Cuban food? No. Do we care? Not in the least.
9. Corn fritters at Holy Hog Barbeque in West Tampa. Dainty fried bites of sweet corn dusted with powdered sugar … we dare you to eat just one batch. Dare. You. It's the kind of thing food trucks were born to serve. Hint. Hint. Hint.
10. Calimari sautéed and served in lemon, butter and garlic sauce at Pia's Trattoria in Gulfport. We normally eat our calamari sliced into fried rings. Imagine our surprise when this sautéed version was both tender and lemony fresh. Sort of makes you wonder what else shouldn't be fried.
11. Strawberry Rhubarb pie at Yoder's Restaurant in Sarasota. Jaw-clenching tangy-sweet with a flaky top-crust sprinkled with sugar, a Gibraltar-size slice of this Amish-baked dessert will keep you awake for the ride home.
12. Macarons at Cake City in Clearwater. Word is that the macaron is the new cupcake. Why pit baked goods against each other? All are equally delicious in the eyes of the baking gods. Except these delicate creatures come in such flavors as pina colada, tres leches, pumpkin and pistachio. Which makes them, for the puposes of this paragraph, better than cupcakes. So there.