Tampa is booming. The city was recently listed eighth among the fastest-growing economies in the country. More than 4 million people live in the Tampa Bay area and millions more flock to the city and its beaches each year for business and for pleasure. To serve a growing clientele of foodies, new restaurants and breweries are popping up all over the city. In Tampa's SoHo district (South of Howard), Bern's and the Epicurean Hotel have created a culinary destination. Nearby, trendy Hyde Park Village continues to expand, while chefs across town invest in up-and-coming areas like Seminole Heights and Tampa Heights on the Riverwalk.
Guests immediately feel at home at this cozy brunch spot in Seminole Heights. Maybe it's because the restaurant is located inside an old house with tables near the kitchen. Maybe it's the "Manmosas" generously served in mason jars or the locally sourced menu scrawled across a chalkboard. But more likely it's the down-to-earth personalities of the owners. Chef Greg Baker, while nominated for Best Chef in the South five times by the James Beard Foundation, and his wife, Michelle, do not put on airs. The menu is creative and playful with items like "Big Freakin’ Biscuit" stuffed with bacon, cheddar, egg, tomato jam and sauerkraut. (Sauerkraut on a biscuit you ask? Yes! And it totally works.) From sausage to salad dressings and even ketchup, everything at The Refinery is made in house.
When the hotel the restaurant is housed in is called Epicurean, you know you've come to the right place. Élevage is one of several restaurants owned by Tampa's Laxer family of the legendary Bern's Steakhouse. Where Bern's is old school, elegant and classic, Élevage is trendy, fresh and fun. Brunch is served both Saturday and Sunday, whether a la carte or a three-course feast featuring choices like benedicts, fritatas, shrimp and grits and sourdough pancakes. After dining, hit the pool, where Sundays in the summer the public is invited to the ultimate pool party. You'll find a hip, 20-something crowd sipping cocktails, dancing to a DJ and lounging around on oversized floats in the shape of a pizza slice, a black swan or a unicorn.
Located across the street from the University of Tampa, Oxford Exchange attracts students, hipsters and locals to its high-end coffee shop, bookstore and restaurant. This architectural gem was reopened in 2012 by businessman Blake Casper who, inspired by his travels to London, wanted to create a multipurpose space in his hometown. Today, this local hotspot draws a crowd for brunch both Saturday and Sunday. While you wait for a table, sip a cappuccino and peruse the gift shops. Brunch favorites include lemon-poppyseed pancakes piled high and topped with blueberry maple syrup and sweet cream, the omelet stuffed with ham, asparagus, gruyère and potatoes and the brunch flatbread topped with prosciutto, eggs, caramelized onions, white cheddar, tomato and arugula.
Okay, so it's more Sunday lunch at mama's than brunch, but this new pick is worth including. Ulele is the newest venture from the Columbia Restaurant Group, which operates Columbia in Ybor City, the oldest restaurant in the state opened in 1905. Choose from comfort foods with a modern twist like okra fries, brisket, meatloaf and mashed potatoes and jalapeno corn muffins. On the lawn overlooking the Hillsborough River, guests celebrate Sunday Funday well into the afternoon playing cornhole and bocce ball.
Breakfast is served each and every day until 3:30 pm so you can get your fill on benedicts, crepes and omelettes. This popular Hyde Park spot is also a patisserie, filling its impressive display case with French crossiants, chocolate tortes and gluten-free macarons each morning. The barista serves everything from a great cup of French Press to a Frozen Nutella Latte. After dining, hit the shops at Hyde Park Village, like Anthropologie, Kendra Scott and Blue Mercury.