Sparkman Wharf is now open in the latest Water Street Tampa completion. I had the pleasure of going to a blogger preview this Tuesday of the new food destination.
After visiting I can say it is more of an outdoor food hall with multiple vendors selling different kinds of food and drinks.
Speaking of Edison’s Swigamajig they were by far my favorite booth at Sparkman Wharf. They brought their culinary chops to the menu and still made food you can eat easily. Their grouper sandwich was phenomenal and there is an obvious approach to not cut corners despite being outside in a box restaurant.
My second favorite booth was Boat Run Oyster Company which was serving an excellent clam and oyster chowder during my visit. I’m from San Francisco and finding a good clam chowder can be a chore in Tampa, thankfully this place delivered with a hearty chowder that still had plenty of ingredients to munch including a generous portion of oysters.
The gelato at Whatever Pops was excellent and a nice snack, but don’t miss out on their grilled cheese sandwiches. I had one last year at Curtis Hixon Park and it was one of the best grilled cheese sandwiches I’ve had in the Tampa Bay area.
Craft beer fans should check out Fermented Reality Biergarten whose co-owner, Joel Bigham, has a rich history with craft beer in Tampa and plenty of know-how to bring in some of the best craft beer options to Sparkman Wharf. Downtown Tampa is lacking breweries and I hope this will be a sign for them to look around Water Street and setup shop.
Foundation Coffee is serving up coffee however I did not try it during my visit. I’m sure it is no different from the one up the road in Tampa Heights.
BT To Go had a couple of Vietnamese options up for sale, we decided to try the banh mi which was tasty but will run you back $12 which is a little too pricey for that dish that is easily $3-$6 at most sit-down restaurants. One of my favorite things about BT is her culinary prowess and I hope maybe the dishes at BT will get a little more creative and experimental versus playing save dishes like Vietnamese Summer Rolls that you can find almost anywhere now.
Gallito was serving up tacos and we decided to do a pork belly taco, but were not impressed with the flavors. The pork belly lacked flavor and was overpowered by the pineapple in the taco. Hopefully that won’t be the case with the other tacos on the menu.
Also – The outdoor nature of Sparkman Wharf just doesn’t justify an expensive menu price system unless the food is top-tier to complement.
Speaking of Sparkman Wharf being outdoors, there is limited shading and seating around the venue. I can definitely see that being a problem when it starts raining every single day in the summer for months, but it should be enjoyable as we enjoy these short winters and cold fronts for now.
Parking is also an issue with the lot across the street still under construction and expensive and the nearby lot charging $20 to park during Lightning games and events at Amalie Arena (which are frequent). Hopefully they will add a system to validate your parking ticket like other restaurants have inside Sparkman Wharf to help offset this for people who just want to stop by to eat.
It wouldn’t be bad idea to add some valet parking as well as Tampa once had when Channelside was in this spot.
When I asked about it during my visit I was told parking isn’t the responsibility of Sparkman Wharf which was a little unsettling.
One thing I was surprised about was the lack of liquor around the main stands except for the excellent Edison’s Swigamajig. You can grab a cocktail inside Splitsville which just re-did their menu or hit up craft cocktails at Edison’s Swigamajig.
Overall, Sparkman Wharf has potential – it does bring new food options to town from many people that we already know in town and provides a way to enjoy the outdoors when the weather allows it. Most of the food I tried was delicious and you should make it a point to try it when you have a chance.