News: Mini Doughnut Factory closes St. Petersburg location

Popular local Tampa Bay chain Mini Doughnut Factory announced today on social media channels that they are closing their St. Petersburg location permanently. The Tampa location will remain open. The chain was embroiled in a lawsuit and legal drama these past few months between the investors and founders. Damages were reported to be up to $1 million according to the Tampa Bay Times. Most of the drama seemed to surround the St. Petersburg location.

 

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BJ’s Charitable Foundation donates $50,000 to Feeding Tampa Bay to celebrate new Clearwater store

BJ’s Charitable Foundation, part of BJ’s Wholesale Club, recently donated $50,000 to Feeding Tampa Bay, part of Feeding America®’s member bank network, to celebrate their new store opening in Clearwater.

The donation will help to provide fresh and nutritious food for people who are food insecure and lack access to healthy food. BJ’s donated 193,000 pounds of food in 2018 to Feeding Tampa Bay, helping to provide nearly 160,000 meals in West Central Florida.

According to Thomas Mantz, Feeding Tampa Bay Executive Director, “Florida is 4th in the nation for family hunger and 1 in 6 people in our region live with daily hunger”. Nearly 60% of all people in West Florida are eligible for food stamps from all ethnicities with seniors and children primarily suffering from food insecurity according to Feeding Tampa Bay.

The new BJ’s Wholesale Club location in Clearwater will expand this program and donate unsold produce, meat, poultry, seafood, dairy, and bakery products daily to help reduce food waste and provide fresh meals to people who need it most.

The Grand Opening for BJ’s Wholesale Club is set for Saturday, April 13th, 2019. The new club will be located at 26996 U.S. 19 North Clearwater.

BJ’s beats average supermarket prices by up to 25% and will offer BJ’s Gas. The new location will feature a full-service deli with premium meats and cheese as well as butchers who can cut and repackage meat at no additional cost.

Some services offered for guests include same-day grocery delivery, in-store pickup for online orders, and digital add-to-card coupons.

BJ’s Wholesale Club currently operates 216 clubs and 138 BJ’s Gas stations in 16 states. BJ’s is publicly traded on the New York Stock Exchange and is headquartered in Westborough, Massachusetts.

Feeding Tampa Bay has served the Tampa Bay area since 1982 and serves a food-insecure population of more than 700,000 people in a 10-county area. Over 100 million pounds of food have been served in the last 5 years by Feeding Tampa Bay. Find out more about Feeding Tampa Bay at feedingtampabay.org.

Riding the Cross-Bay Ferry from Tampa to St. Petersburg

I had the pleasure of riding The Cross-Bay Ferry this past weekend from Downtown Tampa to Downtown St. Petersburg. It is perhaps the most innovative transportation solution I have witnessed in the Tampa Bay area and much needed.

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The price is fair at $8 one-way for adults ($5 with student ID, military ID, or seniors) and the time of the actual trip is efficient as well, easily beating the amount of travel time you would drive from Tampa to St. Pete (probably even better if consider daily traffic on I-275 and I-4). You can also avoid costly hourly parking rates on both sides of the bay at the same time, especially when there are festivals and sports games.

The initial trip was a little confusing because we had to locate the departure point which is behind the outdoor bar area at The Florida Aquarium in Channelside (there was a sign outside the Aquarium that helped us locate it).

I think the website could better explain where you’re departing and arriving from and maybe include that information with your receipt/boarding pass.

Once we were on our way it was great though. There was plenty of comfortable seating available on-board and the outdoor deck was breathtaking.

The Cross-Bay Ferry is equivalent to a ferry you might board in a big city like San Francisco to get to Sausalito for a fraction of the price. I would hope that it can grow its use in the future and become a standard part of the Tampa Bay Area.

You get all the views of beautiful Tampa Bay for a great price and can get to the walk-able Downtown St. Petersburg easily. We saw Beer Can Island, The Manatee Viewing Center, skylines of Tampa and St. Petersburg, dolphins, birds, and more. The overall travel time was a little over 30 minutes with about 50 minutes total for boarding and disembarking.

A cool touch to add  for the future would be a captain or recording narrating the trip across the Tampa Bay area – pointing out key landmarks. It might be something that tourism bureaus on both sides might consider adding for tourists, even if its just one of those headphones you can listen to like at a museum. I knew most of the landmarks as a local and was pointing them out to friends myself.

Parking in Downtown Tampa is FREE on the weekends and there are several options in Ybor City for parking as well. Here are some tips for parking in Downtown St. Pete as well.

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Food and beverages are available for purchase on the Cross-Bay Ferry as well like most ferry ships including alcoholic beverages for those of age.

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I highly recommend riding the Cross-Bay Ferry and cannot wait to ride it again. Transportation solutions like this are what Tampa Bay needs to grow the region and make it a better place to live and visit.

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FAQ:

  • Service animals are allowed on-board, otherwise a case-by-case basis for pets
  • Strollers can be accommodated with no additional fee
  • Restrooms are available on-board
  • No smoking is allowed
  • Luggage on-board is limited to 2 suitcases and 1 small personal item
  • The Cross-Bay Ferry runs 7 days a week except some holidays

Website: http://thecrossbayferry.com/

Kicking off Tampa Bay Pizza Week at Paul’s Chicago Pizza

Today I joined the new Food and Drink Editor for Creative Loafing Tampa, Jenna Rimensyder, for lunch at Paul’s Chicago Pizza in St. Petersburg to kickoff Tampa Bay Pizza Week. Tampa Bay Pizza Week is now happening until March 31st, 2019. Pizza specials are happening at over 30 locations and there is also $3 Peroni’s around town.

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As a starter we ordered a Chicago Tamale, which I have never heard of in my life. It’s essentially cornmeal stuffed with meat. The presentation was a little weird since it was packaged in a plastic wrapped that seemed microwaved, but I had this feeling that we were embarking on some journey that we did not quite understand. I proceeded to add some hot sauce to this…probably breaking several condiment laws in the process.

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We ordered the Spicy Italian Pizza ($10) that includes sausage, pepperoni, and giardinara. The pizza is a Chicago-style thin crust pie. This style has been vastly overshadowed by deep-dish pizza in recent years, but the minute I took a bite of the pizza I realized I have had this before.

The flavors reminded me of an old chain in Tampa called Windy City Pizza that served this exact pizza. Memories of my step-dad, step-sister, and IBC Root Beer came to mind almost immediately. This wasn’t a fancy pizza, but it was satisfying.

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Personally, I did not find the pizza to be truly spicy at all (and I am somewhat weak), but actually just an enjoyable pizza. The portion was big enough for two people to share as a medium pie. I do recommend trying it.

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Paul’s Chicago Pizza was a good experience and I would go back to try the deep-dish in the future and maybe switch-up the ingredients for the thin-crust pizza. They also have a location in Clearwater on North McMullen Booth Road that I would like to checkout.

Service was great and the pizza came out in timely manner. Our waitress was a sweetheart and very attentive. She gave honest opinions about menu items which was appreciated.

If you need ideas for where to eat pizza in Tampa checkout my guide to Top 7 Local Pizza Spots in Tampa and also check out Tampa Bay Pizza Week at TampaBayPizzaWeek.com.

Restaurant Name: Paul’s Chicago Pizza

Address: 11002 4th Street North, St. Petersburg, FL 33716

Phone Number: (727) 346-5180

Website: http://www.paulschicagopizza.com

 

Official Florida Blueberry Festival coming to Kissimmee March 28th-March 31st

Can you feel the sunshine? The official Florida Blueberry Festival is coming to Kissimmee from March 28th to the 31st of 2019 at Formosa’s Garden Event Center. Florida Blueberry Season is from late March to April of every year.

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The festival was founded in 2010 and has built a successful for 7 years in Brooksville before relocating this year to Kissimmee.

Over 60,000 people have attended the festival in the past. The event was originally created as a way to promote the burgeoning Florida blueberry industry.

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The event is now a 4-day festival and will feature a Wine Bar presented by The Island Grove Wine Company, a Beer Garden with both craft and domestic choices, Festival Fare Food Court with food concessions, retail, information exhibitors, as as well as fine arts and crafts.

There will be a Juried Art Show presented by Tampa Bay Magazine with a prize of $6,000 up for grabs.

The festival is outdoors and shirt & shoes are required, but dress for the outdoors.

Food vendors include Blueberry Junction, Cousin’s Maine Lobster, Garrett’s Kettle Corn, Cinnamon City, Wisconsin Fried Cheese, Fried Dough Factory, Barbie’s Ice Cream, Swain’s Pizza On A Stick, Blooming Potato’s & French Fries, and more. Come hungry.

FAQ:

  • Tickets cost $10 for admission and $10 for parking and are now available. There is also a special-rate for RV parking.
  • Kids ages 9 and under are FREE.
  • The event is handicap accessible with ADA handicapped parking and portable restrooms available.
  • 3 locations will be available for private-nursing/baby changing for guests.
  • Blankets and folding chairs are allowed.
  • Beer and wine will be available for purchase with valid identification.
  • Event is rain or shine. No refunds will be given.
  • ATMs will be available on-site for a fee.

There will be Florida Blueberries, Florida Blueberry Pie, Blueberry plants, and other blueberry goods as well as a VIP Hospitality Pavillion.

The event will benefit Florida Blueberry Growers Association, The Community Hope Center, The Sunshine Foundation, Autism Society of Greater Orlando, and local non-profits working as staff.

Event name: Official Florida Blueberry Festival

Venue: Formosa’s Garden Event Center

Address: 3050 Formosa Gardens Blvd. Kissimmee, FL 34747

Date & Time: March 28th, 5PM-10PM, March 29th-March 30th, 10AM-10PM, March 31st, 2019, 10AM-5PM

Cost: $10 admission, $10 parking, Kids ages 9 and under are FREE

Buy tickets: http://bit.ly/2FjQK4F

Entertainment: http://floridablueberryfestival.org/entertainment.php

Featured

8th Annual International Cuban Sandwich Festival coming March 30-31st

Are you ready to eat all the Cuban sandwiches? I sure am.

The time is coming for the 8th Annual International Cuban Sandwich Festival on Saturday, March 30th and Sunday, March 31st in Tampa, Florida. Tampa is home to the original Cuban Sandwich.

Competitors will arrive from around the world including countries as far away as South Korea to compete for the best traditional and non-traditional. New to this year is the Home Chef Competition.

The event is organized by Latin Times Media.

Taste of the Cuban Sandwich

Saturday will feature the Taste of the Cuban Sandwich at Centro Asturiano on the edge of Ybor City with 25 vendors serving Cuban sandwiches from 11AM to 6PM. The organizers will break the world record for the largest Cuban sandwich with a sandwich that will be over 175 feet long.

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The sandwich will be donated to feed the homeless per festival tradition.

Taste of the Cuban Sandwich offers FREE admission for attendees and is family-friendly.

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There will also be a KIDS Cuban Sandwich Showdown organized by Junior Chefs of America.

International Cuban Sandwich Festival

Sunday is the big affair with the International Cuban Sandwich Festival competition happening at Centennial Park (1800 East 8th Avenue, Tampa, FL 33605) in Historic Ybor City from 11AM to 6PM.

Over 100 food, cultural, and business vendors will fill the historic park for a day to remember. Live music and performances will occur throughout and their will be domino tournaments. Come hungry! General Admission is FREE.

VIP tickets are available and includes sampling of the Cuban Sandwich contest entries and refreshments as well as mingling with judges, red carpet access, and more. Tickets start at $25 for kids and $45 for adults. Family packages are available. Buy VIP: http://bit.ly/2HK8fxV

Event name: 8th Annual Cuban Sandwich Festival

Date & Time: Saturday, March 30th, 11AM-6PM and Sunday, March 31st, 11AM-6PM

Buy VIP tickets: http://bit.ly/2HK8fxV

Ages: All ages welcome

Website: http://www.thecubansandwichfestival.com/

NEW: Foodie app lets diners review restaurant dishes, build collections

“What’s your favorite dish on the menu?” is probably one of the questions most asked by diners at restaurants to servers. Usually you’ll receive anywhere from an honest answer to a made-up promotional line that has been passed from management to server to encourage you to order something not commonly ordered or expensive.

Entire articles and publications are based around this simple question that many of us are constantly wondering about.

A new app called Foodie seeks to change that and provide a new tool for diners.

“You can’t just eat good food. You’ve got to talk about it too. And you’ve got to talk about it to somebody who understands that kind of food.” –Kurt Vonnegut, Jailbird

The focus of Foodie is to help recommend top menu items to diners. Menu items are ranked in order of popularity with reviews and photos from users. Users can also build lists or collections to help diners find ideal restaurants for specific kinds of food.

As someone who personally spends 20-30 minutes trying to decide what to order (I’m extremely indecisive), Foodie can be a useful way to quickly navigate a new restaurant experience or discover what others are ordering.

The idea for Foodie came when Founder, Vaibhav Verma, wondered himself what to eat at restaurants in Chicago and realized how difficult it is to find that information on popular apps like Yelp or Tripadvisor. He decided to build an app to make it easier and help diners order the best dish on the menu.

Foodie has fully launched in San Francisco and Chicago and is now having events around the city including at numerous bubble tea shops around the city with plans for future expansion in other cities around the country.

Popular restaurants and cafes such as Kitchen Story and Boba Guys can be found on the app.

Using Foodie is as simple as pulling up a business and looking at the list of top dishes to help you decide what to order. Foodie currently has 198,000 ratings, 3,281 restaurants, and 256,000 dishes listed inside the app with more on the way.

The usefulness of the app will depend on how this growth occurs for diners, a simple request button can help put add restaurants into the app with a reasonable time frame.

Foodie is not the first app to provide to provide a focus on dishes, but the focus on quality of dishes is different from prior ideas such as Foodspotting (now owned by OpenTable) and Instagram which primarily feature images with sometimes little to no information about how good a dish actually is.

An intuitive search feature allows you to search for a specific type of menu item or dish and find reviews about it. Currently the app is growing its user-base, therefore this is certainly a feature that will become more useful as more users adopt the app and begin plugging in reviews, but the feature has plenty of potential.

Foodie can also work as a food journal or diary where you can keep track of what you’re eating, save that your profile, and follow what other people are eating. Reviews are shorter thanks to the focus around specific dishes instead of a full restaurant review, making it simpler to keep track of and easy to dive into other reviewers thoughts.

Foodie is available for free on the Apple App Store and Google Play.

On the restaurant business side, Foodie is providing analytics of restaurant reviews and analysis of why restaurants are receiving reviews of certain dishes. Those analytics reports are currently available free of charge for interested restaurants as they get the app running.

For more information about Foodie visit them online at thefoodieapp.com.

Should Michelin stars matter anymore?

Last week food media buzzed about Los Angeles and California finally getting a Michelin guide after Michelin infamously said in the past that LA did not have “real foodies”. LA was finally getting its due according to the chatter and proving the national food elites wrong.

This week all that hype and media attention redirected when it became known that Visit California paid Michelin $600,000 to build a California guide. It isn’t the first time with South Korea paying Michelin $1.8 million for a guide in the past to much criticism and claims of corruption. Eater did a thorough look in the past into this pay-to-play environment, but did not have a local case to look to.

California is legitimately one of the best states to eat at in the United States, funding a Michelin guide is a weird look for a state that is pushing and constantly changing the food industry.

Change of heart? More like change of cash. If Michelin guides are simply pay-to-play that really cheapens the prestige of the system. Why should taxpayers foot the bill for a private business to peddle around a star system for restaurants? If anything Michelin truly shot itself in the foot yesterday when this was published into the news.

To be clear – Visit California and tourism bureaus in general regularly pay for sponsored ads with entities from influencers to writers and publications. Many of those Top 10 guides you see in publications are not as organic as they may seem.

The partner groups are usually required to only cover restaurant and business partners to the tourism bureau (read companies that have paid for coverage), although Michelin claims that there has been no control from tourism bureaus over the restaurants receiving star ratings. Still none of these groups have the kind of recognition and so-called prestige that a Michelin star has.

Last week I dined at Mensho Tokyo in San Francisco, a Michelin Star restaurant, and packed with crowds out the door. There is no denying that a Michelin star brings business and Mensho Tokyo is certainly one of the best ramen bowls I’ve enjoyed recently. Their Michelin rating hangs proudly outside their door for diners to see. This kind of system should not be pay-to-play.

What if Yelp charged cities and taxpayers to exist in their towns? I am sure the outrage would be through the roof. What Michelin is doing is no different.

Miami is one of the most populated cities in the world and is filled with plenty of great restaurants and chefs making waves as well a rich and diverse dining landscape. Yet there is no Michelin stars there? Evan Benn made a great point yesterday that without Visit Florida and Miami paying out cash to Michelin there is no guide. Is this in any way fair to the chefs and restaurants doing great work in Miami?

How can Michelin call themselves a legitimate source of great restaurants if they are going to snub cities, states, and nations that refuse to fund their private enterprise? Quality  should not be decided by whether your town has paid their Michelin taxes. LA was always a great place to eat, but Michelin did not care until they were paid their fee and tried to spin it as a public relations win.

Who is Michelin to decide what towns matter and are “foodie” towns? During a time period where we cannot even fund our schools and pay our teachers, why is taxpayer funding being directed to a private dining guide like Michelin? How many local publications could have been supported with the funding that Michelin is swallowing from tourism agencies? Should Michelin stars matter anymore? I don’t think so.

Rise Rise Up Florida 2019 Music Festival March 15th to March 17th

Reggae Rise Up Florida music festival is Friday, March 15th to Sunday, March 17th at Vinoy Park in Downtown St. Petersburg. Enjoy 3 days filled with music, food, art, activities, and good vibes.

Up to 12,000 guests are expected to attend the festival each day. Limited tickets are still available for General Admission and VIP.

Headliners include Stick Figure, Slightly Stoopid, and Rebelution.  Other acts include Steel Pulse, Pepper, Common Kings, Ziggy Marley, Method Man and Redman, J. Boog, Tribal Seeds, Trevor Hall, Fortunate Hall, and more.

VIP tickets include an official Reggae Rise Up VIP wristband, expedited festival entry, access to the VIP Lounge, Reggae Rise Up festival lineup t-shirt, Reggae Rise Up festival lanyard, premium viewing areas, VIP area bathrooms, and sponsor swag.

Yoga fans can warm up for the music festival with special yoga sessions on Saturday and Sunday. Tickets are currently $25 and now available.

Buy tickets: http://reggaeriseupflorida.com/tickets/

There are plenty of food vendors that are going to be at the festival including vegan options. Some menu items include fresh ahi tuna poke bowls, gourmet grilled cheese, jerk chicken, acai bowls, Hawaiian BBQ, gourmet crepes, churros, empanadas, and more so come hungry:

 

FAQ:

  • Festival totems, flags, and signs are welcome and encouraged.
  • Attendees are allowed to bring chairs and blankets to the festival to relax on.
  • The event is family-friendly and kids ages 8 and under are FREE. Strollers are permitted, but must be searched before entry.
  • Event is rain or shine

Event Name: Reggae Rise Up Florida

Venue: Vinoy Park

Address: 701 Bayshore Drive Northeast, Saint Petersburg, Florida 33701

Cost: $60+, Kids ages 8 and under FREE

Buy tickets: http://reggaeriseupflorida.com/tickets/

Ages: All ages welcome

Website: http://reggaeriseupflorida.com/

Event Map:

Eats by E Filipino Taco Tuesday Recap

Full disclosure: I was invited to attend Filipino Taco Tuesday with Chef Eric Pascual in Berekley, California. I was offered two tickets to the dinner in exchange for my opinion. These opinions are my own and do not represent Chef Eric Pascual or any affiliates.

Taco Tuesday is one of my favorite food celebrations that has been popularized in the 21st century. You might have a rough Monday and there are still a few days to go until the weekend and then Taco Tuesday comes in to save the week. Tacos, margaritas, and beer is always nice in my book.

Chef Eric Pascual and I have been connected online for a few years since he spent time in Tampa Bay in the past and followed me on social media. I actively watched the Filipino Food Movement in California and New York for years from Florida and saw him as a part of that movement.

Recently, Chef Eric Pascual relocated over to Berkeley to host his regular pop-ups and is starting over in a new part of California. He invited me to come check out one of his dinners for an article and I was more than happy to attend. The Filipino Taco Tuesday presents an appetizer, salad, numerous Filipino-inspired tacos, and dessert. His pop-ups are BYOW (Bring-Your-Own-Wine) for those who want to bring their own libations.

The evening started with lumpia. Both chicken and veggie were available and made well with a slightly spicy vinegar dip. The lumpia rolls were served on sharing platters for guests as a warm-up to the tacos.

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I enjoyed my lumpia with a Modelo beer which was a nice pairing.

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When it comes to lumpia, I judge a roll based on how packed the rolls are and how crispy the outside of the lumpia is without being too fried. Sometimes the problem with lumpia is dirty oil at restaurants that is being reused. Not the case at this dinner.

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The ingredients inside should be quality or you will most certainly taste it in every bite due to the wrapper not being as thick as an eggroll. I was happy with these lumpia rolls and felt like it was a good starter.

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Between courses a salad was prepared with organic greens, radishes, calamansi/sesame viaigrette, coconut/garlic croutons. Plenty of arugula greens were in the salad, which I enjoyed.

The Tacos

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The first taco was a Salmon Belly Sisig Taco. Sisig is one of my favorite Filipino foods and is usually made of pieces of pig ear on a sizzling platter, sometimes with an egg on-top. The Salmon Belly version took some elements of sisig and swapped it out for a salmon interpretation with tomato salsa, diced onions, peppers, and cilantro.

There was so many things going on in this taco that I couldn’t fully appreciate the salmon belly itself. In a way it reminded me a little of salmon sinigang. The taco was enjoyable, but not what I expected when reading the name of the taco on the menu.

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Next up was the Chicken Adobo Taco. Chicken Adobo is the national dish of the Philippines and there are probably over 10,000+ recipes on how to prepare the dish since there are so many islands and tribes in the Philippines. It is one of the most difficult dishes to please a diner with due to all the variations.

This taco features vinegar, Tamari, garlic, bay leaves, peppercorn, tomato salsa, diced onions, and cilantro. I expected a more soy-sauce heavy taste in this taco that was actually not too apparent here, maybe due to the Tamari use for gluten-free diners instead of soy sauce.  It reminded me more of a home-cooked chicken that my guest and I could both relate too. Delicious, but not what I expected.

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The third taco was a Veggie Taco with roasted tofu and mushrooms topped off with roasted tomato salsa, diced onions, and cilantro. This taco was really interesting and a nice middle of the way dish. I really liked the mushrooms, and am a huge fan of mushrooms in general.

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After the veggie taco the Braised Bistek Taco came out and this taco was truly the star taco of the night. The taste of Filipino Bistek was very apparent and the meat was very tender and flavorful with plenty of calamansi, garlic, tamari, black pepper, sauteed onions, tomato salsa, and cilantro.

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I would order this taco all night long. It was my favorite dish of the evening until a surprise dish was added to the menu.

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Chef Eric added a Kare-Kare Tostada to the menu made with organic peanut butter, bagoong shrimp paste, and 5-hour braised oxtail cooked in chicken stock. This was by far my favorite dish of the night and should certainly be added to the regular line-up of Chef Eric’s dinners.

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The taste of the Kare-Kare is so bold and the organic peanut butter does seem to really enhance the meat. Every time the meat touches your tongue, you get a nice feeling of flavor on the back. It isn’t traditional per se, but it is incredibly delicious. Between this and the Bistek Taco, I could eat Chef Eric’s food all night long.

Dessert

 

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Dinner ended with a Bibingka Churro Donuts. I love all three of these things so I was not surprised that it was amazing. I’ve only had bibingka once in the past with Chef Eric and it was flawless that time as well.

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The addition of a churro flavoring with cinnamon and sugar is genius. The strawberries on the side are a nice touch. The only thing I would add is maybe a dip on the side with chocolate, ube, or both. Either way still a great dish that I enjoyed.

Thus, the evening came to a filling and happy end. I asked Chef Eric to shoot a quick video with me so he could explain his background and why he does what he does. It can’t be easy to work as a pop-up chef, but Chef Eric has done this for years now and is very passionate about his craft. Hopefully he will find an audience in Berkeley that appreciates him and will support his food creations. I know I want to go back in the future for another dinner or happy hour.

If you want to check out Eats by E and the dinners by Chef Eric Pascual you can visit him online at eatsbye.com.

Follow Eats by E on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/EatsByE/

Follow Eats by E on Feastly: http://eatfeastly.com/eatsbye/