It could be argued that the birth of Hyde Park, Tampa's bayside neighborhood lined with 1920 bungalows and brick-paved avenues, as a foodie fantasy began with the opening of Bern's Steak House in the 1950s.
You might drive by the unassuming building on South Howard Avenue and never think that the place won a James Beard Foundation Award and has sprung the careers of dozens of successful chefs and restaurateurs around the country in its 60-year-plus run.
But the restaurant, and its sister property, Haven, has helped to establish the area as the place where Tampa comes to eat, drink and play, and makes Hyde Park, or SoHo -- South Howard, as it's locally known -- an ideal spot for culinary-minded clients.
In 2014, the Epicurean Hotel, Autograph Collection, opened as the centerpiece of Hyde Park's culinary scene on South Howard Avenue, just across the street from Bern's Steak House. A food-themed hotel unlike any other in the world, the Epicurean's motto is "awaken appetites unknown."
"SoHo and Hyde Park are two of the most sought-after and culturally active neighborhoods in South Tampa," said Kevin Scott, general manager of the Epicurean Hotel, Autograph Collection.
"We're thrilled the Epicurean is in the center of it all," he said. "The addition of the Epicurean to this evolving landscape has given visitors and residents a focal point where they can fully immerse themselves in this vibrant neighborhood's booming culinary scene."
The sleek 137 guestrooms in the hotel are appointed with culinary-themed decor, including wall art and plush beds with fork-and-knife pillows. A modern rain shower adds extra luxury even to the entry-level rooms.
Each room's minibar, known as the "artisan pantry," is outfitted with gourmet treats, like Scharffenberger Chocolate, and top-class wines supplied by the Bern's Fine Wines & Spirits shop downstairs. Clients can check the hotel's activities calendar for private tastings and wine classes at the shop.
Outside of the wine shop, there are three more opportunities to taste the area's offerings without even leaving the hotel's grounds. Elevage, the flagship restaurant helmed by Beard-Award-nominated chef Chad Johnson and chef de cuisine Jonathan Atenacio, has set itself apart as a fine-dining destination for locals and visitors. Clients shouldn't miss the roasted whole snapper for two, with nods to the area's Cuban community -- accompanied by black beans, yucca, passionfruit mojo and avocado relish.
Edge cocktail bar is situated on the roof of the hotel, offering 270-degree views of Tampa's skyline and the Bayfront. For something sweet, the hotel's bakery and coffee shop, Chocolate Pi, offers cookies, cakes, muffins and artisan truffles made with Gianduja chocolate starting at 8 a.m.
The hotel is also home to a culinary amphitheater dedicated to learning the craft of cooking, eating and drinking, not unlike where the ancient Greek philosopher Epicurus might have taught. Classes are held weekly, including chocolate-making, wine tasting and mixology. Refer clients to the amphitheater's class calendar for more information when scheduling their stay. The Spa Evangeline, also on-property, offers food-and-drink themed treatments, like a bourbon pedicure especially for gentlemen.
"As the Hyde Park-Howard Avenue area continues to develop, the Epicurean will remain a catalyst for drawing residents, businesses and visitors to the area," Scott said. The neighborhood is home to more than 20 restaurants and weekend evenings are when the area really comes to life.
Clients can take themselves on a self-guided food and beverage tour, starting at the north end of Hyde Park at Cask Social, a restaurant serving Southern-style fare like fried green tomato caprese salad, braised short ribs and local seafood chowder. Then, they can make their way south on Howard Avenue for a progressive dinner with as many courses as they can stomach. All the way south to the Bayfront, Ciro's Speakeasy & Supper Club is a Prohibition-style spot slinging classic cocktails like Gin Rickeys and Old Fashioneds. A walk along the bay after a couple of cocktails is a romantic way to end an indulgent evening.
Luckily, the Epicurean is just a couple of blocks away. "We're so fortunate to have some of the best restaurants and dining experiences in the Tampa Bay area on property and within walking distance, including Bern's Steak House, just across the street," Scott said.
If clients are eager to explore outside Hyde Park and want a singularly Tampa Bay experience, the new Pirate Water Taxi and Riverwalk urban trail, completed in May 2016, offers activities and eating experiences for a diverting day trip. Begin at the city's history center, where Columbia Caf, a smaller version of the city's iconic Cuban eatery, offers caf con leche and guava pastries they won't soon forget. Take the water taxi from there and stop off in the neighborhoods of Channelside, Harbour Islands and Davis.
The end of the taxi line is the 1903 Tampa Water Works building that now houses Ulele restaurant, an upscale, Florida-focused eatery that transforms "Florida cracker cooking" into haute cuisine. Clients should be steered toward the charbroiled local oysters and Florida beef. Reservations are recommended.
Holly V. Kapherr is a writer based in Orlando. Previously, she was editor of Caribbean Travel + Life and Florida Travel + Life, and senior editor at Islands and Destination Weddings & Honeymoons. She is filling in for Megan Padilla during August.