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
This Is Tampa Style. This Is Who We Are. Take It And Eat It.
Posted May 2, 2013 by Jeff Houck
Updated May 2, 2013 at 11:29 AM
Collin Sherwin wrote you a love letter.
Not you specifically. To all of us. To Tampa.
Earlier this month, Collin (pictured above) put fingertip to keyboard to write what was headlined as, “A Spirited Defense of Tampa” at the online sports site a writer at another web site use a Tampa Sports Authority ticket raffle benefiting youth sports as the sharp end of a stick to poke fun at the giveaway of Buccaneers, Rays, Lightning, Bulls, Storm and bowl game tickets.
“One of you should enter this, win, attend every single game, and write about the experience,” the writer suggested. “Here’s a free title: ‘My Tampa Sports Year - A Deathbed Regret As It Occurred.’”
You may now chew your invisible gum.
Collin didn’t think it was funny either.
“The joke has been repeated so often and has meshed with real perception that I actually find myself having to defend my city to those uninitiated with its greatness and beauty,” his essay said.
He told the story about a fellow blogger who came to visit during Spring Training. At the start of the trip, she told him she could never spend more than a few days here. By the end, she said, “I could totally live in Tampa!”
He hears this confession frequently.
“Nowhere does the perception and the reality oppose as diametrically as it does here,” he writes.
To make his point, Sherwin pointed at the amazing food we enjoy.
“We make our own coffee, and tag it with the simple but perfect ‘Brew Good, Do Good,’ … 24 hours a day, we make the most amazing Cuban bread on earth. You haven’t lived until this has cured a hangover,” he wrote
He said it “is almost criminally unfair” to have Tampa Bay Brewing Company and Cigar City Brewing within city limits
“These places are beer revolutionaries, and CCB also makes what is arguably the best beer on the planet, which you can buy for all of one day a year,” he wrote. “It’s such a big deal they throw a rather awesome party to celebrate; just one part of a beer week where even the mayor jumps in to tap some IPA.
The draped some love around the shoulders of Ybor City, too. “You can find a Spanish restaurant that served as the home a unionization revolution on one end of Seventh Avenue and a hipster coffee shop/beer bar/skate park hangout on the other.
“This is my home, and I’m proud of her,” Sherwin wrote. “Come visit. I promise the reality will change your perception.”
The column was a wild hit online, with close to 5,000 people sharing it on Facebook and other places. It was so popular that VoodooFive.com, which normally covers USF Bulls sports, is dedicating a post each Friday to highlighting the things that make Tampa great.
The column hit home with me because it’s something I’ve been saying for a while.
It’s time to stop apologizing for things we shouldn’t feel sorry for.
That idea especially rang true for me this year in the nominations for the James Beard Foundation Awards for excellence in food.
Once again, Tampa and Central Florida chefs were nominated. And once again, the awards went to the cool kids from New Orleans and Miami.
This is not a surprise. It has always been thus. There are few signs that the excellent chefs, restaurants and sommeliers among us will earn any kind of recognition beyond the condescending pat on the head. New Orleans will always be New Orleans. Miami will always be Miami.
To that I say this:
This is who we are.
Those are not words of surrender. In my mind, they’re a declaration of defiance.
For decades, Tampa has chased approval in the food world like a needy child. And for what? So that everyone could tell us how everything everywhere else was oh, so much better. So that our best talent can move to other cities to work in their big-name kitchens. So that they can win the awards and earn acclaim.
It’s time for us square up and say that we really don’t care how anyone else does what they do.
This is how we do things. This is Tampa style.
It’s the Cuban sandwich at the Columbia Restaurant and the wings at Hooters. It’s the porterhouse at Bern’s and the Bloomin’ Onion at Outback. It’s the soul food on Hillsborough Avenue and the Pupusas on MLK and the chicken and waffles on Florida Avenue. It’s Seabreeze devil crab and El Molino espresso and Revolution ice cream and Thai Temple and Taco Bus at 3 a.m. It’s La Segunda Bakery and Jimbo’s Bar-B-Q and Edison Food + Drink Lab and Auntie’s Soul Food and Let Them Eat Cake.
It’s a million other flavors you can’t get anywhere else and a million more you can get everywhere. Why? Because they came from Tampa. And those flavors came from somewhere else. We just made them our own.
If you don’t like it, don’t eat here.
(Photo at top by Patrick Melton)
Weekend Eats: Snickers Flapjack, Thai Donuts, Sushi On The Beach
Posted Apr 30, 2013 by Jeff Houck
Updated Apr 30, 2013 at 02:02 PM
I’m not exactly sure what in the blue blazes was going on yesterday, but of the first three entrants for Weekend Eats yesterday on Twitter, two were from Shanghai and one was from Colombia.
Twitter friend @ChefStops sent two entries, one of a brown and roast pork in a bamboo leaf and the other of roast pork hooves used for rice bundles. Within minutes, @TomBetz sent along his photo of trout on a plantain served in the “Coffee Country” of Perilla, Columbia
I love it when we go international.
Punching your passport, however, does not guarantee a Weekend Eats victory.
Which explains why Michelle Jenkins (@michjenkins) won thjis week with her pizzaiolo brunch with egg, speck, tomato and green onion as toppings. (pictured above)
I mean, look at that thing. That gives you a reason to get out of bed. Early.
For her efforts, she of course joins the pantheon of great eats in the Weekend Eats Hall of Fame on Pinterest.
She also gets a pretty nifty book to read and enjoy:
My favorite entry: The Grouper Reuben recipe from Frenchy’s in Clearwater.
Other entries this week included:
@mikebonfanti - Tuscan pizza from Dave’s Pizza Garage in #Tallahassee.
@clairgpTBO Epcot = Wild Berry Slush, Dole Whip Pineapple, Lasagna Primavera, Red Ale )Orlando Brew), S Adams Cream Stout.
Here’s the Gallery of Noms for this week. I am not responsible for any clothing stained by your overactive salivation:
The Sip: The Best That A Very Thirsty Tampa Has To Drink
Posted Apr 30, 2013 by Jeff Houck
Updated Apr 30, 2013 at 12:57 PM
Local breweries are exploding in stature. Wine continues its steady growth in both popularity and sales. Spirits makers are starting to call the area home. Bartenders are organizing to boost their profiles and skills.
It’s a great time to drink in Tampa.
Other than Prohibition and the days of rum-running, there has never been a more exciting time here where adult beverages are concerned.
So I’ve started writing a column called The Sip in the Tampa Tribune to highlight the area’s latest news and trends and showcase the people who are building Tampa into a destination for educated drinkers.
And, when possible, we’ll have a little fun. Because everything tastes better when there’s a story attached.
It was supposed to be an informal, get-to-know-you lunch.
Pierre and Monique Seillan were visiting Tampa from France in 2005 and wanted to meet and talk about their Chateau Lassègue winery in St. Emilion.
Over Salad Niçoise at The Wine Exchange in Tampa, Pierre schooled me in terroir and how he wasn’t in the business of growing grapes; he was reading the land to match it with the best vines. Great land makes great wine, he told me. The grapes are the result of that land. He preferred to work the front end instead of trying to make magic in the barrel.
The couple joined with Jess Jackson and his wife, Barbara Banke, to find a St. Emilion estate where he could take advantage of the terroir. They eventually found the 60-acre Chateau Lassègue, which had close to a dozen soils with which he could play to produce the labels Lassègue and Chateau Vignot.
During a recent return visit to Tampa, Monique and I recalled that lunch. A beautiful smile ran across her face over dinner at SideBern’s when I told her how essential our conversation had been and how much I learned at the table that day.
It was remarkable to again be reminded of the versatility of the Lassègue and Vignot labels, which pair with seafood as well as beef and pork. I highly recommend the 2008 Lassègue Les Cadrans ($28) with its blend of 60 percent Merlot, 25 percent Cabernet Franc and 15 percent Cabernet Sauvignon. It’s a lovely wine full of subtle complexity.
It’s easy to be wowed by the big-dollar wines each year at Bern’s Winefest in South Tampa. This month’s shindig, the 16th annual gathering, did not disappoint.
The 2009 Tenuta San Guido Sassicaia drank like every penny of the $195 a bottle it costs. So did the 2001 Masi Mazzano Amarone, which clocked in at $122.95. And if you held me down and forced me to pay $101 for the 2008 Antinori Guado Al Tasso, you would hear no complaints.
But if you’re living on a more meager salary allow me to suggest a few lower-price alternatives that still deliver big flavors:
** 2009 Tenuta di Salviano Turlo. Dubbed a “Super Umbrian” after the Italian region where it is grown, the Turlo mixes sangiovese, cabernet and merlot. At $18.95, it drinks like a much more expensive wine.
** 2009 Post Scriptum de Chryseia from Portugal. Known more for its fortified wines (read: port), the country is on the verge of becoming the next great wine producer. This $23.95 bottle is a nice introduction for those who are unfamiliar.
** 2007 Tikal Patriota. Argentina may be volatile politically, but it hasn’t put a large dent into its wine production. But then again, look at Italy. Crazy politics makes for good wine. This label produces a $19.95 bottle that blends 60 percent malbec with 40 percent Bonarda, the second-most widely planted red grape in Argentina. “This is malbec at its highest level,” one expert told me. It sure drank that way.
Each of those wines, as well as the dozens of others featured at Winefest, are available at Bern’s Fine Wines & Spirits.
Here’s a gallery of photos I shot during the event:
** The newly remodeled Bazille café on the second floor of the Nordstrom department store at International Plaza now features a full bar and an impressive wine list. Four of the 15 craft beers on the menu are Cigar City brand. The café also carries gluten-free New Planet Pale Ale and Crispin Original Cider.
** The Roosevelt 2.0 in Ybor City plans to offer its own house-made beer using the original brewing equipment used by Joey Redner before he founded Cigar City Brewery.
Mouth-watering bar food:
** Tater tots with chili and a fried egg at Stein & Vine in Brandon.
** Deviled eggs flight (blue cheese & bacon, and curry crab) at Anise Global Gastro Bar in Tampa.
** Daikon kimchi in a jar by Chef Nicolay Adinaguev at Cigar City Brewpub in Carrollwood.
Party of the month:
Drunk Camera Guy’s “Star Wars”-themed May The Fourth Be With You party, 8 p.m. May 4 at The Bricks, 1327 E. Seventh Ave., Tampa. Event includes a Wookiee soundalike contest, costume contests (Dark Side, Rebel Scum and Princess Leia). Overall winner gets first light-saber swing at the piñata. I suggest you wear a costume. The event is free and open to the public. For info, go online to Drunk Camera Guy’s Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/drunkcameraguy
Allow me to recommend the book “Tequila Mockingbird; Cocktails with a Literary Twist,” by Tim Federle (Running Press, $15).
The homage to the world’s greatest stories and storytellers includes recipes for making such drinks as “Love in the Time of Kahlua,” “The Rye in the Catcher,” and “Romeo and Julep.”
It will make you laugh. It will make you thirsty.
Rooster & The Till; Seminole Heights To Get New Restaurant
Posted Apr 26, 2013 by Jeff Houck
Updated Apr 26, 2013 at 06:58 PM
SEMINOLE HEIGHTS - A Tampa chef who is among the area’s leaders in promoting the use of local and organic ingredients says he will open a new restaurant in Florida Avenue’s growing food district that will focus on highlighting products from nearby farms
Ferrell Alvarez, formerly executive chef at Café Dufrain on Harbor Island, is partnering with Ty Rodriguez and Brian Lampe to open Rooster & The Till at 6500 Florida Ave. Rodriguez and Lampe previously worked with Alvarez at Café Dufrain and Mise en Place.
Plans call for Rooster & The Till to have a 25-foot-long bar and 45 seats for lunch and dinner service. The menu, Alvarez said, will heavily focus on charcuterie made in-house, as well as dishes made with offal and items from the raw bar.
“I call it ‘Brooklyn tight,’” Alvarez said. “It will be very warm, very cozy. There will be a shared atmosphere in terms of food and conversation.”
The partners also plan to feature an indoor vertical farming wall where herbs and vegetables will be harvested for use in recipes. Beef, pork, chicken and lamb will be sourced from Pasture Prime Family Farm in Summerfield, north of Wildwood.
Alvarez (above, left) worked at Café Dufrain until March. Rodriguez (above, right) became executive director of the Gasparilla Music Festival after leaving the restaurant in July 2012. He will continue to work for the festival on weekdays and at the restaurant on weekends. Lampe served as a sous chef at Dufrain and will cook alongside Alvarez. In 2012, Alvarez and Rodriguez produced a one-issue magazine called The Dirt that highlighted Tampa chefs and farms.
Rooster’s targeted opening date is mid- to late-June. When it opens, the restaurant will further solidify Seminole Heights as a dining destination. Domani Bistro Lounge sits a block south on Florida Avenue. Also along the road are such notable spots as The Refinery, The Independent Bar & Café, Cappy’s Pizza, Front Porch Grille, The San Carlos Tavern and Cold Storage Craft Brewery. Ella’s Americana Folk Art Café, Sabroso and Taco Bus also call Seminole Heights home.
These are in addition to the upcoming Red Star Rock Bar, (pictured above) Angry Chair Brewing and several other restaurants in various stages of development.
“People are getting it that [Seminole Heights] is low from a cost standpoint and yet is food-forward and quality oriented,” Alvarez said. “People who accept the food here are more open-minded, more into trying new things.”
*Top three photos by Cliff McBride/Tampa Tribune
*Terrible bottom photo by Jeff Houck/Tampa Tribune
Weekend Eats: Nutella Latte, Foie Gras Wagyu Burger, Rootini
Posted Apr 22, 2013 by Jeff Houck
Updated Apr 22, 2013 at 04:55 PM
I’m a big fan of dim sum, although I know almost nothing about its origins, base ingredients, heritage or cooking style. All I know is that, 1.) I love it whenever I eat it; 2.) The name intrigues me.
Someone who does know his dim sum from his ... not dim sum, I guess, is Ricky Ly, author of the blog Tasty Chomps.
His dim sum meal, and the resulting quad panel photo taken at Toa Toa in Sunrise, Fla, won this week’s Weekend Eats competition.
In addition to Tasty Chomps, Ricky also is the newly published word guy who wrote “Food Lovers’ Guide To Orlando.”
In addition to having a great palate and an enormous mental database of Orlando food, Ricky’s a super-nice guy. Also, he makes a tasty photo of dim sum, so there’s that.
For his efforts, Ricky picks up a little word bling of his own:
It’s “Absolutely Avocadoes” by Gabby Dalkin.
He also takes his rightful place in the Weekend Eats Hall of Fame in Pinterest.
As always, the competition was stiff. Here is this week’s Gallery of Noms. Click on each photo to see the name of the dish.