It’s been a strange, long seven months for Tampa Bay diners. Before the pandemic turned the restaurant world on its head, my colleagues and I had just launched a new column called What’s on Our Plate. In it, we shared the best dishes we were eating at that moment, giving us a chance to spotlight eateries that otherwise might not have fallen within the purview of our traditional restaurant reviews.
Since March, that column has been on hiatus — restaurants were closed for everything beyond takeout for six weeks, after all, and even after they reopened, we have been cautious about dining out.
The thing is, it’s not like we stopped eating. I’ve been running an abbreviated, newsletter-only version of what’s on my plate each week. The dining landscape has changed drastically, and with it, so have the choices we are faced with when eating out. Right now, my comfort level has landed me somewhere in the middle. I get takeout often, dine outside every now and then, and on a rare occasion eat inside a restaurant.
By bringing back this monthly column I hope to share some of the dishes I’m loving right now, whether it’s to take out or dine in.
Tarpon Springs charred octopus Greek salad
During the summer months, there’s little that brings me more joy than a grilled octopus and watermelon combo. Something about the way the bright and juicy watermelon mingles with the smoky, charred bits of octopus has me dreaming of an ice cold glass of Assyrtiko and a view of the Aegean Sea. This summer, with international travel off the table, I hit up Edison’s Swigamajig at Sparkman Wharf and settled for a Tarpon Springs charred octopus Greek salad ($13) and a view of the Ybor Turning Basin. Just as well. I’m crazy about this salad, which features a jumble of thick tentacles paired with tart watermelon orbs, heirloom tomatoes, crunchy cucumbers and red onions. The creamy pistachio skordalia takes the place of the traditional potato salad while a red wine tapenade offers a welcome hit of sweet and sour. A hunk of grilled, crusty bread rounds out the dish.
615 Channelside Drive, Tampa. swigamajig.com.
This tiny taco joint in Ybor City packs big flavors. The pandemic-friendly side window ordering system and a shady outside courtyard have made it one of my go-to spots whenever I get a hankering for a taco. I particularly like their birria tacos (on weekends they also serve the popular cheesy quesabirria versions), which come served with a hearty, bright crimson chili-rich stew for dipping. Also good are the al pastor tacos, where hunks of smoky, flavorful pork arrives on homemade corn tortillas topped with cilantro, onions and creamy guacamole. The last time I dined here, I sat in traffic for 45 minutes and every minute was worth the wait.
1604 N 17th St., Tampa. jimmystacosfl.com.
60 Spiced Chicken
There are a lot of people who will shy away from ordering chicken at a restaurant. I am not one of those people. Chicken can be a simple, humble dish and, when cooked well, I think it’s pretty close to perfect. I recently popped into Boca in Tampa for dinner on a rainy evening, eager to escape the downpour and in need of a warming and satisfying pick-me-up. I’m happy to report that the restaurant’s 60 Spiced Chicken really hit the spot. The roasted half-chicken arrived crispy and bronzed, nestled on a bed of creamy spinach and coconut risotto, garnished with a bright grape chutney and showered with fresh herbs — the perfect antidote to the stormy weather outside.
901 W Platt St., Tampa. bocatampa.com.
Thai curry puffs
I have been raving pretty much nonstop about Patti’s Kitchen to anyone who will listen ever since the new Thai restaurant opened in August. (For more of that, check out our feature on the new Pinellas Park restaurant.) But while the flavorful, complex noodle soups clearly steal the spotlight, it’s the buttery Thai curry puffs ($6.50) I can’t stop thinking about. The filling of curried ground chicken, potatoes and onions is similar to an Indian samosa and full of warm spice. The oh-so-flaky pastry crust is as good as any French pate chaud I’ve had. And the refreshing cucumber salad they come with make for the perfect pairing.
6527 Park Blvd. N, Pinellas Park. facebook.com/eatatpattisthai.
Noble Pig Pizza
Lately, my go-to delivery option has been from Noble Crust, which has locations in St. Petersburg, Wesley Chapel and Carrollwood. I’m a big fan of a lot here, from the pillowy ricotta gnocchi to the lively weekend brunch scene. These days, while I’m spending less time at brunch and more time at home, it’s the pizzas that are calling my name. The restaurant’s namesake pie, the Noble Pig, comes topped with sweet fennel sausage, pepperoni, spicy soppressata, caramelized onions and tangy pickled peppers all topped with a sunny-side-up egg. It’s an exercise in decadence and a great excuse to spend a night in.
8300 Fourth St. N, St. Petersburg; 8330 Paseo Drive, Wesley Chapel; 11618 N Dale Mabry Highway, Tampa. noble-crust.com.