The Tampa Tribune’s food writer since 2005, Jeff Houck covers the way people live through their food. He also hosts the Table Conversations food podcast and believes that everything crunchy is good.
Most Recent Entries
- Join The Plate Licker’s Club; Leave No Morsel Behind
- Greg And Michelle Baker To Follow The Refinery In Seminole Heights With Fodder & Shine
- Weekend Eats: Homemade Moussaka, French Fries With Cheese Gravy, Meatball Banh Mi Sandwiches
- The Sip: Drinking In ‘The Great Gatsby’ With Martinis And Mint Julep.
- Mouth Safari: The Stein & Vine Brings Great Eats, Outstanding Drinks To Valrico
- Weekend Eats: Pork Tonkotsu Ramen, Spicy Chicken And Waffles, Oysters With Crispy Shallots
- The Underbelly Tour Devours Central Avenue Restaurants In St. Petersburg
- Hot Rod’s BBQ In Lutz Serves Up It’s Last Plate Of Barbecue Fruit Bat. Or Whatever It Was.
- Hank Shaw - Hunter, Gardener, Fisherman, Cook - Wins A James Beard Award
- Gary and Amy Moran Out At Wimauma Restaurant In South Tampa
- This Is Tampa Style. This Is Who We Are. Take It And Eat It.
- Weekend Eats: Snickers Flapjack, Thai Donuts, Sushi On The Beach
- The Sip: The Best That A Very Thirsty Tampa Has To Drink
- Rooster & The Till; Seminole Heights To Get New Restaurant
- Weekend Eats: Nutella Latte, Foie Gras Wagyu Burger, Rootini
Weekend Eats: Pork Tonkotsu Ramen, Spicy Chicken And Waffles, Oysters With Crispy Shallots
Posted May 6, 2013 by Jeff Houck
Updated May 6, 2013 at 05:43 PM
I don’t want to show my cards, but you stand a considerably better chance of winning each week’s Weekend Eats battle royale if whatever photo you submit has an egg on it.
Doesn’t matter what it is.
Bowl of cereal? Put an egg on it.
Glass of champagne? Put an egg on it.
Plate of eggs? Put another egg on it. In fact, put two, just to be sure.
That gives you some explanation why by Twitter chum Stacy Tabb - who goes by the handle @sekimori - took the top prize with her photo of duck confit with caramelized pineapple and quail egg she had at the Terrace Grill in Lakeland.
Not only did she go egg, she mixed her fowl, going with the duck confit and then taking a dog leg to the quail.
For her efforts, she now enters the hallowed and revered Weekend Eats Hall of Fame on Pnterest (540 followers? Somebody needs a life.) as well as earns the very fine book by chef Richard Blais, “Try This At Home.”
Allow me to suggest making the Potato Chip Omelet.
Other notable submissions included:
@gregsbaker: Chicken livers antichucos, with aji panca & choclo @SevicheLatinRes
@karenmcallister: Fave #WeekendEats Made Mexican Pizza with Chipotle Orange Sauce. Delish! Recipe via @familyfoodie
And now, this week’s gallery of Noms. (click on individual photos to read the descriptions):
The Underbelly Tour Devours Central Avenue Restaurants In St. Petersburg
Posted May 5, 2013 by Jeff Houck
Updated May 5, 2013 at 10:30 AM
ST. PETERSBURG - “We don’t serve a large coffee,” the server told me, his voice grave and full of authority. As if he was telling me the Supreme Court rejected my death-row appeal.
Huh? What gives?
A large coffee seemed like the perfect sidekick to the lemon bars and apple crumb cake I was enjoying along with friends on the sunshine-bathed patio at Everything Dolce dessert bar on Central Avenue. Refuse me coffee and you do so at your own peril.
He sensed my dismay. He reloaded.
“Our only serving size is ‘Awesome,’” he said with a straight face.
OK. That made me smile.
“Then I guess I’ll have an Awesome coffee,” I said.
And so began our Central Avenue Underbelly Tour.
For the uninitiated, I started touring under-the-radar restaurants and food spots in 2007, after Tampa chef Greg Baker and his wife, Michelle, offered to introduce me to their favorite places for grub. [link to gallery]
That idea later evolved into gathering a group of adventurous souls to spend a day eating along roads not normally known for their culinary destinations. On Causeway Boulevard [link], we found a Cuban pizza spot and a Puerto Rican deli in a gas station. Nebraska Avenue [link] fed us with gator ribs and strip club bar snacks. Waters Avenue [link] unleashed a fury of Vietnamese pho, Russian pastries and Caribbean mofongo on our bellies. You get the idea.
For the latest journey, I decided a St. Petersburg sojourn was in order. Sure, downtown gets plenty of props for stylish bistros, trendy waterfront bars and grand resort dining, but once you get past the first few streets west of Beach Drive, the drop-off in attention is severe.
Which is a shame, because a bounty of great food rewards the curious eater.
After decades of near-dormancy, decay and promises of development that never quite happened, Central Avenue’s Edge and Grand Central districts are crafting a new identity with funky neighborhood bars, vintage furniture shops and independent restaurants.
To survey some of what the area had to offer, I invited a few friends and fellow food lovers to join me and my wife, Grace, for the feast: Tampa Tribune friends Brian and Lucretia Junge and David and Jane Williams; Moki Barragan and Pete Cajigal of TastyCotton.com; and 102.5 radio host Drew Garabo.
EVERYTHING DOLCE DESSERT BAR
937 Central Ave., St. Petersburg
With the Awesome coffee in hand, I invited the group to sample a variety of delicacies, including chocolate espresso cookies, chocolate-coconut macaroons and almond horn pastries dipped in chocolate, which Garabo said reminded him of a Lorna Doone cookie. Lucretia Junge washed hers down with an iced French vanilla latte.
Owner Lou Albano – yes, he knows there was a wrestler by the name Capt. Lou Albano – bought the former Café Bohemia six months ago, changed the name and remade the menu with help from master pastry chef Michael Ostrander.
During a scouting trip a few days before the tour, I ate a raspberry swirl cheesecake [pictured above] that almost made me weep with joy. I of course shared it on Instagram to drive my friends crazy with envy. My evil plot worked.
“THAT WINS!” Brian Junge said as soon as he ate the apple crumb cake. “WOW!”
His exclamation caused us all to lunge for the tray for our own taste. We agreed with his assessment and, with our lips coated with sugar and caffeine, left the table like a herd of hungry Godzillas to trample our way toward the avenue’s other restaurants.
BODEGA LATIN MARKET FOOD
1120 Central Ave., St. Petersburg
The neighborhood Latin bodega was where George and Debbie Sayegh found the best food while living in Brooklyn, N.Y. They eventually went on to start their own Cuban coffee shop.
After moving to St. Pete, they looked for a place where they could open a spot similar to the Miami restaurants that serve Cuban coffee through street-front windows.
Bodega, which has no market, mimics those eateries with Cuban flavors on the menu, a walk-up order window, sidewalk tables and outdoor bar stools that overlook the kitchen.
Because the lunchtime crowd already had swamped the place, we pulled together tables on the back patio and ordered a variety of menu items to share. In addition to the pressed and perfectly crispy Cuban sandwich, the flavorful Vaca Frita skirt steak, the coconut marinated Pollo Asado and a sweetly satisfying brick of Cuban bread pudding [pictured above], Pete Cajigal ordered a cafecito, a Cuban style of espresso sweetened with sugar as it brews.
Cajigal’s father is from Hialeah, so he knows his Cuban beverages.
After one sip, he declared, “This is the best cafecito I’ve had in the area.”
End of discussion.
ENGINE NO. 9
56 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. St. N., St. Petersburg
I’m telling you that the hamburger winked at me.
The Chubby Duck [pictured above], with its caramelized onions, salty pancetta, oozing brie, buttery foie gras and crispy duck cracklings looked me in the eye and threw a flirty wink at me.
I swear this is true.
That’s how I fell in love with it, unashamedly, in front of the group. So much so that I didn’t care that this restaurant one block north of Central Avenue varied from our one-road rule.
Engine No. 9 looks nothing like the Chatterbox Grill that once held this space.
Owner Jason Esposito [pictured above, right, with artist David Williams], nephew to hockey legend Phil Esposito, created a bar with great food that just happens to have flat-screen TVs and framed hockey sweaters on the wall.
That explains the plate of Macho Tater Tots swimming in chili and topped with a toupee of shredded Jack and cheddar cheese. The Sriracha Crusted Hot Wings are flavorful without being painful. If pain is what you seek, go for the Ghost Wings. But notify next of kin first.
Or just stick to the flock of 20 burgers on the menu. Yes, they have salads. They’re lovely. But you don’t want the salads. You want a burger. Trust me on this.
You want the duck burger that winks at you. Just like it did to me.
THE SPOT GRILL
1437 Central Ave., St. Petersburg
I had to put The Spot on our mouth safari. George Sayegh at Bodega recommended the burgers at this tiny storefront that looks as if it fell out of a country salvage shop.
Oh great. Another burger
I’m so glad I did.
After Brian methodically hack-sawed the Black & Blue burger into eight equal parts, we each agreed that this was one fantastically, exceedingly bodacious hamburger. It did not wink at me, but I made a mental note to return as soon as humanly possible for my own full-size sample.
“This burger is the real deal,” Brian said. “This is the way a burger should be.”
The good news is that it is surrounded by tasty friends on the menu, including pierogies, a shrimp po’ boy, a cheese steak sub loaded with onions and mushrooms and “pork wings” with Thai chili, barbecue or buffalo sauce.
For the adventurous eater, The Spot does a three-course exotic game tasting for $25 each Sunday that features unusual proteins each month. When we were there, rabbit and wild boar were the stars of the show.
ARTPOOL GALLERY & VINTAGE BOUTIQUE CAFE
2030 Central Ave., St. Petersburg
The vintage/antique scene is strong on Central Avenue. For years, the recycled treasure stores were the main occupants on the street. In ARTpool, artist Marina Williams takes the scene to a new level of kitsch.
What Williams gets and most of the other shops are missing is that all this familiar but strange stuff needs a pairing with food.
ARTpool Gallery Café’s menu, served in a covered indoor-outdoor setting on vintage patio and dinette sets, mixes comfort foods, such as pressed pimento cheese sandwiches and egg salad with “seasonings your mama used,” with healthier fare.
Sesame noodles [pictured above], veggie wraps and bistro salad make eating outside more palatable during warm months.
The dip duo of hummus and tzatziki with kalamata olives, stuffed grape leaves and pita wedges made a great group appetizer.
It was necessary, you see. Drew Garabo [pictured above] expended a great deal of energy combing the vintage vinyl LPs while waiting for the food.
The satisfied joy he exhibited after discovering the movie soundtrack from “Grease” and Billy Idol’s “White Wedding” album was something you only see in drivers who have traffic tickets dismissed because the cop doesn’t show up in court.
BEAK’S OLD FLORIDA
2451 Central Ave., St. Petersburg
I picked this place for several reasons, not the least of which was that the décor in the bar looks like the inside of Gary Busey’s head.
I also chose it because itinerant chef Domenica Macchia consulted on the menu. And wherever she cooks, I follow. No questions asked.
We were ill-prepared for the avalanche of food that hit our table.
A B.L.A.T. (Bacon, Lettuce, Avocado & Tomato) sandwich sent everyone into a salty-creamy-crunchy tizzy. That was just the start.
I won’t give away any names, but several in our group openly announced that the brownie was so delicious, it made them question their identity in the universe. Which, for a dessert item, is a fairly significant achievement.
By the time the funnel cake-like carnival straws with strawberry drizzle and vanilla ice cream hit the table, we all were drunk on flavor and ridiculously happy.
So happy, in fact, that if the day came in portion sizes, it would have been labeled, “Awesome.”
Hot Rod’s BBQ In Lutz Serves Up It’s Last Plate Of Barbecue Fruit Bat. Or Whatever It Was.
Posted May 4, 2013 by Jeff Houck
Updated May 4, 2013 at 09:58 AM
LUTZ - “It says barbecued fruit bat on the menu,” I said.
A twinkle shined in the corners of Rod Gaudin’s eyes. He put the exotic item on his menu years ago at Hot Rod’s BBQ and Grill on Livingston Avenue.
I told him I was by no means an expert on bat physiology, but with such tiny wings, it was probably a species more likely to walk than to fly. I suspected the delicious animal in front of me with arms crossed like an altar boy was, in fact, quail.
That brought a smile.
All he would say was, “It says fruit bat on the menu.”
Except that’s not true either. There is no menu.
After 17 years, Hot Rod’s is no more.
The restaurant was sold last week for $19,000 in a foreclosure auction after a civil lawsuit by her former boss, David Potts, went against Rod and his wife, Helen.
A jury earlier this year ruled in Potts’ favor after he sued the couple for not paying back loans he made to them for insurance, property taxes and improvements on the restaurant.
The Gaudins maintain they not only paid back the loans, but Potts actually owes them money. Potts disputes this. On Friday, Potts said by phone that he offered to let the family run the restaurant after he takes over. They refused.
“I tried to work with (Gaudin) for three and a half years, and he just wouldn’t work with it,” Potts says.
Rod Gaudin, [above] who twice ran unsuccessfully for county commission, has since petitioned the governor for help, citing 700 supporters on Facebook. He’s begged his congressman for assistance, to no avail. A hearing to set aside the judgment is scheduled for next week. He is not optimistic.
So on Thursday, the last official day of business, Gaudin held a celebratory wake of sorts at the restaurant, inviting friends, family and customers to have a bite, enjoy some music and buy the antiques, collectibles and, well, junk he has accumulated over the years.
He’ll hold what he calls “a redneck auction” through the weekend. The mounted wild boar in the men’s room had a $100 price tag.
The 1960s vintage Coca-Cola machine was going for $500. An old wood stove was listed at $400.
A homemade statue of Yoda gripping a light saber, with an American flag in his chest, did not have a price.
Gaudin’s bottles of mosquito blood hot sauce were already sold.
I bought the one-eyed mounted deer next to the boar, the one with a messed up nose and an orange-and-blue striped neck tie. My keen eye told me that kind of hoarding treasure doesn’t come around very often.
At 2:44 p.m. Thursday, the last order of cherry-flavored bat, or quail, or whatever it was, left the kitchen, headed for the hungry mouth of Kris Moats, a lifelong Lutz resident. [The last bat is pictured above]
“Our family has been here for 70 years,” Moats said. “We’ve got roads named for us.”
He ordered it with ribs and a side of corn pudding. His wife, Lisa, kept their 2-year-old toddler, Emma, fed with green beans in their corner booth as she ate her own basket of smoked and sticky chicken wings. The booth was in the part of the building that used to be a carport on a residential house before Gaudin covered it in reclaimed wood and made it into a ’cue shack.
“Eating here is like eating with your neighbors,” Emma Moats said.
Not any more.
Nancy Boyette Garvey, a 56-year-old retired Jazzersize instructor from Lutz, said she and her daughter would ride their bikes up to Rod’s for a meal. They would buy vegetables at the roadside stand he built out front by the jalopy covered in moss and ferns. It sits next to a sign that reads “LUTZ BEST CUBAN.” I’m guessing it was Lutz’s only Cuban, but I could be wrong. It still tasted great to me.
“This place is a piece of history for Lutz,” Garvey said. “It’s like stepping into another time.
“How many Hot Rod’s are around?” she asked. “None.”
One couple from Alaska who asked not to be named sent Rod a check for $1,000 when they read about his plight on Facebook. A former ranch family from Lutz — back when they drove cows on Highway 54 on Sunday afternoons when traffic was light — they ate at Hot Rod’s during a return visit and fell in love.
Gaudin tried to send their check back, but the husband wouldn’t hear of it. I called him in Fairbanks to confirm the tale. He said the story was true but he didn’t want any notoriety from it. “I don’t know the family well other than from being customers, but Rod has worked for everything he’s had,” he said. “It’s the best barbecue I’ve ever had.”
And now it’s gone.
Or maybe not. Gaudin says he isn’t giving up.
He didn’t give up six years ago when a doctor told him the eyelet cell carcinoma living in his pancreas was going to kill him within months. He told the doctor he wasn’t going to die. So he didn’t.
“My brother-in-law said, ‘Walk away from the restaurant. You’ve got cancer,’” Gaudin says. “I said, ‘Bobby, I can’t do that.’”
He didn’t give up when he was sent as a young man to serve in Vietnam. “I fought on behalf of a country in which someone took their property,” he said. “I’ll be damned if I’m going to come home and let someone take my property.”
Rod Gaudin has been Hot Rod for 17 years. It’s all he has ever wanted to be. He intended for it to provide retirement money for him and his wife. He has $900,000 invested in the land and the building. He even lost the tip of his left index finger sawing a cedar plank for the entrance.
“The happiest day I’ve had was the day I opened the restaurant,” he says.
All business failures are terrible and full of strife. But restaurants hold a special charm in the community. Nobody celebrates a birthday at a quick-lube. No one drinks their way through a divorce at a dry cleaner.
Restaurants are in the business of eliciting happy, pleasing, soothing emotions. They do that by convincing you to put what they make into your body. Money is precious. Your taste buds are valuable real estate. Every bite is a contract.
When a restaurant disappears out of a small town, jobs disappear as well. But you also lose a place where good memories are made.
No matter how big the business might be, every restaurant is someone’s on-ramp to a better life. When that doesn’t work out, the off-ramp is steep and slippery.
It was Rod’s ticket to a happy retirement.
Now it’s over.
Say goodbye to the fruit bat from Lutz. Whatever it was.
Hank Shaw - Hunter, Gardener, Fisherman, Cook - Wins A James Beard Award
Posted May 4, 2013 by Jeff Houck
Updated May 4, 2013 at 08:26 AM
Two years ago this month, I had a chance to go fishing 20 miles off Longboat Key in the Gulf of Mexico with Hank Shaw, author of the blog Hunter Angler Gardener Cook [link] and the resulting book “Hunt, Gather, Cook: Finding the Forgotten Feast.” [link]
His message: Food is all around us. You just have to know what you’re looking for, know how to get it and then know how to cook it. If that’s the way you like to approach your food, if you’re a Ron Swanson type when it comes to grub, Hank Shaw is your man.
A former political reporter in Northern California, Shaw turned a lifelong passion for dining on the outdoors into a writing career. Last night in New York City, he took home a prestigious James Beard Foundation Award for best food blog. It was his third medal for the site.
During his visit to Tampa, he hooked into amberjack, threw down some devil crab at Brocato’s and taped a cooking segment on the “Daytime” show.
If it’s true that most people live on the world, not in it, Shaw is a one-man immersion project. He’s been foraging for berries and wild plants since he could walk. He started fishing even earlier, he says. Hunting came during adulthood, but he’s embraced that, too.
The blog and book are a declaration of eating independence from our grocery-bound existence.
“We’ve been hunters and gatherers eons longer than we’ve been farmers,” he writes. “Who among even the most urban of us has not eyed a ripe blackberry with interest, even lust, while walking along a path on a hot summer’s day?”
Most of us walk through our world and see water and land. Shaw sees a buffet ripe for the taking.
“Our level of ignorance about wild plants is epic,” he says. “How many people do you know who can walk down the street and say, ‘I know what that plant is, and that plant, and that plant?’ “When you walk down a street and you know that there is essentially the Garden of Eden all around you, there’s a source of personal satisfaction that transcends so much else, he says. “It makes you feel like a more complete human.”
Here’s an excerpt of our conversation during his visit:
Q. You’ve had a long relationship with wild food.
A. I have. But not everyone does. From my blog, I received emails from people who were interested in the wild, but had no idea how to do any of this. They knew dandelions. Some of them knew mushrooms. The world of fishing and hunting wascompletely opaque to them.
Then I started getting emails from hunters who said I know how to hunt, but I don’t know anything about wild plants. And the groups kept asking me for help in taking charge of what they eat and taking the middleman out of their own personal food chain.
Q. I imagine you get a lot of confessions about deficiencies.
A. One of my favorites is: “I just ate a mushroom.” If I get this email in real-time, I usually email back, “You should probably call 911.”
Q. How did we get so far away from our food roots? Are we just ignorant?
A. Ignorance is not a sin. Our world got incredibly busy. We’re constantly multitasking. We’re constantly being driven further and further away from the natural world around us. We choose not to pay attention. We choose to make food a convenience. I see that changing, and I think it’s a good thing. A great number of us, especially after World War II, valued convenience more than reality or than authenticity. I think that worm has turned, but it’s still far from where it used to be in the’20s and’30s.
Q. With the whole local, organic, sustainable movement, people still want to be able to buy those things. They don’t want to kill their own chickens or harvest their own produce. It’s a big gap.
A. It is. But in the book, if you’re not into doing any of that stuff all of the recipes have substitutions for something you can buy.
If you’re into making my braised squirrel dish but you’re not ready to go out and eat squirrels, you can use rabbit or you can even use chicken.
Q. I heard that a food writer in Atlanta took you to a random field and had you identify a few things you could eat.
A. Most books like this are very hyper-regional. It’s about Florida or Texas because that’s their region of expertise. Well, I’ve lived all over the country. The book is national and applicable no matter what state you live in.
So, the reporter said, “OK Mr. Big Guy. I’m going to take you someplace. I’m not going to tell you where.” So he drops me off in this vacant lot. And it’s like, “All right, let’s see if you can find something to eat.”
About two seconds after walking into this field, I found five things you could eat. And then I took another step and I saw a wild carrot. Then I took two more steps and found a patch of wild mint. I took four more steps and saw wild onions. Then we walked around the corner and there was yucca. There was a cherry plum tree with the red leaves. There was even a dead rabbit. I joked, “If we had gotten here earlier, we would have had protein.” It was a relief. I think I found close to 20 edible wild plants.
Q. You could have made a meal out of that.
A. Easy. Easy.
Q. The sense I get from you is that it must be like “A Beautiful Mind,” where the main character visualizes numbers and combinations and equations. You must walk through places and think, “Oh, I could eat that. And that. And that, too.”
A. The metaphor I use is “The Terminator,” where in the beginning he has that red, heads-up display in his eye. It really is like that.
When I’m in my own turf, I will mentally mark spots. I have a mental map in my area of northern California where I’m thinking, “It’s July, so I need to go here and there.”
I really think that’s how the original humans lived. Fifteen thousand years ago, before we settled down to do agriculture, hunters and gatherers ate hundreds of different types of plants. Nobody does that today. We eat six.
When I was younger, I lived for almost a whole year off just the fish I caught. I haven’t bought meat since 2005 because of what I’ve been able to hunt and fish.
If you have an open mind, you’ll always eat.
Gary and Amy Moran Out At Wimauma Restaurant In South Tampa
Posted May 3, 2013 by Jeff Houck
Updated May 3, 2013 at 03:31 PM
Chef Gary Moran and his wife Amy are no longer a part of the ownership of Wimauma restaurant on South MacDill Avenue in Tampa.
Amy Moran says a dispute with a major investor led to the couple to sell their stake in the restaurant after a meeting at 5 p.m. Thursday. The couple, she says, own 83 percent of the business. The choice was to either buy out the investor or take their money out and move to a new project, she says.
“It was time to go in a new direction,” she said this afternoon. “We had a disagreement with our investors, a difference of opinion on where to go with the restaurant.”
The couple opened Wimauma in December 2011 after walking out of the former Knife & Co. on Kennedy Boulevard four days after opening in November of that year. The restaurant eventually reopened as Edison Food + Drink Lab with chef Jeannie Pierola.
The Moran’s received favorable reviews for their “cracker meets cuisine” food, which focused on using Florida ingredients. In 2012, the restaurant on a Best New Restaurant award from Florida Trend magazine’s Golden Spoon Awards.
On Feb. 1, Amy Moran took over management of the Winthrop Barn, an event facility on Bloomingdale Avenue in Brandon. That arrangement ended this week as well. Earlier this week, Gary Moran held a Spanish dinner demonstration at the facility.
Without her thee to manage and market the restaurant, business dropped by about 30 percent at Wimauma. The drop was acceptable, she said, because the barn operation was highly profitable. Also, their rent had recently been lowered and they were planning to expand into an adjoining space and pick up a full liquor license.
“We were doing more in a day at the barn than we were in a week here,” she said. “But we were still doing good volume.”
Moran said they plan to open another restaurant, just not like the quick turnaround that created Wimauma.
“I promise you I’m not going to work at our quick, crazy pace,” she said. “I’m going to take at least a couple weeks.”
Then she added, “Although we did go look at one last night.”
Here’s a gallery of photos I’ve shot at the restaurant since its opening:
(Photo at top from Wimaumafoods.com)