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.
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2012 Was A Tasty Year For Tampa Food Lovers [Thanks For The Calories]
Posted Dec 27, 2012 by Jeff Houck
Updated Dec 27, 2012 at 06:06 PM
As food years go, 2012 was a tasty one for Tampa and neighboring cities.
Food trucks continued their drive toward being a mainstream source of mobile dining as menus diversified (Okinawa soba noodles, bison burgers, etc.), more cities hosted rallies and new venues opened to vendors. Everywhere, that is, except the city of St. Petersburg. They’re still holding fast to restrictions that keep trucks off streets in city limits, bless their outdated, myopic hearts.
Sadly, we said goodbye to Bin 27 on Kennedy Boulevard and Stump’s Supper Club in Channelside. The well-reviewed Verona at the Ritz-Carlton in Sarasota closed for a remake, and the resort opened the CdZ Restaurant and Lounge pop-up until its new Jack Dusty restaurant opens in early 2013. Kalupa’s Bakery on south MacDill Avenue in Tampa is being bought and transformed by Suzanne and Roger Perry, owners of next-door neighbor restaurant Datz. Pioneering Italian deli and market Castellano & Pizzo closed its doors Christmas Eve after 120 years in business in Tampa.
We said hello to new restaurants in Tampa: Boca Kitchen Bar & Market in Hyde Park, Samba Room in South Tampa, Le Mouton Noir Bakehouse in Channelside and Domani Bistro Lounge in Seminole Heights. Oxford Exchange, with its partnership with Buddy Brew Coffee and TeBella Tea Company, became a must-visit spot for breakfast, lunch and high tea adjacent to the University of Tampa.
Edison Food + Drink Lab took over the former Knife & Co. space on Kennedy Boulevard, giving former pop-up chef Jeannie Pierola a permanent place to experiment with her menus. Knife’s former chef, Gary Moran, opened Wimauma on South MacDill Avenue in Tampa with his wife, Amy.
Bern’s Steak House resurrected pre-recession plans to build the culinary themed Epicurean hotel across from the restaurant. It broke ground in October, a partnership that includes Bern’s owner David Laxer, Mainsail Lodging and Development of Tampa, and Marriott.
Greg Baker of The Refinery, Chad Johnson of SideBern’s and Richard Gonzmart of The Columbia Restaurant earned some attention from the James Beard Awards.
Cigar City Brewery continued to explode in growth, moving its line of beers into cans, announcing a gastropub for Carrollwood and opening a brewpub at Tampa International Airport, along with Green Iguana, Shula’s, The Columbia Restaurant and Mise En Place’s First Flight wine bar.
Fresh Market and Whole Foods continued to open new local stores. Trader Joe’s marched up the Gulf Coast closer to Tampa with its newest spot in Sarasota.
Tampa basked in the national TV spotlight with locally filmed episodes on the Food Network’s “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives,” the Cooking Channel’s “Eat Street” and “Heat Seekers,” the Travel Channel’s “Man V. Food Nation,” “Meatloaf Paradise” and HDNet’s “Drinking Made Easy.”
PDQ, Lee Roy Selmon’s and Carmel Café expanded their number of locations. Burger 21 announced plans to franchise outside the Tampa area. Square 1 Burgers leap-frogged to Sarasota and Brandon. Tampa’s Wood Fired Pizza & Wine Bar opened a spot on First Avenue South in St. Petersburg. Taco Bus opened restaurants in downtown Tampa and near the University of South Florida.
Big wigs in Tampa for the Republican National Convention ate their way through town. Twitter was abuzz with stories about where the likes of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie were eating. U.S. House Speaker John Boehner’s visits to Datz in South Tampa were accompanied by rooftop snipers and a massive police presence.
More star power: Martha Stewart dined and tweeted at The Columbia. Eddie Vedder ducked into Datz before a South Tampa fundraiser for President Obama with Food Network’s Tyler Florence. Anthony Bourdain and Jeff Corwin threw down tacos at the Taco Bus. Sustainable food pioneer Joel Salatin’s dinner at Roosevelt 2.0 was a massive hit.
Oh, and against all odds, the Tampa Bay Wine & Food Festival came back, this time in downtown Tampa in a slimmer, much more practical version.
While covering all of it, I ate magnificent food.
The best meal I ate all year in Tampa came during TastingTampa.com’s 13th Step dinner at SideBern’s, which themed their elaborate dinner by drawing on the Seven Deadly Sins.
One of the courses, dubbed “Sloth,” featured turtle in a Chanterelle gumbo and snail-filled beignets. The dish was paired with a Jadot Bourgogne 2009 Burgundy. People will be talking about that dinner for years. Those 13th Step dinners are an amazing addition to Tampa’s dining scene – and a great bargain for the great flavors.
Other outstanding meals I enjoyed this year included:
The staff meal of braised red wine pork cheeks, smoked cheese grits with bacon and ham hock collards at Boca Kitchen Bar in Tampa.
Fried Pork Chops at Pictureman & Mrs. Youngblood Food Truck on North 22nd Street in Tampa.
Guava Bread Pudding made with Cuban bread at Madhouse Sandwich Shop in Riverview. (Now closed, Madhouse plans to move to Ybor City in 2013.)
The Veal Limone at Vilaggio Ristorante in Lutz.
Chicken and waffles at Tampa Luv Chicken & Waffles on North Florida Avenue in Sulfur Springs.
The salt and pepper jalapeno Cracker Jacks and the chicken liver mousse with pistachio, apricot and sansho peppercorn at Edison Food + Drink Lab in Tampa.
The smoked trout and frisee salad with Granny Smith apples, caperberries and pine nuts during Tasting Tampa’s 13th Step dinner with St. Somewhere Brewery at Pelagia Trattoria in Tampa.
The seasonal pumpkin milkshake at Parkesdale Farm Market in Plant City.
The fried mullet lunch platter at Mama’s Southern Soul Food Restaurant in Tampa Heights.
The grits crème brulee dessert at Wimauma.
(Friends in town from Los Angeles still rave about the great flavor.)
Muenster + gruyere grilled cheese, caramelized onions and French dip at Eat Here in Sarasota.
Cold smoked shrimp, horseradish flan, tomato coulis and fingerling chips at Indigenous in Sarasota.
Squid Ink Pappardelle, Foie Gras Butter & baby marigold at Pelagia Trattoria’s 13th Step Dinner..
Thanks for all the great eats, Tampa. Here’s to a tasty 2013.
:::::: drops the mike ::::::