With the possible exception of the hotel/tourism industry, there’s little doubt that the restaurant business was among the most Covid-affected industry sectors in Florida in 2020.

And, although many of the new eateries that opened in Wesley Chapel in 2020 were delayed by the pandemic, the past year was still one of the busiest for new restaurant openings in Wesley Chapel.

Among the new eateries that opened in 2020 in (and adjacent to) Wesley Chapel were the following:

Main Event — Yes, we realize that the bowling and entertainment center is more than “just” a restaurant, Main Event did host one of the first North Tampa Bay Chamber ribbon-cutting events following Gov. Ron DeSantis’ pandemic-caused shutdown of just about everything here in the Sunshine State.

Double Branch Artisanal Ales — Again, Double Branch, located in The Village at The Grove of Wesley Chapel (above), doesn’t yet qualify as a “restaurant” — at least not until its kitchen opens — but it has offered pizzas from a food truck outside the craft beer brewery and should open a kitchen inside in 2021. Even so, enough of Wesley Chapel’s craft beer-crazed residents voted for it as their Favorite Bar in New Tampa & Wesley Chapel for it to finish in this year’s top-5 in that category.

Treble Makers— Another entertainment venue that opened in The Grove at Wesley Chapel during the early stages of Florida’s restaurant re-openings, Treble Makers was one of the few newcomers to register more than a blip with our readers, finishing as the 4th Favorite restaurant in Wesley Chapel (see list, right) and Favorite American Restaurant in both of our distribution areas. if you haven’t tasted the  coconut curry grouper, fried calamari or grilled filet mignon, you owe it to yourself to check out Treble Makers for a dueling piano show on Friday or Saturday night ‚ or anytime!

Rock & Brews — Considering how packed the place has been (even with social distancing) inside and out since the moment it opened, we were a little surprised that the first Tampa Bay link in this small chain (on S.R. 56) — inspired and owned in part by Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons of the rock group KISS — didn’t get any votes at all from our readers, until we realized that it didn’t open until a week before we shut down the voting. With great live music on the weekends and everything from unique bruschetta to sweet heat fried chicken on the menu, Rock & Brews will likely make our 2021 top-10 — and look for it to finish at least that high when I reveal my 2020 favorites in our next issue.

Florida Ave. Brewing Co. — Another hotly-anticipated entry that opened too late to receive reader votes this year, the former location of Sports & Field on S.R. 56 has a unique menu, with items like bibimbap bowls, Chinese sticky ribs and smoked gouda lobster mac & cheese, to go with more typical sports bar fare, an amazing craft beer selection, full liquor bar and private tasting rooms.

Zukku-San Sushi Bar & Grill — Again, Zukku-San opened too late to get any reader votes this year, but it is a beautiful new restaurant with a full liquor bar, great sushi and Japanese specialties (including the best tempura and chicken teriyaki we’ve had in years) and a true South Tampa vibe. Look for Zukku-San to register with our readers in 2021 and to finish very high in my list of faves this year.

Chuck Lager America’s Tavern — After years of failed attempts to improve the former PrimeBar location in the Shops at Wiregrass, the third location of Chuck Lager’s in the U.S. (and only one in Florida) brought in great food from the mind and kitchen of celebrity TV chef Fabio Viviani and a beautiful-looking new place for lunch and dinner that also opened too late to register with our readers (above) this year but will still make my list of Wesley Chapel favorites and will surely do just as well with our readers next year.

Brooklyn Water Bagel Co. — As a transplanted native New Yorker, I appreciate the “legit” kettle-boiled-then-baked bagels and “Brooklynized” water used for the bagels and coffee at this new favorite on S.R. 54 in Wesley Chapel, which could contend for “Favorite Breakfast” in our distribution areas with our readers next year. 

Crumbl Cookie — Although it also opened too late to make a splash in this year’s Reader Survey, not since Nothing Bundt Cakes opened in the Shops at Wiregrass has any new dessert-only place created such a stir in our community. The decadent churro and s’mores cookies are our favorites of Crumbl Cookie’s rotating flavors so far.

Moschella’s Italian Eatery & Market — See story here.

As for the favorites in our Reader Survey:

GrillSmith’s offering of fresh fish dishes helped make it Wesley Chapel’s favorite.

1 — GrillSmith has been among the favorite restaurants in Wesley Chapel with our readers since the day it opened in the Shops at Wiregrass, but it was a little surprising for it to regain its top spot as the #1 in Wesley Chapel from 2018 (after finishing second to Bahama Breeze last year) with all the new places that opened.

Even so, it’s hard to argue with our readers on this one, as GrillSmith does have a great menu with a lot of variety that has been added over the years — including an increased choice of steaks, flatbreads, pastas and more.

I also believe that the fact that GrillSmith has added truly fresh “short trip” Florida fish and is one of the few local places that can surprise you with cobia, corvina or even amberjack, in addition to the more common grouper, snapper and mahi-mahi.

Plus, throw in its bottomless bubbles for weekend brunch, its expanded lunch menu and socially distanced bar area and prime location in the Shops and you’ll understand why GrillSmith’s return to the top spot isn’t that surprising at all.  

2 — 900º Woodfired Pizza is more than just a “regular old pizza place,” although few do pizza any better. But its delicious tortellini della casa, pesto di Genovese and other pasta dishes make it so much more. 

3 — Bonefish Grill is one of the few other choices for truly fresh fish in our area and there’s no doubt its now-open new location on S.R. 56 (with plenty of parking!) will help make it even more popular with our readers in 2021. 

4 — Treble Makers was one of the first new restaurants to open in “The Chap” early enough in 2020 to register with our readers and its outstanding steaks, fresh fish and tuna (above) and dueling pianos entertainment will likely keep it high on this list for years to come.

5 — Bahama Breeze dropped a few slots this year when compared with last, but this island-themed eatery’s popular Jamaican, Cajun and American specialties, live music and indoor/outdoor bar areas featuring tropical drinks (above) are appreciated by our readers. 

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