I’m going to state the obvious here: It’s absurdly cold in D.C. right now. I spent the last two weekends in Florida and, quite frankly, I’m ready to get back on a plane due south. Maybe it was the quick-change between seasons (I swear we only got a week out of fall clothes before it was full-on wool coat time), maybe it was the breaks from Florida sunshine (yes, I was back in D.C. between said weekends). Either way, I’m longingly recalling my brunch in Tampa where the view was this …
Yes, the weather was really that idyllic in Tampa on Thanksgiving week. And so Papa Love suggested we gather the Love crew and head to the seaside (OK, the Bay-side) for a simply smashing Sunday brunch at Oystercatchers. To make it true Bitches style, we also invited our Florida friends, including a few D.C. Bitches who had just relocated to Tampa that weekend, my lovely editor from my last magazine job (and now my dearest friend), and my high school best friend. Family, new friends, old friends. So perfect.
Oystercatchers is in the Grand Hyatt Hotel on Tampa Bay, right near the airport and the International Mall. It’s classic Tampa. On the top floor is Armani’s restaurant, said to be where everyone gets engaged in the city; on the bottom floor, beachside Oystercatchers. If you’re there for a romantic dinner on the rooftop, you get to overlook Tampa Bay. If you’re there for the fabulous seafood, you get to stroll on the beach after your meal. It’s the best of both Tampa worlds.
Inside Oystercatchers, it’s all wood paneling and sunlight, as if you’ve just walked onto a brand-new massive yacht. Even the wait staff is dressed in all white, ready to serve. The Sunday brunch buffet is impressive in its quality and yet not large enough to be overwhelming, which I like. To break it down, it’s separated into sections, or bars. There’s the breakfast bar in the middle, a cheese bar, an omelet bar, a seafood bar, a raw pasta bar, a fish and meats bar, a bagel bar, a salad bar, a fruit bar, a sushi bar, and a guacamole bar. OK, it sounds overwhelming, but it’s really not. I mean, this is not Vegas-style. The focus here is on the quality of the food. Every section is extremely well thought-out and maintained.
Let me dive in a little. The bagel bar, for one, is just beautiful. There’s every topping imaginable, and then there’s caviar, just in case you’d like a bit of caviar on that toasted wheat. The omelet bar gives you an option of egg types. Do you want yours made with brown eggs, white eggs, duck eggs, or quail eggs? The cheese table holds artisan selections from California, New York, and Oregon—all sorts of delicious yet mysterious types from the San Joaquin Gold to something called a Purple Haze.
My favorite sections of the buffet? OK, I have two. First up, I hit the seafood bar hard. I mean, this is, after all, one of Tampa’s best seafood restaurants, right? The chef was serving up buckets of jumbo shrimp and oysters. Or, if shellfish didn’t suit your fancy, you could have little glass dishes of fresh salmon on a tasty seaweed mix, or slices of tuna with delicious toppings.
My second favorite section was the raw pasta bar. A chef is stationed there ready to sauté up your heart’s desire. Lobster ravioli, potato gnoche, or penne as a base. Then top it with shrimp, chicken, sundried tomatoes, kalamata olives, poached asparagus, or julienne prosciutto, just to name a few of the options. Lastly, smother with alfredo, marinara, or mushroom cream sauce. Divine, but a little oily once it’s on the plate.
The breakfast selections were impressive, but I barely touched them (why would you when there’s such amazing fresh food?). Though, I admit, it’s necessary to have the breakfast there—and people were certainly getting their fill of it. There are homemade pastries, eggs Benedicts, buttermilk pancakes, maple cured bacon, and pork sausage.
The salad and fruit bars were adventurous. It’s not just your average melon selection or Caesar dressing and lettuce. Instead it was all sorts of mangos and inventive ceviches. Then there’s an entire table with a section of dinner-type dishes: pan-seared mahi mahi with papya relish and toasted almonds; beef kebabs made with a mushroom demi glaze and green onion; herb crusted chicken breast with fried prosciutto; blackened salmon with a sweet chipotle sauce; and more. So much more. Oh, and did I mention the make-your-own guacamole bar?
The service was delightful and personable, chit chatting with us as he poured those never-ending mimosas (which, I should mention, aren’t pre-mixed in the back. He’s popping champagne and topping it with freshly squeezed juice right in front of you). There’s valet at the door, and the hosts were patient enough with my never-ending requests to alter the reservation size. The whole experience was flawless.
Oh, wait. My goodness. I almost forgot to mention the dessert bar, which was so glorious it commandeered its own room. There was everything imaginable: moose martinis, cakes, cookies, cupcakes, brownies, tarts … you name the indulgence. Even chefs at the waiting, ready to whip up fresh bananas foster on a waffle with vanilla ice cream on top. All in all, an amazing, impressive buffet.
The Bitches say: A+ If you’re in Tampa, make it your brunch must. See all the photos here.
Grand Hyatt Tampa Bay
2900 Bayport Drive