V FOR VEGAN VICTORY: BLENDED BURGER
The James Beard Foundation has brought back the Blended Burger Project, and St. Petersburg's Cider Press Cafe has entered the fray. Chefs from around the country join a movement that strives to make burgers healthier and more sustainable by blending ground meat with chopped mushrooms. Through July 31, voters cast their ballots on the burger's use of mushrooms, flavor profile and appetizing appearance.
"Although meatless burgers got a bad rap in the past, advances in food technology make the new patties nearly indistinguishable from conventional burgers," said Cider Press owner Johan Everstijn. "We challenge diehard omnivores to try our burger and taste for themselves. Our motto is 'vegan for all'; our burger can change minds and eating habits, no compromise in taste required."
Cider Press Cafe's burger is a Beyond Burger blended with mushrooms and garlic, topped with eggplant bacon-tomato jam, wild arugula, dehydrated crispy onions and vegan smoked Gouda on a kaiser roll. Sound intriguing? Get over to 601 Central Ave. N in St. Petersburg and eat one, then vote at jamesbeard.org/blendedburgerproject/vote.
SWEET SUMMER: WILLIAM DEAN CLASSES
William Dean, the area's most famous chocolatier, is offering some tasty classes in the coming weeks, all taught by chef Tim Brown from Johnson and Wales University in Rhode Island. Thursday, learn how to make truffles, one of the oldest forms of chocolate. You'll learn the history of the truffle as well as a variety of finishing techniques (and everyone takes home truffles from the class). 6 to 9 p.m.; $60. On Saturday, it's Tarts, Tarts and More Tarts from 1 to 5 p.m. for $50 (salted caramel tart, 'nuff said). On Tuesday you can learn about Bon Bons from 6 to 9 p.m., also $50 (think those stunning "painted" chocolates). And 6 to 9 p.m. Wednesday, you can learn to make homemade jams and spreads for $50. Each class provides beverages and light snacks in addition to licking the bowls.
And then for something entirely different on June 8, William Dean pairs up with Big Storm Brewing Co. for what they're calling Foodie Night or a "chocolate storm" (think of the dry-cleaning bills). Guests can enjoy hors d'oeuvres, small plates and desserts, many dishes made with Big Storm beers (short ribs with a chocolate BBQ sauce, beer-battered coconut shrimp, even beer caramels and stout brownies), and guests also get the chance to design and make their own chocolate bars. 6 to 9 p.m. $35. All classes are held at William Dean Chocolates, 2790 W Bay Drive, Belleair Bluffs. (727) 593-0656.
BYRD COMING TO ROOST: BETTERBYRD
I've been waiting for the Ciccio Restaurant Group's BetterByrd to alight at the corner of Howard and Platt in Tampa. The signs of the muscular chicken are right there in the window. But they pulled a fast one (chickens can be crafty, evidently). BetterByrd will instead open in the fall in Hyde Park Village at 1633 W Snow Ave., next to Vineyard Vines in the site of the now-gone Piquant.
Ciccio Restaurant Group is known for bringing fresh, health-focused dining experiences to the greater Tampa Bay community, concepts like Fresh Kitchen, Daily Eats and Green Lemon. BetterByrd, the group's newest notion, has a first location on Fourth St. N in St. Petersburg. Hyde Park Village will be their second outpost and will include a full bar and sit-down, full-service option in a portion of the restaurant.
"We really wanted to create an alternative chicken joint for modern-day America where tastes and preferences seem to be evolving towards fresh-made creative cuisine," says co-founder James Lanza. "BetterByrd is our take on quick-service chicken in all of its various forms. Sandwiches, tacos, wings, tenders, and then there's also our mini doughnuts."
Here's what I said about the St. Pete location: "It's an attractive quick-serve concept . . . at the core of which is fried or roasted chicken and doughnuts. Be still my arteries, although it somehow still registers as wholesome, with hormone- and antibiotic-free chickens and eggs and lots of clean-tasting veggies like brussels sprouts and grains like quinoa. The bowls are a reprisal of what they've done elsewhere, but the wings, roasted or fried, stand out (three for $4, six for $7). Try the green buffalo or queso Sriracha sauces."