Update: New Restaurants Opening in Tampa Bay in 2011

This photo from Cappy’s Facebook page makes my stomach growl with hunger!

Cappys Pizzeria: Cappy’s Pizzeria is opening it’s 4th location in the Winthrop Plaza where Cuenelli’s used to stand by Green Iguana. The new location is set to open in January 2011. Cappy’s Pizzeria has been around since 1995 when it first opened in Hyde Park. A partner was quoted in the St. Petersburg Times stating “Cappy’s is known for a simple menu of quality pizza, calzones and salads. The new location won’t stray from that successful formula”. Source: http://www.tampabay.com/news/business/retail/cappys-pizzeria-to-open-fourth-location-this-one-in-riverview/1140165

http://www.cappyspizzaonline.com/ http://www.facebook.com/pages/Cappys-Pizza/175562309134957

Ryuu Japanese Steakhouse: This new Japanese restaurant in the Westfield Brandon Mall will feature Teppanyaki grills and a sushi bar. Owner Robert Smith has been quoted in the St. Petersburg Times stating “You can watch the show if you want, but there’s also booth sitting if you want a more intimate experience.” The restaurant opens on New Years Day: January 1, 2011 at 11am. Quite a way to ring in the new year! Source: http://www.tampabay.com/news/business/retail/article1129234.ece

459 Brandon Town Center Brandon, FL 33511 http://www.tsunamijapanesesteakhouse.com/

The original Yummy House located on Waters Ave.

Yummy House: One of Tampa’s best choices (and many say the best choice) for Chinese food is opening a new location in Mid-April 2011 in Seminole Heights near I-275. The new location will be able to accommodate up to 200 diners in 5,500 square feet of space and serve seafood and traditional Cantonese dim sum. Hopefully this will make eating at Yummy House a little easier and allow the restaurant to deal with its wildly popular demand (an estimated 400 diners a day visit Yummy House!). Source: http://www.tampabay.com/news/business/retail/owner-of-sherrys-yesterdaze-opening-new-shop-in-seminole-heights/1137591

2620 E Hillsborough Ave. Tampa, FL 33610

It looks like 2011 will be a great year for dining out!

Big Belly Burger Challenge

Note: Big Belly Burgers has closed shop.

Big Belly Burgers is a local restaurant chain in Tampa Bay. There is one in Bartow and one in Brandon. They are most famous for their Big Belly Burger Challenge: a challenge where you have 20 minutes to eat a 1 lb. fully topped burger and 1lb. of french fries. Should you succeed, your photo is taken and put up in the restaurant and you also receive a t-shirt. As an avid Man vs. Food watcher, I decided to take this challenge on Monday.

A plain exterior, I don’t know how I feel about their logo. Burger places must have a hard time designing them (I feel the same about Burger Monger).

When I walked in they told me I could seat myself. I found a table in the middle of the dining room. Many people eating there appeared to be regulars and when I told the waitress I wanted to order the Big Belly Burger Challenge all eyes turned on me. Feeling a little nervous…I looked to the waitress for some reassurance, but she told me she believed in me. What a cool waitress!

I waited about twenty to thirty minutes for my burger. While waiting I observed the restaurant. It has dim lighting and the crowds are mostly families and groups of friends, almost has a pub-like atmosphere. The 99 center drafts must attract lots of people there. They have a variety of burgers and also plenty of kids menu choices too. The restaurant is two open rooms and you can easily look at other people dining there.

The burger finally arrived and it was a monster. Tons of beef, tomatoes, bacon, pickles, onions, and lettuce. I had to start immediately after receiving the burger (that’s why the picture isn’t so clear). The only way to fit this burger into my mouth was to disassemble then put it back together in edible portions. The burger was initially very tasteful, but a little dry. The bun was nice and soft. Veggies tasted fresh. I think the burger would probably benefit from some sauce added on top. I had to keep dipping it in ketchup. I think trying one of their regular burgers in the future is in order.

The french fries were pretty salty (as pictured) and made me want to drink more water. I tried to resist so I could avoid filling myself up on drinks. They were big fries and not really too great, despite seasoning I didn’t like them too much.

Time started to slip away and before I knew it I had only four minutes left on the clock. I was starting to feel dizzy from having too much beef and not enough to drink or time to process it. I finished all the meat and the bun, but I had a bunch of large onions and pickles leftover that I couldn’t finish. I finished most of the fries, but couldn’t get to the bottom without exploding. So I sadly failed the challenge. I could have probably finished the rest of the toppings, but finishing the fries was too much.

The crowd was really cool and trying to give me encouragement to finish it. This probably wasn’t one of the best burgers I have the tasted, but the challenge made it a fun experience. The challenge isn’t cheap $14.99 (probably to keep people from wasting food and to pay for the shirts). I’d like to see someone else finish this challenge though. If any of you guys finish it make sure you let me know, I’ll plug you.

No clue how the Man vs. Food eats all that he does. He certainly has a gift.

Big Belly Burgers on Urbanspoon

Restaurant Name: Big Belly Burgers

Cuisine: American

Address: 109 W Bloomingdale Ave. Brandon, FL 33511

Neighborhood: Brandon

Phone Number: (813) 685-1911

Website: http://www.big-belly-burgers.com/

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Big-Belly-Burgers/121152617416

Belated Merry Christmas!

I hope everyone had a great Christmas. I spent mine with my family. We ate and ate and ate (today I hit the treadmill for sure). We spent Christmas Day at Downtown Disney in Orlando, fun and chill time. Our Christmas Eve dinner was a feast!

So many things. The arroz con gandules was excellent!

My sister’s drunken chicken.

My Mom’s ham and pineapples. Mmmm.

My Aunt’s delicious deviled eggs! I always sneak one in before dinner.

My sister made an El Salvadorian dish called Panes Con Pollo (a different version of the original Panes Con Pavo) that was excellent. The sauce is sweet and goes perfectly in a sandwich. It was delicious and really stole the show at dinner.

As you can see I had a great Christmas dinner, I hope you guys did as well. Drop me a comment with what you did or what you ate, I’d love to know and Happy Holidays:)

Yuengling Tampa Brewery Tour

While browsing Yelp yesterday I read that there is a Yuengling Brewery near USF that offers free parking, tours, and free beer at the end of the tour of the brewery. One Yelper said “FREE BEER…I could end the review there” and I was already starting to think that I have to go to this place and try this out.  The Yuengling Brewery is located on 30th Street (aka Bruce B. Downs) right between Fowler Avenue and Busch Boulevard and tours are given daily at 9am and 1pm. My friend and I decided to visit the 1pm tour today and constructively spend some of our copious amounts of winter vacation free time at the Yuengling Brewery.

We arrived and found ample parking. There was more people than usual today because of the holiday season and inside there were people from all over. Some people were from Ohio or states even farther than that. The crowd was mixed with some families and couples and then groups of friends. They split us off into two tour groups because of the high number of people. Unfortunately most of the workers were on vacation because of the holidays so we didn’t get to see everything in action, but the tour guides did a good job of explaining things without the busy workers around.

A bike rack with Yuengling pimped out on it. There is a store here where you can buy all kinds of Yuengling merchandise from rugs and t-shirts to backpacks and toys. Prices were average though there were some cool items that I don’t think I have seen anywhere else being sold here.

Our tour guide was very informative and humorous. You could tell she really did her homework and knew vast amounts of things about beer and Yuengling. I took down a few facts I learned today via my personal twitter:

  • Yuengling first opened in 1829.
  • Yuengling is in 13 states behind Samuel Adams which is in 50.
  • Yuengling used to make dairy and ice cream during Prohibition.
  • 1 brew is 500 barrels.
  • Yuengling’s Hops come from Minnesota. Barley from Washington State.
  • Light is the biggest contaminent of beer. That’s why kegs are the best.
  • Only brown bottles protect the beer. Green bottles don’t protect it…they only use them for marketing.

One interesting thing I learned is that Yuengling family members do not automatically inherit the company. They have to invest in it, this ensures that the people who are involved in the company really care about the company’s future and put themselves into the business. It’s the first time I have heard of this and actually makes lots of sense to me (they didn’t want to just hand things to their kids, they want their kids to work for things and appreciate what they have worked hard on).

We were taken to the back where there are railroad tracks below and a train directly enters the brewery to drop off goods and pick them up.

Our next stop was in the Quality Assurance room where I learned that there are about 2000 attributes to tasting beer (Wow that’s a big number). Their main chemist Randy was not in, but the tour guide did a good job of explaining to us what he does and that it is very difficult to be on a beer tasting panel because it requires a special kind of palette. I have heard great things about Randy via Yelp reviews and the tour guide informed us that he has been working there for 38 years. Quite a long time.

We then entered where you can see the beer bottles actually being made and see it all in action. Pretty cool to see in person, a photo simply cannot do it justice.

Our last stop was these huge tanks of beer. Apparently one of these has enough beer to last you over 50 years if you drink a six pack of beer every single day! I think they look kind of eerie like alien space pods or something.

A showcase of different Yuengling beers.

Once the tour was complete (took about an hour) and we had learned all kinds of new things about beer and Yuengling we headed back to the place where we started and were given free Yuengling beer. It doesn’t get much better than this.

The Yuengling Brewery Tour was well worth our time and was completely free. There really is no reason not to check it out and it was entertaining, informative, free, and something fun to do during our free time. I’d recommend it to any of my friends and even if you’re not 21 you can still get some free soda at the end. I have probably driven past this brewery a thousand times and never know what a cool place I was passing by.

Yuengling Brewing Company of Tampa

Address: 11111 N 30th St. Tampa, FL 33612

Phone Number: (813) 972-8500

Website: http://www.yuengling.com/breweries/tampa/

Yelp: http://www.yelp.com/biz/yuengling-brewing-company-of-tampa-inc-tampa

Tampa Bay Blogger Shoutouts

I’ll take some time each week to highlight some bloggers and critics in the area or outside of the area who I think deserve some recognition and attention.

A California Girl’s Quest to Fall in Love with Florida (http://myothercitybythebay.com/): This blog written by a NorCal blogger who is now living in Florida is a great concept. She relates some of her blogs back to her experience living in California and is indulging in the traditions of Florida such as Cuban cafes. Her blog highlights some places I never heard of prior so + points for that.

The Cheat Seat (http://thecheatseat.com/): Man this guy cracks me up! A humorous blog about bars and drinking/getting drunk. Stationed in the Tampa Bay area, this blogger attempts to uncover the best (and worst) bars while risking his liver. I can’t read one of his posts without laughing, even reviews where he hated the place are funny. Check his blog out. My current favorite is Magnum Wine Gets You Crunk (Unless you are white).

Tampa Bay Food Monster (http://tampabayfood.com/): This Tampa blogger also employs humor throughout his blog, but uses it on food/restaurant reviews instead of bars and alcohol. His blogs are entertaining and although we have different opinions on certain restaurants, I still enjoy reading his reviews. He made me want a Red Robin burger.

How To: Research Restaurants Before You Dine

Many people search Google for restaurant reviews and are not sure about where they should be looking for reviews or the reputation of where they are looking. Big cities have a number of resources for residents, but coming from a smaller place like Tampa we only have a few guaranteed spots to research restaurants before you eat. Here is my guide to researching restaurants that pretty much anyone should be able to use.

1. Yelp

Yelp (http://www.yelp.com) is a great restaurant review site for a number of reasons. Each restaurant has an individual page filled with reviews, photos, and owner input as well. Cities also have home pages where you can view the top places in each city and the talk of the town. One of the things that makes Yelp stand above the top though is the sense of community it has. Even some smaller cities have active Elite Yelpers that regularly review restaurants and businesses. If you message someone asking for help or post in the Talk thread you will likely get a reply helping you out. You can check each persons page and see if they like what you like and also how reputable they are. Do they have only 1 review and say that a restaurant sucks? If they do you may want to question their recommendations. You can take Yelp with you on the go through their phone applications as well. Yelp Tampa can be found at: http://www.yelp.com/tampa-fl

2. Urbanspoon

Urbanspoon (http://www.urbanspoon.com) has city pages just like Yelp does. Urbanspoon is not quite as flashy though and most people simple use a button to decide whether they like or dislike a restaurant. This allows for more user feedback, but at the same time lowers what you can get out of it. Like Yelp you can view each users page and check their reputation. Urbanspoon also does a good job of separating businesses into neighborhoods so it is easier to find the top place in Brandon or Ybor City. There is still an ability to review businesses, which some people take advantage of, and Urbanspoon has just started to allow reviews of specific menu items so you can find out just how the Chicken Marsala is at a restaurant. Urbanspoon also has phone apps that you can carry with you on the go. To visit Urbanspoon’s Tampa page visit: http://www.urbanspoon.com/c/30/Tampa-Bay-restaurants.html

3. Urbanspoon Blog Leaderboard

One feature that is unique to Urbanspoon is their blog leaderboard (http://www.urbanspoon.com/blogs). This feature lists the top blogs according to the city you are currently reading about and also the number of views/posts on the blog. You can also take it to a worldwide-view and see the top blogs around the world. This may help to find more personal reviews if that is what you are searching for. There are few other good listings of local food blogs so I suggest this for those of you searching for local blogs in your area. Urbanspoon’s Tampa Blog Leaderboard can be found at: http://www.urbanspoon.com/blogs/30/Tampa-Bay.html

4. Chowhound Message Boards

Chowhound (http://www.chowhound.com) uses a much simpler site than that of Urbanspoon and Yelp, but it is still quite efficient. They have their main pages for big towns and then you can head into their message boards for information from some of your local foodies tips and recommendations. Frequent topics will be about the top restaurants in a food category or places to take someone for Christmas, for example. There is a search bar at the top where you can search for a restaurant you are trying to find out about or you start a thread asking about a place as well. Chowhound’s Florida Board can be found at: http://chowhound.chow.com/boards/10

5. Foodspotting

Foodspotting (http://www.foodspotting.com) is a relatively new site that keeps getting better everyday. You can search specific menu items in an area using their website or app and then look at how a dish actually looks at a restaurant and read comments people post about that menu item. If you have the app on your iPhone you can also upload photos to it while you are out and tag it to a restaurant, or wait until you are home and upload your photos manually using their upload form. You can search by city as well and few the latest things spotted in town. Tampa’s foodspotting page: http://www.foodspotting.com/#/loc/Tampa, FL/

Depending on which city you live in there may be other resources you can use, such as Zagat and Thrillist. Foursquare‘s growth has allowed more tips to allow on business pages as well. However, if you live in a smaller town or area then you still have all the resources I listed above so get researching and have a great bite to eat!

Tomo Sushi

My friend and I have been planning to eat at Tomo Sushi for months, but something always comes up. We finally had a chance to have lunch yesterday, and I really enjoyed my first visit to this sushi restaurant. It’s located near USF on Bearss a short drive from Campus Lodge or Collegiate Hall. We were seated right when we entered.

They have some visual representations of things on the menu on the table and the menu has a few pictures as well. After spending some time deciding I decided to have the Tomo Lunch Box, a bento (おべんと) box ($10.95) which comes with one piece of salmon, one piece of tuna,  teriyaki chicken, rice, 4 pieces of California Roll, tempura shrimp and vegetables, miso soup, and salad. It didn’t sound like much at first thought, but I was stuffed in just a short while. My friends ordered some sushi rolls from their sushi menu.

The Ginger Salad was excellent! Not the best I have had, but up there with plenty of ginger sauce that didn’t make the salad bland, but kept it tasteful down to the bottom.

The Miso Soup was also pretty good, plenty of seaweed and tofu inside, however it did taste a little too much like onion powder.

The Tomo Lunch Box was excellent. There was plenty of food. The salmon and tuna nigiri tasted great and fresh. The California Rolls were good, but I probably take out the cucumber from them on a future visit. The tempura was great and the shrimp tempura is some of the best I have had in quite some time. They included plenty of teriyaki chicken and rice with several vegetables in the mix as well. It was more than enough to feed one person and well worth ($10.95).

My friends with their sushi.

I really like the decor inside of Tomo. You can see the booths are very personal and have dividers in between booths separating your party from other ones in the restaurant. There are paintings on the walls of fish and a number of traditional Japanese paintings around the restaurant. The sushi bar also looks nice and I would like to sit there in the future. They play some traditional music in the background as well, which is low enough to allow your party to have a nice conversation, but still enjoy some music while dining.

Mmm looks appetizing.

Overall, the food was great and service was on point. They have a number of Korean BBQ dining options as well, being Korean owned so I will have to return in the future to try their Bulgogi or Galbi. Tomo has traditional Japanese food as well such as Yakisoba, Don Katsu, and various types of Udon. I’ll be back in the future.

Tomo Japanese Sushi Bar on Urbanspoon

Restaurant Name: Tomo Japanese Sushi Bar

Cuisine: Japanese, Korean

Address: 15021 N Florida Ave. Tampa, FL 33613

Neighborhood: North Tampa

Phone Number: (813) 962-1560