Popcorn as an ingredient. It's a thing. Chicago mad scientist-chef Grant Achatz of Alinea famously served liquid popcorn with caramel froth. (There's a YouTube video. Look it up.) Locally, the kernels make a showing from time to time:
At Ulele Native-Inspired Foods & Spirits you'll find white cheddar popcorn mashed potatoes on a number of dishes. It seems unlikely that the Seminole or Calusa tribes were rocking the cheddar corn, but what do I know? It makes a nice accompaniment to Strickland Ranch Florida-raised beef, especially when preceded by buttery, cheesy hot oysters right from the barbacoa. 1810 N Highland Ave., Tampa; (813) 999-4952.
At Jeannie Pierola's Edison: food+drink lab, rock star pastry chef Erin Kelley draws all kinds of inventive flavors and textures into her short lineup of desserts. For a while she featured popcorn pots de creme with cheddar ice cream, a dish so surreally logical that Edison served it at the Enjoy Arts and Tastes St. Pete festival at the Dalí Museum a couple of years ago. (Still, my fave of Kelley's concoctions remains the sugar-crusted butter cake.) 912 W Kennedy Blvd., Tampa; (813) 254-7111.
Haven, the newest sibling to Bern's Steak House, burst onto the scene this year with the most ambitious cheese program and broadest American whiskey lineup this town has ever seen. Chef Chad Johnson has clearly had fun putting together this menu, many of the dishes intriguing riffs on a single ingredient. Case in point: a dish described simply as sweet corn, which marries corn in every guise from ears of caramelized baby corn to corn sprouts, roasted corn niblets, corn nuts and popcorn brought together with grassy-caramely Zamorano cheese and a hint of chile heat. Wowza. 2208 W Morrison Ave., Tampa; (813) 258-2233.
Dough and Datz get in on the corn a couple of ways: In the ice cream case at Dough right now you'll find smoked popcorn ice cream. At Datz, there's a dish called What's Poppin: agave/tequila-marinated shrimp served over a bed of greens with deconstructed guacamole, pickled red onions, red peppers, Sriracha-flavored popcorn and corn nuts. If you fall in love with the spicy kernels, they sell the popcorn by itself at Dough. 2602 S MacDill Ave., Tampa; (813) 902-1979.
And while it's not precisely used as an ingredient, Ciro's Speakeasy and Supper Club (2109 Bayshore Blvd., Tampa; (813) 251-0022) makes a very cocktail-friendly popcorn dusted liberally with black truffle oil and truffle salt (how could double truffle be unwise?), as does Annata Wine Bar (300 Beach Drive NE, St. Petersburg; (727) 851-9582), while Cask Social Kitchen (208 S Howard Ave., Tampa; (813) 251-0051) mixes things up with a changing popcorn of the day that comes gratis as you sift through the Southern-inflected menu and cocktail list.
Contact Laura Reiley at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 892-2293. Follow @lreiley on Twitter.