Taste of Tampa

I was in town to dine...

at a variety of restaurants over the course (ahem) of a weekend. This isn't a comprehensive guide to eating and drinking in Tampa —just a short list from an eclectic culinary scene. 

 

We arrived in rush hour traffic on a Friday in early December. I barely had time to freshen up in my room at the Intercontinental and perform my usual hotel walkabout to see what was where when we were off to test the waters at a seafood grill and oyster bar. 

 

 

The moon and a single planet pierced a lucid blue sky over the hotel's rooftop pool where two hotel guests were also preparing for an evening out. When you're visiting, you dress up. Sadly, on this trip I had to pass on Shula's Steak House (Award of Excellence, Wine Spectator) in our hotel. Sigh.

Our dinner destination was Copperfish Restaurant in historic Hyde Park. Enlarging the menu gives an idea as to dishes served and the prices. The menu changes with the best catch. Our server Douglas mesmerized us all by reciting a long list of daily specials without skipping a beat. We ordered a variety of starters to share. My 

favorite was the oysters. Lobster with two sides of vegetables were more than enough for me — and I have a big appetite. So after unsuccessfully fighting  off dessert, we boarded our getaway vehicle for Ciro's Speakeasy and Supper Club.

Ciro's was a renowned speakeasy in Los Angeles during Prohibition — you know, the period in American history when it became acceptable for women to drink. The entrance was discreet, a "password" was spoken, and we were in. Melissa took care of us in a curtained booth, serving hand-crafted Great Gatsby-inspired cocktails with a kiss. 

Oxford Exchange isn't what is used to be. It used to be the stables for the Tampa Bay Hotel (now the Henry B. Plant Museum) across the street. The 1891 structure is a great place to have breakfast as the dining atrium fills with natural light and evaporative aromas of freshly made teas and coffee.

Henry B. Plant Museum In the Gilded Age of the late 19th century, tycoon Henry B. Plant brought the railroad to Tampa, built the grand Victorian-style Tampa Bay Hotel and equipped it with Thomas Edison's new invention: electric light bulbs. Today the museum uses reproduction carbon filament bulbs to duplicate that original lighting.  Teddy Roosevelt had the good taste to make the hotel his HQ during the Spanish-American War of 1898. Its distinctive minarets have become an icon for the city. Christmas decorations replicate the era.

A quick drive eastward to Plant City brought us to the Keel and Curley Winery. Begun by a blueberry farmer as a way to save damaged fruit, it's gained stature with its well-made wines. George Rodriguez served us and really knew his stuff. I'd say our group pick was the key lime sauvignon blanc.

Along the way we passed a couple of dinosaurs and an Airstream trailer sculpture. You have a problem with that? This is Florida.

Back to the start, with lunch at Tampa Bay Brewing Company, first licenced brewpub in the state. Smack dab in the middle of historic Ybor City, Cigar City serves nine house beers on tap, as a sample tray or singly. Just an aside... the tattooed arms of our waitress drew attention with a hidden image evident only at arm's length, so to speak. But I digress....you can either drink or chew your beer at Tampa, as some of the pub food is made with the brews. The food's good, but the beer outranks it. Try the full range of light and dark suds to discover your favs.

Cigar City Brewing is one of the big boys in the regional beer industry. It brews over 30 seasonal and core beers with unique tastes from Oatmeal Raisin Cookie Brown Ale to Guava Grove Farmhouse Ale. Guiding us through the bottle maze was Florida Beer News editor Mark DeNote who's also published the 2014 Great Florida Craft Beer Guide.

Edison Food + Drink Lab is all about experimenting, but that doesn't mean your meal will be a hit or miss effort. Chef Pierola's winning formula of applied creativity has been tested and proven on many diners. Bartender Ryan Pines (smiling) won 4th Place in the annual GQ Bombay Sapphire creative bartender awards. I asked for a floral Violetta cocktail (pictured) as a prelude to SUBJECT MATTER listed on the menu as French onion short rib soup (also pictured). Odd, but my "scientific menu" headlined DESSERT INDEX seemed to show dessert at the top of the food chain.

Datz Delicatessen is one of those places that lists almost every food your mother told you not to eat. It's rumored that some people gain weight simply by looking at the menu. Regardless, it's packed for breakfast. This is comfort food big time and if you don't like sweet you won't eat. I had the French toast and bacon, 'cause I didn't want to be wrong.

Speaking of other datesThe Columbia is Florida's oldest restaurant, in operation since 1905 and still in the Hernandez/Gonzart family. Spanish cuisine is the theme. When dining at Columbia, it helps if you like garlic. Did I mention garlic? There's a grande selection of Spanish wines plus Flamenco performances nightly except Sundays. Paella Valenciana is the restaurant's signature dish — with garlic, of course. I love garlic.

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© 2015 by Gary Crallé

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