Photo:In Pensacola, Al Fresco takes dining so far outside that most of the food comes from Airstream "food trucks" at the curb.
Outside the box: Eating outside is a breeze
Al fresco dining is not limited to waterfront restaurants any more.
The freshest breeze in Florida’s new restaurants is just that: Invigorating, refreshing breeze.
While Florida restaurateurs touted outdoor seating when they could offer a beachfront, golf course or water view, they’re now following a trend started in untropical climes from Seattle to Brooklyn.
Diners don’t need postcard views. They love fresh air no matter where they are, whether amid the grittiest industrial chic, suburban road scape, weedy back yard or parking garage.
Modern al fresco dining is made possible by advances in awning and blind technology, sliding glass walls, barn doors and roll-down shutters. Creature comforts can come from outdoor heaters and roving R2-D2-like air-conditioners or it can be completely low-tech and ad hoc with picnic tables, lawn chairs and corn hole games in an unused yard or patio.
Either way, a seat outdoors is fun and informal, a perfect match for menus of burgers, pizzas or “ups-kale” salads and ceviche.
Fresh-air dining stretches way beyond the beaches to graffiti-covered Wynwood, with restaurants from Panther Coffee to Gigi Asian fusion (mushroom buns or chorizo or cold sake).
Nearby Sugarcane in the Design District mixes tropical drinks and robata octopus in cushy living room and patio with no view but its own plants and lanterns.
For more pedestrian bustle, try downtown’s Mary Brickell Village, especially places like Cuzco Cocina Peruana. Again the view is all man-made, but the menu mixes up pomegranate juice and cocktails with ceviches, gyoza dumplings and more.
When Miguel’s started Miguelitos for millennial nachos and margaritas, it created a shimmering patio under sleek automated awnings inside crisp white walls. Savor a wide variety of tequilas and tacos without knowing the parking lot and one of Tampa’s main drags is a few feet away.
With moving walls on three sides, Bartaco put a beach town vibe in the middle of brick-and-concrete Hyde Park Village in Tampa. Similarly, Sarasota’s Shore Diner opens walls on both sides to create a house-wide breezeway even as it sits “over the store’’ on St. Armands crowded traffic circle.
In St. Petersburg, sidewalk dining now stretches 20 blocks away from the waterfront. There are new Cuban classics at Bodega, Asian street-style food at Hawkers and The Dog Bar, with on and off-leash sections and serious drinks.
A big revamp has electrified a 1921 power plant with hip new/old interiors as The Edison.Yet seats outside on the balcony and in Cascades Park are just as tempting for worldly take on Southern, such as ham hock carbonara and scrambled eggs with lobster guac
Military Trail and Glades Road just off I-95 is anything but rural. Yet the patio at Farmer’s Table next to the Wyndham feels as earthy and breezy as its menu of namaste salad and bisoncranberry meatloaf.
In Pensacola, Al Fresco takes dining so far outside that most of the food comes from Airstream “food trucks” at the curb. They purvey BBQ, tacos, ceviche, chicken ’n’ waffles and Asian fusion in a concrete oasis under market umbrellas and palms on Palafox Place. There are outdoor seats at the bar for drinks and oysters.
Dining on the sidewalk with a view of the locals and maybe a slice of river is a charm of intown Riverside, Avondale and Five Points. Go out to the Marketplace and Tom Gray’s Moxie Kitchen looks out on the pond and development beyond.“Redneck’’ risotto, barbecued tempeh and Brunswick stew put you clearly in the South.