Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Booze, cheese and Trader Joe's: Does it get any better?

Without question, the Oxford Exchange rules supreme as Tampa's downtown lunch spot at which to see and be seen.

The restaurant took the reins from the beloved, now-defunct Valencia Garden to become the of-the-moment place for politicians, Important People, ladies who lunch and the occasional celebrity, schmoozing over salmon Nicoise and chicken burgers with jalapeno.

And now, a morning mimosa, Pinot Grigio or nice Merlot.

It was one of the remarkable things about this place, besides the feeling that something this elegantly hip could not possibly be here: Oxford Exchange did not sell alcohol, to the incredulity of many a diner.

So, a year and a half in, do we turn out to be the kind of town where a nice restaurant (plus a cozy bookstore, sprawling coffee bar and schmancy shopping) can survive without booze?

Apparently, not so much.

Oxford Exchange was recently approved for alcohol sales, and mimosas began appearing alongside the brunch benedicts. This week, a lunchtime wine list debuted to much enthusiasm. Look for specialty cocktails, too.

"Our customers keep asking for it," says Oxford Exchange director Allison Adams. "It's important for the viability of our business." Previously serving breakfast and lunch, next week they open on Thursdays for dinner.

It's unclear how this might affect the nearby church that shares its lot with Oxford Exchange for much-needed parking, based in part on no alcohol sales.

But even the old Valencia, where muckety-mucks once cut dining room deals over Trout a la Rusa and black beans and rice, had its dark bar.


Speaking of food and progress, maybe those tired old chili cookoffs are at last in the past.

Mayor Bob Buckhorn announced our first-ever Mac & Cheese Throwdown set for May 10 at downtown's Curtis Hixon Park on the river. The contest is the mayor's effort to, if not exactly hippify Tampa, at least build that all-important lively vibe.

And could there be a food more akin to a city?

Tampa is big pans of mac and cheese covered in foil next to the okra and tomatoes at a barbecue. It's working-class food you ate as a kid and then in college. It grew up and got fancy, truffled, gorgonzolaed or lobstered, in a city growing up, too — but always mac and cheese at heart.


Given those recent tourism ads that put St. Petersburg and Clearwater beaches over on the Atlantic coast (oops), along with other unfortunate misplacements, I wanted to make sure our newly opened Trader Joe's got it right.

I know, it's been an unabashed lovefest for inexpensive daffodils and wasabi cashews since the place opened in South Tampa. I have searched for something to critique besides the postage stamp parking lot and fallen short. Though I did notice the arty reusable shopping bags they sell are not printed with this city's name, like one I have from Atlanta. They say "Florida." Sorry, that's the best I can muster.

On the Tampa-themed murals around the store, someone did their homework. The University of Tampa minarets. Hillsborough River State park in moss-draped oaks. Ybor City. A jai alai guy. And Raymond James Stadium painted over the dairy section, with cows.

I figure they're saving the Tampa Bay Rays for the St. Pete store opening later this year. But hey, if things don't work out, over by the two-buck chuck, Tampa's got plenty of room.

Booze, cheese and Trader Joe's: Does it get any better? 04/04/14 [Last modified: Friday, April 4, 2014 8:20pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Drinking alcohol on St. Pete Beach beaches now allowed — for hotel guests only

    Local Government

    ST. PETE BEACH — Guests at gulf-front hotels here can now drink alcoholic beverages in permitted hotel beach cabana areas.

    Guests relax on the beach near the Don Cesar at St. Pete Beach. Guests at gulf-front hotels in St. Pete Beach can now drink alcoholic beverages in permitted hotel beach cabana areas after the change was passed unanimously by the City Commission Tuesday night. Residents and other beachgoers who are not registered guests of the hotels continue to be barred from imbibing anywhere on the city's beaches.
  2. Man found floating in 'Cotee River in New Port Richey

    Public Safety

    NEW PORT RICHEY — A body was found floating in the Pithlachascotee River on Tuesday morning, police said.

  3. More than 13,000 fact-checks later, PolitiFact celebrates 10-year mark


    ST. PETERSBURG — Bill Adair still remembers the moment when he realized his idea to fact-check politicians could turn into something big.

    (from left to right) Aaron Sharockman, Politifact executive director introduces a panel featuring Angie Holan, Politifact editor; PolitiFact founder Bill Adair and Tampa Bay Times Editor and Vice President Neil Brown at the Poynter Institute in St. Petersburg on Tuesday. The event celebrated 10 years of PolitiFact and its growth since 2007. The panel discussed the history of the organization and how it goes about fact-checking. [EVE EDELHEIT | Times]
  4. Trump, McConnell feud threatens GOP agenda


    The relationship between President Donald Trump and Sen. Mitch McConnell, the majority leader, has disintegrated to the point that they have not spoken to each other in weeks, and McConnell has privately expressed uncertainty that Trump will be able to salvage his administration after a series of summer crises.

    Sen. Mitch McConnell has fumed over Trump’s criticism.
  5. Former Sen. Greg Evers, advocate for law enforcement, dead at 62.

    State Roundup

    TALLAHASSEE — Former State Sen. Greg Evers, the Baker Florida strawberry farmer and veteran politician, was killed in a single car crash hear his home in Okaloosa County. The Florida Highway Patrol confirmed the death late Tuesday, but deferred any further information pending an investigation. He was 62.

    Former Florida Senator Greg Evers, R- Milton, was a passionate advocate for law enforcement and corrections officers. He was found dead Tuesday afternoon in a car crash. He was 62. [SCOTT KEELER | Tampa Bay Times]