10/24/14 Food & Dining
PUNTA GORDA — When life hands you nuisance pigs, make pork chops.
And since Florida has an estimated 1 million feral pigs — the most in the country per square mile — Charlotte County rancher Keith Mann saw an opportunity to capitalize on that idea in a novel way.
He has established a working relationship with trappers, USDA inspectors and the restaurant community to bring this new "naturally raised," "free-range," "sustainable" and "local" food source to market. Already presiding over Florida's largest bison herd at his Three Suns Ranch, Mann launched his feral pig program this spring, a win-win for homeowners, trappers and restaurant patrons alike. The only losers are the pigs....
10/21/14 Food & Dining
The 600 block of Central is a magnet for those who march to the beat of their own drum, all that percussion adding up to a heady beat. Ann Shuh, a former lawyer, took over two 1928 buildings months ago, yanking out the guts of Collective Tattoo and Gallery and replacing them with Sunspot Fresh Bar, a health-oriented lunch spot that is anchored by its own artistic whimsy.
The walls are crowded with local artists' canvases, their work curated by Saint Paint's Derek Donnelly. Tabletops are KAPOW-ed with comic book-style pop art and tiny animal salt and pepper shakers are different on every table....
10/20/14 Food & Dining
TAMPA — Longtime Tampa residents get misty-eyed when you mention Goody Goody, the iconic restaurant known for its pies and bags of hamburgers "POX" — that's pickles, onions and the fabled secret sauce. On Monday restaurateur Richard Gonzmart announced he is bringing it all back in a new Goody Goody.
"My earliest memories were the Columbia and Goody Goody. It was a big deal to go sit in your car and the lady would come up and take your order and you'd eat inside the car and listen to the radio," said Gonzmart, the Columbia Restaurant Group's fourth generation co-owner and president, who opened the acclaimed Ulele earlier this year....
It all started with a pig. Or, more specifically, half a pig. Jim Webster, when he was a copy editor and writer for the Tampa Bay Times, drove up to Nature Delivered, Rebecca Krassnoski's farm near Tampa, with the aim of filling up his freezer with humanely raised pork. He wasn't looking for loin, shank and belly sealed carefully on plastic-wrapped trays. He wanted to meet his live, snuffling pig. And then see what happened after that....
10/20/14 Food & Dining
It's got pilasters and curved archways and marble statuary and carved fireplace mantles and complicated deco wrought-iron work. In short, the new Villa Bellini in the 1928 building that housed Tio Pepe for decades is a knockout. There's valet parking, a gracious gaggle of lovely young women at the front desk, bartenders who ask your name and politely volunteer their own, a sumptuously appointed private dining room, and the kind of chandeliers and gilded mirrors that make you think a sports coat might be in order....
10/14/14 Food & Dining
After two years of meager harvests, the forecast for this year's stone crab catch is cautiously upbeat, though prices likely will remain high.
Crabbers won't know until they start hauling up traps on Wednesday, the official start to the season, but Bill Kelly, executive director of the Florida Keys Commercial Fishermen's Association, pointed to the absence of crabs' two biggest nemeses: a blood disease in the crabs called hematodinium parasite triggered by red tides in the Gulf of Mexico, and tropical storm interference during the harvesting period....
10/13/14 Food & Dining
In metro areas where restaurants densely stud every street, entrepreneurs have gotten tunnel vision: Serve a single food, do it right, carve a niche, plug it on social media, watch the lines grow. In New York alone, you'll find the Meatball Shop, S'Mac (mac and cheese mania), Potatopia (all spuds, all the time) and an all-rice-pudding spot called Rice to Riches.
The Tampa Bay area, with limited pedestrian culture, has been a little slow to the trend. Often food trucks pave the way for these single-subject restaurants, foot traffic driven by come-hither Instagram shots of artisanal doughnuts or dumplings....
10/07/14 Food & Dining
TAMPA — BT Nguyen leaned over the first plate, spreading bits of hearts of palm, mango, celery and sweet pepper on the plate, topping that with a ripe wedge of avocado and gently poached lobster, finishing the dish with a confetti of micro-herbs and passion fruit vinaigrette.
There was no talking as 25 other chefs and sous chefs fell into line, replicating her work on 94 plates spread out in the Epicurean Hotel's stunning kitchen....
10/07/14 Food & Dining
TAMPA — When the doors reopen at 2208 W Morrison Ave. at the end of the year, it will no longer be SideBern's. Say hello to Haven, a midpriced wine bar restaurant.
SideBern's opened in 1996 as the award-winning New American little sister to Bern's Steak House. The closure signals a number of things, according to executive chef Chad Johnson.
"SideBern's had an amazing run. Jeannie (Pierola) started the process, and I did the second half, and we built a tremendous reputation. But my passions as a chef have changed and the market has changed."...
10/06/14 Food & Dining
Takeout parking spots in front are for 7.5 minutes only. The restaurant closes at 9:35 p.m. What gives? They are memorable. But those 30 seconds and that five minutes are not the only things that separate the new Fresh Kitchen from so many other South Tampa restaurants.
The latest project from Ciccio Restaurant Group, it builds on a preoccupation the guys have had for a while: healthy food, which in some years has meant crisp stir-fries or leafy green vegetables, in other years a low-carb "paleo" approach and in still others "superfoods" and cold-pressed juices. From their flagship Ciccio and Tony's to Green Lemon, Water and the rest, this group has often eschewed deep-fried appetizers and heavy sauces, choosing instead a customizable approach whereby diners select proteins, starches, some veggies and a sauce to suit their own tastes and dietary issues....
10/05/14 Food & Dining
Haute is no longer hot.
In Tampa Bay and nationally, nearly all of the exciting, high-profile restaurants to open in the past two years have been casual and moderate to mid-priced. At none of them are you required to wear a jacket. At none will you find tuxedoed waiters or red roses in crystal vases. In short, fine dining seems to be breathing its last rattly gasps.
This demise says a great deal — some of it good, some bad — about cultural shifts in this second decade of the 21st century....
09/30/14 Food & Dining
I reviewed this space favorably back in 2008 when it debuted as The Venue, then less favorably in 2011 when the nightclub concept's ambitious restaurants were dumbed down, then less favorably still in 2012 when it changed hands and became the V. In all of its incarnations, one of the chief problems was this: It was way too big. The 28,000-square-foot complex drew its aesthetic from nightclubs of an earlier decade, and on a Tuesday night with even a hundred people eating, drinking, dancing, flirting, it still seemed cavernously empty....
Just about every culture has them. There are Indian pakora, Turkish mucver, even the Deep South's hush puppies. Hot, crunchy, batter-dipped doodads that more broadly fit under the genus fritter, they are nearly the perfect party appetizer. • And in a way they're doubly perfect for my special peeps. These are the folks I invite to my house when things are going exceptionally well or really kind of awful. Cooking for them buoys my spirits, except now there's the one who's pescatarian, another who is vegetarian, one trying to go low-carb, one steering clear of red meat. • The answer, my friends, is fritters. Even studded with seafood, they are fairly affordable to make, dominated by egg, milk, flour and seasonings. A batch of batter not much more complicated than pancakes can be whipped up just as guests arrive, then dropped by spoonful into hot oil until they bob, golden, to the surface. Zap them into a napkin-lined basket and offer them with a dipping sauce and it's like the last watering hole on the savanna. • A huge number of veggies are fritter-friendly: corn, zucchini, carrots, black beans, sweet potatoes, onions and onward. Then add in all the sweet-side fruity options, from bananas to apples, and it's a fritter frenzy. The sticking point for most of us? The frying....
09/29/14 Food & Dining
Cake mixes were a convenience food launched after World War II, better living through science where all you had to add was water. Only, home cooks didn't like them. They thought it was cheating to claim authorship of such a cake. So Duncan Hines et al retooled and offered cake mixes to which you had to add eggs, milk and maybe oil. Victory: Home cooks loved them and claimed them proudly as homemade. • It's a slippery slope, what constitutes prepared food and what is homemade. Unbeknownst to many diners, this is doubly the case in restaurants these days. A food distributor like Florida's Cheney Brothers or the national Sysco offer ever more sophisticated heat-and-serve dishes, many of which come with ready-to-plate sauces, garnishes and sides. I know this because I eat out a couple hundred times a year and I keep eating the same food. Really, the exact same food....
09/23/14 Food & Dining
The dispute that had embroiled popular Tampa restaurant CopperFish has been resolved.
Former SoHo Hospitality partners Kevin Enderle and Chas Bruck announced Tuesday that they have split from partner Gordon Davis to form the new BE-1 Concepts. BE-1 will maintain full ownership of Boca Kitchen Bar and Market and Ciro's Speakeasy and Supper Club, while Davis will maintain ownership of CopperFish Seafood Grill & Oyster Bar. This follows an acrimonious period that culminated in a lawsuit filed in August by landlord Howard Park Properties (Davis) against SoHo for failure to pay rent....