Fine dining in Florida can be found among retail shelves and aisles of stores.
More and more Floridians with a taste for good food dine among the shelves and aisles of retailers from booksellers to fishmongers, delis and, once again, department stores.
Dining in a store tearoom or cafe with pinafored service of chicken salads and date nut bread with a favorite aunt is a fading memory. The reality expired with the move to the suburbs and the disappearance of Burdines, Maas Bros. and other beloved names. Instead, the shopping mall offered food court menus of pizza, pretzels and fast food Chinese plus a ring of outparcel chain restaurants.
Now a counter-movement has prompted a growing number of stores, some with no food inventory at all, to bring back in-store cafes upgraded with smarter cuisine and signature celebrity chefs and brands.
Mazzaro’s Italian Market
[Photos: Chip Litherland/Tampa Bay Times]
The patio at Mazzaro's Italian Market in St. Petersburg, Florida.
Hundreds crowd the counter at Mazzaro’s, ordering everything from fresh-sliced sandwiches to inch-thick pork chops with eggplant caponata. Lunch-hour office crews join bargain-hunting snowbirds in a big screened patio or the espresso bar between the bread oven and the olive oil racks.
Cafe Bistro-- Nordstrom
Department store dining returned big time with the arrival of Nordstrom, where the cafe has become a Cafe Bistro in many Florida stores, with an open kitchen/grill and a large crew of chefs and cooks. Diners must stand in line to order and sit and wait for food, but they do so in large numbers for the likes of asparagus risotto and bistro steak frites (with olive dip) as well as arugula salads, club sandwiches and crab bisque.
Petrossian Rendez-- Vous Bloomingdale’s
For caviar in a department store, go to the third floor of Bloomingdale’s in Boca Raton. You could go to Bloomie’s own Forty Carrots, but the richest eating is at the Petrossian Rendez-Vous cafe. Petrossian serves smoked salmon, foie gras and caviar; salads and light fare can be had for under $20, but fine osetra can cost hundreds, garnished with egg, toast points, vodka and Champagne.
Greek salad at Figs
Figs -- Macy's
At Macy’s in Palm Beach Gardens, Boston superstar chef Todd English has a branch of his Figs on the first floor. The menu is casual Mediterranean, mixing light dishes with handcrafted rusticity, from roasted beet salads to crusty fig and prosciutto pizza. In New York, Macy’s has food trucks run by celeb chefs in a triple trend collision.
Books and Books
While Barnes & Noble and the late Borders incorporated coffee bar menus, Miami’s legendary Books and Books cooks meatier stuff than the usual bookstores. At the original store in Coral Gables, there’s a courtyard wine bar and dining among the shelves on Cuban sliders, ceviche or maybe tofu stir-fry on couscous. At the Lincoln Road store, there’s a larger menu rivaling sidewalk cafe neighbors with tapas, chorizo burgers, pork tacos and vegan platters.
Laurenzo’s Italian Center
Laurenzo’s is a cafe, farmers market, bakery, pizzeria and sandwich shop all in one. Eat in or stock up on crispy-creamy fresh sfogliatelle or imported bresaola, stone crab bisque, baked ziti or trippa romana.
Clusters & Hops
Shoppers at Clusters & Hops can buy more than 1,000 wines and craft beers, artisan cheeses, dried porcini mushrooms, Serrano ham or ready-to-cook venison and boar. In the dining room, shoppers can lunch on pates and ciabatta sandwiches and order the likes of duck breast on truffled squash at night. A long wine list is always available.
Joe Patti’s Seafood
To get close to the source, wise gourmands forgo fancy trim for ingredients in the raw and eat in a fish market or a butcher shop. Thus there’s a sushi bar in the middle of 75-year-old Joe Patti’s Seafood in Pensacola (or buy nori sheets and wasabi to make yours at home).
Jimmy P’s Butcher Shop
At Jimmy P’s, carnivores ogle luxury cuts of Wagyu beef and Kurobuta pork in the meat cases and, affluent or not, sit down for a stuffed pork chop or the 8-ounce Kobe burger, one of the best in the state.