Food critic Laura Reiley’s best restaurant picks include close to 100 new and returning spots.
By all rights I should be mad at Trophy Fish. They don’t offer a phone number for the restaurant, so hundreds of Tampa Bay would-be diners try to look it up online, find my review and erroneously call my office phone instead. I’ve toyed with taking reservations. Ryan Griffin and fellow Mandarin Hide partner Blake Thompson and Bill Griffin (Ryan’s dad) had a fairly simple, yet utterly novel, idea: Let’s open a casual, indoor-outdoor fish shack where fish freshness is everything and accessorize it with a seriously cerebral “boat drink” cocktail list. The overall vibe is breezy nautical, the drinks list following suit with goofy (and not precisely helpful) categories: Shipwrecked, I’m on a Yacht, Dockside and such. No matter, because superstar local bartender Morgan Zuch and crew have come up with some humdingers. It pains me somewhat to order a drink called the Banana Hammock or the Grassy Skirt, but drinks, even when full-throttle tiki, are balanced with amari, other bitters and herbs, never verging on cloying. To accompany your libation, crunch across the shell-floor patio and put in an order at the counter for whatever the catch of the day is, maybe as a salad topper or in a pair of tacos, and share an order of fish spread and hush puppies. trophyfishstpete.com
This is a newcomer owned by the Mandarin Hide and Trophy Fish people. They teamed up with the lovely George and Debbie Sayegh, owners of St. Petersburg’s fiercely beloved Bodega, together taking over the indoor-outdoor Seminole Heights space across from the Refinery that once housed El Rincon Catracho and Viva La Frida before that. On one side it’s a casual, family-friendly spot for lechon plates, Cuban sandwiches and shuffleboard (what is it with hipsters and shuffleboard these days?), and on the other side it’s a super stylish cocktail bar. Have your friends on Facebook changed their profile pic to one of them fully clothed in an empty clawfoot tub in front of a green leafy wall centered by a painting of a flamingo in a crown? Then they’ve been to Mandarin Heights. And you should go, too.
The loosely midcentury modern design is one of the chief draws, with a wall of cool bird cages, great use of neon, more flamingo paintings (I covet all of them), an imposing mounted ram’s head, etc. But you’re there for the drinks. As at Trophy Fish, the cocktail “lab” is overseen by Morgan Zuch, a new menu produced each Tuesday. I’ve had an exceptional French 75 there, as well as a memorable tequila and manzanilla sherry drink called a Suzey Q. mandarinheights.com
Source: Tampa Bay Times