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Dining Planner: Cottage Industry Expo, Epic Chef Showdown, new foodie magazine launches


Mike Sponaugle has been in the restaurant business, one way or another, for the past 20 years, first in St. Petersburg and then in Miami with an outdoor furniture business that serviced the restaurant industry. He wanted to get back to town and considered what concept might fit into downtown St. Pete's booming restaurant scene. He contemplated artisanal sausage and a few other things.

"But then I saw the success of ramen shops in Miami. I knew that Ichicoro was coming to Tampa and that it would bring awareness. In New York you have 200 ramen shops, but it hasn't really hit Tampa Bay."

This week welcomes Buya Ramen at 911 Central Ave. It's in the same block with newcomers Pizza Box, Kings Street Food Counter and Bavaro's.

"We're making it this little foodie block," said Sponaugle, who has partnered with old friends Brian and Kevin Wojtowicz and hired longtime Pinellas County chef Sean Squires.

They will debut with two kinds of broth, a traditional meaty tonkotsu (a 22-hour process) and a soy-based broth, with toppers like crispy duck and wagyu brisket, and a seafood version with grilled langostinos. Prices, Sponaugle says, will run from $14 up to a "mac daddy bowl" hovering around $22. And while he says it's not quite white tablecloth (a messy prospect for ramen, for sure), it will be upscale. For reservations, call (727) 202-7010.


Make a mean jam? Famous for your pickles? The University of Florida/IFAS Pasco, Hillsborough and Pinellas county extension offices are throwing the first Tampa Bay Cottage Industry Expo on Saturday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. The expo offers practical education sessions taught by farmers, Cooperative Extension Office experts and industry representatives. The goal is to provide attendees with information they can immediately apply to improving their small or fledgling agriculture operations. The sessions will cover agriculture production; legal and regulatory considerations; and marketing fruits and veggies, hydroponics and livestock. The expo will also feature a trade show for anyone who would like to learn about new products and services available for their business. Food trucks will be available for snacks and lunch service. Cost is $30 and registration is required at Wiregrass Ranch High School, 2909 Mansfield Blvd., Wesley Chapel. (352) 518-0156.


I judged one of last year's Epic Chef Showdown events at the Epicurean Hotel and it was electrifying. It's back for a second year and on Monday, a chef from Rooster & the Till will square off against one from Mise en Place, three courses made from "mystery basket" items. I have an idea: Since National Lasagna Day is July 29, National Cheesecake Day is July 30 and Cotton Candy Day is on July 31, let's bring in some of these foods as building blocks. Just a suggestion for how to spice up the evening as the competing chefs use their culinary skills to create winning dishes. Guests get to enjoy three courses, paired with wines, as they root for their favorite contender. The evening's judges include Ashley Glass and Laura Harris of WFTS-Ch.28 and Stacie Schaible of WFLA-Ch. 8. $90. Reservations required. Benefits Feeding America Tampa Bay. 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Monday, 1207 S Howard Ave., Tampa. (813) 999-8700.


Thirty-two glossy pages, drool-worthy food and cocktails on every page. Dawna Stone, Matt Dieter and Ellen Madden, the folks who brought us the St. Pete Wine & Food Festival last September, have just debuted LocalsDish Tampa Bay. In a sense, it's an extension of what they've done in the past. Stone and Dieter owned a large running event company that included the magazine Women's Running, before selling it in 2012. They nearly immediately began missing putting on events, thus the food festival, but clearly they had been bitten by the magazine bug as well.

They printed 20,000 copies of this July/August edition, with profiles of chefs like Il Ritorno's David Benstock and articles such as "10 new must-try restaurants." The aim is to celebrate the increasingly rich local restaurant scene.

"We wanted to have a very positive publication so people could get to know these restaurants, the chefs and their missions," Stone said. "We're trying to promote the industry, the same thing we're doing with the festival."

In fact, tickets for this year's festival, Nov. 2-6, have just gone on sale, with events like a charity wine-pairing dinner, a Tacos and Tequila night, craft beer night and then two days of the grand tastings. Visit for more information or to buy tickets.

Dining Planner: Cottage Industry Expo, Epic Chef Showdown, new foodie magazine launches 07/27/16 [Last modified: Wednesday, July 27, 2016 10:53am]
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