Travel Channel's Adam Richman has two Tampa restaurants on his Best Sandwich in America series
Mark Warren might be the only restaurant staffer in the Tampa Bay area who checks the TV listings to figure when his kitchen will get slammed with a rush of business.
But ever since Travel Channel star Adam Richman featured Skipper’s Smokehouse in his Man v Food Nation series last year, Warren says the episode’s rebroadcast is a reliable predictor of when crowds will fill the Tampa restaurant and concert venue looking for a great meal.
“If (the episode) showed at midnight, the next day the kitchen would be slammed,” added Warren, who serves as manager of marketing and promotions for Skipper’s, noting that the show has boosted their food business by at least 50 percent. “Having that kind of publicity with such a targeted market..we couldn’t afford that. Literally, he saved our a--.”
And it looks like Richman is about to do it all over again.
Skipper’s Smokehouse joins Aguila Sandwich Shop in Tampa as featured eateries in his latest series, Adam Richman’s Best Sandwich in America; the longtime foodie’s good natured quest to find the best culinary goodies between two pieces of bread this nation has to offer.
“It’s incumbent upon me to find something new to engage my audience,” said Richman, calling from a store in New York where he’s buying a present for a member of his production crew. “I think sandwiches very much speak to the foodie in all of us and food explorer in all of us. And if you wait for your audience to ask for something new, you’ve already lost them.”
Richman has been stretching the boundaries of his Travel Channel series for a while, changing up the Man v. Food formula (Richman capped visits to mom and pop restaurants by undertaking a momentous eating challenge) to feature fans and friends from the general public taking on similar competitions in Man v Food Nation.
Now, he’s left the Man v. format altogether, pitting 30 sandwiches from 27 different cities against each other in a March Madness-style bracket. Three sandwiches are showcased in each episode, with Skipper’s and Aguila competing in the second episode.
Richman savors Skipper’s blackened grouper reuben alongside Aguila’s Media Noche – a version of a classic pressed Cuban sandwich with sweeter bread. Both creations take on the shrimp po boy from Domilise’s Po-Boy and Bar in New Orleans, grouped together in a Gulf Coast-themed episode (of course, there's some folks in Miami who might grouse about seeing a Tampa eatery's Cuban-style sandwich featured over theirs).
The host judges each dish with his own criteria, summed up in the acronym B.I.T.E. – Bread, Interior, Taste and Eating experience. But the main goal is to explore dishes whose unique flavor somehow connects to the community where they are made, providing a culinary travelogue as gastronomic road trip.
And he even has some superstar friends make recommendations on what sandwiches to try. Anthony Bourdain, who recently fled the Travel Channel for a job at CNN, suggested Domilise’s in a segment filmed in an unusual place:
A public restroom.
“His first line in the recommendation is ‘Ambiance is everything,’” said Richman, laughing. “It’s total satire.”
For Richman, a well-traveled guy who counts Tampa Bay Rays executive Michael Kalt as a good friend, Tampa offers more than the opportunity to take in a good baseball game and lovely beaches with his buddy.
“I love Tampa,” he said, noting that both Skipper’s and Aguilar had been featured in segments on his previous shows. “Once you go to (Tampa steakhouse) Bern’s, it becomes the experience by which all others are judged. It’s not an accident I went back to both restaurants for this show…They are great people who serve great food.”
At Skipper’s, Warren returns the warm feelings, noting Richman comes across in person just as he does on camera – charismatic, fun-loving and knowledgeable about food. His crew returned to Tampa for filming earlier this year; Warren said the show called them about returning and no fees were paid for the privilege.
Besides serving as a gregarious advocate of fun through eating, Richman also emerges as a top booster for the restaurants featured on his show, describing their wares in such mouth-watering terms, its no surprise business goes through the roof each time an episode airs. That's why it's a little odd to see Richman actually choosing one dish over others -- though he minimizes any negative comments to focus on the high points of every dish and establishment.
Coming at the beginning of summer – a typically slow time – Richman’s show couldn’t air at a better moment for Skipper’s, where Warren says such appearances help turn its reputation as a live concert venue with good food to a great restaurant which also has some compelling performers onstage.
“Our competition isn’t necessarily other music venues; it’s Netflix and cat videos on YouTube,” Warren said. “I think we’re seeing a lot of fresh faces who came for the blackened grouper and stay to see Damon Fowler. If you can grub out and rock out at the same time, you’ve got it made.”
The Gulf Coast episode of Adam Richman’s Best Sandwich in America airs at 9:30 p.m. tonight on the Travel Channel.