NEWS: Blind Tiger takes over Foundation Coffee spot at Sparkman Wharf Tampa

Foundation Coffee has left Sparkman Wharf after the end of their lease the space is now occupied by Blind Tiger Cafe. Blind Tiger has been rapidly growing in the last year with new locations in South Tampa, Westchase, WestShore, Downtown Tampa, and now a parcel at Sparkman Wharf.

Some of the locations are unconventional and previously were occupied with other coffee companies, for example their recent acquisition at WestShore Plaza replaced Starbucks Coffee. Third wave coffee has been rapidly growing in the past year with Spaddy’s Coffee expanding, Buddy Brew and Kahwa moving into the grocery business, King State opening their first cafe, and a number of new upstarts opening on both sides of Tampa Bay. 

The food hall boom has helped to fuel these expansions across the bay area.

One has to wonder when the market for third wave coffee is going to saturate, but so far it doesn’t seem to be too unstable. There have been a handful of closings including most recently the LCPX Cafe on Armenia Avenue and Mountaineer Coffee in Oldsmar.

Most of popular third wave coffee shops are concentrated in the South Tampa, Downtown Tampa, and Seminole Heights area. It would be interesting to see successful third wave coffee shops in the more scattered parts of town such as in Brandon and Carrollwood which for now just seem to be saturated with Starbucks and Dunkin Donuts locations. 

Blind Tiger opens at Sparkman Wharf in Downtown Tampa on Friday, December 13th, 2019.

NEWS: Celebrate Christmas Day at Wine Bar George Disney Springs (Orlando)

Wine Bar George located at Disney Springs in Orlando will have Christmas Day offerings to celebrate the occasion this year. Christmas Day is on Wednesday, December 25th this year.

Santa Carota Short Ribs at Wine Bar George in Disney Springs

Guests can enjoy Santa Carota Short Ribs, Red Wine Braised Half Chicken and Chocolate Ginger Cake with house-made peppermint ice cream, alongside select items from their regular menu.

Chocolate Ginger Cake with house-made peppermint ice cream at Wine Bar George in Disney Springs

Choose from 140 wines all available by the glass, bottle, and ounce for the perfect holiday celebration. 

Reservations can be made online at http://winebargeorge.com/events or through Disney Reservations.

Menu:

NEWS: Tampa chefs VS. Bobby Flay airing December 26th on Food Network

Tampa chefs, Chef Rosana Rivera and Chef Ricardo Castro will take their talent to the masses in America on Thursday, December 26th when they compete on Food Network’s “Beat Bobby Flay”. The chefs currently own Xilo Mexican at The Hall on Franklin and focus on serving fresh Mexican-inspired cuisine. I stopped by last weekend to sit down with Chef Castro and discuss how they got here and where they are going.

Chef Rivera and Castro are best known for their past project called Piquant, a popular French bakery concept that was located first in Hyde Park Village and then West Tampa. The project was supplying the Tampa Bay area with fresh breads and pastries and certainly a local pioneer in that space where French bakeries are far and few between.

Their Kouign-Amann was a personal favorite and when I went west to San Francisco, I was amazed and how the ideas that Rivera and Castro brought to Tampa Bay area are so huge out there and still mostly unknown out here. Piquant went through various cycles, but was ultimately closed much to my dismay.

When Chef Rivera and Chef Castro opened Xilo at Hall on Franklin, I wasn’t sure what inspired the move to Mexican cuisine. Castro explained to me that the idea to make Mexican food came from their unique past. Castro was trained at the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) in New York City and he volunteered at a church where he was trained on Mexican sauces and cuisine.

Rivera previously worked for a corporation that regularly flew her around Mexico and exposed her to many of the regional cuisines of the area. When deciding on a concept, Mexican came to them as something both different for the area and something that they could both uniquely bring to the table.

Slowly the chefs have added items to the menu that are representative of their love for Mexican cuisine including brunch options such as chilaquiles. They are one of the only vendors that are open during breakfast at the food hall.

When the chefs entered Hall on Franklin they also took control of the Kofe Tampa shop and have slowly moved into coffee as a business, with prior experience selling their own proprietary roasted blend at their bakery. Soon they will move toward plans to provide their coffee on a bigger scale with a more wholesale focus.

Their coffee can best be described as a truly Latin roast with bold espresso flavors.

The future may hold more restaurant locations in the Tampa Bay area, although the chefs are still considering potential locations across the state of Florida. They are well-traveled and have received much of their inspiration from past culinary projects and mentors. Hopefully their love for baking will also be a part of these next moves.

One thing that is clear is that both these chefs are passionate about food and are passionate about baking. Their debut on the Food Network is a great win for Tampa and also for themselves. Latinx representation is still lacking on Food Network and in the food industry in general.

Let’s hope they can beat Bobby Flay. Catch Chef Rosana Rivera and Chef Ricardo Castro on Food Network at 10:30PM EST on Thursday, December 26th. Free tickets are available to their watch party on Eventbrite that will run from 8:30PM to 11:30PM at Hall on Franklin.

Xilo Mexican. The Hall on Franklin. 1701 N Franklin Street, Tampa, FL 33602.

Celebrate 10 years of USBG Tampa Bay's Repeal Day Gala on December 7th

The end of Prohibition (December 5th, 1933) has always been an important moment in the cocktail industry and this year marks 10 years that the U.S. Bartenders Guild (USBG) Tampa Bay has celebrated the occasion with their Repeal Day Gala.

This year’s gala will happen on Saturday, December 7th at The Cuban Club.

The theme is the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair, an event that fell on the centennial anniversary of the city’s birth. The fair was about looking into the future of the world.

The event has grown from 35 people gathered in the Don Vicente Hotel’s basement speakeasy to a multi-floor event at The Cuban Club in Historic Ybor City.

Over the past three years, an average of 700 guests have been in attendance. Organizers share, “2019 is looking to be our fairest and most spectacular gala ever.”

The event is not only a gala for industry personnel and industry leaders in the cocktail world, Repeal Day now includes an educational component with seminars days before the party. Speakers from all over the nation come to enlighten others with their experiences and knowledge.

Tickets are available now and start at $100. Discounts are available for USBG members with proof of membership. They can be purchased online at EventBrite: http://bit.ly/2P5EKs2

The official website is located to at repealdayparty.com.

Council Oak Steaks & Seafood offers diners a ‘social hour’ worth trying

Full disclosure: I was invited to Council Oak Steaks & Seafood for a media dinner where food was served complimentary. These opinions are my own and do not reflect Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino.

Tampa is a happy hour town. You can wander to most bars and find a decent happy hour menu with cheeses, small bites, and discounted cocktails on any given day of the week. Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Tampa is doing things are little differently at Council Oak Steaks & Seafood.

Instead of offering heavily discounted appetizers with tiny bites, Council Oak has opted instead to provide diners with shareable entries that offer complexity in flavors that you might not find anywhere else in Tampa. The price points will run anywhere from $10 to $40 depending on the item.

The most noticeable item on the menu, which occurs daily from 3PM-6PM for a limited time, is the Japanese Wagyu Carpaccio ($15). I am a fan of beef carpaccio in general, but the bold flavors of the wagyu on top of a crostini is not to be missed. The heavy flavors of the meats on the menu almost ensures you are going to want beer or a cocktail to wash down your food and luckily they have provided some great choices.

During my visit I had the Vina Cobos Felino Malbec ($12) which was a great red to pair with the meat dishes, especially the Council Oak Prime Burger ($22), rich with flavor and an egg with yolk that will run all over your tongue. The portion is generous, but the price certainly makes this something you want to share. The added truffle fries are just another layer in a meal that will most certainly be a pleasant trip for diners.

The Council Oak Bacon ($14), aged in-house, is for true believers only. Four thick slabs of bacon will arrive on your table with a tiny side salad. The balsamic reduction will perfectly complement the fatty pork in your mouth. It reminds me of a millionaire’s bacon, but more refined.

For those looking for something on the lighter side, there is the Council Oak House Salad ($11). This salad features salami, prosciutto, bacon, tomatoes, egg, mozzarella, and house dressing. It is an excellent salad and perfect with some wine. The tomatoes and dried egg yolk on top is my favorite part. The salami is also excellent and noticeably not too salty.

There are several other options on the social hour menu such as Jumbo Shrimp Cocktail, Tuna Tartare, Caesar Salad, a N.Y. Strip Steak Sandwich, and a Beef Tenderloin, but personally I wanted to experience things I can’t find anywhere else. I would still be interested in trying them in the future though after seeing how masterfully everything was served at Council Oak for social hour.

Social Hour at Council Oak Steaks & Seafood offers excellent options that can be shared by diners before a night on the town. The elegant environment of the bar complements the menu that seems to have been carefully planned. I recommend stopping by soon to try it.

Restaurant Name: Council Oak Steaks & Seafood

Venue: Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, Tampa

Address: 5223 Orient Rd, Tampa, FL 33610

Phone Number: (813) 627-7600

Website: http://www.seminolehardrocktampa.com/dining/fine-dining/council-oak-steaks-and-seafood

NEWS: Miracle at Mezzo coming to St. Pete starting Black Friday 2019

Miracle at Mezzo is coming to St. Petersburg starting on Black Friday (November 29th) 2019. The event started in New York City back in 2014 at Mace cocktail bar and is now at Intermezzo located at 1111 Central Avenue in Downtown St. Petersburg.

According to the press release, “each Miracle and Sippin’ Santa location will celebrate the season with a festive menu of signature cocktails, décor of lights, garlands, ribbons, and tchotchkes inspired by nostalgic vintage Christmas decorations, and a soundtrack of holiday songs.” Intermezzo is one of over 100 locations nationwide participating in the event.

Owner/GM Jarrett Sabatini has put together a calendar of events to keep the pop-up busy throughout the holiday season:

  • Monday December 2nd – World’s Largest Ugly Sweater Party – Over 100 Miracle locations around the world participating! Don your best (tackiest) garb and join in the revelry
  • Monday December 9th – Holiday Trivia with Santa Claus
  • Tuesday December 10th – Holiday Karaoke
  • Thursday December 19th – Songs Around a Christmas Tree with performer J.T. Brown 7PM-10PM

“In our sixth year, we’re excited to keep making Miracle better year after year while keeping our true love for the holiday season alive,” says Greg Boehm, owner and creator of Miracle.

“We offer a true experience for our guests as soon as they walk through the doors. Our partners across the U.S. and world are all dedicated to delivering exceptional visits with quality cocktails.”

Here’s the menu:

NEWS: Hemingway’s expanding north to Atlanta’s Krog Street Market

Atlanta will soon get a taste of Tampa with Hemingway’s expanding north to A-Town’s Krog Street Market in spring of 2020. Hemingway’s is currently located inside the Armature Works food hall in Tampa Heights and serves Cuban dishes with a focus on Tampeño food such as Cuban Sandwiches (WITH salami).

Chef Felicia “Phe” Lacalle is a previous winner of the International Cuban Sandwich Festival. She worked in the past as an Executive Sous and Regional Pastry Chef at Roy’s and Executive Chef at Samba Room.

Make sure you try the chicharrones, they are not to be missed.

Here’s one of my favorite videos featuring Chef Phe:

NEWS: Hot Pot BBQ is now open on Fowler Avenue and serving unlimited hot pot and Korean BBQ

Update: The owners of Nine Spices Hot Pot in St. Petersburg have reached out to clarify that they are not affiliated with the Hot Pot BBQ spot on Fowler. The business licenses were strangely similar.

The rumor mill has been swirling for quite some time, but now Hot Pot BBQ is now open to the public.

Diners can enjoy unlimited hot pot and Korean BBQ for around $30. The option to exclude bbq will save you a few bucks, but I don’t suggest doing that.

I stopped by for a visit earlier this week and tried the Korean BBQ and hot pot and was pleasantly surprised at how delicious the food was. The quality of the meat and seafood were far superior to competitors throughout the Tampa Bay area and although the prices are a little higher than Izziban BBQ in Orlando, I do think the higher price-point is worth it.

The quality of the spicy pork belly cut and bulgogi was noticeably great. The Korean BBQ grills cooked the meat cuts quickly and efficiently. The restaurant offers butter to grease the surface. Hot Pot offers your standard lettuce wraps available and side veggies to add to your meats. I highly recommend the Korean BBQ at Hot Pot BBQ.

The seafood selection was also satisfactory and on-par with popular hot pot places in Orlando and St. Petersburg with crawfish, squid, clams, mussels, fish balls, and more. The broths for the hot pot are a little on the blander-side, but you can easily spice it up with their sauces and side offerings including heaping of garlic and cilantro.

Veggies, fruits, and desserts rotate around the restaurant on a conveyor belt that is similar to many modern Asian eateries around the country. Diners can simply pick up anything they like to eat and add it to their food. Some things we enjoyed were the cake desserts, oranges, instant ramen, dumplings, and more.

Beware that there is a fee for those who do not finish their food that is marked at $13.99 and a 2 hour limit for enjoying the buffet.

I recommend Hot Pot BBQ and suggest you give it a look if you’re interested in trying something new in Tampa. Soon Yum Yum Hot Pot AYCE will also be joining this area. The winner, of course, is diners in Tampa.

Restaurant Name: Boil Spot Hot Pot BBQ

Neighborhood: Uptown, USF

Cuisine: Hot Pot, Korean BBQ

Address: 1120 E Fowler Ave, Tampa, FL 33612

Phone: (813) 374-9947

NEWS: Wine Bar George at Disney Springs in Orlando offers Thanksgiving specials

Thanksgiving is quickly approaching and there a number of places offering Thanksgiving specials. One of those places is Wine Bar George at Disney Springs in Orlando.

Thanksgiving offering at Wine Bar George.

On November 28th, Wine Bar George will be serving a traditional turkey plate ($34 for adults, $16 for kids 9 and under) as well as new Santa Carota Short Ribs ($39) alongside select items from their regular menu. Choose from 140 wines all available by the glass, bottle and ounce for the perfect holiday celebration.

Black Friday and Thanksgiving are a busy time for tourism in Orlando. Wine Bar George is one of many places offering options for the season.

For more information visit them online at winebargeorge.com.

Here is the holiday menu:

NEWS: World’s Largest Christmas Light Maze and Market coming November 22nd to St. Pete

St. Pete will host the World’s Largest Christmas Light Maze and Market presented by Enchant Christmas starting on Friday, November 22nd at Tropicana Field and run through Sunday, December 29th. St. Petersburg is joining 2 other cities as destination this year including Washington D.C. and Seattle.

Enchant Christmas guests taking a photo.

The event will run Monday through Thursday from 4PM to 10PM and Fridays and Saturdays from 4PM to 11PM from November 22nd to December 12th. From December 13th to December 29th the event will run from 4PM to 11PM.

Santa's Landing with Santa Clause at Enchant Christmas

Guests will enjoy:

  • World’s Largest Light Maze: Enter a living storybook of larger-than-life light sculptures, a light-adorned ice skating trail, and decadent delights as snow gently falls all around you
  • Christmas Market: Filled with over 40 local artisan vendors
  • Dining: Savory and sweet scents will pull you into the Christmas Market where you can feast on specially selected seasonal food and drinks as well as holiday treats
  • Carolers sing your favorite holiday tunes
  • Santa’s Landing: Santa Clause is re-invented for Enchant, guests will need to pass through trees, tree tops, and pillow-like clouds to get to Santa.
  • Kid’s Zone: Plenty of activities will be available for kids including toys to play with, coloring, group activities, and more
  • Nook and Cranny: Pinellas County’s Nook and Cranny pops up nightly for engaging craft workshops where guests can get creative and make ornaments, home decor, and more.

Adult General Admission starts at $19.99 with children’s tickets starting at $14.99 for ages 4 and older. Military, emergency services, and students receive 10% off with ID shown at the door. Family packages are also available.

Tickets are on-sale at EnchantChristmas.com.

Event Name: World’s Largest Christmas Light Maze and Market

Neighborhood: Downtown St. Pete

Venue: Tropicana Field

Address: 1 Tropicana Dr., St. Petersburg, FL 33705

Dates: November 22nd to December 29th

Cost: $19.99+ for adults, $14.99+ for kids ages 4 and older.