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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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The Best Things I Ate In 2013, Part 2 [And Some Of Your Favorite Flavors As Well ]

Posted Jan 1, 2014 by Jeff Houck

Updated Jan 2, 2014 at 08:43 AM

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When we left off yesterday, I was listing the best grub I threw down my gullet during the past year. Part 1, as it were.

Which got me to thinking: “What is the best food YOU, dearest Stew reader, ate last year?”

So I asked my friends on Twitter and Facebook. Because I’m inventive and stuff.

@ChefStops - The best thing I ate all year - Uni under dashi gelee and caviar at Caviar Russe.

@halehawk - Better Bush tomatoes from my backyard garden.

@MobilityMaker - sharing a bottle of @josephphelps 2009 Insignia on Christmas Eve w/my husband.

@OhMyPotluck - The Spätzle from @RougeCal and the entire chef’s menu was a highlight.

Cricket Larson - Milky Way Martini at Kellys-Chic a Boom Room-Blur courtesy of Kathryn Dickinson Carlson don’t judge, Jeff. Food… Skipper’s Smokehouse blackened crawfish mac & cheese of course.

Patrick Tracz - Grouper caught at noon. on my grill by 2pm

Connie Hunt - Right now, I’d have to say either the pecan pie at Uncle Bubba’s in Savannah or the roasted brussels sprouts at Ruth’s Chris

Krista Kirby Singleton - Hawaii Five-Oh! Bao Bun from “I Wanna Wok” Food Truck.

Fritz Eichelberger - oysters gratinee (blue crab, lemon, esplette chile) at Sideberns's Krug dinner


Fritz Eichelberger - Many to choose from, fortunately! But I could eat a table of these oysters gratinee [pictured above] (made with blue crab, lemon, esplette chile) at Sideberns’s Krug dinner (I posted pics of the dinner in a FB album). As for drink, had some barrel aged bourbons, 100 year old brandy & amazing cocktails but the Clyneleash single malt, distilled in 1965 & bottles 20 years later…wow!!! & thanks to john Glaser of Compass Box for this

Susan Jacobs Leonidas - For me it would have to be the amazing food we had while in Costa Rica back in August. We cannot wait to go back!

Michele Northrup - Charbroiled Oysters in New Orleans

Vickie Chachere - Jabadahut Roll at Takara Sushi & Sake Lounge

Wayne Garcia - The Double Vieux Carre at Anise Global Gastrobar was my best encounter of the year, just perfectly executed

Michael Paul Lukacina - Lobster roll and grilled oysters @ Copperfish

Andrea Billups - Two perfect meals: One at Bianca in the Delano Hotel in South Beach—Moet Rose’ to start, heirloom salad, perfect salmon, cheesecake from NYC’s Carnegie deli to end. Another at Luke, the John Besh restaurant in NOLA on Christmas Eve, which was epic. Started with raw oysters and Pinot Gris and moved up from there—crab bisque, pork belly-gruyere-onion tart, etc… Both places got it all right and then some.

Dolce Debbie - That is my Maple Syrup/White Wine Braised Pork Belly on a rutabaga/sweet potato mash with a thai cabbage slaw and arugula salad

Mark Traugutt - Deep South bacon & hi hat ranch honey

Willie Drye - My wife Jane Morrow says daiquiri in Costa Rica made with fresh mangoes and local Costa Rican rum.

Mike Jeffers - Cheese Steak from John's Roast Pork in S. Philly.


Mike Jeffers - Best food is this most perfect Cheese Steak from John’s Roast Pork in S. Philly. [pictured above] They are a James Beard winner and a Philly institution since 1930. Best Drink is this Coupe de Grace (on left) served by Ryan Pinés at Edison: Food+Drink Lab. Grand Marnier Liqueur, Free Brothers Aztec Chocolate bitters, & Angostura Orange bitters.

Cindy Campbell Davis - Sauteed shrimp po boy @gumbo shop in New Orleans.

Sally Chambless - Pan Roasted Monkfish; Tarragon Scented Pea Purée, Morels, Armagnac-Black Pepper Sauce. WOW!

Deborah Barone Jonneaux - The best food I’ve had was anything at Vizcaya.

Ro Patel - Paloma made with Stiegl Grapefruit Radler, Aperol and rosemary!! Killer!!

Bob Sylvester - Fireball Whiskey!

Dan Bolduc - Sea Dog Brewing Co. - Clearwater Master Brewer Bobby Baker’s Reese’s Beer!

Gordon A. Ridge - Ramos gin fizz

Marlene Cambronero-Butkus - Not ready to answer yet…the best may be yet to come…in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico. Bar and restaurant hoping

Jill Munson - Huckleberry Martinis at The Belton Chalet, West Glacier Park, Montana.

Kristin Mulcahy-Finley - South Pacific Grill’s banana spring rolls!!!!

Xuan Pham Hurt - I crave the foie burger from Elevage pop up. Will go to the restaurant asap in 2014.

Nancy Willson Fintak - The mussels at Joe’s Crab Shack in Orlando….yummy

Marti Wiggins Nusbaum -  Large cheese board (w/ meat) at the Mermaid Tavern on Nebraska. Good sangria too!


You have to admit that my friends have incredible taste in food. Better than mine, actually. Picture me doing a standing ovation of one. Clapclapclapclapclap.

Okay, so back to my list of favorite eats for 2013. Here we go!

Mermaid Bar - Drunken Grilled Cheese


The Drunken Grilled Cheese at Mermaid Tavern in Tampa. I’m pretty sure the “drunken” in the title refers to the port wine cheese in the sandwich and not to the eater in question, which would be me. But this I cannot confirm.

I’m shutting up now.

Fire Food + Drink - Goat cheese grits


Goat cheese grits at Fire Food + Drink in Cleveland. Didn’t see this one coming. Great brunch grits in Ohio? Not on the radar. Could not have been more delicious in one of the most depressing cold-weather cities I’ve ever visited. And I was born in Baltimore, so I know what I’m talking about.

If these grits lived in Tampa, I’d marry them and have a million of their grits babies.

The Greenhouse Tavern - Gravy Frites with mozzarella cheese curd and brown gravy with fried eggs.


Gravy frites with mozzarella cheese curd and brown gravy with fried eggs at The Greenhouse Tavern in Cleveland.

Okay, that thing I just said about Cleveland? I take all of it back. The food redeems the place during the winter. Greenhouse Tavern became something of an eating clubhouse for the better part of a week that I was there in October. The half of a roasted pig’s head they have on the menu? Stellar eats. Seriously. Get yourself to Cleveland, pronto, kids. But bring a jacket. My god, that place is epic cold.

Dough - Rustic Onion Soup - sweet onions in an aged sherry and thyme broth topped with a grilled cheese crouton.


The Rustic Onion Soup at Dough on South MacDill Avenue in Tampa. Chef Domenica Macchia uses sweet onions in an aged sherry-thyme broth and tops it brilliantly with a grilled cheese crouton.

Macchia’s migration to Tampa away from the fresh hell of a non-compete contract in St. Petersburg was one of my favorite food stories of 2013. The bistro menu she’s doing at Dough is incredible and a testament to the sturdiness of her imagination and resolve. I expect big things again in 2014.

Edison Food + Drink Lab - Edison Oldie


The Edison Oldie cocktail by bartender Ryan Pines at Edison Food + Drink Lab in Tampa. Pines is one of the most inventive bartenders in the area. His addition to the staff at Edison was a great hire. His version of the Old Fashioned made me want to sit at the bar for days and days and eat chef Jeannie Pierola‘s great apps until someone forceably removed me from the premises.

Red Door Wine Market - Braised Short Ribs with spelt berry pilaf, charred brussel sprout


The braised short ribs with spelt berry pilaf and charred Brussels sprouts served during a South Africa-themed wine dinner at Red Door Wine Market in Lakeland.

First, the fact I included Brussels sprouts in a year-end list is nothing short of shocking. For years, Brussels sprouts were my sworn enemy. Now, I love them like a fat kid loves cake. Can’t get enough of them. Okay, that’s overstating things. But you get my point. When made well, Brussels sprouts are a joy forever. And proof that a man can change his mind about important issues of the day during his middle age.

Second, Red Door Wine Market was one of my favorite finds of 2013. Intimate and funky, the food put out by chef Jason Boniface would fit well in Tampa in the Seminole Heights restaurant scene. It’s that good. In Lakeland, it’s an absolute jewel. Plus, there are swans a couple blocks away in a nearby lake. So, Red Door wins on bird appeal. But the place is amazing. Well worth a drive from wherever you live for a casual dinner with a great wine list.

The Poor Porker - Cinnamon Toast beignet


Speaking of Lakelandia, my eyes were opened to the food scene there by The Poor Porker, a beignet cart operated by power couple Robyn Wilson and Jarrid Masse.

They serve every week on Saturdays at the Lakeland downtown curb market. Varieties change weekly, but the true Poor Porker beignet includes bacon, maple syrup and powdered sugar.

Plus, Wilson and Masse are just good people, and they’ve become a catalyst for small businesses to incubate in Lakeland. Well played, delicious treat makers.

L'Artisan des Glaces - Macaron sandwich


The salted caramel macaron ice cream sandwich at L’Artisan des Glaces in the France section of Epcot. How has no one made these before? It boggles the mind. One of my favorite new foods in the park.

Jack Dusty - Jack's Apple Tar; maker's mark, applejack, maple syrup, coffee liqueur


A Jack’s Apple Tar cocktail made with Maker’s Mark, applejack, maple syrup and coffee liqueur and served at the new Jack Dusty restaurant inside the Ritz Carlton in Sarasota. I drank this one out on the patio, overlooking the pool and the marina and while eating oysters on the half-shell. Life doesn’t get much better than that. Amazing that you can have so much flavor and pleasure and relaxation in one sitting.

The Corner Store - Pimento cheese spread with pita chips


Of all the hipster foods to come back in fashion, my favorite might be pimento cheese. So lowbrow and yet so very satisfying. Chef Cynthia Diaz at The Corner Store in Plant City serves it as a side with pita chips, but the spicy, creamy, spreadable goodness could be a meal on its own.

Pharmacy - Oaxaca Mama with ghost pepper lollipop


The Pharmacy speakeasy in Orlando showcases many great drinks and dishes on its menu, but the Oaxaca Mama is by far my favorite. The mezcal cocktail is served with a ghost pepper lollipop that recharges the spiciness of the drink as the ice melts. This to me is genius. I would drive to Orlando and brave some of the worst traffic in Florida just to have this drink. That either makes me a cocktail aficionado, a traffic sadist, a lollipop freak or someone who needs an intervention. I can live with that.

Which brings us to the end of this year’s list. With all the new restaurants coming on board in the next few months, I can’t wait for 2014.

To borrow a line from Julia Roberts, I’m just a boy, standing in front of a calendar, asking for it to feed me.


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