It’s not unusual that a hotel be known for its food, but at Epicurean Hotel in Tampa, managers say, “We built the kitchen first and put a hotel around it.”
That’s true literally and figuratively since it was the brainchild of the owner of legendary Bern’s Steakhouse across the street. Long known as the restaurant with the best wine selection in town, it was only natural that a hotel rising a cork’s throw away would put what guests eat and drink at the forefront.
That focus is apparent as soon as the valet takes your car keys and a concierge offers you a glass of wine: the two reception desks are wine coolers and the whole wall behind them is made from slats of wooden wine storage boxes.
You only linger here if you want to though. Otherwise the concierge escorts you straight to your room and you check in there. These are no ordinary rooms either. Like the rest of the property, they’re the recipient of plenty of thought and design discussions. The culinary angle plays through, with silverware motifs on the pillows and a good wine and craft beer selection in the minibar, but it’s done in a subtle and whimsical way rather than edging over into kitsch.
Throughout the quarters there’s a mix of surprising and expected. In the former category you get a clunky old-school telephone, a cocktail shaker, and furniture made from repurposed materials. In the latter you get fast and free WiFi, a grand array of toiletries in the baths, rain showers, robes, and a desk with outlets you can actually reach from your seat. Although this hotel is part of The Autograph Collection, the rooms aren’t stuffed with nagging signs or advertisements and there’s an electronic “do not disturb” or “make up room” button by the entrance door.
As you can see from the slideshow above, this is a hotel where good design got as much attention as good food, but the food and beverage outlets are the big draw here. All of them get plenty of traffic from locals, whether it’s the rooftop craft cocktail bar, the comprehensive indoor-outdoor bar off the lobby, or the excellent Élevage Restaurant that truly does try to reach another culinary level.
The menu at Elevage can best be described as “familiar dishes with an epicurean twist.” On the appetizer list, deviled eggs come with caviar while the pork n’ beans come with sorghum glazed pork belly and barrel-aged vinegar. We started with steamed and grilled artichoke and a golden beet salad, both excellent, then moved on to a cedar plank salmon with Brussels sprouts and a risotto Milanese with chorizo. With two artisanal cocktails before the meal and a good glass of wine during, it was a tantalizing meal from start to finish.
For dessert we walked over to the bakery, named Chocolate Pi. (Goes on forever—get it?) Here they make beautiful custom cakes for weddings, but an array of sweets made from the best possible ingredients by a talented pastry chef. From macaroons to cupcakes to chocolate goodies, there’s plenty to please any sweet tooth.
If you want to learn more of the culinary arts or perhaps increase your wine knowledge, the Epicurean Theater on site has terraced seating, video monitors, and mirrors over the cooking counter for classes and demonstrations. It’s outfitted with Viking equipment and Shun Japanese knives. The theater sometimes hosts workshops from big-name chefs or competitions between the best local ones.
There’s a complete gym on site to work off all these goodies and the hotel rents out hip cruiser bikes for free. This hotel is in a mixed commercial and residential area that’s good for biking, with Bayshore Boulevard a few blocks away having a wide bicycle and jogging path along the water that goes for miles and connects with the downtown Riverwalk. A full spa continues the wine theme with an entire wall in the lobby and manicure area made from more than 19,000 wine corks from around the world.
The outdoor pool is surrounded by cushioned lawn chairs and is a hotspot during the warm months, which is most of the year here in Florida.
Epicurean is a delight for the senses of sight and taste and is a great alternative to the mostly staid business chain hotels that dominate much of Tampa.
Review and photos by editor Tim Leffel, who was a guest of the restaurant while touring the hotel as a local resident of Tampa. All photos by Leffel except the pool shot, courtesy of the hotel.