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Several weeks ago I took a vacation to San Francisco and for a whole week I consumed some of the best food and wine in my life. Needless to say, returning to the reality of everyday life has been especially hard and I’ve done my best to come down from the vacation bliss. Imagine my shock yesterday morning when I opened up the local paper online and was met with a picture of a former Tampa chef, in San Francisco!
According to the article by Chris Sherman, Chef Scott Howard cut his culinary teeth in Tampa at top-notch restaurants such as rg’s, Capriccio and Mis en Place. Unfortunately for Tampa, Chef Howard felt that in order to make it big, he had to leave the area for a city more serious about food. So he moved to San Francisco and is now doing things with food that Tampa won’t see for a long, long time. I am ecstatic that a Tampa Bay chef has moved on to find great success, but in the same note I find it disheartening to learn of such a talented chef who felt the need to leave the area in order to succeed.
Sherman interviewed Chef Howard about his “move to California, his cooking philosophy and how the chains are eating Tampa Bay.” One of those topics struck me particularly close to home, especially since I have done quite a bit of writing on the subject:
On what Tampa Bay needs to become a “food town”:
“…I talk to my friends every week on the phone. When I speak to Marty (Blitz) and B.T. (Nguyen of Cafe BT in Tampa’s Hyde Park), they say it’s become so saturated with chains. That’s the big difference. Chains don’t survive here. Or maybe, they don’t thrive. There may be an Outback around, but I don’t know where.
People here support individual restaurants and chefs; they really demand quality.
Of course you’ve got some really great restaurants (in the Tampa Bay area), but the competition from the chains is really strong, especially in the casual restaurant segment. You (Tampa Bay diners) just can’t support many good independents.
How do you feel about this statement? I do my best to promote independent restaurants but I’ll admit that I have an occasional meal at Bonefish or Fleming’s. Are we doing our best as a city? If you are a frequenter of chain restaurants, what makes you gravitate toward them? What would you like to see from independent restaurants to win your business? I have my own opinions about these questions and freely admit that the some of the chains do a great job with customer service and marketing. But is the food really better?
Local restaurants mentioned:
Mis en Place
Since my arrival in Tampa almost two years ago, I’ve spent quite a bit of time searching for a great Tex-Mex restaurant, only to come up short time and time again. I probably won’t return to Miguel’s and the food at Estella’s isn’t even close to acceptable. I still haven’t found exactly what I am looking for, but on Saturday evening I came close with a great meal at Algusto ”Tortilla and Salsa” Mexican Restaurant. While not the panacea of Tex-Mex cooking, the atmosphere was inviting and the food was fresh and tasty.
After a day at St. Pete Beach, I was shocked when my fiancée suggested Mexican food for dinner. She’s normally not a fan, but is occasionally known to indulge in a platter of fajitas. We joined some friends in the afternoon for a tasting of French wines at Beaune’s West Palm Wines in Ybor, then cruised down Kennedy for an early dinner at Algusto. Though we didn’t have a reservation, the restaurant was fairly empty, which seemed reasonable for 6:30pm. I was pleasantly surprised at the cleanliness and positive atmosphere of the restaurant, complete with brightly colored tile, high ceilings and an open kitchen.
As we were seated, the first thing we requested was an order of Algusto’s popular homemade guacamole ($4.95). It was a little creamier than I prefer, but the flavor was perfect and I feel it is one of the better ones in the area. The portion was large, so unless you have several people to split it, you may want to think twice about filling up on appetizers. The assortment of salsas was also impressive, but the presentation was not. We tried the mild salsa, a chunky pico de gallo and we also had some of the spiciest version, a smooth and spicy orange salsa, presumably made with with habanero peppers. While both were fantastic, they were served in small, disposable plastic ramekins that made them difficult to eat.
Naturally, we chose to indulge in an order of chicken and beef combination fajitas ($10.95). Instead of the sizzling platter cliché, the meat arrived on a plate, colorfully mixed with a variety of sauteed strips of bell pepper. The chicken was juicy and the beef had a smoky, grilled flavor, but for a place with “tortilla” in the name, I had hoped for some that were homemade. Instead we were served warm tortillas, right out of the bag. On the side was a small plate of uninspired refried beans and rice, pico de gallo and a heap of guacamole.
I decided to try out the tampaquena ($12.75), a marinated and grilled steak accompanied by a chicken mole enchilada, rice and a mound of colorful sautéed bell pepper strips (see a trend here?). The thin piece of steak was cooked well done, a tad further than what it should have been, but it was still tender enough to enjoy. The chicken enchilada was filled with shredded chicken and topped with a fantastic rich mole sauce. I typically use the steak tampaquena as a benchmark to judge Mexican restaurants and though it was a good meal, I didn’t exactly wake up thinking about it the next morning. Instead of the excessive number of bell pepper strips, I would have preferred something edible, such as refried beans; now I know for next time.
To cool off the spicy Mexican food, I had a couple of Mexican beers ($3) and we also tried a glass of red sangria ($4.75), which was a tad too sweet for my taste. Unfortunately Algusto does not have a full liquor license and is not able to serve my drink of choice: the margarita. Instead, they serve the fake wine-based margarita ($4.75) which is supposed to act as a substitute. Call me crazy, but I have no desire to try a margarita that lacks tequila. Though the list of desserts looked impressive, we didn’t have any room to indulge in any flan or tres leches.
My ideal Tex-Mex restaurant needs a great margarita, solid food, great chips and salsa and an inviting atmosphere. Three out of four isn’t bad and I’ll definitely be back to Algusto Mexican Restaurant soon. Although it is labeled as a “Mexican” restaurant with a menu that serves great mole and traditional favorites, there are plenty of Tex-Mex influences, such as fajitas, quesadillas and chips and salsa on the table. Also, in some dishes, the “fresh” and “healthy” dishes go a bit far for my decadent tastes. Regardless, if you are looking for a great restaurant serving fresh Mexican food alongside Tex-Mex favorites, I’d give Algusto a thumbs up.
Algusto Mexican Restaurant
912 West Kennedy Blvd.
Tampa, FL 33606
Sometimes a meal at a nice restaurant is planned. You may make reservations a week ahead of time, think about the dinner for a few days and even peruse the menu a bit before leaving the house for the big event. Then there are some weekend evenings where dining out is a spur of the moment idea and the thought of going out without reservations is out of the question. However, if you are flexible, I’d bet that you and a companion can dine at almost any Tampa Bay establishment on a weekend evening with no more than a ten minute wait. How? By dining at the bar.
As a single guy, I spent quite a bit of time dining at the bar in restaurants. It never bothered me, since I probably knew the bartender and I sure didn’t enjoy sitting by myself at a table made for four. But now, I find my experience as a bar diner comes in handy when ducking into a nice restaurant without any prior planning. If you are willing to forgo a table, you’ll get quicker seating and nearly instant service, since the bartender is only steps away. Plus, you may even get that complimentary glass of wine you always hoped for. While far from a complete list, some places where dining at the bar is acceptable, even ”cool,” include, Sidebern’s, Courtside Grill, Fly Bar and Restaurant, The Lime, Ceviche in St. Petersburg and Bonefish Grill. What are your favorite spots to dine at the bar?
A couple of weeks ago on a Saturday evening, my fiancee and I were craving some Italian food from Benedetto’s. Since we didn’t have a reservation and it was a last minute decision, we figured having a bottle of wine and some appetizers at the bar was the way to go. When we arrived, the wait for a table was about 40 minutes and their small bar was crowded. But after only a few minutes and a half of a cocktail, we were seated in the corner of the cozy bar.
We began with the Benedetto’s Dip (or Ben Dip, for short, $14.95), a thick dip packed with shrimp, crabmeat, artichokes and plenty of white cheese, served with crostini. Decadent, rich and simply delicious, it’s one of our favorite appetizers. We also tried one of their specials, the stuffed mushrooms ($12.95), filled with lump crabmeat and covered with cheese. Although I am not normally a fan of mushrooms, the flavor and texture blended right in with the crabmeat and cheese. Based on the filling qualities of the previous two apps, we were only able to squeeze in one more: fried calamari ($10.95), tender and fried golden brown. It was served with a side of marinara for dipping, but calamari cooked that well only required a quick squeeze of lemon. To top it off, we paired everything with a bottle of Santa Cristina Sangiovese, affordable at only $28. There was no room for dessert during that trip.
While Benedetto’s may be one of our favorite restaurants in “the North,” we don’t always plan ahead and sometimes it is good to be spontaneous. Dining at the bar might not be for everyone, but I find it an attractive alternative for those who decide at the last minute that they want good food but don’t want the hassle of a 45 minute wait for a regular table. Next time you are faced with a long wait at your favorite restaurant, give the bar a chance.
Benedetto’s Ristorante Italiano
21529 Village Lakes Shopping Center
Land O’ Lakes, Fl. 34639
For anyone in the Tampa Bay area remotely interested in food, I suggest picking up this week’s issue of Creative Loafing. Titled the “Food Issue,” David Warner and Brian Reis head it up with a comprehensive article about “Restaurant Rows,” featuring streets that contain clusters of great dining in close proximity. In addition to the usual mentions of Howard Avenue in Tampa and Central Avenue in St. Pete, he opens up the world to hidden treasures in Dunedin and Gulfport. Now that I’ve got my road map, it looks like it is time for me to make a day trip.
In his regular column, Reis makes the official announcement of his transition from freelance food critic to the position of full time food writer and editor. It may have been a long time coming, but the timing was right for Creative Loafing to get serious about food. Since Chris Sherman’s recent retirement, Brian Reis has stepped up to the plate and proven himself to be one of the area’s best food writers and critics. I believe he will be the anchor for the future of the food writing community in the Tampa Bay area. You can quote me on that.
In the span of three months, two national publications have named Bern’s steakhouse in Tampa the number one steakhouse in the country. This month’s issue of Saveur, aptly named “The Steak Issue,” is packed full of talk about steak, ranging from steak knives to steak sauces and even a photo laden tutorial on the various cuts of meat. But the most important to me is a list called the “Magnificent Seven,” naming the nations top steak houses. Of course, the number one steakhouse is Bern’s, right here in our own backyard. We may not be well known in the culinary world, but when it comes to steak, we can hold our own with the likes of New York and San Francisco. But it doesn’t end with a quick mention in a food magazine. If you are one of the rare few that buys Playboy magazine for the pictures, you may have missed the list of America’s Top Ten Steakhouses on page 30 of the May issue. Yes, it’s the issue with Anna Nicole on the front and the lovely pictorial of the Girls of Conference USA, (featuring several from UCF), but I just subscribe for the articles anyway. Bern’s, according to Playboy:
“The dry-aged beef is impeccable, and exacting waiters have been known to apply the vermouth to your martini with an eyedropper.”
I’ll agree about the dry aged beef, but applying vermouth with an eyedropper to me just sounds ridiculous. I’m just here for the beef. This is a serious list and is no page filler; also appearing in the top ten is Crescent City Steakhouse in New Orleans, the old-school joint where Ruth Fertel got the idea for the sizzling platter of steak and melted butter. Once again, we take the number one spot show the nation that not only do we have beautiful women in Florida; we know how to eat a good slab of beef.
It only took me a year and half, but this weekend I finally found something I longed for in Tampa: a good seafood restaurant. Sure there are great restaurants in the bay areas serving seafood, but I’m not talking about a fine dining restaurant serving a $27 entree of fresh imported fish with a fancy sauce. I’m talking about a seafood restaurant for those of us that grew up and live on the coast of the Gulf of Mexico. You know, the kind place with raw oysters served on the half shell, seafood platters, steamed blue crabs and cold beer to wash it down. On Saturday afternoon I found it all during an early dinner at the Crab Shack Restaurant in St. Petersburg.
My girlfriend and I spent most of the day at the beach and on the way home I realized I was in the mood for seafood. Besides, there isn’t a better way to follow up a hot day at the beach than with ice-cold raw oysters. My friend Joe raved about the Crab Shack last week, singling out the taste and freshness of the Apalachicola oysters. After a quick stop at home and a little more Internet research, I decided that it was time for a try.
Located on the Pinellas side of Gandy, Crab Shack Restaurant is a local favorite. With only about 15 tables, the place fills up fast and always seems to have a wait. The building is small, with low ceilings and has the character of a run down seafood joint on the water; exactly what I expected. The clientele is unpretentious too; a mix of families, bikers and young couples alongside the gray haired lady sitting at the bar nursing her carafe of white zinfandel. It’s definitely not a tourist destination.
We started out our meal on Saturday with a dozen cold raw oysters on the half shell ($8.95) that turned out to be some of the best I’ve had in the bay area; salty and fresh. Although I never eat dinner at five o’clock in the afternoon, we were lucky this time to have stumbled upon happy hour, which runs 4-6 pm Monday through Saturday and allowed me the to enjoy two for one draft beer and oysters for only $6.95 a dozen.
The menu is diverse and reads like a typical seafood joint: fried fish, oysters and shrimp, steamed blue crabs and they requisite seafood platter. After eating them raw for an appetizer, I decided I would continue and order the Fried Oyster Plate ($12.95), which I enjoyed with French fries and homemade cole slaw. The oysters were fried perfect and packed with flavor – I loved every bite. My girlfriend decided on the Stuffed Shack Fish ($13.95), a large piece of cod filled with a blue crab stuffing then broiled. The fish was excellent, but I have to admit that almost anything would be good if you stuffed it with crabmeat and broiled it with a heap of butter. Unfortunately we were about to hit another happy hour down the street so we didn’t indulge in any dessert, unless you count my two-for-one beers.
Dining at Crab Shack restaurant was a winner and I consider it a victory in my search for reasonably priced, down to earth seafood. It’s my kind of place and will definitely be back soon. The menu has something for everyone and is one of the few places in town I have seen steamed blue crabs as well as fried softshell crabs. Check out the Crab Shack website to peruse the menu and even print out a coupon for a free drink! The prices are reasonable, the food is good and the restaurant has character. When you are in the mood for seafood, be sure to avoid that “Joe’s” place and try out the REAL Crab Shack Restaurant.
Crab Shack Restaurant
11400 Gandy Blvd
St. Petersburg, Florida
Fly Bar and Restaurant opened with a bang last year to crowds of people eager to try the new trendy place that was a pioneer in an otherwise desolate neighborhood in downtown Tampa. Proprietor Leslie Shirah, opened Fly in Tampa after successfully opening and running a similar concept in San Francisco. She figured that the same type of upscale yet cultured establishment in the Tampa Bay area would prove to be a great idea; I agree. I waited until just a few weeks ago to give the place a try, if only to avoid the “trendy” and “see and be seen” crowds that flock to every new hot establishment in town. What I found was a restaurant and bar with open space, interesting architecture with exposed brick, original artwork and an innovative menu that turns its back on the boring chain restaurant menus across the Tampa Bay.
The drinks are decent and the bartenders are competent. For those caught up in the fruity martini craze, there’s a list of signature cocktails (all $9), including the popular mango or raspberry flavored mojitos. The wine list is compact, but offers an adequate variety of red and white, with bottles beginning in the $30 range. The glasses of wine are a bit overpriced; I was disappointed by an $8 glass of house cab that I had recently while sitting at the bar. For those who want to get some fresh air or a good view of some new condo developments downtown, a rooftop bar makes for a good getaway to drink or smoke. The menu is designed to encourage couples or groups to share, take their time eating and to enjoy the experience. Although the menu consists of “share” (appetizers) and “plates” (complete meals) sections, the portions are small as to allow the experience of multiple dishes. It’s another variation on the tapas type concept, though Fly doesn’t use the word “tapas” on the menu. Another unique feature is a late night menu that is served after eleven o’clock every night; a godsend for the Tampa area given the limited late night dining choices.
Appearing on the regular and late night menu, one of the dishes to make headlines was the Kobe Beef Sliders, three miniature burgers lined up on a rectangular plate, topped with gruyere cheese and Cabernet Onions. I tried them on my first visit and realized that they were almost the perfect bar food; full of flavor and easy to eat with a glass of red wine. But at $13, I now view them as an over-priced burger. The prices of each item at first glance seem reasonable, but given the portion size and the number of dishes required to equal an entrée at a typical restaurant, the tab can add up fast. A dinner for two with a bottle of wine can easily reach the $100 range, while a cocktail and snacks at the bar will run you $30 to $40.
On a recent visit we were able to try a couple of dishes from the seasonal specials, which change frequently. If the menu has changed by the time you visit Fly, do yourself a favor and take a risk; the kitchen has talent. The Chipotle Soy Marinated Skirt Steak ($12) tasted exactly as I anticipated, a little salty and a little smoky. The marinade complemented the flavor of the meat and it paired well with the corn and tomato salsa served as an accompaniment. Since I tend to like bold southwest flavors, I really enjoyed the dish. Also from the specials menu we tried the Sautéed Mussels ($13); a decent sized bowl of plump, juicy, perfectly cooked mussels, swimming in lemon herb butter, garnished with fennel. I couldn’t ask for better cooked mussels, but the sauce lacked a distinctive flavor. It was a rather mild butter sauce with hints of herbs but fortunately was not overpowered by the pungent taste of fennel. Since mussels have such a mild flavor, a really good sauce can highlight the taste and I always like a flavorful sauce left over to sop up with my bread or frites.
Speaking of frites, Fly has some of the best around. No, they’re not on par with French Bistro standards, but they’re perfectly cooked and well seasoned. The Frites Two Ways ($9) appears on the regular menu as well as the late night menu and is a perfect way to mop up the leftover sauces from your empty plates or absorb the alcohol in your system after a night of drinking. The large plate is split in half with a duo of Idaho/Truffle Butter and Fresh Herb Frites paired with cayenne ketchup and less common Sweet Potato Frites with a Jalapeno Watercress Aioli. The first time I tried the frites was late on a Friday night after happy hour and they were an excellent way to finish the evening. The second time was during a regular dinner because, well, you can’t have mussels without frites, right? I was thoroughly impressed and they are now some of my favorite around. Beware, the portion is large and they are meant for sharing.
It may sound as if I am gushing over the menu, but not every dish was outstanding. The Crab and Lobster Cakes ($13) didn’t blow me away. In fact, most of the punch came from the Chipotle Chili Cream sauce that they sat atop. It was a tad spicy and overpowered the mild seafood flavor of the cakes, but without the sauce, there wasn’t anything distinct about the dish. To be fair, lobster is a mild flavor and takes a second seat when paired with crab. I was also excited to order the Tumeric Spiced Lamb ($14), only to be let down by several tough slices of lamb that were overpowered and swimming in a White Bean Ragout that was heavy on flavor of chili powder. The lamb was cooked medium rare, but the flavor just didn’t impress. I had heard my friend Darryl say that the lamb at Fly was one of the best he’d ever had, but I could have caught the chef on a bad night, or he might have had the previous incarnation of the dish.
It may have taken me a while to give Fly a chance, but I’m glad I did. Tampa has a void of original places that needs to be filled and Fly Bar and Restaurant succeeds. As I was, you may be hesitant to check out the “new” place downtown, but after more than six months, Fly seems to have hit its stride. The crowds are now manageable, the menu is refined and the atmosphere is still charming. I can’t be sure of the future of downtown Tampa, but regardless, I’ll still make the short pilgrimage to drink and dine at Fly. I suggest you check it out too.
Fly Bar and Restaurant
1202 N Franklin St
Tampa, FL 33602
Philly has the cheesesteak, New York has popularized thin crust pizza and Chicago has a pretty unique hot dog. When it comes to food, Tampa Bay isn’t quite as well known. Sure, we’ve got Bern’s, famous for serving dry aged beef and housing the largest restaurant wine cellar in the nation, but otherwise we’re not known for any one dish. I believe the biggest reason is the lack of history and a rich culture.
Relatively speaking, Tampa is a new city. We’ve got a large Cuban influence in the Bay area and have recently seen an increase in the food offerings from the Hispanic population, but that’s where it ends. The rest of us likely emigrated from elsewhere. My roommate is from Clearwater, my friend Katy is from Tampa and my buddy Todd hails from New Port Richey, but otherwise most of my friends are from places like Dallas, Boston and New York City.
Fortunately there is hope for a food culture in Tampa. Instead of dwelling on the past, it’s time to get to work to create our own culture, rich with dishes and flavors unique to the Tampa Bay area. Since I grew up in a city with a celebrated food culture, I guess I’ve always taken it for granted, but not anymore. I got to work thinking of a few dishes unique to the Tampa Bay region as a beginning to my quest. I’m sure I’ve missed a few, but here is a great start to the list:
Grouper Sandwich. I wouldn’t consider the grouper sandwich a cutting edge creation, but it’s a Tampa Bay original nonetheless. It’s essentially a fish sandwich made with grilled, blackened or fried grouper and served on a bun with lettuce, tomato and tarter sauce. Frenchy’s in Clearwater claims to have the original grouper sandwich; created out of a necessity to use up a plethora of extra grouper caught while fishing. They put the fish on a bun and began serving it as a sandwich in their restaurant; the rest is history. The best place to enjoy a grouper sandwich is after a hot day at the beach; Frenchy’s on Clearwater Beach and The Undertow on St. Pete Beach are a couple of my favorites.
Cuban Sandwich. Perhaps one of the most famous of the Tampa creations, the Cuban sandwich can now be found across the United States and at every corner lunch cafe and gas station in the Tampa Bay area. There is still debate as to whether or not the sandwich was indeed created in the area, but I enjoy the fact that there are people like Andy Huse, who take the sandwich VERY seriously. If you’re like me, you’ve probably had a few lackluster Cuban sandwiches, but a well made pressed Cuban with pork, salami, ham, Swiss cheese, pickles and mustard on fresh Cuban bread can be a work of art.
Alaskan Tacos. Found only in Ybor City, an Alaskan taco is a twist on the traditional Tex-Mex crunchy shell taco. At Meme’s Alaskan Tacos, they deep-fry the shell and meat, then top with lettuce, tomato and cheese. They weren’t created in Tampa, but instead were a concept that the owner picked up from his grandmother, who created the taco while she lived in Alaska. Go ahead and try and find them outside of Tampa; you probably won’t. I’m not certain that I’d drive across town for an Alaskan taco, but they sure do make for a good street food while strolling around Ybor.
Beer. It surely wasn’t invented in the Sunshine State, but it’s nice to know that we can still enjoy a locally made brew. In Ybor city, sample home made beer at the Tampa Bay Brewing Company. Established in 1997, they are the only brewpub in Ybor that still brews their own beer. If you’re a little farther north, you can make a stop by the pub at the Dunedin Brewery where they produce several year round favorites as well as seasonal brews like the Oktoberfest or the Christmas Farm Ale. Or pick up a six-pack at your local liquor store and enjoy at home or have a pint at a local tavern.
Honorable Mention: Bang Bang Shrimp, the Bloomin’ Onion and Hooters Wings. Ok, so these three dishes are synonymous with chain restaurants and Anytown, USA, but they were all created and popularized right here in the Bay area. I admit that I can’t step foot in Bonefish grill without the intention of ordering Bang Bang shrimp; fried shrimp coated in a spicy mayonnaise based sauce. I can’t get enough. And there are few indulgences more satisfying than sitting at the bar in Outback Steakhouse and having a deep fried onion and a couple of cold beers. I love Hooters wings but I still keep that quiet from my good friends from Buffalo. Since they’re breaded, they are more like the distant cousin of the famous Buffalo Wing. I’ve enjoyed them since I was a kid and still patronize Hooter’s to this day. Thank you Clearwater!
So what’s next on the horizon for Tampa food? Our biggest battle will be to fight the influence of the chain restaurants and the erosion of the palate. It’s unfortunate that our kids are being raised believing that Carrabba’s is genuine Italian and that the food at Applebee’s is actually good. Sure, we all indulge in a little chain restaurant food from time to time, but without restaurants in the area like Bella’s, El Taconazo, Ceviche and Sidebern’s, what would make Tampa Bay any better for food than any other city in the nation?
Since the last time I posted to this site, the world of food writing in Tampa has changed quite a bit. Yes, It’s been a while since you’ve heard from me, but I’m hoping you can cut me some slack. Brian Reis is still banging out solid restaurant reviews week after week for Creative Loafing. The Tampa Tribune still has a pretty weak and unknown food critic (I generally don’t waste my time reading them), but the biggest news is the retirement of Chris Sherman, the longtime restaurant critic and food writer for the St. Pete Times. It seems all of the dining out, eating and drinking got the best of him and he decided to step down into other writing roles that didn’t require him to eat as much. It’s probably the best for him, but with his retirement I’m afraid we may have lost the foundation for food writing in Tampa.
For several weeks, the St. Pete Times had several guest writers take turns writing restaurant reviews before they finally chose Laura Reiley, a local writer and author of Florida Travel books. I’ve only read a couple of her columns, so the jury is still out on her expertise in the food world. That being said, I realized that we’re in trouble after reading her glowing review of two brand new chain restaurants making their debuts in Tampa. Yea, you read me right, chain restaurants as a review in the paper. Is she kidding?
I can understand a review of a higher class chain restaurant, like Ruth’s Chris or Roy’s, but the fact that she chose to write a column so early in her tenure about two mediocre, mid priced chains is alarming. I’m not really sure where we are headed, but I don’t like the looks of it. Another noteworthy retirement is that of Matt Ragas, a New Orleans native who’d been writing the food reviews for Sticks of Fire, a popular Tampa blog. When I first moved here and was featured in the New York Times, Tommy at Sticks of Fire did a neat little article about me that created quite a buzz. Unfortunately Matt will be moving out of the area in a couple weeks and guess who has stepped in to write a weekly food column? Yes, it’s me. Check out the site often and keep an eye out for some exciting talk about food in the Tampa Bay area. Just in case you miss a post, I’ll re-post everything here as an archive of my food writing. See you soon!