1. Food

What's happening in food: Ribfest, The Chowder Challenge, Tarpon Springs Sponge Docks Seafood Festival

Times (2011) Seafood of all types are on offer at the Sponge Docks Seafood Festival in Tarpon Springs, this year celebrating its 31st anniversary.
Times (2011) Seafood of all types are on offer at the Sponge Docks Seafood Festival in Tarpon Springs, this year celebrating its 31st anniversary.
Published Nov. 6, 2018


For 30 years Ribfest has been a major draw in downtown St. Petersburg, bringing together big musical acts and competitive barbecue, two great things that go great together. This year they are lowering the admission price each day of the festival, Friday to Sunday and held at Vinoy Park. At the gate, Friday tickets are $5, Saturday and Sunday are $20 each and include entrance and all entertainment (fancy "Boss Hog" tickets runs from $75 to $325). The headliner on Sunday is the Barenaked Ladies. On Friday, the musical lineup includes Reverend Barry and the Funk, The U2Xperience (a tribute to U2), The Sting Police (a tribute to Sting and The Police) and Robby Steinhardt and the Music of Kansas. On Saturday there's Matt Stillwell followed by Chris Janson, DREAMS (playing the music of the Allman Brothers, Runaway June and Josh Turner. And on Sunday, before the Ladies come on, you can watch Fire & Ice and Los Lonely Boys. On the food side, look for award-winning ribbers Blazin' Bronco out of Cleveland; Cowboys BBQ & Rib Co. from Fort Wayne, Texas; Desparado's from Hinckley, Ohio; Johnson's BBQ from Chesapeake, Va.; Texas Outlaw out of Elizabethtown, Ky.; the Tender Rib from Brandywine, Md.; and our hometown heroes, Fat Fred's Famous BBQ out of St. Petersburg. If barbecue isn't your jam, other food vendors will be on hand, a new feature this year, offering kettle corn, churros, paella, empanadas, pizza and loads of other foods. Gates open at 4 p.m. Friday and at noon on Saturday and Sunday. 501 Bayshore Drive NE, St. Petersburg. (727) 528-3828.

MORE: What's on the menu for food and music at Ribfest


Here's a longtime favorite foodie event in the area. The Chowder Challenge pits restaurant chefs against each other to come up with the best-tasting chowder, as celebrity judges award the Golden Ladle for creativity, outstanding taste and presentation, and Best in Show. Sample the array of chowders from Island Grill and Raw Bar, the Sea Porch at the Don CeSar, Nori Thai, Paradise Grill, and others. Ticket holders get to vote for People's Choice and they enjoy beverage for purchase, with music from guitarist Nick Setteducato as well as raffle prizes and a silent auction. The event benefits Pass-A-Grille Woman's Club and other local organizations. $15 in advance, $20 day of, 12 and younger free with one paid adult ticket. 1 to 5 p.m. Sunday. Horan Park, 7701 Boca Ciega Drive, St. Pete Beach. (727) 363-9245.



If you aren't maxed out with chowder, the 31st Sponge Docks Seafood Festival is a three-day outdoor event that features plenty of seafood snackables (there are nonseafood items, too) as well as an arts and crafts show of local and regional artists, live music and vendors with nautical or food-related art, fishing apparel, cooking and kitchen items. The event put on by the Tarpon Springs Merchants Association takes places along Dodecanese Boulevard on the Sponge Docks. It's a great reason to head to Tarpon Springs, with its constellation of excellent Greek restaurants and bakeries. Free, food and drink extra. Noon to 10 p.m. Friday, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday. (727) 322-5217.


  1. Brian Baumgartner, who played Kevin on "the Office," partnered with Bush's Beans to bring the chili his character was famous for spilling to life. [Bush's Beans]
  2. Lamb and lentil ragu [LORRAINE FINA STEVENSKI  |  Special to the Times]
  3. Mojo pork with yellow rice, black beans and fried plantains is on the menu at Luv Child. [OCTAVIO JONES  |  Times]
  4. Paella and other seafood offerings will be offered at the SunWest Crab and Shrimp Festival this weekend in Hudson. [DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD  |  Tampa Bay Times (2018)]
  5. The Busch Gardens Food and Wine Festival will return to Tampa on Feb. 29, running weekends through April 26. [Courtesy of Busch Gardens]
  6. EggFest competitors will cook on demo Big Green Egg grills at Tabellas at Delaney Creek in Tampa on Feb. 29. [Tampa Bay Times (2016)]
  7. Downtown St. Petersburg's Watergarden Inn at the Bay houses a new popup restaurant called the Kitchen at Watergarden. [Courtesy of the Kitchen at Watergarden]
  8. Watermelon salad with feta and mint [MICHELLE STARK  |  Times]
  9. An illustration of a casserole. [Illustration by Lisa Merklin   |   Times]
  10. Chef Joe Isidori will lead JoToro, which is opening soon at Sparkman Wharf in Tampa. [Courtesy of JoToro]
  11. Tampa's El Toro Loco features more than a dozen tacos, including crispy fried fish, center. [MEAGHAN HABUDA  |  Times]
  12. Gulfport's North End Taphouse pours a Tampa Bay-focused lineup of craft beers, ciders and hard seltzers. [MEAGHAN HABUDA | Times] [MEAGHAN HABUDA  |  Times]