TAMPA, Fla. — In the past, the Tampa Bay region hasn’t been high on a foodie’s travel bucket list.
Sure, there are some tasty Cuban sandwiches in Tampa and fresh grouper in restaurants along the Gulf of Mexico.
But cutting-edge culinary trends haven’t surfaced here.
The Epicurean Hotel, a $35 million, 137-room hotel, opened last Tuesday. The entire concept revolves around food: There’s an 80-seat restaurant, patisserie, culinary theater, wine store, rooftop bar and cooking classes in a theater that looks like it’s a Food Network set. While a vacation centered around food is nothing new in Napa wine country, rustic Vermont or romantic Tuscany, it’s a fresh idea in Florida.
Guests have personal pantries in their rooms stocked with gourmet goodies, including chocolate and sea salt caramels, prosciutto, goat cheese and bottles of wine — including a handout that explains which wines go best with each snack.
The decor is also food-themed. Paintings of fruit grace the walls, cookbooks line bookshelves in the lobby and pillows on the hotel beds depict utensils. An 8-foot-high knife and fork rest in a corner and in a hallway, two vertical, living herb gardens are a lush addition.
Even the hotel’s employees, who dubbed themselves “Epicureans,” feel like they have a culinary responsibility.
“They are lovers of food and wine and will curate the experience for our guests,” said Joe Collier, president of Mainsail Lodging and Development Group.
The Tampa-based Mainsail partnered with the owner of the city’s best-known restaurant — Bern’s Steak House — to develop the boutique Epicurean hotel. Bern’s is across the street from The Epicurean, and Collier said he expects guests to eat at the restaurant, drink at the hotel’s bar, sleep at the hotel, then enjoy other food-related activities the following day.
Bern’s, which was opened in Tampa in 1956 by Bern Laxer and is now owned by his son, David Laxer, boasts one of the largest wine lists of any restaurant in the world. Wine Spectator Magazine has given it a “Grand Award” each year since 1981.
The restaurant’s expertise in wine will be shared in the hotel, at a wine and spirits store on the first floor. It’s next to the culinary theater, which already has a calendar of events ranging from “The Universe of Krug Champagne” to “Tea and Chocolate Pairing.”