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Jeff Houck

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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Dine Tampa Bay Restaurant Week Kicks Off [Newbies Like Wimauma Join In]

Posted Aug 2, 2012 by Jeff Houck

Updated Aug 2, 2012 at 03:24 PM

Dine Tampa Bay Restaurant Week 2012

Dine Tampa Bay restaurant week starts tomorrow.

What is that?

I’ll let them explain:

DINE Tampa Bay Restaurant Week is a two-week dining event (August 3-17, 2012) that gives local foodies and visitors to Tampa Bay the opportunity to enjoy a selection of specially priced three-course meals from some of the Tampa Bay area’s finest restaurants during the event.

Presented by Tampa Bay & Company and Visit St. Petersburg/Clearwater in partnership with the Florida Restaurant & Lodging Association, DINE Tampa Bay has been designed to stimulate business and introduce new customers to restaurants located throughout the Tampa Bay area.

Local foodies and visitors from all over will have the opportunity to dine at our award-winning restaurants of downtown Tampa, the gourmet gems on the beaches, the beautiful Westshore District, and off the beaten path restaurants just to name a few!

Participating restaurants will present a specially priced three-course meal for dinner. Diners choose from each restaurant’s menu choices for each course including appetizer, entrée and dessert. Prices vary by restaurant ($25, $35 or $45) and exclude beverages, tax and gratuity.

In this week’s Friday Extra, I wrote a story about several restaurant week participants which either opened during the previous year or which had a serious recent revamp. Opening during the slower summer months is a challenge for any business, much less a brand new restaurant. Restaurant week provides a crucial boost to the bottom line of new operations.

As Jason Fernandez, owner of the Carne Chophouse and Bernini restaurants in Ybor City, told me:

“Normally, this is a time when restaurants have to fight to get exposure. It couldn’t come at a better time.”

One of the other restaurants I featured was south Tampa’s Wimauma.

Operated by husband and wife Gary and Amy Moran, it is part of a wave of spots opened in the last three years that have built their concepts around local ingredients.

That mindset partly explains their name:

Dine Tampa Bay Restaurant Week 2012

We chose to name the restaurant Wimauma for several reasons.

The first and most important being that we are a farm-to-table restaurant whose focus is serving Florida grown produce, meats and fish, whenever possible. Wimauma is a small farming community (two stop-lights, a feed store, a gas station & three Mexican restaurants) in South-East Hillsborough County. Founded in 1902 by former Confederate Captain C.H. Davis, the name is an amalgamation of the names of his three daughters Wilhelmina, Maude & Mary.

We love the name because it encompasses so much of Florida history, and by extension, Southern history. I had always thought that Wimauma was a Native American word, and when I found out its true origin I fell in love with it.

Cpt. Davis was a true Florida Cracker (Cracker comes from the whips that the cattlemen would crack over the cows heads to herd them during cattle drives).He was a cattleman, like so many of Florida’s original (European) settlers. The men who founded Florida came from Georgia, Louisiana and Alabama the poorest of the poor, driven to bring their families into an untamed wilderness, so that they could have a chance to make a better life for their children. The name Wimauma reflects that history of frontier struggle, and therefore has a lot of meaning for me.

Cool, right?

In April, I and about a dozen friends descended upon Wimauma unannounced on a Saturday night. Gary and Amy proceeded to unload almost the entire menu on us for an impromptu tasting.

It was kind of spectacular that the kitchen would be able to do this on the fly. What they produced was an avalanche of flavors that were simultaneously comforting, satisfying and deceptively complex. That’s not an easy bank-shot to make.

Dig these dishes:

TECHmunch Tampa

Crispy fried Florida oysters with guacamole, cilantro and smoked tomato jam.

TECHmunch Tampa

Grilled romaine hearts with pecorino cheese, roast garlic aioli and cornbread croutons.

TECHmunch Tampa 2012

Shrimp and grits - Large Florida Gulf shrimp sauteed with tomato, basil, white wine and pork bark and served over old-school grits.

TECHmunch Tampa 2012

Pork Two Ways - Grilled double-cut pork loin served over smoked pork belly and potato hash with creamed onion sauce.

TECHmunch Tampa 2012

Southern-style fried chicken bucket with French fries, hush puppies and honey-mustard sauce.

I don’t know what’s in it. Maybe heroin. Maybe crystal meth. I don’t really care. All I know is that I want to marry this fried chicken and have a million of its babies.

TECHmunch Tampa 2012

I mean ... my lawd.

The one dish that my friends are still talking about four months later?

TECHmunch Tampa 2012

I give you grits creme brulee.

My friends are not food noobs. They know about great dining and big-time restaurants. They live in Los Angeles. They’ve thrown down some mighty fine luxury calories in their time.

And they still talk about the grits creme brulee at Wimauma.

Imagine what you might enjoy if you go.

Restaurant week gives you a perfect excuse.

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