Downtown Bradenton restaurants and bars are buzzing as more and more people get vaccinated, get out and get a seat at their favorite places – preferably outdoors to enjoy this ideal spring Florida weather.
For those of us fortunate enough to live in surrounding neighborhoods such as Point Pleasant and the condos lining Riverwalk, it has been joyous to witness business booming after the pandemic crippled the hospitality industry. Of course, it’s not just us locals creating a surge in dining demand.
Unlike anytime I can recall, and I’ve lived here for the better part of two decades, people from Tampa Bay and Sarasota are flocking to downtown Bradenton dining destinations. And there are plenty of out-of-towners, too. They’re filling the adorable Londoner Bed and Breakfast in Point Pleasant, the historic Hampton Inn & Suites just off Old Main Street, the Courtyard by Marriott on the Riverwalk and its newer, sister hotel SpringHill Suites, which is found at the end of Old Main Street and features a rooftop pool, bar and restaurant that also overlooks the Manatee River.
To celebrate this exciting time for downtown Bradenton, here’s a detailed dining guide. Presented as a walking tour of sorts, from north to south, the list contains the best restaurants in downtown Bradenton, from Riverwalk to Old Main Street to Manatee Avenue West to 13th Street West – with lots of information about what to eat and drink when you get there.
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Mattison’s Riverwalk Grille Downtown Bradenton
101 Riverfront Blvd.; 941-896-9660; mattisons.com
Chef Paul Mattison has three namesake restaurants in Sarasota-Manatee, and they’re all great, but only one boasts a view of the water. About a 20-minute stroll from Old Main Street, Mattison’s downtown Bradenton location can be found nestled behind the beach volleyball courts and skate park of the Bradenton Riverwalk. The entire main dining room and bar area are open and covered, with plenty of powerful, large fans. There’s also a stage area where many of the best local blues, rock and pop music acts play, with performances starting most evenings between 6 and 8 p.m., the sounds flowing out along the river.
Chef Mattison’s cuisine, though, is the main attraction. Specializing in judiciously sourced New American fare, the menu includes the delicious new Durham Ranch bison meatballs with root beer barbecue sauce, as well as entrees such as the New Bedford sea scallops with andouille sausage, FreeBird Farms seared half chicken, and the Niman Ranch pork ribeye with honey mustard glaze.
Mattison’s also makes a couple of our favorite sandwiches: the FreeBird Firecracker Chicken (hand-dipped in buttermilk, lightly breaded and fried with a delightful hot and spicy aioli) and a two-hander of a burger featuring Niman Ranch beef that really wows when presented as a perfectly pink and juicy medium.
Open daily at 11 a.m.; reservations are highly recommended for dinner.
1200 First Ave. W.; 941-748-8087; pier22dining.com
A local landmark located at the north end of Old Main Street that has been owned by the Miller family for over four decades, Pier 22 places guests right on the Manatee River in the center of its marina with spectacular views of the sun setting into the Gulf of Mexico.
Featuring an open air, covered outdoor bar and dining area plus seating under the stars right on the water, Pier 22 also includes a more upscale indoor dining area and bar, as well as the upstairs event space popular with wedding planners.
Chef Greg Campbell excels at overseeing an extensive menu that includes such items as the wasabi-crusted tuna served with sesame peanut sauce, soy glaze, sticky rice and wok vegetables; the bruschetta chicken with fresh mozzarella, tomatoes and basil-infused oil and balsamic reduction; and the prime rib dinner available Fridays and Saturdays.
There’s also the popular happy hour from 3-7 p.m. daily featuring drink and food deals with small plates priced between $6 and $8. Plus, Pier 22 is now serving breakfast and brunch Saturdays and Sundays with faves like The Pier 22 Burger, topped with the winning combo of avocado, basil mayo, fried egg, smoked cheddar and brown sugar-spiced bacon!
The owners of Pier 22 opened sister restaurant Grove in Lakewood Ranch in 2018. Pier 22 is open for lunch and dinner daily with breakfast served starting at 8 a.m. Saturday and Sunday. Dinner reservations are highly recommended.
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Oak & Stone
1201 First Ave. W., Bradenton; 941-357-4306; oakandstone.com
Featuring a rooftop bar dubbed The Deck, Oak & Stone offers seating perched on the eight-story Springhill Suites hotel, overlooking the Manatee River with vistas of the Palmetto shoreline, Tampa Bay and the Sunshine Skyway Bridge. The open-air space features several seating areas with low-top tables and three fire pits. There’s also the covered rooftop bar section and adjacent beer wall with self-serve taps for craft brews, cider and wine selections. Oak & Stone, which opened in late 2019, also has a full restaurant on the first floor, offering an even larger selection of self-serve beers (48 rotating taps including plenty of local brews made right in Bradenton).
The menu of comfort food classics with creative twists includes super-thin, stone-fired pizzas such as the Sweet Heat (pepperoni, spicy capicola, pizza sauce, pickled jalapeno, mozzarella and Mike’s Hot Honey) and Winger (Buffalo chicken tenders, cheddar, ranch, hot sauce aioli, scallion, crumbled bleu cheese). And then there are the wings themselves, which are some of the best around. Soaked overnight, they’re slow roasted in the oven and topped with a Buffalo-style wing sauce and a generous serving of blue cheese crumbles, with a side of ginger honey mustard sauce for dipping.
Oak & Stone also serves a yummy smoked gouda mac and cheese topped with bacon crumbles, deep fried pretzels with beer cheese and mustards, a spot-on chicken quesadilla, tacos, salads, bowls, a bunch of sandwiches and a couple burger options including the plant-based Beyond Burger.
Oak & Stone, which started with a University Parkway unit, has multiple locations across Sarasota and Manatee, with a downtown St. Petersburg and Naples location, as well. The downtown Bradenton location is open daily at 11 a.m. and does not accept reservations.
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McCabe’s Irish Pub and Tom’s Bad Ass Bar and Grill
302 and 312 Old Main St., Bradenton; 941-254-4973; facebook.com/TomsBadAssBarandGrill
Head south on Old Main Street from the river and you’ll find, on your right, the historic building by the corner of Old Main Street and Third Avenue West where the original Bealls store opened in 1915. It houses several restaurants and bars beginning with McCabe’s. The most authentic Irish pub in Manatee County, it features a classic dark wood and green design with plenty of delightful bric-a-brac brought over by owner Thomas Stynes, who was born and raised in Ireland.
Enjoy various Irish beers and liquors while shooting pool, watching sports or enjoying a performance by the various folk and rock bands, including Irish and Celtic acts, hosted by McCabe’s. You also can enjoy top-shelf pub grub delivered right to your table or spot at the bar courtesy of sister business Tom’s Bad Ass Bar and Grill, located two doors down.
Bad Ass also has its own full bar and indoor dining area, as well as outside seating, which is expanded on Saturdays during the Bradenton Farmers’ Market. Personal favorites include the delightfully hearty shepherd’s pie, the hand-breaded chicken tenders, the Reuben sandwich made with Boar’s Head corned beef, the fish and chips, the ridiculously good fried pickle chips and the equally addictive blackened tater tots. There’s also an all-day breakfast menu that includes hand-battered French toast made with Texas toast and cooked to order.
Tom’s Bad Ass Bar and Grill is open daily from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. and until 1 a.m. Friday and Saturday. McCabe’s Irish Pub opens daily at noon, typically remaining open until 2 a.m.
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Mr. Fajitas Mexican Grill
316 Old Main St., Bradenton; 941-242-0297
Formerly Senor Fajitas, Mr. Fajitas remains focused on fajitas and other Tex-Mex staples served in a fun setting with a small beer-and-wine bar, cozy dining booths and a few sidewalk tables. It’s next door to Tom’s Bad Ass Bar and Grill.
In addition to various versions of the delish signature dish, the fresh and flavorful guacamole, and the first-rate salsa and chips served gratis ahead of each meal, Mr. Fajitas offers an array of enchiladas, burritos, tacos and quesadillas. They also serve specials such as the grilled chicken breast topped with tomatoes, onions and mushrooms and topped with cheese dip.
There are also several steak options including the popular Mexican dish Alambre: grilled steak topped with chopped bacon, onions, poblano pepper and melted cheese. Most entrees, such as this one, are served with a tasty side of rice and beans.
Mr. Fajitas’ hours have been fluctuating lately. Call ahead.
Jennings Downtown Provisions
417 Old Main St., Bradenton; 941-896-5450; facebook.com
Owned and operated by husband and wife team Marc and Donna Cripe (original owners of Central Cafe on east Manatee Avenue), Jennings Downtown Provisions will celebrate five years of smart and creative American cuisine this fall.
Like their across-the-hall neighbors at Fav’s (read on), the Cripes take a friendly, hands-on approach to running their restaurant and wine/craft beer bar, which also now doubles as a hip boutique selling stylish clothing, candles and more.
In addition to daily chalkboard specials, Chef Marc’s numerous creations include handhelds like the tender pork tacos with slaw and house barbecue sauce, a superb chicken salad sandwich, and several flatbread options such as the must-try smoked salmon with boursin, pesto, onion, capers, cheese, greens and crema.
There are also salads such as the winning taco option and be sure to check out the “snack + share” section of the menu. This is where you will find personal favorites including the beer-braised smoked sausage and Bavarian soft pretzel combo, the smoked mahi spread and the slaw dog.
Marc Cripe’s younger brother, Seth Cripe, founded the acclaimed Lola Wines in Napa Valley in 2008, so you’ll find that and other excellent wines, as well as local and national craft beers, Kahwa Coffee from St. Petersburg, kombucha and more.
Jennings Downtown Provisions serves lunch and dinner Tuesday through Sunday.
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Fav’s Italian Cucina
419 Old Main St., Bradenton; 941-708-3287; favsitaliancucina.com
Siblings Michael Favasuli and Maria Favasuli-Wagner have been serving a supreme assortment of thin-crust pizzas, homemade pastas and sandwiches from their Fav’s Italian Cucina since opening Feb. 22, 2000.
The key to 21 years of success? For starters, every single time I have stepped into the place, either Mike or Maria (and often both) are behind the counter of the open kitchen greeting guests like old friends and making sure each order comes out correct.
Essential menu items include the caprese featuring their own homemade mozzarella, the Pizza Favarita (their own version of the margherita featuring more of that fresh mozz and minced garlic), the Baked Tortellini RoseMarie (cheese tortellini baked in a tomato cream sauce with Italian sausage, mushrooms and topped with mozzarella cheese) that arrives bubbling hot, and the singular stromboli featuring homemade dough filled with sausage, ham, salami, a blend of cheeses and a delicious dab of mustard.
And the subs, on Fav’s homemade Italian flatbread, are awesome, too. The Italian and steak and cheese are my favorites but all of them are outstanding. And among some of the best deals in town, with a large sub feeding two for about 10 bucks.
They also offers daily specials that are always impressive, such as the mind-blowingly good baked cheese tortellini alfredo with fresh spinach and mushrooms topped with asiago that we had the other night.
Fav’s Italian Cucina is open for lunch and dinner starting at 11 a.m. Monday through Saturday.
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O’Bricks Irish Pub & Martini Bar
427 Old Main St., Bradenton; 941-896-8860; obricks.com
Completing the powerhouse restaurant row that includes Jennings and Fav’s, O’Bricks takes its name from the exposed bricks in the bar area, occupies two of the oldest buildings in Bradenton and offers the most sidewalk seating of any place on Old Main Street. Going strong now for the past decade, the restaurant’s menu swings from Irish pub staples and fun sandwiches to expertly prepared steaks, chicken, pasta and seafood entrees. Yeah, there’s a whole lot to recommend at O’Bricks.
For appetizers, personal favorites include the mojo-marinated, grilled whole chicken wings, the stuffed banana peppers served on garlic bread, the smoked amberjack and mahi fish dip, and the Bradentuck Egg Rolls stuffed with Carolina-style pulled pork and shredded cabbage. The soup of the day is always interesting (don’t sleep on the Guinness stew!) and there are several enticing salad options with the fun prize going to the Bricks Buffalo Blue Chopped Salad served inside a couple of Buffalo-fried onion rings.
There are flatbreads such as Brad’s, a margherita-style one with banana pepper rings and grilled chicken and a bunch of tasty sandwiches. The best of the handhelds has got to be their version of a Cuban sandwich with a juicy pile of pulled pork topped with Black Forest ham, salami, Swiss cheese, sliced pickles and chipotle ranch on toasted garlic French bread.
There’s a “comfort-able” side of the menu with winning renditions of meatloaf, shepherd’s pie and fish and chips, and then a long list of entrees. Personal favorites include the blackened Atlantic salmon with lemon caper butter, the chorizo scallops, and the filet with the cognac peppercorn sauce.
And then there are the yummy martinis such as the chocolate one with Three Olives Vanilla vodka, white and dark Godiva and a swirl of chocolate adorning the inside of the glass; or the espresso version with a splash of Godiva liqueur and a raw sugar rim. They do a commendable job with more traditional martinis, too, such as the eternally cool, James Bond-inspired Vesper. Stop by O’Bricks between 2 and 7 p.m. and those martinis are $7 with half off for glasses of wine and well drinks, and dollar off drafts (including craft beers, Guinness, Kilkenny, etc.).
O’Bricks is open for lunch and dinner starting at 11 a.m. Monday through Saturday (they just started closing on Sundays for the summer). Reservations are available for indoor dining only.
Robin’s Downtown Cafe
428 Old Main St., Bradenton; 941-747-8899; facebook.com/Robinsdowntowncafe
If you want to know what’s going on in Bradenton, be sure to stop by Robin’s Downtown Cafe, where you will find community leaders and local restaurateurs enjoying items such as the “traditional breakfast,” which includes two eggs, toast, choice of potatoes or grits and a bottomless coffee – all for about the price of a Frappuccino.
Other breakfast items include Robin’s Favorite (scrambled eggs with sauteed spinach, mushrooms and white American cheese), the three-egg omelettes, pancakes, French toast, the breakfast sandwiches, and, one of my personal faves, the homemade corned beef hash served with a couple of eggs and toast. And, back to the choice of potatoes, Robin’s really does a fine job with their home fries, and the hashbrown casserole option ranks among the best breakfast sides around.
Robin’s serves lunch, too, including one of my favorite salads. The “911 Salad” is a huge, pretty pile of crisp greens covered with tomatoes, cucumbers, carrots, onions, shredded cheddar, sliced hard-boiled eggs and grilled chicken breast, which I highly recommend getting blackened. The lunch menu also includes a bunch of classic sandwiches and burger, as well as wraps such as the Southwest one containing blackened chicken, bacon, cheddar cheese, tomato, lettuce, and ranch dressing.
Robin’s Downtown Cafe, which offers indoor and sidewalk seating, is open 7 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, 7 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Saturday and 8 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Sunday. But call ahead. They had to close for a couple weekdays recently with a handwritten sign on the door advertising that they were hiring for all positions. As the Herald-Tribune previously reported, Sarasota-Manatee restaurant and bar owners are currently struggling to hire as things return to normal.
The B’Towne Coffee Co.
440 Old Main St., Bradenton; 941-745-3100; facebook.com/btownecoffee
The B’Towne Coffee Co. is another landmark downtown Bradenton destination, thanks to its central Old Main Street location with shaded sidewalk seating, a variety of Joffrey’s coffee brews, as well as iced coffees, kava, several teas and more including beer and wine.
Plus, you can get a Cuban along with other sandwich staples, as well as a cup or bowl of chicken chili or black beans and rice. B’Towne also has a breakfast menu, including a breakfast Cuban made with egg, cheese and ham on Cuban bread, and a nice selection of ice cream.
The Loaded Barrel Tavern
450 Old Main St., Bradenton; 941-745-8433; facebook.com/theloadedbarreltavern
A legend among local bartenders, Paul Kotlarczyk built a loyal army of followers on Old Main Street while slinging drinks at Lost Kangaroo before opening The Distillery by DeSoto Square Mall about 15 years ago. In 2011, Kotlarczyk returned to Old Main Street with what is now The Loaded Barrel Tavern.
Loaded Barrel offers an array of craft beers and cocktails as well as downtown Bradenton’s only late-night pizza option. Served by the slice, there’s the standard cheese and pepperoni options, as well as garlic knots, which are all great, especially after a long afternoon or evening of libations.
But what Loaded Barrel really rocks are specialty pizzas. The menu includes five fun options but the regulars know to check Loaded Barrel’s Facebook page every Monday for the weekly pizza special reveal. Perhaps the most famous of the bunch, and definitely a personal fave, is The Cuban pizza. It’s a yellow mustard base with mozzarella, Swiss cheese, roast pork, Genoa salami, ham and dill pickles, and a must-try for Cuban sandwich enthusiasts. Plus, the weekly special can be ordered by the slice as well as by the pie.
Mustard-based pizza not your thing? Again, check back on Mondays. Recent selections include a Reuben pizza ahead of St. Patrick’s Day and a garden pizza with red sauce, mozzarella, mushrooms, green peppers, olives, onions, and mild banana peppers.
1401 Manatee Ave. W., Bradenton; 941-405-4744; sagebiscuitbradenton.com
Sage Biscuit Cafe, which has operated its wildly popular original location on Cortez Road for nearly a decade now, opened its second Bradenton location downtown on Manatee Avenue West, just a short walk from Old Main Street, in 2016. And it has also reigned as one of the busiest restaurants around. And for good reason. The food is fabulous.
For breakfast, favorites include the recently introduced Becca’s Chicken Biscuit, which is among the best comfort foods I’ve consumed in recent memory. It’s a big, hand-breaded, crispy chicken breast topped with pickles and American cheese, served on their signature sage biscuit with choice of their spicy bourbon “helleer sauce” (my fave) or honey mustard, and then I highly recommend spending a couple extra bucks for their jalapeno bacon.
Yeah, that jalapeno bacon is highly addictive and also plays a key role in another must-try breakfast dish, the jalapeno bacon and fried green tomato benedict. In addition to creative versions of classics, Sage Biscuit’s extensive breakfast menu features a whole bunch of excellent vegetarian and vegan options like the banana crunch oatmeal, tofu scramble and veggie hash.
Among the lunch options, essentials include the pastrami sandwich. The beef is brined, seasoned and smoked by Joe Moreta, head chef and co-owner. It’s then thinly sliced and served with Swiss cheese and stone-ground mustard sauce on fluffy slices of fresh rye bread. Other highlights include the jalapeno-bacon wedge salad topped with blackened chicken, the chicken pot pie, the beer braised beef sandwich, the meatloaf sandwich, and the fried green tomato BLT.
Again, lots of vegan and vegetarian options for lunch, too, including one of Sarasota-Manatee’s best veggie burgers. It’s fresh roasted vegetables, black beans, and cheddar cheese topped with tomato, field greens, and a sensational roasted red pepper mustard on brioche roll.
Sage Biscuit is open daily 7 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Sugar Cubed and Happy Soul
Bradenton’s best bakery, or as they call themselves, “pastry lab,” Sugar Cubed is where you go to order an amazing custom cake or just stop by for some breakfast goodies. Happy Soul, which shares the same storefront, serves beloved vegan lunches as well as vegan and gluten-free baked goods. In February, Happy Soul started offering gluten-free, vegan edibles via their edible line called Lifted, which uses Delta-9 CBD oil.
Sugar Cubed’s breakfast menu includes muffins, scones, bagels, croissants, breakfast sandwiches, and, my personal favorite, the huge homestyle biscuits! They also offer a “giant and gooey” Cinnamound Roll if you call 24 hours in advance and order a minimum of three.
Excelling at vegan comfort food, Happy Soul’s menu includes barbecue jackfruit with roasted brussels sprouts, cauliflower mash, mac and cheese, sweet potato fries, or truffle fries. The Jaffe burger is a house-seasoned Beyond patty with vegan cheese, aioli, ketchup, mustard and pickles; and there’s the house-seasoned Beyond meatloaf too. Happy Soul’s menu also includes a plant-based “fried chicken wrap” and “Cuban sandwich” as well as personal pizzas and empanadas.
Sugar Cubed is open 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday and 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Friday. Happy Soul’s hours are 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday and 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Friday.
535 13th St. W., Bradenton; 941-226-0110; chateau-13.com
If you’re seeking an exceptional fine-dining experience – the kind worthy of birthdays, anniversaries or third dates with someone you really, really want to impress – be sure to make a reservation at Château 13. Occupying the historic Hullinger Music Store on 13th Street, between bustling Old Main Street to the north and the Village of the Arts to the south, Château 13 offers brilliant, European-inspired cuisine in a charming setting that now includes al fresco options.
Opened in early 2019 by Wim and Mieke Lippens from Belgium, the couple had previously transformed the porch of their Palmetto Riverside Bed and Breakfast along the Manatee River into one of the trendiest dining spots in the county. Now, that title belongs to their Château 13 restaurant and wine bar.
Executive chef Greg Harrison’s menu includes a global cheese and charcuterie selection with appetizers including seared foie gras, beef tartare, escargots à la bourguignonne, and the absolutely sublime braised octopus. Tender enough to cut with a spoon, it’s prepared in a chili pepper citrus marinade and served with crispy fingerling potatoes and olive salad, smoked paprika oil and citrus aïoli.
There are three salad selections including a French Caesar featuring a refreshing vinaigrette rather than the standard cream dressing; as well as a remarkable Winter Green Salad goosed with walnuts, roasted beets and citrus segments. Prince Edward Islands mussels are offered three different ways and five hand-cut frites options including hollandaise and lobster mornay.
Entree options include a filet mignon, duck breast, seafood stew and the amazing sounding burger with foie gras. On a recent visit, we were thrilled by the thick, perfectly cooked filet of 60° South Antarctic Salmon with whole grain mustard crust; and the expert version of the French classic coq au vin featuring burgundy braised dark chicken meat, roasted oyster mushrooms, heirloom baby carrots, pancetta and fingerlings presented in natural jus.
For dessert, be sure to try the mille-feuille (mulled wine poached pear, mascarpone crème, spiced wine reduction layered on a puff pastry) or perhaps the flourless chocolate torte. There’s also a Grand Marnier crème brûlée and chocolate mousse.
Château 13 offers an impressive wine selection focusing on France, Italy, Spain and America as well as a great beer selection heavy on Belgian favorites that pair nicely with basically everything on the menu. And while the restaurant does not have a liquor license, they serve general manager Jenn Sayko’s ingenious wine cocktails.
Be sure to try The Original Champagne Cocktail (sugar cube, bitters, French brut, lemon peel) or my personal favorite, The French 13. It’s her take on the famed French 75, with French brut augmented by botanical vermouth and fresh lemon. Château 13 serves dinner from 5 to 9 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday. Reservations are highly recommended.
More:Chateau 13 restaurant and wine bar set to open
Wade Tatangelo, the Herald-Tribune’s entertainment editor, may be reached by email at [email protected] Support local journalism by subscribing.