It’s hard for us to pick a favorite from Mandeville Beer Garden’s appetizers menu—from the waffle-cut sweet potato fries with lime and cilantro to the fresh-fried (still popping!) pork rinds with Sriracha—but the fresh pretzel bites with beer cheese (above; $9) have become our ravenous go-to. The warm, salty, pillowy pretzel nubs come not only with a hearty portion of beer cheese for dipping, but also with a sweet-and-tangy mustard and, if you’re really feeling indulgent, some straight-up butter. It’s almost enough to make you forget your beer—temporarily at least.
Last week we discovered a little hole in the wall in a small shopping center at the intersection of Webber and Beneva. Cevichef only seats about 25 people in a space that looks like a well-worn family kitchen. A clock on the wall says 8:45 no matter what time it is, and there’s a gumball machine that may have been left over from another tenant. So what—the food is sublime. The ceviche ($10.50-$12; oddly served in what looked like an ice cream glass) is refreshing and snappy with lime and cilantro and full of perfectly marinated fish chunks. Good sangria, too. We’ll go back.
At least once a month we head to Gulf Gate for a chicken parm sub ($6.50 for a small, $8.50 for a large) at Piccolo Italian Market & Deli. With its tender breaded chicken cutlets, homemade red sauce, melty mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses, and fresh-baked Italian bread, it’s the epitome of chicken parm-ness. And to top it all off, the owners and staff make you feel like family and seem grateful for your business.
If you’re searching for authentic Peruvian flavor in Manatee County, look no further than El Warike. We trekked to Bradenton to try the corvina rellena ($19.99) off the Chef’s Recommendations menu—saltwater fish stuffed with succulent crab meat and served with shrimp, broccoli and potato in a creamy mushroom sauce. And if that’s not enough, the plate comes with yucca fries, fried plantains and a small salad with homemade dressing.
Yes, we were skeptical, but now we are true believers: the goat cheese apple risotto at Tommy Bahama not only works, but is the perfect comfort food—especially when paired with Tommy Bahama’s rich barbecue ribs. The tangy goat cheese, tart Granny Smith apples and creamy risotto are perfect partners. $5 for a (very large) side order.