Blog Archives

Tampa Bay is for Foodies!

by Nikki Devereux, Pinstripe Marketing

Don't Skip Lunch

While there are no shortage of lunch spots in Tampa, there are a few classics that you really must try! Below are two of my favorites that are wildly different, but shining stars in their own right.

 

The Columbia

Some fellow Tampa Bay residents may be puzzled by this choice, honestly. While it is a Cuban staple in the Tampa Bay area (it's been family owned and operated for over 110 years - that's five generations!!), the sandwiches are, I'm sorry to say, not the greatest our area has to offer. There are just too many other competitors for this one to shine. No... when you come to the Columbia, this architectural gem in the heart of Ybor City, you order the 1905 Salad. Everyone knows that.

It's prepared table side so you can see the simplicity of the ingredients as they are tossed in front of your eyes. You aren't convinced it's magic until you take your first bite; the flavors are perfectly balanced: salty from the olives and ham, the sour from the lemon, a hint of sweet and sour from the splash of Worcestershire - what a delight! How do these work so well together? Who knows, they just do. Mention "The 1905" to any true Tampa Bay citizen and they will exclaim their love and dedication. On this menu, try the Paella as well. It's noteworthy and if you want more than a salad you can share this and you'll be fueled for your Ybor City exploration!

Wright's Gourmet House

Wright's is another Tampa Bay icon that we all drool over. Don't let the name fool you - this is not a gourmet house, by any means. What it is: an unassuming, bustling, cafeteria-style warehouse that churns out some of the best sandwiches you'll ever taste. And as if that's not enough, they top it off with the most indescribable cakes (please don't leave without trying at least one. I am in love with the Alpine, a yellow cake, chocolate icing combo - but you really can't go wrong). Plus, a fun selection of iced teas to go along with your carb-fest lunch!


For sandwiches, try the Paris, with turkey, brie, and fresh apples on buttercrust white bread, so divine! And the signature house sandwich, the Beef Martini, is not to be missed, with rare roast beef, mushrooms marinated in white wine, crisp bacon, and garlic + herb spread on buttercrust white. Just fantastic! Who said gourmet had to be complicated?

 

Shining at Dinner Time!

Tampa's food scene really shines at dinner time. In the next two restaurants, we have the imagination, style, and flavors of simply memorable food, in two very different atmospheres. 

Haven

This sultry joint is the perfect date night, whether with a romantic partner or a girl's night out. Low light, candles, and a vast wine list create the ambiance, and the variety of seating lets you choose the mood. Sit at the bar for a bustling atmosphere or choose outside where you'll be surrounded by more natural materials and a more private, comfortable pace.

My number one must try is the mushroom toast. Sure, it sounds almost silly, but just try it. As the mushrooms and cheese melt in your mouth and the crust of the toast gently buckles under your bite into a chewy, buttery delight, you'll thank me. The dancing of the flavors on your tongue is so fulfilling that if you wash it down with an earthy pinot noir, you may not come back to our planet.

The truffle mac and cheese is topped with slices of truffle - a beautiful thing in and of itself, but the cheese they use is out of this world. Chef's selection of earthy, rich, bold cheeses! You can't go wrong here. And the grilled ribeye cap might as well be butter as it melts in your mouth and leaves a sweetness lingering on your palette. Sip on a slightly sweeter Napa cab with this meaty treasure. Don't take it from me, though - this menu is meant to be explored!! It's changes often and is divided into several categories, from meats, to fish, to vegetables and more, so the a la carte nature of the menu encourages sharing and you'll inevitably ask your server for advice on the food and the wine list. They are incredibly knowledgeable and happy to oblige all questions and may even give you a tour of the cheese cellar if you're on your best behavior.

The Rooster & the Till

A fun, hip place with a bar as the center of attention, what the Rooster & the Till lacks in romance, it makes up for in food. There's a reason it's been voted #1 restaurant in Tampa Bay for the last two years. The Rooster is another a la carte style menu with fun, ever-changing options and a simpler, yet complete, wine list. My favorite dishes of the moment are the rich and decadent pork belly and the roasted brussels sprouts. The crispy cobia collar is a Vietnamese delight, with all elements playing in that harmonius way that Vietnamese ingredients do, with sweet, salt, spice, and aromatics complementing the resounding crunch of the cobia collar. They currently offer a chef's tasting menu with both a food experience and a wine experience - the price is right for a 6 course tasting menu with wine pairings. Go ahead and splurge, you deserve it!

Read More

Tampa – A Masterful Blend of Past and Present

by Brandon Watts, RS&H

Tampa.

A city with a rich past and a bright future. In Tampa, the past and the present are blended almost seamlessly together, fusing buildings that are decades old, remodeled with a 21st century charm.

When you visit Tampa, be sure to take time and explore the bay and Ybor City. You will not be disappointed. Step into history by visiting a nearby authentic cigar shop like the Long Ash Cigar, located in the center of Ybor on 7th Ave, Tampa. Here, and at similar places, the cigars are hand rolled in the front of the store by tabaqueros (cigar rollers) and a pairing of wine, liquor, beer or coffee is recommended by your bartender.

My personal favorite is a glass of raspberry/chocolate wine port with a hazelnut cigar.

To help you understand Tampa’s charm, you will have to know the history of Tampa’s biggest markets. Hand rolled cigars, breweries and phosphates contributed to the rapid growth and therefore the creation, of the Tampa we see today.

 

The History of Tampa and its Phosphates

Before the 1880s, Tampa and Ybor City were both separate and struggling towns failing to keep residents. Faced with a lack of citizens, and therefore, no one to offer any valuable trades or services, Tampa - and what would soon be called Ybor City - were both slowly becoming abandoned. In 1880, the two poverty-stricken towns would soon be changed forever with the help of a discovered deposit of phosphates.

Though the exact day is not known, a man by the name of Captain Bill Kendrick discovered phosphate in the Bone Valley region. This area in Central Florida encompassed portions of present-day Hardee, Hillsborough, Manatee, and Polk counties.

Soon after finding the phosphate deposits, mining and shipping the resource became the road to riches — literally. Six years after phosphate was found, there was a railroad built to transport it.

Henry Plant, who previously acquired the Jacksonville and Key West Railroad, expanded it into Tampa as an investment in the phosphate industry. The South Express Co. would connect its tracks from the Tampa Charlotte Harbor Railroad after acquiring the company in 1884, and the connection was completed in 1886. This decision cost Henry Plant $3 million in 1880, inflating to $65-70 million today.

To this day, Tampa's port still ships millions of tons of phosphate and has been given the nickname "the phosphate capital," since it contains the largest deposit of phosphate in the United States.

Phosphate is a mineral used to make fertilizers, additives, preservatives and other products. Because phosphates play such a valuable role in helping soil stay healthy and feeds the growing crops, adding phosphates allowed the crop and swamp land in Tampa and Ybor to flourish. This brought in American and immigrant farmers to tend the fields to sell and transport the goods to nearby towns.

Along with its role in helping the local crops, phosphates were discovered to provide a steady resource for yeast, and has since been used in the creation of alcohol. Residents began brewing beer in their homes and selling it locally. Soon after, the state's first brewery, the Florida Brewing Company, opened in 1896. Today, Florida has nearly 250 breweries, ranking number 10 on a list of the most independent breweries by state. And do you know what they found to pair well with beer, wine and alcohol? Cigars.

 

The Rise of Cigars

Another rise that took place alongside of phosphates was cigars. Business owners in neighboring towns saw a great opportunity with the growth in Tampa and Ybor City. Due to the steady work that helped revitalize the farmland and supplied jobs in mining, there became a demand for these services again.

Skilled service men and women that arrived included: blacksmiths to repair the tools, cooks to feed the workers, carpenters to build homes, salesmen to manage shipment, doctors to provide health treatment and any other duties it took to build the city and supply the workers. Between farming, mining, carpeting and assisting the business boom, there was a quick growth in both Tampa and Ybor City. This brought a large influx of Cubans, Spanish, Italians and other immigrants to restore and rebuild the previously poor, small southern towns.

Amongst these immigrants was someone named Vicente Martinez-Ybor, originally from Spain. Vicente immigrated to Cuba to start his cigar company in the 1850s. As his company grew, his business reached a point that expanding in Cuba was getting more difficult. Vincent received word from a friend to move his company to the up and coming town of what was going to be later known as Ybor City - named after his legacy.

Leveraging the growth opportunity, he moved his company in 1886. The industry grew rapidly to over 200 cigar factories in Ybor City, which produced 600 million cigars per year. Present day, there is only one cigar factory currently open and operating in Ybor at a rate of 22 million per year. In total, adding another few million cigars that the local tabaqueros produce, Ybor now produces on average 23-25 million cigars per year.

Visiting Tampa is an experience of seeing a new town with old stories whispered between its locals. You will have the opportunity to experience Ybor City’s history for yourself. The locals know the stories. Some have been here for generations after their great grandparents immigrated to Ybor City. Some of the buildings built in the 1800s and 1900s still stand today. Walking down 7th Street in Ybor City, you will see that the newer surrounding buildings took inspiration from the past in the creation of the future - almost seamlessly.

Read More