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Central Cafe

Do you ever look up after season has passed and say, "Let’s take a drive up the road now that the traffic has finally slowed"—maybe stop for a cocktail at a new spot, or visit somewhere you've missed going to during the rush from November-April.

Well, it didn't take me more than a week after Easter to hop in the car and drive up to an old favorite: Central Café in Bradenton. It tends to fly under the radar, but make no mistake: since its beginnings a decade ago, it has been a destination for this foodie.

Central Café reminds me of the great casual spots you would find in Burlington, Vermont, or Boulder, Colo., with its exposed brick and cool, hip vibe. But it's not trying to be cool, it just is. After all, when you serve up dishes like charred octopus with pickled barbecue sauce and herbed garlic butter, you're on to something.

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Don't miss the fries.

If you cannot stay away from French fries, be warned—you'll want two orders (with malt vinegar, please). Central Cafe cooks up some of the best fries I have ever devoured. Pair them with a hefty burger, thick and juicy, with gooey cheese melting down a buttery bun. Screw the diet—I'm here for this. There's also a steak of the evening, featuring a chef's choice cut, as well as a fish special.  

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Beet medley salad

On a healthier note, the beet medley salad—with candy cane, golden and red beets, pickled egg, arugula, dried cranberries and candied nuts—was delicious, especially with the green goddess-style dressing.

And then there's always the pizza option. I say go for the charcuterie one, with ham, salami, bacon and pepperoni. Sounds like a simple meat pizza; tastes like an impressive charcuterie of highly procured meats.

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Boozy berry lemonade

Libations are trendy and hand-crafted, like the bloody beer and boozy berry lemonade.

And P.S., while you are checking out this Manatee Avenue gem, pop into Drago's next door for authentic Cuban coffees, ice cream and on another jaunt, perhaps a Cuban sandwich. I'll travel north for both of these eateries any day.

Central Cafe | 906 Manatee Ave. E., Bradenton | (941) 757-0050

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