With over a dozen restaurants lining Main Street, downtown Dunedin may be the perfect location for a restaurant crawl. Think of a restaurant crawl like a pub crawl, but with food samples instead of beer. This is essentially what Taste of Dunedin is. For $20, you are given a taste pass to carry with you from one end of Main Street to the other and back, about 0.6 miles total. Along the way, you give your taste pass to participating restaurants, who mark your ticket in exchange for a food/drink sample. Each taste pass includes 10 tastes.
The event begins in Pioneer Park, where you pick up your taste pass along with a list of participating restaurants and a map. This year, 19 restaurants and 1 food truck participated: The Living Room, Happy’s Bayou Bites, Honu, Serendipity Café, Clear Sky Draught Haus, Carmelita’s Mexican, Marguerite’s Café, Hog Island Fish Camp, Olde Bay Café, Sea Sea Riders, The Black Pearl, Tony’s Pizza, Kelly’s, Cricketer’s Pub, Casa Tina, The Sandpiper Café, Dunedin Smokehouse, Pisces Sushi and Global Bistro, Sweet Peas Café, and Charlie Tulum’s Dos Tacos Food Truck.
I managed to fit in six tastes before people starting running out of food at this year’s Taste of Dunedin:
1. Casa Tina’s Rajas Tamales
I’ve eaten at Casa Tina’s Mexican restaurant more times than I can count. I love it, my family loves it, and my friends love it. And we’re not alone. In 2015, Creative Loafing readers voted Casa Tina the best restaurant in Dunedin. They make an amazing mole. My favorite dishes there are Los Dos Moles, Mole Verdes, Carnitas, and Fish Tacos. For Taste of Dunedin they were sampling an item I’d never tried—Rajas Tamales. Casa Tina’s Rajas is a mixture of corn, tofu, zucchini, and chayote squash that is surprisingly delicious when stuffed into a tamale. It’s a great choice for the vegetarians in your party.
2. Kelly’s Shrimp Crostini, White Chocolate Pecan Pie, and Strawberry Star Burst shot
Kelly’s was offering three tastes at last weekend’s Taste of Dunedin: (1) Pastrami Rubbed Shrimp on a Gruyere and Caraway crostini topped with Georgia peach mustard and Fennel Slaw, (2) White chocolate pecan pie, and (3) a Strawberry Star Burst shot. The shrimp crostini were made special for the Taste of Dunedin, but the scrumptious white chocolate pecan pie and Strawberry Star Burst martini are regular menu items. Kelly’s Chic a Boom Room is my go-to place for cocktails in Dunedin. Next time I go, I will definitely be ordering that Strawberry Star Burst martini. I will probably order some of their Spicy Lime Grilled Shrimp too. I may go here for the drinks, but the food here is really good too. This is where I took my friend from Germany when she said she was in the mood for a good American burger in Dunedin.
3. Sea Sea Riders’s Mahi Tacos and Bloody Marys
Have you tried the Mahi Tacos at Sea Sea Riders? They are amazing. Sea Sea Riders has got to be one of the oldest restaurants in Dunedin—they’ve been around since the 1980’s. I remember eating here with my parents as a kid, long before I was old enough to appreciate seafood or partake in one their signature Bloody Marys. From the moment I saw the banners announcing recent renovations, I have been longing to return. They’ve updated their menu too! If you haven’t been to Sea Sea Riders in a few years, now is the time to return. Order the Mahi Tacos and a Bloody Mary.
4. Olde Bay Cafe’s Fish Tacos
During my time in Florida, I’ve experienced the Olde Bay Café mainly as the host of the fantastic Craft Beer and Crab Festival every October. I also enjoyed a crab cake here once while waiting for my father to finish his boating exam upstairs. Given my experiences, I love the Olde Bay Café for their crabs, for their annual events in Edgewater Park, and for their beautiful location at the Dunedin Marina.
For Taste of Dunedin, the Olde Bay Café offered everyone a small fish taco to try. Grouper tacos; with cole slaw, key lime vinaigrette, and avocado; is one of their menu items. On Sunday, however, they were using Cod to feed the masses. It was nice to experience this other side of the Olde Bay Café, but I still love the crabs best.
5. The Living Room’s Chicken Drumettes and The Black Pearl’s Snapper Ceviche
Sister restaurants, The Living Room and The Black Pearl, worked together this year to serve up Chicken Drumettes and Snapper Ceviche in Pioneer Park. The Living Room and The Black Pearl are Dunedin’s fine dining establishments. The Black Pearl is the most exclusive, with entrée prices ranging from $24–$54, and starters from $15–$29. If you can afford it, The Black Pearl is one of the 10 best restaurants in the Tampa Bay area according to the Tampa Bay Times 2016 Restaurant Guide. In the French category, they are #1. If I could go, I’d get the lobster risotto. If only they were sampling this at Taste of Dunedin. Instead, they prepared an off menu item: Snapper Ceviche.
The Living Room is billed as the more affordable alternative to The Black Pearl. Despite the more affordable menu selections—you can get a $10 sandwich here during lunch hours—The Living Room still feels like a treat. At dinner time, the experience is like that of a tapas restaurant. You order multiple small plates and share. I ate here for my birthday once, and it was a great experience. The Living Room was giving away plump chicken drumettes during Taste of Dunedin. The coleslaw they were serving with it was surprisingly good. I was initially a little skeptical of pineapples, thinly sliced apples, and raisins in my coleslaw, but I ended up loving the added sweetness. Maple Bourbon Chicken Drumettes are on the menu, so you can still try them.
6. Clear Sky Draught Haus’s Grilled Pineapple Kielbasa Bites
Clear Sky Draught Haus is a hip new gastropub that opened on the corner of Main and Skinner in 2014. I haven’t had the full Clear Sky Draught Haus experience yet, but I am already beginning to form an opinion of them as a good place for drinks and appetizers. In their 2015 Best of the Bay issue, Creative Loafing awarded Clear Sky Draught Haus’s Awesome Avocado Fries with the “Best Fried Fruit” award. Clear Sky Draught Haus was sampling another one of their popular appetizers last Sunday at Taste of Dunedin: Grilled Pineapple Kielbasa Bites.
I really enjoyed this event, and I would definitely go again next year. There were a few restaurants on the list that I would have loved to visit during Taste of Dunedin, but I just didn’t get there in time. The Dunedin Smokehouse’s pulled pork sliders were so popular that people went back for seconds and thirds until there were no pork sliders left. I also didn’t get to try anything from Happy’s Bayou Bites—Dunedin’s only Cajun food truck turned restaurant—before they ran out of food. I also would have loved to try Honu, Dunedin’s new Hawaiian restaurant, but they are a little off the beaten path and I was getting tired. They were sampling Spam Musubi and the newly released House of Beer Mango Hefeweizen at their restaurant during Taste of Dunedin.
I would like to thank all the restaurants that participated in this event. I heard that the restaurants were not paid for their participation. If this is true, then they gave us all those free food samples out of the goodness of their hearts, hoping we would like something enough to return and buy dinner later. I think this event could be even better if the restaurants were given some form of reimbursement for all that food. Even if this brought the ticket price up $5 or $10, it would likely encourage increased participation among restaurants and solve the problem of restaurants running out of food towards the end of the event. Of all the restaurants participating this year, Sea Sea Riders and Kelly’s were especially generous, offering both a food and a drink sample. I absolutely loved Sea Sea Riders Mahi Tacos and Kelly’s Star Burst Martini. I plan on returning for more.