Tampa Bay’s 50 best restaurants of 2019, according to the area’s longest running food critic Jon Palmer Claridge

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NOTE: What follows is based on a verified transcript of an email exchange with serious implications. It was not placed on a top-secret server. However, an unnamed whistleblower has brought it to light.

A short play from the life of a Creative Loafing food critic regarding the creation of the 2019 TOP 50 RESTAURANTS list.

LIGHTS UP.

Critic: You’re sure you want to attach a number to all 50?

Food Editor: It’s going to be a little cutthroat but that’s the most exciting part. This whole anonymous thing will come in handy!

BLACKOUT.

While this mini play has not yet been independently produced, it is proof that compelling theatre may rise from pithy dialogue and walk the knife’s edge between comedy and tragedy.

Each of us brings individual preferences to the dining table, so my list of the Top 50 restaurants is obviously very personal. For me, as a reader of any criticism (of either food or art), part of the value is understanding the viewpoint of a particular critic. That way, I can know that my personal preferences either align or don’t align with that critics’ taste. My goal is never to convince you to like something or other; I endeavor to describe my dining experience, in order that you may make a decision as to whether my visit sounds appealing (or not) for you to choose where to spend your valuable dining dollars. Regular readers know that I value balance in a dish and give high marks for invention and surprise.

For that reason, I’ve skipped steakhouses on this list (excepting Bern’s wine program) because you’ve got plentiful excellent choices for aged beef and all the regular accouterments that accompany our obsession with grilled chunks of red meat. This list is weighted toward peak gastronomic experiences where surprise is around every corner.

I’m impressed by technique and chefs whose food shows imagination and finesse. My hope is that you’ll be inspired to try someTHING and somePLACE new. There’s no need to rail against these rankings if you disagree or if your favorite has been excluded. Failure to appear here should not be seen as undervaluing any restaurant. If you love it, that’s terrific. Narrowing down my list and trying to rank this group of 50 restaurants was indeed “cutthroat,” obviously subjective, and while it may be exciting for you, it was excruciating for me.

Some restaurants that I reviewed very favorably disappointed on a return visit. Others may have fixed what I saw as flaws but I never returned. I’ve reviewed every ranking I could find of the cuisine across the Bay. Quite a few eateries highly ranked by others, left me cold. There are simply too many choices, and many worthy candidates. But, unlike with politics, there are no primaries. So, here we go. I hope you’ll be inspired to try a restaurant new to you. - JON PALMER CLARIDGE