-3 Snaps! Try it. You might like it.
A Southern Fried Catfish Sundae would probably be good... if you can find it
As I was walking in to the Florida Sate Fair the announcer said that I could get just about anything I wanted there including a haircut, a ride on a camel, or to renew my driver’s license. I was there for one thing - fried fair goodies. Every year fair food offerings become more and more an exercise in absurdity, verifying the assumption that if it is edible and you fry it, someone will eat it. annually I anticipate what could possibly top deep-fried butter or a Krispy Kreme bacon cheddar cheese burger.Recently officials have developed a contest allowing the public to weigh in on what new funky fried feast to feature at the festival. The list gets longer and more absurd every year. inevitably the dishes involve something fried or barbecued, and certainly greasy.
My plan was simple. After toiling over the list of 2018 fair offerings, I picked a Southern Catfish Sundae- a stack of hand cut french fries with Southern fried catfish on top and drizzled with a spicy Southern remoulade sauce. For dessert I would move on to Deep-fried Strawberry Shortcake. My assumption was that they deep-fry a little round shortcake cups(like the ones you buy at the grocery store) and stack it with fresh berries and whipped cream. In years past, I have had that Krispy Kreme Bacon Cheeseburger and fried butter. As crazy as it sounds, fried butter is really good (think warm toast with butter, cinnamon, and sugar). BTW, I am a pretty healthy in-shape guy. I just need my annual grease fix. My plan seemed reasonable and I did not eat all day in anticipation.
I pass the dozens of vendors offering everything from corn-dogs to elephant ears. I cruise by the stacks of French fries, chicken tenders, turkey legs, and several stops offering dishes either covered in or stuffed with bacon. All fair food is really expensive, but I have learned to anticipate that.
I walk up and down the rows looking in vain for the vendors selling Southern Catfish Sundaes. I scour the food trailers in a huge circle two or three times. Then I stop by another information trailer next to the Midway and they point me in the general direction (where I just came from) they thought the fried goodness might be, but no dice. I spend 45 minutes walking up and down the rows of food vendors, but could not find my target. So much food but no Catfish Sundae! How disappointing! Same disappointment with The Deep-Fried Strawberry Shortcake. It was nowhere to be found and no one to tell me where to go.
Really?! After all of the contests, publicity, and work by fair officials no one can tell me where to find the good stuff?. Are you kidding me? What a rip!
Traditionally food vendors have been spread throughout the Midway and there's no need to change. You need to be able to find a corn dog if you upchuck lunch after the Ferris wheel ride. But when they elect me king of the fair (campaign fund and PAC already established), I'm going to command them to open a winner's circle area where contest winners and unique eats are all put in one place so hungry foodies can find them. What a disappointment.
By the time I found Chompers Crunchy Fried Balls of Goodness I was tired of looking. They offer Bacon Cheeseburger balls and Chicken Parm balls at $10 for 5 meatballs. They told me curtly that they would not mix an order (I wanted to try both) and I wasn't in the mood to pay $20 for 10 fried meatballs.
The Florida State Fair runs through February 19 and features rides, food, dance and art/photography competitions, concerts, and lots of family fun.
Okay, so maybe this isn’t exactly a foodie event, but they serve food and it was a great opportunity to see what’s happening in this up and coming part of downtown Tampa. The Tampa Indie Flea opened its first market for 2018 in the brand-new Armature Works building in Tampa Heights Sunday. It originally came to life in 2015 at the historic Rialto Theater just blocks away and has grown ever since.
When I think flea market I conjure up visions of beat up junk items, secondhand produce, and cheap knockoffs of major brands. But none of that here! The several dozen vendors offered an interesting mix of retro gear including mid-century furniture and vintage clothing mixed with locally sourced handmade goods. It seemed like a perfect match given the historical nature of the building.
Energy was high at this sprawling venue. The huge crowd was a mix of millennial’s, hipsters (they hate that name), and trendsetters and followers. The market also allowed for a preview of what is to come in this freshly rehabbed Armature Works building, a multi-use complex planned to house restaurants, co-work space, and events. It has quite a storied past. Originally built in 1911, its history was exhibited on huge video screens during the market including images of its use as a garage for Tampa streetcars when it was known as the Trolley Barn. It seems apparent that no one really knew how large the crowd would be. I estimate between 1500 and 2000 people were there. Anyplace selling food pretty much sold out early. But, for businesses, that's a good problem to have.
Tampa Indie Flea opens the third Sunday of every month and plans to remain at the Armature Works throughout 2018. Got something locally sourced to sell? You can apply to be a vendor on their site here.
This ain't your grandma's clambake
-4 Snaps! Strongly recommended
In this age of veg-centric dining it’s great to find an old-school seafood community based eating event. A low country boil (aka tide water boil) is the South’s version of a New England clambake. Take some catch of the day shell fish, add sausage and corn on the cob, and boil it all in a pot of water spiked with Old Bay seasoning. After 10 minutes drain it and pour it all out on a table to share communally.
Locale Market in St Pete was having one and it sounded perfect, especially given the expertise of the kitchen staff there. Saturday evening's cool weather was just right for some warm food and the air at the market was filled with the distinct smell of Old Bay. Three pots steamed away as Locale Executive Chef Jeffrey Hileman and staff dropped in bushels full of fresh crustaceans, boxed them up, and handed them over to ticket holders.
Tickets were offered in advance ($14.99- price has gone up $2 since last year), with a choice of seating’s at 5:00, 6:00 or 7:00. Advanced purchasing was wise as they sold out the last of the 230 spots the morning of the event. For that price patrons got a premeasured basket full of seafood, corn and potatoes. It's a righteous amount of seafood for 15 bucks. My box had seven craw-fish, three jumbo Gulf shrimp, six 2 Docs clams and PEI mussels, three slices of alligator andouille sausage, and two new potatoes and corn halves each. The key to the ingredients is including items that can be boiled together for the same amount of time. It was spot on.
Those without a ticket could still order items by the pound à la carte. A lobster dinner was $20.00, clams $8, shrimp $10, mussels $7, craw-fish $10.
Service went remarkably fast at the 5:00 seating, but the 6:00 slot not so much. I think more people showed up for that time slot and the temporary kitchen couldn’t keep up. Folks in line were grumbling about how long they had to wait. The couple behind me said they attended the last boil and there were no delays. The bottle neck seemed to be confusion over the à la carte orders and the process of order fulfillment. In the rush I saw them throw away a food ticket before it was filled causing some frustration and further back up. I’d advise having another line for that service, but they didn’t ask me. All in all, I'd go back. I love the idea of community dining, the food itself was worth the wait, and I can’t easily drive to New England for a clam bake.
This was the third or fourth iteration of this event and Chef Hileman says they hope to offer it once a quarter. Watch for another one in the spring. If you go, think about choosing the earlier time slot and buy your ticket early!
-4 Snaps! Strongly recommended
The best looking dish of the day was by far the Fried Cheezit from Empamamas. It’s made with American cheese, white cheddar, provolone, smeared with Tampa Girl sauce then battered and breaded in Cheezit cracker crumbles and DEEP FRIED. Are you kidding me? It’s then served with kettle chips and ranch dressing. A gazillion fat grams later…wow!
I have been part of the biker community for 25 years. My professional photography career began there. So when I heard they were having a grilled cheese fest at a Harley dealership, I thought I would be right at home. I grabbed my HOG, packed the camera, and went fooding. One thing about bikers; They love to eat (and drink). After a ride on a cold day a grilled cheese (and some tomato soup) sounded perfect. Sure enough there was a festival at Tampa Harley Davidson, but there weren’t many bikers. Cars and young fashion far outnumbered any motorcycles and biker gear. Still, it was cheesy good!
For the festival, food trucks were challenged to come up with a unique take on the American classic. While names like Burger Culture (the resident dealership food truck) & Empamamma aren’t really related to grilled cheese it all worked. There were plenty of delicious options.
The wait for some food was crazy long. For Mr.C’s Grilled Cheese, the longest, the wait was over an hour. But people people came and waited patiently. Customer Dylan (no last name) said that it was worth it, still standing in line 45 minutes later. He's had Mr. C’s before and says they always get it right by paying attention to good cheese and blending the flavors.
I really like grilled cheese… really like it. But I’m not the kind of foodie who will stand in line in the cold for an hour for a sandwich.
It was fun seeing all the variations these creative folks took on such a classic dish. I wish they served a sampler platter because I wanted to taste it all. I'd go back next year but I'm still not waiting in line for an hour. Parking for cars was a challenge, having to park several blocks away. Bikes got in right up front. Some trucks like Mmm Delicious Cupcakes looked closed way before the end of the fest, so if you go next year, go early.
Go for the produce, stay for the food
-4 Snaps! Strongly recommended
I'm not a vegetarian or a vegan, a lifestyle supported by Sweetwater Organic Community Farm. But my visit to their Sunday market for the prepared food was very worthwhile. The mission of the farm is to raise organic produce and distribute it weekly (in season) to its members, and to promote urban organic farming and environmental education. Members either pay a fee or work the farm (or both) to get their weekly share. Membership has several levels and allows for donations for farm upkeep as well. It's a pretty good deal and a cool way to ensure that the food you are eating is organic.
I go for the Sunday market which is open from October 15 through May 20 this year. While members are picking up their weekly distribution, nonmembers can purchase organic produce at the farm stand, purchase clothes, jewelry and other goods, as well as buy prepared food offered by several vendors. Vendors vary over the course of the season, but the food and produce are always good! The market also brings in local musicians to a small stage to entertain while customers eat and shop
Dancing Goat Farm is another little-known food asset that we have in the Bay area. They are providers of farm and dairy products including raw goat milk, kefir, yogurt, and free range eggs. They also offer goat milk soap and some cow products including raw cow milk and cream and are one of the key vendors at the Sunday market. I was fortunate enough to be able to go and photograph their farm last year. It was awesome!
Sweetwater Farms is open from October to May but is not so easy to find! Market Parking is located off of Hanley Road and Comanche Avenue. (Do not follow GPS to the address or you will end up in the wrong area!) Even if you are not in the market for fresh organic produce, go for the food!
Wow! ...classes at the Epicurean are expensive
-3 Snaps! Try it. You might like it.
Sure, $80 a head seemed like a lot of moolah for sushi. But I love the stuff! So when I heard about a hands on experience with Viet Vo, a high energy and experienced chef preparing the tasty rice dishes, I was on it. Vo is founder of Mad Chef LLC and former Executive Chef at Ox and Fields in Tampa. I have photographed his beautiful work before.Wow, that was expensive!
The experience was held in the Epicurean Theater, part of the Epicurean Hotel, a Bern’s Steakhouse Property. Bern's is a venerable eatery with worldwide acclaim. The theater is set up like a modern auditorium style classroom, with tiered seats and a preparation island in the front. Demonstrations are exhibited on flat screen TVs for easier viewing. During this event tables were also set up for participants to try their hand at rolling the delicate dishes.
Chef Vo is an entertainer. His teaching style is high energy and quirky, mixed with self-deprecating humor and genuine skill. The class itself was interesting, but not what I expected. The event promotion said, “Attendees will get their fill of delicious, freshly made sushi creations as a reward. Your choice of red or white wine will be also poured during the class.” There was indeed a plate of good albeit basic sushi containing a sushi burrito, tempura shrimp, salmon and tuna nigiri, seaweed salad and one glass of good Cabernet Sauvignon. One. For $160 (there were 2 of us) the value was disappointing. A plate of professionally rolled sushi (prepared before arrival) and a couple of shots at roll-your-own is a cool experience but for that price we could have eaten very well across the street at Bern's Steak House. I appreciate the chance to be instructed by someone as experienced as Chef Vo, but still...! There were between 25 and 30 participants all given 2 opportunities to try their hand at rolling. It was advertised as a two-hour event but only lasted an hour and 15 minutes.The promo said there would be "Salmon, tuna, and eel, oh my!" I love eel rolls. There were none. Eel sauce? Yes. Eel rolls? No.
Vo is an affable talented chef. He is on my radar and I will go wherever he is next creating his delicious dishes. Further Epicurean experience, however, will have to wait until I can do some considerable wealth building.
-4 Snaps! Strongly recommended
The 2017 edition of the Greek Festival at St. John the Baptist Greek Orthodox Church kicked off this weekend and continues for 3 days. And, Orthodox Greeks know how to party. Along with loads of options for Greek food the festival offers traditional Greek dancing (with lessons if you are so inclined), lots of beer, wine, and mixed drinks, and tons of activities for the kids.
I took the time to participate in the church tour which was complimented by traditional choir music and an interesting (but short) lecture by Fr. Stavros Akrotirianakis about the history of the Greek Orthodoxy and the building of the Tampa church as well. If you go, take the time to take the tour! A little education and delish food all in one trip is a great afternoon!
Like any foodie worth their salt, I started with dessert first. Loukoumades are balls of pastry pushed out 3 at a time into hot oil where they are deep fried until golden brown, the covered with honey, walnuts, and cinnamon. While the Baklava later was good, these little numbers are hot and crispy!
Even with all the great food around I still went with a favorite- The Gyro. It had tender slices of lamb that are nice and peppery, the tomatoes are fresh, and the tzatziki is creamy with just enough to make a mess. It may have tasted better because of the high energy atmosphere with pop greek music playing in the Opa tent. At at any point, hand clapping breaks out to the time of the music, people start dancing in place, and bells at the bar ring from tips.
-3 Snaps! Try it. You might like it.
The event is a little confusing. I scout several places in the Tampa Bay area to see what food events are occurring. I found this one in several listings and decided to go. I come to find out later that there is another similar event called the Clearwater Beach stone Crab Festival (ostensibly the 33rd annual) sponsored by Frenchy's going on at the exact same time just blocks away. Why can't you just get along? Make it a city wide festival instead of dueling it out on your corners! Get together and make a big celebration benefiting the public.
Nonetheless, the delicate crab was delicious, the crowd was high-energy, the music was outstanding, and I'd go back!
I would estimate the crowd at about 200 people when I was there in the mid afternoon. It took around10 minutes to get a drink at the bar outside and 20 to 30 minutes to get a table to order. That's not bad considering the number of tables and the size of the crowd.
There were two options with stone crab. Order them cold and they come with a light mustard sauce for dipping. Ordered hot they are accompanied with drawn butter. Both of them sounded good but I opted for the cold ones. The menu describes each order is being approximately 1 pound. For $17.99 I got four large claws, a small cup of the mustard sauce, a wooden mallet to assist with cracking the hard shells of these tough crustaceans, and a fork to dig it all out. It was a tasty experience.
Stone crab is seasonal. From October 15 through May 15 thousands of pounds are harvested both in the Atlantic and the Gulf. One of the things that I appreciate about this form of seafood is that only the claw is harvested and the crab is returned to grow another one.
So, you have until next May to enjoy taking a crack at 'em. As with most seafood, it's an expensive venture. Retail wise 1 pound sells for between $12 and $20 depending on the size of the claw (larger claws sell for more), but well worth the cost. Find a simple recipe for mustard sauce to go with them and dig in!