“Delightfully different” Dunedin (done-ee-din), the often-stated words used by Mayor Julie Ward Bujalski, best sum up what it’s like to both stay and live in this distinctive locale — the focus of 2020’s Hidden Gems of Florida.
From nearby Caledesi Island (voted one of the best beaches in America by Dr. Beach) and Honeymoon Island, to a Major LeagueBaseball spring training stadium (home to Toronto Blue Jays) to an unrivaled fine arts center, including Food Arts programs where you can learn from chefs, Dunedin has it all.
This charming “city” feels more like a historic town that celebrates community and legacy with the same zeal as it displays its stunning location alongside the Gulf of Mexico’s tranquil, turquoise waters.
Part of that legacy includes the wonderfully located and beautifully appointed 83-room boutique Fenway Hotel. The hotel reopened in November 2018 after having played many different roles in Dunedin’s history since it first opened in 1927. It is an icon of the jazz age, playing host to musicians and legends during the times it operated as a hotel. It was the home to the first radio station in Pinellas County, where broadcasting occurred from the roof. Today, the Fenways’s Hi-Fi Rooftop bar is the place to be and be seen, especially at sunset. The jazz theme carries on throughout the hotel.
Food plays a part of Dunedin’s history, too. In the 1900s, the Skinner family was involved in the citrus industry and developed machinery to process oranges as well as citrus concentrate — you know, add two cans of water to the concentrate and the result is orange juice with all of the vitamin C.
I started my food exploration at the hotel’s HEW Parlor & Chophouse. The name is an ode to Herman Everett Wendell, The Fenway’s original architect. To “hew” also means to cut or chop. Executive Chef Eric McHugh curated a menu including chophouse classics and his interpretation of comfort food. When asked what his specialty is, he responded, “cooking.” And, if you really want to see the cooking action, request to be seated at the chef’s dining bar.
I started my HEW dinner with potato gnocchi, lightly tossed in a mixed mushroom ragu, topped with delicate homemade ricotta and pesto. The seared shrimp is accompanied by creamy polenta, slow roasted tomato, arugula salad, and corn with lemon caper butter. The soup du jour, Turkey Almandine, sounded like a strange combination, so of course I needed to try it. To my surprise, it worked. The broth-based soup is hearty, crunchy and has a complex flavor profile. Chock full of turkey, it had toasted almonds, Scottish rice, topped with chive oil, micro greens and tarragon. Chef Eric obliged my request for the recipe, at bit.ly/2vzkedh.
From the “Cuts & Chops” selections came a perfectly seasoned, pan-fried pork schnitzel with lemon aioli. The side of mixed grain salad (quinoa, couscous, farro, edamame and roasted corn) is tossed in a flavorful but not overpowering dressing.
For dessert, the Cherry Pop Float took me back to the teenage years when I was a soda jerk: cherry and chocolate ice cream, cherries and Dr. Brown’s Black Cherry soda. The goat cheese panna cotta was silky smooth, topped with fresh blackberry compote, lemon zest and thyme.
The intimate parlor bar at the entrance to HEW showcases an extensive whisky and scotch collection inspired by Dunedin’s Scottish heritage.
HEW’s breakfast menu has some interesting selections in addition to the basics. Joe’s Power Sandwich was my choice: egg whites, turkey sausage, tomato, avocado, roasted pepper and almond chimichurri. The chophouse concept is evident on the breakfast menu, too: Chophouse Omelet (shaved ribeye, Fontina cheese, roasted peppers, crispy shallots).
Of course I wanted to explore the eclectic food scene in Dunedin. The waterfront setting of Bon Appetit Restaurant provides breathtaking views of Honeymoon and Caladesi islands. And, those picture-worthy sunsets over the gulf! I met some local friends for dinner and they wanted me to try the seafood tower for an appetizer to share. The freshest chilled 11/4-pound Maine lobster, stone crab claws, the largest shrimp I’ve ever seen, and oysters on the half shell were beautifully presented. For the entrée, it was Grouper Bon Appetit, one of the dishes in the Chef Recommendation section. The fresh fish is sautéed with cherry tomatoes, capers, feta and lemon butter. The feta added a flavorful twist to the dish.
If you are too full but still have a sweet tooth, or like me you want to try a few desserts, the petite dessert options are just the right size. The key lime pie with a graham cracker crust and meringue top and the chocolate peanut butter torte (chocolate cake, peanut butter mousse, chocolate sauce and chopped peanuts) were my sweet endings. Wine connoisseurs won’t be disappointed with the reserve wine list.
The aroma of barbecue hit me while walking in the heart of Dunedin. I knew then, I would need to dine at The Dunedin Smokehouse. Wanting to try a few different meats, I chose “The Porker Combo” (3 meats/2 sides) from the “Build Your Own Combo” section. My selection: brisket, pulled chicken, pulled pork, handcut fries and jalapeno-sweet potato cornbread with a paprika smoked honey butter to spread on it — delicious!
For a relaxing breakfast, laid-back lunch, midday snack or weekend dinner, The Little Red House Café & Restaurant is cozy, family-friendly (kids can play in the “mini” red house in the yard) and serves simple, but delicious homemade food, organic when possible, with gluten-free, vegetarian and vegan options. For lunch, try the La Nissarda (tuna, anchovies, tomato, pepper, egg, red onion, black olives, baby greens with olive oil & housemade basil dressing). The sweet potato shepherd’s pie is another popular dish. There is a large selection of coffee drinks, tea and smoothies. The Metabolizer (green tea, almond milk, honey, cinnamon, banana, ginger and vanilla) and The Dunedin Sunrise (mango, raspberry, cashew milk and agave) are two favorites.
You’ll find the most interesting toppings for frankfurters at Hot Dogs on Main, 505 Main St. Offering both Brooklyn- and Chicago-style hot dogs, organic gluten-free turkey dogs, kosher and vegetarian dogs, there is something for everyone, at very affordable prices. How’s this for a creative dog: “The Greek Hound Dog” topped with cucumber, tomato, onion, feta, olives, tzatziki, pepperoncini and oregano, or the “B.L.T. Dog,” topped with bacon, lettuce and tomato. I stayed with the more common dog, “The Brooklyn Dog,” topped with sauerkraut and spicy mustard. I guess you can take the boy out of Brooklyn, but can’t take Brooklyn out of the boy. By the way, the owner, Susan Norton, also is from Brooklyn, but loves her life in Dunedin.
After a couple of hot dogs, walk a few yards to Kookie Krums, for a cup of coffee and a freshly baked cookie, cupcake, brownie or muffin. The bakery is known for its decadent cookie sandwiches filled with delicious buttercream. You might even decide to send a beautifully created cookie bouquet to someone special, or to yourself.
One morning, visit the Dunedin Coffee Co. & Bakery, 730 Broadway Ave. Choose from huge biscuits — buttermilk, sweet potato or cheddar chive — served with jam or homemade sausage gravy. The “Southern Bell” is an open-face buttermilk biscuit topped with two scrambled eggs, homemade sausage gravy, melted cheddar cheese and chives. A variety of quiches are tempting, as are the mouth-watering cinnamon rolls. And, get your carrot cake scone while they last.
Dunedin also is home to Florida’s oldest microbrewery Dunedin Brewery, 937 Douglas Ave. Beer aficionados will appreciate that this brewery has helped cultivate a hyper-local passion for beer that has inspired eight other breweries to open up within one square mile. Inquire about tours of the brewhouse.
I was amazed by the number of different beers in their repertoire. The recent offerings: Chocolate Covered Cherry Imperial Stout (notes of sweet Oregon cherries, roasted cacao, milk chocolate), Apricot Peach Ale (fruit wheat beer, juicy, refreshing, fruitful).
The beer flight includes four beers from the current brews. The food menu is as interesting as the beer choices. I ordered the made-to-order Southern Fried Pork Rinds, garnished with a slice of lime. The squeeze of lime adds another dimension to the rinds.
Since the brewery won “the best wings” at the Wings, Beer and Baseball “Wing Night,” an order of Dunedin Brewery Wings was a must. They are marinated overnight, deep-fried, served naked with 2 dipping sauces: snakebite (medium spice) and the IPA blue cheese.
The Fried Wisconsin Cheese Curds (breaded white cheddar curds with a side of buttermilk ranch dressing) piqued my interest. Like spice? The curds are also served jalapeno-style.
The Chicken Salad sandwich — apricot peach ale-infused chicken salad prepared with celery, red onion and red grapes on toasted brioche (I chose the gluten-free bun) and a side of hand-cut french fries with a side of curry ketchup.
Dunedin might not have been on your bucket list of places for a Florida vacation, but one visit and you’ll be hooked like I am. For more on Dunedin, go to visitdunedinfl.com.
1 cup pearl barley
1/3 cup tri-colored quinoa, rinsed
2 cups cooked lentils, rinsed, drained
1/4 cup currants
2/3 cup walnut pieces
Salt and pepper to taste
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 cup chopped fresh mint, plus extra leaves, to serve
1/2 cup roasted corn kernels
2 scallions, trimmed, thinly sliced
2/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
1 teaspoon ground cumin
Whisk all of the dressing ingredient until combined.
Bring a large saucepan of salted water to the boil. Add the pearl barley and cook for 20 minutes. Add the quinoa and cook for a further 15 minutes or until both barley and quinoa are tender. Drain and rinse under cold running water. Transfer to a bowl. Add the cooked lentils and stir to combine. Stir in the currants and set aside.
Place the walnut pieces in a small frying pan over high heat. Cook, tossing the pan often, for 4 minutes or until toasted. Set aside to cool slightly. Add the walnuts and dressing to the barley mixture. Toss to combine. Taste and season well with salt and pepper. Add the coriander, mint, roasted corn and scallion and toss to combine. Serve chilled or room temperature
Dueling Piano Show & Dinner, Feb. 21, doors open at 7 p.m.; Four-course prix-fixe dinner, Guilford Mooring, 505 Whitfield St., Guilford, $60 plus tax and gratuity. Reservations: 203-458-2921. Menu: bit.ly/388ayVP
Wild game beer dinner, Feb. 27, 7 p.m., The Hops Co., 77 Sodom Lane, Derby, $80; $70 for mug club members. Each course paired with a Two Roads beer. Menu and tickets at https://bit.ly/39dT7TR.
Old Saybrook Chili Fest, Feb. 29, noon-3 p.m., Main Street, $10 for a ballot. Friendly competition with chili from about 30 chefs.
The top three winning chilis will be honored with a donation to the charity of their choice. Info and tickets at bit.ly/2uwLqcN