A visit to the iconic Belleview Inn takes you on a trip back in time to a hotel once known as the White Queen of the Gulf, a vacation haven to athletes, celebrities and presidents until it closed in 2009.
Steeped in its gilded age grandeur, the historic, 35-room Belleview Inn in Belleair, Fla., has been meticulously restored and recently reopened. The inn is a section of the original Henry Plant hotel, the Hotel Belleview, erected in 1897. And who was Henry Plant? What caught my attention and piqued my interest was the Connecticut connection. Born to a modest farming family in Branford in 1819, Plant first went to work at the age of 18 as a captain’s boy for the New Haven Steamboat Co. that ran between New York and New Haven. He’s the little-known individual responsible for kick-starting the development of Florida. Henry Plant was founder of the Plant System of railroads and steamship lines. Known for connecting the previously isolated Tampa Bay area and southwest Florida to the nation’s railroad through his network of southern railroads and acquisitions, he saw the potential in opening up this part of the state.
It was the kind of resort hotel the area had never seen and became the largest occupied wood-frame building in the world. Notable guests, including past presidents, musicians such as Tony Bennet and Bob Dylan, the DuPonts and the Vanderbilts retreated here for a high-class, laid-back leisure vacation. The golf courses hosted famous athletes, including Babe Ruth, Bobby Jones and Joe DiMaggio. Fascinating to watch was the video shown in Mort’s Reading Room (named after Henry’s son Morton) of the building being repositioned — lifted on to rollers, rotated 270 degrees and moved about the length of a football field, making it the largest moved structure in the world. The reading room is chock full of artifacts from the hotel’s heyday, including dishes, postcards, bellhop uniforms, even a sketch of the original golf courses signed by Donald Ross.
And speaking of golf, Belleview guests have access to play and eat at Florida’s historic Belleview Biltmore Golf Club, a few hundred yards away; the first golf course in Florida, opened in 1897 and redesigned by Donald J. Ross in 1915.
There are several eating and drinking venues to choose from, with breathtaking views of the golf course greens.
For lunch, I began with enjoying the views while savoring the red pepper bisque, silky with just the right creaminess. The entrée was one of the daily signature dishes, smoked salmon and asparagus quiche. To my surprise, the beautifully presented dish not only showcased an individual quiche, it was accompanied by a bagel, a generous serving of smoked salmon, cream cheese, diced red onion, tomato, capers and diced hard-boiled egg. A slice of key lime pie with Chantilly cream hit the sweet spot.
A unique service at the inn: each morning waiting at your door is a basket with freshly baked muffins, fruit and juices. Need something more or snacks during the day? Maisie’s Marketplace, named after Morton Plant’s wife, offers coffee, breakfast, beer, wine and small plates.
After enjoying the inn’s pool, you might wish to head to the beach to sink your feet into the powdery white sand or take a dip in the blue waters at Clearwater Beach, voted America’s Best Beach by TripAdvisor 2019. Guests of the Belleview Inn are warmly welcomed at its nearby beachfront sister property, the award-winning Sandpearl Resort, providing free valet parking and access to its expansive beach. While at the Sandpearl, I enjoyed Sunday brunch at Caretta on the Gulf, with breathtaking views. Not only will you savor traditional buffet breakfast items and made-to-order omelets, there are hot and cold main dishes such as tortellini antipasto, flatbread pizza, grouper, crispy-skin chicken, grilled pork loin, carving stations, sushi, salads, smoked salmon shrimp cocktail, oysters on the half shell and array of desserts from the pastry kitchen. My favorites, the Tequila sunrise panna cotta and key lime cheesecake. All of the desserts are just the right size, so you can try a few. And, let me not forget the waffles, served with house-made blueberry compote or real maple syrup and whipped cream. Champagne and mimosas, too.
Merging Italian cuisine, especially homemade pasta, and fresh-caught seafood, Sea-Guini, at the Opal Sands, also located in Clearwater Beach, is a coastal-inspired restaurant with beautiful Gulf of Mexico views. Standout features include a large, brick pizza oven and a homemade pasta making station, where I watched Mike Crosby, chef de cuisine, make pasta, a staple component of many of the menu’s dishes. Another standout is the chef’s focus on the use of farm-fresh and fresh-off-the-boat ingredients.
I started with the baked artichoke fonduta: tender baked artichokes with creamy fontina and ricotta cheese, topped with melted tomatoes, fresh herbs served with hearth flatbread. The crispy Brussels sprouts are flash-fried and served with shaved parmesan, whole grain mustard and truffle aioli. Chef Mike accommodated my request for a small portion of the lobster pappardelle (cold water lobster tossed with roasted wild mushrooms, baby heirloom tomatoes, sweet peas, sherry lobster sauce). Cobia, a mild firm white fish, similar to the texture of swordfish, is grilled and served with a pesto roasted vegetable medley and smoked almond romesco, and aged balsamic. Pairing bananas and cheesecake made for the perfect bananas foster cheesecake. The presentation is spectacular. Chef Mike shares the cobia recipe below.
Belleair Coffee Co. is the place for killer coffee and.… The coffee beans are roasted on premises. I stood in front of the showcase of delectable pastries, mesmerized by the baker’s creations. Turnovers and scones are sweet or savory. Quiche is made from cage-free eggs and the selection changes daily. The Belleair breakfast sandwich is prepared with cage-free eggs and nitrate-free bacon. The paleo carrot muffins are so moist and fragrant; it is surely not your typical paleo muffin. For this recipe, visit https://bit.ly/2Z4MSxf.
My food explorations are not complete without a visit to a chocolatier. I found some of the most beautiful chocolates at William Dean Chocolates.
Handmade in small batches, the chocolates are not only decadent, but works of art. Many look like colorful pieces of jewelry. I tried the lemongrass and coconut (white chocolate ganache infused with fresh lemongrass and coconut milk), and PB&J (milk chocolate and peanut butter with bits of peanut brittle topped with a blend of 3 jellies). The pastries are elegant, pleasing to the eyes as well as the taste buds. Check out this video interview from a visit I made several years ago, days after Bill Brown, founder and chief chocolate officer at William Dean Chocolates, opened the current location.
Locals highly recommended the Wildflower Café and Market, and it was named “Top Choice” for lunch and breakfast in Tampa Bay Newspaper’s Readers Polls, so I walked a few blocks from the inn only to find a long wait. Short for time, I had to put it on my list for a return visit. The outdoor patio, tucked under oak trees was very inviting. I peeked through the window of the marketplace; unfortunately they weren’t open yet. Filled with specialty food items, grab-n-go, cakes and pastries, it sure was a tease, all the reason for a return visit.
Brush the cobia with olive oil, salt, and pepper then grill until it is cooked through.
Cut vegetables and blanch. Toss with ½ cup of the pesto and roast at 350 degrees for about 5 minutes.
Place all pesto ingredients in a food processor or blender and process until smooth.
Heat all and simmer for 10 minutes then puree in food processor or blender until smooth. Adjust seasoning of salt and white pepper.
To plate, pour some romesco on plate, place some roasted vegetables over sauce and then place fish on top of vegetables. Optional: drizzle with aged balsamic reduction
Next Stop New Haven, April 22, 5:30 p.m., Shubert Theatre, 247 College St., New Haven, 203-562-5666, $75 general admission, $175 VIP, $30 under 30 years old. This is a fundraiser for the Shubert Theatre. Pre-show cocktails and small bites from a variety of New Haven restaurants, a program in the theatre featuring performances by three current Broadway stars, a live auction, the announcement of the 2019-20 Broadway season and a post-show dessert reception. Details and tickets at https://bit.ly/2Uxs0Mt.
Consiglio’s Cooking Demonstration and Dinner: April 24, 6:30 p.m., Consiglio’s Restaurant, 165 Wooster St., New Haven, 203-865-4489 (reservations required), $75 (beverages, tax and gratuity not included). https://bit.ly/2Nd0xAg Menu: Baby Arugula, Walnuts, Gorgonzola, Pancetta Vinaigrette; Homemade Bowtie Pasta, Broccoli Rabe, Sweet Sausage; Norwegian Salmon, Baby Spinach, Roasted Garlic Sauce; Poached Pears in Puff Pastry.
Worth Tasting: April 27, 10:45 a.m. the first guided 3½-hour culinary walking tour of the season, downtown New Haven, reservations required, 203-415-3519, 203-777-8550, $65. Tickets at https://bit.ly/2FjiwMP. Enjoy tasty samplings from several of New Haven’s favorites. You won’t be hungry after this tour. I will lead this one.
Suds & Curds beer and cheese pairing festival, April 27, 1-5 p.m., Black Hog Brewing, 15 Hurley Road, Building 9A, Oxford; general admission $60, includes 2-ounce beer and cheese samples, $80 VIP tickets include exclusive tour and tasting with master brewer Tyler Jones and cheese pairing master class with Jason Sobocinski at noon, $35 designated driver ticket includes cheese samples. For participating breweries, dairies and tickets, visit https://bit.ly/2TQpCz9.
Sip & Stir: May 1, 6:30-9 p.m., Chef’s Emporium, 449 Boston Post Road, Orange, $65. Reservations 203-799-2665, If you regularly smother spaghetti with a store-bought product you pour out of a jar, it’s time for you to learn to cook homemade pasta sauce. Making your own sauces might seem difficult. However, with a few simple cooking tips and tricks, you’ll be on your way to preparing a fresh, exceptionally tasty sauces. You will learn how to make, basil pesto sauce, Carbonara sauce, and Bolognese sauce. You’ll take some home to share with your friends and family. Feel free to bring your favorite bottle of wine or beverage to enjoy during this class. Tickets at https://bit.ly/2IcJZFE.