Despite what some online trolls say, the results of our 2022 Reader Dining Survey & Contest that we posted in our last issue of 2022 were an absolutely accurate accounting of the 400 or so total votes we received on our website and from mail-in ballots of our readers in Wesley Chapel and New Tampa.

And, despite what some of those people may think — and claimed on our Facebook page — those results were not “fudged” in any way by yours truly. There actually were fewer than a dozen disqualified ballots this year for those who didn’t put their names on their surveys and few other reasons, so virtually every vote we received was counted and accurately tabulated.

What I won’t claim, however, is that the Reader Survey results are an accurate depiction of what the majority of Wesley Chapel and New Tampa residents truly think are the best restaurants in our two distribution areas. There’s no doubt that 400 votes out of more than 60,000 households that we reach by mail (plus 14,000 people who follow us on Facebook) doesn’t tell the full story, even though it does tell a story.

In part because I’ve never been happy with the number of chain restaurants that usually dominate the results with our readers, I will guarantee, however, that the places to eat in drink in and adjacent to our two distribution areas that I’ve named on this page and the nine pages that follow absolutely are my favorites in Wesley Chapel and New Tampa, no matter what those trolls will try to convince you of otherwise. Here are the two most common complaints:

1) “Gary only writes about & votes for the restaurants that advertise with him.” — Whether anyone believes it or not, part of the reason I try to sell certain restaurant owners on advertising in these pages is because I already like their restaurants. My wife will tell you that I make pretty good fish at home, but love it when a restaurant has truly fresh fish prepared in delicious ways. And, I’ve loved the fresh fish at both Treble Makers and The Grill at Morris Bridge since the day both opened. The only place in Wesley Chapel that, in my opinion, comes close to Treble Makers’ coconut curry grouper or wahoo (which, sadly, has been taken off the menu) is Grillsmith, and I don’t like the rest of Grillsmith’s menu as much as I do the options at our area’s only dueling piano bar.

But, if you’re not someone who eats or cares about fresh fish, while you may disagree with my choices — especially if you don’t like your favorite dishes at any of my favorite places — I still stand behind my selections with not only my words on these pages but also with my money when I go out to eat.

And, while I do promise every dining advertiser that I will write a full-length Dining Feature story about them when they become advertisers, I do also write about every new restaurant that opens in either of our distribution areas, whether they ever spend a dollar with us or not. The reason I save the full-length features for our advertisers is because we have more than 70 ads in every issue and almost every advertiser wants a story — because it gets so many of them the best results of any local advertising they do, including online. With only 26 issues per year and 3-4 Business & Dining Feature stories in each issue, that doesn’t leave much room for full-length non-advertiser stories, so a Nibbles column item is all I can offer those other eateries.   

  2) “Gary only writes about & votes for the restaurants that agree to give him free food.” — This is the claim that actually makes me angry. Yes, some restaurant owners buy dinner for me and Jannah from time to time, especially after my reviews hit print, but I have never insisted that they — nor have I ever even asked them to — do so. In fact, I always have told any place that has bought more than one meal for us (or even just me) that they shouldn’t do that and I always leave an even more substantial tip than I normally do when they insist on doing so.

Anyone who is making either of these claims (yes, especially you, Troll Jeffrey Brown) is not only lying, they’ve never seen the amount of money I spend locally to go out to eat. I guarantee that there is no one who lives in New Tampa or Wesley Chapel who spends more to dine out for two in our two distribution areas than I do — especially as a percentage of their annual income — and I will be happy to share an accounting of all the meals I didn’t get for free from last year if any of my accuser(s) are willing to do the same. If they’re within even $500 of what I spent, I’ll be shocked. So, bring it, Mr. Brown (as in, rhymes with “clown”).

I love to cook, but my skills are extremely limited, and there’s nothing Jannah and I love to do more than go out, sit at the bar and have a cocktail and a delicious meal at our favorite places — especially when there are a number of items on the menu we enjoy.

But, the one thing I can assure  everyone of is that whether or not a place has ever spent a dollar on advertising in these pages or ever bought me even a single breakfast, lunch or dinner, neither of these two claims is accurate.

With trolls always hiding behind their anonymity, I can’t control what they say, think or write, nor would I even try. What I can assure all of you is that none of those (Jack Zhort, Rick Carroll, etc.) who claim they know for fact what we, and especially I, do with regards to our content have never met me, had a meal or a beverage with me or actually ever discussed with me why they feel the way they do. I may be a “pompous a–” (right, Mr. Carroll?), but at least I’m not afraid to stand behind my words, in print or online.

Anyway, as for my the lists on these pages, with all of the new places to eat in our areas, especially Wesley Chapel, it is getting much harder for me to pick not just a top-10 list of favorites, but even a top-25 or top-50, or to feel confident that every one of my selections is in its perfect place on each list.

For those who voted for Noble Crust to repeat as #1 in this year’s survey, I assure you that Jannah and I also love the place, or it wouldn’t make my top-10. But, despite its changing-by-season menu, the only fish that stays on the menu is salmon, and neither of us likes salmon. We also usually only take out pizza, no matter how good it may be. But, you’ll still find us at Noble Crust from time to time, enjoying the meatball appetizer and a delicious cocktail at the bar. If you do find us there, feel free to say hi, as so many people do year after year — many of whom tell us the only reason they tried a place was because of this publication. — GN   

The coconut curry grouper at TrebleMakers.

With all of the new restaurants that opened in Wesley Chapel in 2022, this was the hardest year ever for me to compile this list. I know some people disagree, but if you haven’t had the always-fresh coconut curry grouper or seared tuna at Treble Makers, haven’t tried the filet at Dempsey’s Too since the new ownership at Saddlebrook revamped the menu a couple of months ago, haven’t sampled the chicken, spinach & riccotta cannelloni at Falabella Bistro or any of the amazing appetizers at Zukku-San, try ‘em and tell me you still don’t think this is a legitimate top-10 list. Oh, and I am also partial to the always-fresh Short-Trip fish at Grillsmith, too.   
1. TrebleMakers
2. Falabella Family Bistro
3. Dempsey’s Too
4. Zukku-San Sushi 
5. Grillsmith
6. The Living Room
7. Noble Crust
8. Top Shelf Sports Lounge
9. Longhorn Steakhouse
10. Bluefin Japanese Restaurant

Not as many new restaurants opened in New Tampa as in Wesley Chapel in 2022, but many of the existing restaurants upgraded their offerings — including The Grill at Morris Bridge. If you haven’t sampled the new tomahawk ribeye for two (photo) or bacon & parmesan-crusted mahi-mahi at The Grill, I urge you to give them both a try.

The Mahi Mahi at The Grill at Morris Bridge

If The Grill is my #1A this year, our perennial reader favorite Stonewood Grill & Tavern could be #1B (instead of #2), especially after adding its unique & tasty Manhattan Strip steak we showed you last issue to its regular menu.

Frammi & Via Italia also are neck-and-neck for me for Italian food (both have great pasta!), but I give Frammi the slight edge overall for its larger non-pizza variety, including an entire American food menu. Fat Rabbit, which brought back its own fresh fish option to go along with the best wings in town, rounds out my top-5.

The only new restaurant to make my top-10 this year is Ha Long Bay, the mostly Vietnamese Asian fusion place which opened after the Reader Survey voting ended. Also in my top-10 in New Tampa for the first time is Cantina, which also ascended to the top spot as my new Favorite Mexican Restaurant in New Tampa or Wesley Chapel.
1. The Grill at Morris Bridge
2. Stonewood Grill & Tavern
3. Frammi
4. Via Italia
5. Fat Rabbit
6. Acropolis Greek Taverna
7. Ha Long Bay
8. Bayscape Bistro
9. Cantina (CC Blvd.)
10. Liang’s Bistro

 Check back for more of Gary’s favorites by category this week!          

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