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Dining planner: Best pizza places in Tampa Bay and local food festivals

FOR PIZZA MONTH: PIE CHART

When it's good, it's really good. When it's bad, it's still pretty good. I speak, of course, of pizza. October is National Pizza Month (yes, it deserves a whole month), so here are my top picks.

Ava, 718 S Howard Ave., Tampa: I've had readers grousing that they've had a so-so pie here. I recently went back and respectfully submit that these readers are dead wrong. The Michael Stewart/Joe Maddon collab is still fab. Pizza chef Joshua Hernández mans the Acunto oven and sends out swiftly cooked, San Marzano-topped pies with a fairly abstemious lineup of ingredient options. The best is the Bestia with spicy sausage, arugula and ricotta. (813) 512-3030.

Noble Crust, 8300 Fourth St. N, St. Petersburg: This is a bustling, family-appropriate place where a shared strategy seems most effective: a couple of appetizers for the table, a communal pizza, then maybe a pasta or a more substantial entree and, finally, a shared dessert (soft serve, all the way). Pizzas come in a large personal size, maybe 12 inches, with a crust that is gluten free. The Cedar Key clam pie with bacon and pickled cherry peppers brings great ideas together with a lot of savor. (As an aside, they're doing Nashville-style hot chicken now. Wow.) (727) 329-6041.

Pizzeria Gregario, 400 Second St. N, Safety Harbor: Every now and then, I have a conversation with owner Greg Seymour that reminds me once again what an ingredient zealot this pizza man is. In his fairly humble-looking Safety Harbor fave, he sources with an exacting eye — some local, some the best you can buy anywhere (Bianco DiNapoli organic tomatoes and such). It's been a while since I've been back, but I know what I'm getting next time: the Lombardy, with fontina, housemade bresaola and pickled onion. How could that be bad? (727) 386-4107.

Eddie & Sam's, 203 E Twiggs St., Tampa: Different kind of pie, but when one of the ginormous rounds emerges from the pizza oven, it's easy to lose your cool. You want to stand there, fold a slice in half and inhale. It's pure NYC, get this, made with real New York City water. Thin, pliable crust but with the right chewy tooth-resistance, it's the kind of by-the-slice manna that deposits glistening orange grease on your shoe. Slices can be topped with normal accoutrements and stuck back in the oven. By the whole pie, the best choices are the Neapolitan (plain cheese, not too saucy) or the Bianca, with fluffy ricotta, moz and grated Parmesan. (813) 229-8500.

FEELING HUNGRY? EVENT SMORGASBORD

.Cider Press CafÉ

As a warmup to a delicious weekend, stop in to Cider Press Café from 4 to 9 tonight for its grand opening party, with tastings, raffles and live music from Gloria West and the Gents, an old-school swing jazz band. It's a celebration of the plant-based restaurant's newest location. Raffle proceeds benefit local animal shelter Pet Pal. The event is free at 601 Central Ave., St. Petersburg. (727) 914-7222.

Boots, Brews and BBQ

Then from 5 to 10 p.m. Friday, dust off your cowboy boots for an indoor-outdoor party at Boots, Brews and BBQ, with live country music, punkin chuckin', horseshoes and other games, craft brews and barbecue for sale, a "Love Your Truck" truck show, a Duck Dynasty photo booth and kids area with bounce houses. Admission is free, food and drink are extra at the Barn Theatre at Winthrop, 11349 Bloomingdale Ave., Riverview. (727) 674-1464.

nTampa Pig Jig

From noon to 10 p.m. Saturday, the Tampa Pig Jig is a family-friendly festival on the waterfront that includes 50 barbecue teams, local celebrity judging, live music by the Grammy-winning Eli Young Band and Mark Bryan of Hootie and the Blowfish, food trucks and a mechanical bull. The event benefits NephCure Kidney International. Tickets are $25, 11 and younger free, at Curtis Hixon Park, 600 N Ashley Drive, Tampa. (813) 224-0444.

In the Dip

Or from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday on the other side of the bay, head over to In the Dip, part of the Localicious Eat Local Drink Local Week. This free eating and drinking festival takes place in the field near the Manhattan Casino, 642 22nd St. S, St. Petersburg, that the city of St. Petersburg once referred to as "the Dip," and features workshops on sustainable eating and drinking, artisanal food and drink, local craft beers, live music and entertainment. (813) 500-7708.

Food for Thought

At 7 p.m. Monday, feed your brain with a lecture in the Food for Thought series at USF St. Petersburg's University Student Center. National Geographic photographer Penny De Los Santos, whose work has been featured in numerous cookbooks, conducts a multimedia presentation titled Food Culture Through the Lens. Admission is free, but registration is preferred. USF St. Petersburg. (727) 873-4873.

To read our interview with De Los Santos talking craft, click here.

Dining planner: Best pizza places in Tampa Bay and local food festivals 10/21/15 [Last modified: Wednesday, October 21, 2015 11:27am]
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