Articles · Food Events · Restaurant News

Brio Tuscan Grille celebrating National Lasagna Day

Full disclosure: I was invited to Brio Tuscan Grille for a tasting of their menu in exchange for this article about their upcoming promotion for National Lasagna Day.

This Thursday, July 27th, Brio Tuscan Grille will celebrate National Lasagna Day early and offer guests 50% off their Mama’s Lasagna Bolognese. Lunch will include a half-portion option with salad and dinner will only offer the full-portion size of the dish.

Here are some quick facts about lasagna – please note that some are disputed by different historians:

  • The name lasagna comes from the Greek word laganon – one of the world’s oldest forms of pasta.
  • The word “lasagna” originally was in reference to the pot that the food was cooked in, not to the actual dish.
  • Modern lasagna was created in Naples, Italy during the Middle Ages – recipes seem to point back to the 13th century.
  • The World’s Largest Lasagna is 5.29 tons, took 10 hour to make, and was made in 2012 in Poland. The lasagna was made in honor of the Italian national soccer team.
  • Recipes for lasagna originally could not have called for tomatoes although they are essential to the dish nowadays because tomatoes were not commonly available until after the Age of Exploration in the 1500s.
  • Fun fact: tomatoes were believed to be poisonous when they were first introduced in Europe. Hard to believe that considering how important tomatoes are to Italian cuisine now.

Brio’s Mama’s Lasagna is a mixture of Bolognese meat sauce, Alfredo, ricotta, and Mozzarella.

Brio Tuscan Grille is located at the International Plaza in Tampa at 2223 N. West Shore Blvd., Tampa, FL 33607. The Tampa location can be reached at (813) 877-3939. Reservations are recommended and can be made online at http://www.brioitalian.com/.

Articles · Restaurant News

Bento Cafe opening in Downtown St. Petersburg

Popular Asian eatery, Bento Cafe, is planning to open their first Tampa Bay location in Downtown St. Petersburg in the Spring of 2018. According to St. Pete Rising the location will feature 80 seats along with outdoor sidewalk tables.

It makes sense considering how much Downtown St. Petersburg has grown over the years, but it is definitely a little disappointing to all the USF – Tampa students that have waited years for a location after frequenting locations at the University of Florida, University of Central Florida, and even University of North Florida. Apparently Bento is also looking for 2 locations in Tampa.

Bento Cafe has been hinting at a Tampa Bay location for over 2 years on Facebook and seems to be expanding rapidly across the state over the next year or so. Hopefully in the future Bento will look at the USF area as a potential future investment area.

Bento is known for their fast-casual Asian environment with inspirations from Japanese, Thai, Korean, and other Asian cuisines. 

Their sushi rolls are quite popular and their sashimi rice bowls are a personal favorite as well as their Spicy Cream Chicken. In addition, Bento also sells bubble tea and other popular Asian drinks.

Visit Bento online at http://www.bentocafesushi.com/

Articles · Sponsored

Exploring The Tampa Food Scene (Sponsored)

Full disclosure: This is a sponsored post for Tampa Party Buses. I have been compensated for this post appearing on my website.

The Tampa Bay area food scene is one that begs to be discovered. Whether you’re new to the area, visiting, or a long time resident, there’s sure to be a corner that you’ve yet to experience. It doesn’t matter if you’re someone who leans toward independent, hip eateries or high quality classics, you’re in luck when you’re here. 

The best thing about food in Tampa is the fact that it’s so diverse. This area is a melting pot of cultures, and the restaurant scene shows it. It seems like there is a stream of new destinations popping up too, and this makes it even easier to jump into some tasty dishes. Checking out restaurants and food trucks isn’t the only way to enjoy fresh food in the area, though! 

Farmers Markets

Farmer’s Markets are a great way to get acquainted with the community while simultaneously getting the best selection of mostly organic produce and other goods made by locals. Live music is another positive aspect of shopping at one of these destinations. Not only is the produce super fresh here, but it’s also extremely affordable, and you can feel good knowing that you’re contributing to the local economy whenever you decide to spend your money here. Check out North Tampa Market, Seminole Heights Summer Market, and Fresh Market at Hyde Park Village. 

Community Festivals

Another great way to check out the food scene in Tampa is to attend a local festival. Here, you’ll find vendors cooking up delicious eats all day long. There’s a diverse selection to choose from, too! Some of the more popular events include the Busch Gardens Food & Wine Festival, Mayors Mac & Cheese Throwdown, Tampa Bay Margarita Festival, Annual Best of Tampa Bay, and Taste of South Tampa. This is only a small listing of what is planned through the year, so be sure to do a bit of research to find something that fits your tastes! 

Throwing a Tampa Party Bus or a limousine into the mix can turn a regular dinner gathering with friends into something truly memorable. It’s easy to plan a fantastic night out when you have professional transportation along for the ride! You’ll be able to check out multiple spots in one night without worrying about who will be the designated driver at the end of the festivities. With counter tops and cup holder, you can enjoy food and drink on board between stops.

Articles · Food Events · Restaurant News

Burger Culture South Tampa now open

Full disclosure: Burger Culture and I cross-promote on events and I have consulted for Burger Culture. Last year’s popular Grilled Cheese Festival was coined by Burger Culture. Any opinions stated are my own and do not reflect Burger Culture specifically.

Burger Culture is finally open in South Tampa after much planning in preparation for a second location. The new location is in North Hyde Park at 2304 West Gray Street.

The full menu is available and their current hours are 11AM-9PM although that is subject to change in the future. Delivery is still available through UberEATS, extending Burger Culture’s delivery range.

The interior has a warehouse vibe with lots of art painted on the walls by local graffiti artist, Justin Bass. I was honestly really impressed with all the artwork both inside the building and the mural made last week during Burger Culture’s Launch Party. I just got back to town from San Francisco and truly believe that art and culture is what Tampa needs if it is going to become a bigger city.

You can reach Burger Culture at (813) 992-7444.

This Sunday, July 23rd – Burger Culture will host a Grilled Cheese Sunday Brunch and I’ll be there from 12PM-3PM. The event will showcase gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches, brunch sides, and complimentary champagne (while supplies last). Come out and check out the new location.

RSVP: http://www.facebook.com/events/1303073126456560/

Food Events

Tampa Bay Foodies Club – Discover Your Kraft

 

Did you miss the first Tampa Bay Foodies Club event last night at Kraftologee? Fear not – there is a recap on their blog! http://tampabayfoodies.org/2017/07/18/discoveryourkraft-kraftologee/

Many thanks to Buddy Brew Coffee, Kombucha Tampa, Sugar Sun Sweets, Coppertail Brewing, and of course Kraftologee for hosting such a great event to start the Tampa Bay Foodies Club.

If you haven’t heard yet, the Tampa Bay Foodies Club is an organization I recently started to help let people know about all the great things happening in Tampa Bay and all the awesome food and culture we have hidden in our city. There is so much there, but only so much I can write about and that is how this came about.

I hope you guys will check it out! http://tampabayfoodies.org/

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Articles · Food Events

City of Tampa celebrates 130th birthday – 13 reasons I love Tampa

Happy Birthday Tampa! Our city turns 130 years old on Saturday, July 15th and will celebrate a day early on Friday, July 14th. The City of Tampa will be handing out FREE Whatever Pops popsicles (while supplies last) from 11AM-2PM at Lykes Gaslight Square Park. The Tampa Bay Lightning & Tampa Bay Buccaneers will also be on hand to help celebrate with give-a-ways, music, and more!

While you are there, be on the lookout for Tampa’s birthday Snapchat filter and share your photos on social media using #TampaTurns130!

RSVP: http://www.facebook.com/events/787555041425546/

In celebration of 130 years of Tampa, here are 13 things I love about living in Tampa – one for every decade our city has existed:

  1. Walking on the Tampa Riverwalk and stopping along the way at restaurants and bars for a drink with an eventual stop at the Oxford Exchange.
  2. Watching the sunset at Curtis Hixon Park especially after one of the many food, music, art, cocktail, or craft beer festivals happening at the waterfront park with the beautiful University of Tampa in the backdrop.
  3. Relaxing at the MLK Fountain on the University of South Florida – Tampa campus – honestly one of the most peaceful and tranquil places in the middle of a busy public university.
  4. Enjoying Thai food on Sundays when the weather is cool or in the shade in shorts and a tank top at The Wat Thai Temple off Palm River Road. Nothing beats Kanom Krok, Fried Thai Bananas, and $1 Thai Tea. Sitting on the benches there or on the dock waterfront and letting the wind blow in your face.
  5. Dining on the rooftop of The Refinery with friends for special occasions and birthdays and watching their reaction when they taste the food for the first time.
  6. Visiting The Florida Aquarium for the annual SeaGrapes Fine Wine & Food Festival – one of my top events of all time…tons of great food and wine!
  7. Any visit to the Tampa Theatre – basking in the beauty of the outside and inside of the historic building. My favorite experience? Watching Jiro’s Dreams of Sushi on the big screen.
  8. Studying or doing work at Foundation Coffee‘s courtyard in Tampa Heights or viewing the Tampa skyline at The Attic Cafe.
  9. Spending an evening at Anise Gastrobar with friends for delicious cocktails and truffle tator tots. Many of my best nights have started or ended at Anise with friendly bartenders that make great drinks. Not even mention the DJs spinning great music on vinyl.
  10. Indulging in all the Filipino culture and food annually at PhilFest – one of the biggest Filipino cultural celebrations in the country that draws over 10,000 people over 3 days. Lumpia and Carioca take all my money and I do not care! Not to mention the annual hip-hop competition between schools and teams from around the state. Go AFS at USF.
  11. All the great Cuban Sandwiches. Miami has nothing on Tampa. Our annual International Cuban Sandwich Festival puts the others to shame and we can enjoy these excellent sandwiches daily. Don’t forget the Cafe con Leche.
  12. Craft beer. I’ve taken an increased interest over the last few years. Touring Cigar City Brewing was an excellent experience and having an endless supply of great beer around the city and bay area is awesome. I don’t know if I’ll ever make it to all of them, but I’m definitely going to try. Also don’t forget all the awesome craft beer festivals that happen nearly ever 2 weeks or so around the bay.
  13. Sunset Music Festival. I love EDM music and it is great that SMF and the promoters keep a constant flow of top notch DJs coming throughout Tampa Bay all year long eventually leading to this annual music fest. My first visit to Sunset Music Festival 2 years ago, where I saw legends like Tiesto, blew me away. Through all the fans and music – there are also great food trucks and food vendors every year at the festival to keep you energized and dancing.

We are pretty lucky to call Tampa our home. The best thing is every year our city gets a little better! Here’s to many more years of growth and success for the City of Tampa and all of our citizens.

Articles · Restaurant News

Oishi Sushi & Thai Thani Shutting Doors July 31st (Channelside)

Oishi Sushi and Thai Thani located in Channelside announced today that they will be closing their business for good on July 31st, 2017 after 13 years of business due to the Channelside demolition occurring in the plaza as the next phase of Jeff Vinik’s plans for Downtown Tampa begin.

They invited their loyal customers to visit them over at Asiatic Street Food + Noodle Bar in Ybor City and to come visit them in Channelside in these finals weeks of operation.

Surviving 13 years in Channelside is certainly an accomplishment for the Oishi Sushi and Thai Thani owners that experienced many challenges from the 2008 Financial Crisis and the boom and slowdown of Channelside District over the years including the closure of the Channelside Cinemas theatre.

Channelside suffered many hardships for local businesses that operated in the plaza over the last decade and went from a busy nightlife and restaurant to scene to an empty part of town – especially as the Tampa Port Authority battled over plans to change the Channelside Plaza.

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Hopefully the owners will open another sushi and Thai restaurant in the future and bring their recipes to the food scene again.

Articles · Reviews

Boba Guys: Best Bubble Tea Business in the USA

Boba Guys is the best bubble tea shop in the USA and a leader in their industry. It is much more than just a nice Instagram or Snapchat post. There are lots of factors that contribute to this opinion and they have been shaped over numerous visits over the last year.

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Consistency

One of the most important factors of any cafe or restaurant is consistency.

You want your drink or order to taste the same no matter which location or time you stop by at a business. I have visited at least 3 or 4 Boba Guys locations multiple times and have not been disappointed in the quality of my drinks on any visit.

The matcha strawberry latte or horchata drink tastes the same at all the different shops and that goes for their tea menu in general. This proves that there is proper training for baristas and oversight/quality assurance testing happening.

The tapioca pearls always have the same chewiness and are never overcooked or undercooked. This is a huge credit to their employees and management. I am quite a bubble tea fanatic in Florida and am often finding myself have boba balls slicing under my teeth or even tasting undercooked pearls.

Many people don’t know that the chewiness of boba balls is a Taiwanese cultural phenomenon and there should be a certain type of chewiness to the balls in order to have a quality experience. Boba Guys delivers on this experience. The sensation is called “QQ” in Taiwan and is essentially a type of texture.

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Quick Turnaround

I seem to visit San Francisco during every major national holiday when I am vacationing on the west coast and find myself at Boba Guys when there can be 30-60 people or more in line due to reduced operating hours. Despite this, the line always moves quickly and I never wait longer than a few minutes to get to the front. Once I order my drink it also comes out quickly.

I cannot say the same about bubble tea shops in Florida that sometimes take over 30 minutes to get you a drink when there are literally only 3 or 4 customers in the shop and half the time the employees forget your order completely. This goes back to management and how they train and manage their employees.

The quick turnaround is good for customers who have other things to do than waiting in line all day and for the business so they can turn as many orders as possible and make a better profit. Respect your customer’s time and your customer will respect your business. This brings me to affordability and quality.

Affordability 

When the bubble tea craze began an average drink was around $2 or $3, but the price of the drinks has soared in the last couple of years and many places are still using crappy artificial powders, low-quality creamers, and sweeteners. A few shops in Florida even charge close to $6 or $7 for a drink.

Boba Guys charges $4.50 and around $5.50 for a specialty drink with real ingredients in San Francisco, one of the most expensive places in the world to operate a business. San Francisco is filled with tons of costs you will not find anywhere else you operate a business.

It baffles me that shops in Florida are charging so much considering the rent is ridiculously cheaper in Tampa Bay compared to San Francisco and the minimum wage in Florida is under $9 an hour. The price of the drinks Boba Guys produces are a further testament to their commitment to their customers and to providing a great product at a price that general public can afford.

They could charge more and easily get away with it in San Francisco, but they would close their product off from a public that is already struggling with high rent and low wages in an increasingly expensive city. The ability to see this is definitely a credit to their business mindset.

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Quality

Quality would probably be first on any list about a great business you might read. However, many food businesses with great quality still fail without consistency, quick turnaround, and affordability and that is why I mentioned those factors first. Anyone involved in the food business is aware that the survival rate is less than 10% and perhaps lower in the San Francisco Bay area in the first two years of operations.

Boba Guys already survived those odds. No doubt quality has helped deliver Boba Guys this far and helped them to have a competitive advantage over other tea shops and boba shops which can easily be replicated and saturate markets (like many dessert or snack concepts).

No powders are used at Boba Guys. They use real tea. This is the first step in changing the quality of the drinks and advancing bubble tea. The artificial flavors and ingredients used to make bubble tea at most shops are hazardous to your health – not the case at Boba Guys because they use REAL tea. It sounds ridiculous that I have to emphasize this, but prior to Naga Tea in Tampa – you could never find a shop that did this in Florida.

There is plenty of research out there about how artificial food coloring and flavorings are bad for your health and Boba Guys may be one of the first, if not the first shop to push using real tea in drinks.

Boba Guys uses Straus Family Creamery organic milk which is local to California, organic, and rGBH-free and that really makes the difference in their drinks compared to most boba shops. I get hives from the creamers used in shops in Florida which does not happen at Boba Guys. Boba Guys also has options for lactose customers including Califia Farms Almond Milk and Organic Soy Milk.

Good luck trying to get more information from shops about their powder and sources for milk tea in Florida or trying to get almond or soy milk at a tea shop in Florida.

Housemade syrups used are brown-sugar based, no fructose. I don’t think I should have to really explain why fructose is bad for you. Sweetness levels are customizable as well which is catching on in Florida boba shops as well now. 100% sweetness might be a little much nowadays.

Clearly, the owners of Boba Guys considered what they love about bubble tea and what they could change to make experiences for customers better and implemented changes that are improving bubble tea cafes in general.

Transparency

Part of owning a business is your relationship with your customers and the owners of Boba Guys do their best to communicate with their customers and let them know how the progress of their business is going and answer any questions customers may have weekly.

Price changes and hour changes are clearly communicated so customers aren’t left confused and there is clearly lots of customer feedback that is helping shape their business into a successful one.

You will not find this kind of commitment to a business in general and I am a little blown away by how much energy and effort the owners of Boba Guys put into having a relationship with their customers. It is simply awesome and most certainly a key to their success.

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Boba Guys is the best bubble tea shop business in the USA and I will visit them anytime I am near one of their shops and support them. If you haven’t visited them, I highly recommend visiting them if you are in the San Francisco Bay Area or New York City.

Restaurant News

Petit Piquant now serving kouign-amann pastries

Full disclosure: I was invited to Petit Piquant for a tasting of the new kougin-amann pastries in exchange for my opinion and feedback on my blog. Opinions are my own and do not represent Petit Piquant.

Delicious pastries from France? I am on-board. I visited Petit Piquant last week to try their new pastry that launched this past weekend: kouign-amann. The pastry comes from Brittany, France and can be identified between a croissant and brioche. Piquant decided to make the pastries both sweet and savory with a variety of flavors.

On the savory menu: LOX, Braised Short-Rib, Roasted Tomato & Goat Cheese.

On the sweet menu: Lemon, Guava, Strawberry, Cinnamon Sugar, Passionfruit, and Raspberry.

Kougin-Amann at Petit Piquant

I tried an assortment of these pastries and truthfully enjoyed them all. My favorite was the Guava – I felt like it pays tribute to the City of Tampa and Ybor City as well as played well to my Spanish roots. The Braised Short-Rib was a close second and would be a great snack in the afternoon hours.

Petit Piquant is located just off Howard Avenue maybe one or two blocks from I-275 and just north of South Tampa. The bakery and shop is quaint and reminds me of a cafe you might see in San Mateo or San Francisco.

I tried Piquant’s privately sourced coffee from Colombia during my visit and enjoyed both a cold brew and latte that definitely paired well with the pastries at Piquant. The coffee has chocolate notes.

I also enjoyed an Arnold Palmer made with TeaBella tea which was excellent as well…if you’re not feeling up to coffee during your visit.

I see Petit Piquant as a great place to stop by in the morning on your way to go to a meeting or a place to grab a quick coffee and bite before you head to another part of town and hope to visit again soon.

The kouign-amann desserts from Piquant will also be available at the Tampa International Airport’s Illy Coffee and Bay Tea & Coffee Company.  I recommend giving it a try and seeing what flavor you like – I’m definitely curious to find out what other people enjoy.

Restaurant name: Petit Piquant

Neighborhood: South Tampa

Cuisine: Bakery, Cafe

Address: 1704 N Howard Ave, Tampa, FL 33607

Phone Number: (813) 251-1777

Hours: Monday-Friday 6:30AM-6PM, Saturday-Sunday, 8AM-3PM

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/PetitPiquant/

Website: http://piquantbrands.com/

Restaurant News

S Bar Speakeasy and Sushi Bar now open (Brandon)

Full disclosure: I was invited to S Bar for their preview night about a week ago where they served complimentary hor d’oeuvres to the public to preview their restaurant. I visited again today on my own for some sushi for lunch and decided to write a post about their grand opening. Opinions stated are my own.

Brandon has a new concept called S Bar open that fuses 1920s speakeasy cocktails and southern bistro food with a sushi bar. The restaurant opened to the public last Sunday June 11th, 2017.

Beautiful bar area inside @s__bar #vipnight #taste #foodies #sushi #tampafl #tampabay #CarlosEats

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Scooby Snacks @s__bar #CarlosEats #sushibar #tampabay #tampa #tampafl #sushi #foodies #taste #vipnight

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The location was formerly known as The Rack in the past and the entire restaurant has been re-done to have a more intimate and upscale ambiance. Many of the staff members and management also are related to The Rack and you’ll find some of your favorite sushi rolls from that time on the menu at S Bar.

Sushi rolls range from about $4 to $16 and include the popular Volcano Roll and The Rack rolls from the previous tenant of the establishment. During the days of The Rack, I was personally in love with the Volcano Roll and many places simply could not compare. Specials are being developed and will roll out in the future – most information for that will be posted to their Facebook page.

The southern bistro menu includes grits, fried green tomatoes, corn bread, and more in development. The menu will be fully available in the near future.

S Bar seems to be targeting a more upscale crowd then its predecessor and it would be a great place to grab some drinks locally in Brandon or to go out on a date night or a night out with friends for young professionals or professionals in general.

Yellowtail Nigiri @s__bar #CarlosEats #tampafl #tampabay #foodies #brandonflorida #brandonfl #sushi #nigiri

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The Executive Chef for S Bar, Gia Tran, has previously worked at Ocean Prime and won the Sushi Battle last year in 2016 and also ran the Urban Sushi Burrito food stand that could be found at most Big City Events festivals such as the Margarita Festival and Rum Festival.

If you’re in Brandon driving down State Road 60 off I-75, stop by and give it a look.  The restaurant is open late daily and apparently brunch is in the works.

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Restaurant name: S Bar

Cuisine: Sushi, Southern

Neighborhood: Brandon

Address: 1025 W. Brandon Blvd., Brandon, FL 33511

Phone Number: (813) 575-7227

Website: http://www.thesbar.com/

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/theSbar/

Instagram: http://www.instagram.com/S__bar/