By Saundra Amrhein
On a sunny and lazy Sunday afternoon, Luanne Haver moved about inside the cool Stirling Tropical Wine shop, pouring a Chilean Merlot, an Argentine Malbec and three other fine, boutique wines.
Meanwhile, upon the same table, Amanda Valentin of Fleur de Lis Cheese Shop set down a spread of aged Gouda, jerk cheddar and other imported cheeses to pair with the wines.
The atmosphere and décor – the high-top tables, wooden bar and floors, chocolate-colored walls, stored wine bottles and glass cases holding fresh goat cheese – mixed with the live folk music piped in from the courtyard to give the feel of an intimate Parisian bistro.
For years, Dunedin – a small waterfront town on central Florida’s west coast about five miles north of Clearwater – has been known for the cluster of famous beaches around it: the white sands of Clearwater Beach and the shimmering waters on the shores of both Honeymoon Island and Caladesi Island state parks, all just a few miles away.
But this vibrant coastal village has a bevy of high-caliber offerings to delight food and music lovers throughout a charming downtown dotted with locally run shops, galleries and art studios.
Residents and visitors, clad in shorts and sandals, stroll the pedestrian friendly Main Street, passing tree-lined medians full of flowers and park benches. Cyclists come and go from the nearby Fred Marquis Pinellas Trail.
In the fall the town hosts a Wine and Blues Festival; in the winter a Mardi Gras Parade and Festival as well as a Craft Festival that attract tens of thousands of people.
On a regular basis, visitors can choose from an organic grocery; coffee shops like Sweet Peas Café, serving organic and locally brewed coffees, baked goods, salads and sandwiches; and a selection of diverse dining, music and drinks, from Flanagan’s Irish Pub, to Casa Tina’s fine Mexican cuisine, to Pensare Italian Bistro & Wine Bar.
“We really work hard to create something special,” said Haver, who is both a co-owner of Stirling alongside her husband and also a board member of the Downtown Dunedin Merchants Association. “It’s definitely a foodie town for sure.”
Several months earlier, she had invited Fleur de Lis Cheese Shop owner Regina AaMacha to move her operations from a neighboring town to Stirling. Valentin, AaMacha’s daughter, now works alongside Haver to host wine and cheese pairings and classes. Visitors can also enjoy craft beers or French-pressed coffees inside the cozy wine bar or outside on the patio while listening to live musicians, some of whom belong to AaMacha’s Tampa Bay Musicians Co-Op.
“We all think Gouda is a kind of cheese, but it’s a cooling process,” Valentin said as she expertly paired a Reypenaer aged Gouda cheese from the Netherlands with a Merlot called Nena from Chile, adding a touch of pistachios on the plate for a delightful, salty kick.
As she moved on to pair a buttery Manon cheese from Spain with an organic reserve Malbec from Argentina, Peter and Cece Hall of Tampa were seated at a nearby table, enjoying their wine and cheese pairings. The two are avid travelers and wine enthusiasts. They decided to make the one-hour drive on this Sunday to the shop after calling ahead and speaking with Valentin.
“She’s very knowledgeable,” Cece Hall said. “Her suggestions are spot on.”
Stirling is just one of many places to stop and enjoy during a visit to downtown Dunedin.
A few other recommendations:
- The Living Room at 487 Main Street, has an atmosphere that is romantic, upscale and cozy. Dine on the open patio; in the large bar area; or in the softly lit back dining room full of long draperies, maroon-colored walls and gilded mirrors. Live music runs from jazz to Spanish guitar to R&B. The diverse, tapas-style world fare on the menu includes curried vegetable empanadas, mango-and-brie quesadillas, cashew calamari coriander crusted Atlantic salmon, Black and Blue Nachos with chicken, gorgonzola fondue and pico de gallo among other ingredients.
- Dunedin Brewery at 937 Douglas Avenue is Florida’s oldest continually run microbrewery and offers more than a dozen brews a full menu of pub-style food and a regular schedule of live bands.
- Rosie’s Tavern at 730 Broadway is a relaxing neighborhood pub with a nice craft beer selection and a dog-friendly patio where residents and visitors can take in a pleasant afternoon and evening while listening to live music.
- Kelly’s – Chic a Boom Room Martini Bar – Blur Nightclub and Showbar – This complex from 319-325 Main Street offers breakfast, lunch and dinner in a restaurant setting, a fun cocktail bar with extensive wine, beer and martini lists, a dance club with deejays, live music, karaoke nights and drag revues.