In 1985, Sean Murphy and pastry-chef wife Susan converted a shacky old beach store into a fine-dining restaurant right smack on the sand on romantic Anna Maria island. The place has been collecting awards ever since. A born host and raconteur, Murphy brings a big personality and exuberant obsession to the intimate, refined restaurant. The cuisine experience is a realization of his vision of what spectacular land and sea food (foie gras, domestic lamb, a wildly luxurious bouillabaisse and Floribbean grouper) ought to be at a coastal Florida restaurant.
In 1986, chef Jean-Pierre Knaggs and his wife Shay revamped a dilapidated downtown gas station across from the opera house into a white bungalow with a French-inflected menu. He eventually expanded from seating for 40 to 140 in three just-formal-enough dining rooms. With a South African/French heritage, he introduced local diners to South African wines, chilled soups, pommes gratin dauphinois, shrimp piri piri, chicken paillard, all on a menu that is refreshingly continental-eclectic. Many businesspeople and city dwellers think of the Bijou Café (and its intimate little bar) as their own club, but it’s a popular tourist spot, too.
The original, which specializes in traditional Cuban and Spanish dishes, was established in Tampa’s Ybor City by a Cuban immigrant in 1905, and this sister restaurant opened on international St. Armands Circle in 1959, making it the oldest restaurant on our list. Casual and carefree during the day, the restaurant is jazzy and glamorous at night. Some of the formally dressed Latin waiters have tended to tourists and locals for decades. House-blended sangria, of course, black bean soup, paella a la Valencia, hot Cuban bread, hearty plates of ropa vieja. The signature 1905 salad made tableside with Latin theatricality is a must.
In 1980, owner/chef Raymond Arpke and wife D’Arcy bought this Longboat Key cottage from the original owner, who had named the place for his grandmother. Over the years, the Arpkes have added a separate upstairs room for extravagant desserts and treetop lounge with bar food. And they’ve styled the cottage to maximize its eclectic charm and intimacy. The continental menu celebrates classics such as veal sweetbreads Grenobloise, crisp roasted duck, Key West snapper and Grecian lamb shank. The accomplished service, wine list and ambiance combine with the food to invite guests to appreciate how pleasurable the ritual of relaxed fine dining can be.
This sophisticated destination for contemporary American cuisine is always being influenced by the global-travel passion of founder Michael Klauber. Since 1987 he and partner Phil Mancini have collected a string of prestigious national awards for the extraordinary wine cellar, talented chefs, dining room that could be the inside of a swanky ocean liner, big catered ballroom events, and off-site catering too. These consummate professionals navigate every aspect of operations and still manage to walk the room and personally chat with guests. This restaurant defines every aspect of hospitality.