Taking a look Inside the Box at Armature Works

I have long heard of Inside the Box, but never actually been to the cafe before. I reached out to Inside the Box when they opened at Armature Works in Tampa Heights to get the story behind this unique project.

I met up for a few hours with their PR representative and Executive Chef Clifford Barsi walked me through their operation. Inside the Box is a social enterprise that generates funds to help fund Metropolian Ministries. 100% of the profits from the deli go back to the charity.

Chef Clifford Barsi spearheaded social enterprises for Metropolitan Ministries after volunteering there and realizing he wanted to help combine culinary with helping people get back on their feet.

Attacking Poverty Using Culinary Arts Training

Inside the Box primarily employees people who need work that have trained under their Culinary Arts program for their cafe and also helps those in need get employment and training at some of Tampa’s busiest restaurants including Mise En Place, Boca, Bizou Brassie, and Oxford Exchange.

The goal? To help those in need get higher paying jobs by giving them desirable skills that are needed in kitchens. Poverty often exists because people don’t have access to training and Metropolitan Ministries is working to change that.

The cost of living in Tampa has been climbing at a rapid pace although recently slowing behind the national average (sometimes 15% increases in rent prices year over year in the mid 2010s) since major investment projects around the bay began and programs like this will be needed more as people need better paying jobs to afford living in our city.

Metropolitan Ministries takes a look at what skills restaurants need from potential employees and seeks to teach these skills to their trainees. Some skills include how to be a prep cooks, advanced knife skills, how to clean a fryer/change oil, and knowledge of different essential foods. Trainees are placed in busy restaurants to build these skills that will ideally lead them to a career and financial stability.

Classes are small with only 8-10 students and is offered each quarter of the year. The course is 16-weeks. Each student is funded on a full scholarship. Only those in need qualify. Each culinary arts program features:

  • 150 hours of culinary classes
  • 20 hours for a Food Handling Certification Course
  • 100 hours of High Volume Production experience
  • 100 hours of Cafeteria experience
  • 100 hours of Restaurant experience
  • 40 hours for a Life and Employment Skills Course.

One particular skill that Chef Clifford Barsi highlighted was the importance of learning how to take a recipe and multiply or divide it. Consistency is key when restaurants are trying to create customer retention and this kind of skill is often missed in cooking programs.

None of this would possible without volunteers, donors, fundraisers, and these new social enterprises that are helping to fund these programs.

More info about their social enterprises: http://www.metromin.org/about/social-enterprise.html

Inside the Box Cafe Recommendations 

Inside the Box serves gourmet deli meat daily at Armature Works and also serves some delicious sandwiches. The price point matches the other vendors in the building at around $10-$12.

To me the best deal from the Inside the Box Armature Works stand is the deli meat which is sold at prices similar to popular Boar’s Head deli cuts, but will instead help fund a cause that aims to change and improve people’s lives.

As far as sandwiches are concerned – I tried a smoked lamb sandwich during my visit and it was absolutely delicious. During the soft opening for Armature Works I also tried a delicious turkey sandwich. The bread and cuts are certainly gourmet.

Some menu items include Smoked Salmon, Roast Porchetta, NY Strip Pastrami, and NY Strip Corned Beef. Sandwiches are steamed to keep them moist and warm when served with cheese. Plenty of sides are available to enjoy with your food.

Chef Clifford Barsi tells me that Inside the Box tries to source locally in Florida when possible, but as the Tampa Bay Times has highlighted before, that can be a challenge in Florida. You’ll find some Florida cheeses and cuts around the deli when in season.

Inside the Box also has a local market on the side where you can find lots of local produce, vegetables, coffee, and culinary goods as well as fresh bread from popular local vendors from around Tampa Bay and Florida including Piquant, Urban Canning Company, Sunset Salsa, Le’Anns Cheesecakes, and more. I’m hoping this market expands because I would like to see more things like this in our food halls.

Annual Fundraisers

You can help support the mission to end homelessness and poverty by supporting some key annual fundraisers put on by Metropolitan Ministries – although they are also always in need of volunteers to come help them get things done at the non-profit.

Metropolitan Ministries is a 4-star out of 4-star charity according to Charity Navigator.

Tampa Bay Food Fight is annual competition that Metropolitan Ministries organizes between chefs from both sides of the Howard Franklin Bridge. Proceeds from the event go back to supporting the charity.

Their Bridge Builders luncheon is coming up on Wednesday, April 25th, 2018 at Hilton Hotel Downtown and WWE SuperStar Titus O’Neil is the keynote speaker this year. There are plenty of ways to get involved.

You can donate to Metropolitan Ministries directly here: http://secure.metromin.org/site/SPageNavigator/donate.html


TBBW: Brewery Battle of the Bands – 3/7

Coppertail BrewingTampa Bay Brewing Company81Bay Brewing Co.Dunedin Brewery, and Cigar City Brewing will go head to head in a Brewery Battle of the Bands at Crowbar Ybor (1812 N. 17th St., Ybor City, FL 33605) on Wednesday, March 7th, 2018 from 7PM to 1AM for Tampa Bay Beer Week 2018!

Judges include John Palumbo of Replay Guitar ExchangeJosh Jensen from 98ROCK, Skip Sampson from 1603 Tattoo Collective, and Ray Roa from Creative Loafing Tampa!

$5 cover.

All proceeds from this event benefit Instruments Of Change, a charity that provides instruments to underprivileged youth in the Tampa Bay Area.

Replay Guitar Exchange is supplying prizes for winners and $1000 donation to Instruments Of Change.

Brewer’s Ball 2018 Winners + Recap

The Brewer’s Ball 2018 presented by Best Florida Beer was quite the beer affair. The weather that day was perfect and there were a number of incredible entries that day at the event by breweries both near and far.

I have to say that my favorite beers that day came from Arkane Aleworks. I was a big fan of Gimme Swelter Mango Habanero Florida Weisse and Mezkin Blackbird Blackberry Sage Gose.

Here are the winners in different categories at the event:

Best Brewpub In Florida: Big Blue Brewing, Cape Coral, FL

Best Cider/Mead In Florida: Can’t You Hear The Thunder, Garagiste Meadery, Tampa, FL

Best Small Brewery In Florida: Arkane Aleworks, Largo, FL

Best Large Brewery In Florida: Infinite Ale Works, Ocala, FL

Second Runner Up Best Small Batch Beer In Florida: Yarmouth, Arkane Aleworks, Largo, FL

Runner Up Best Small Batch Beer In Florida: The Passionate Mango, Wicked Barley Brewing Company, Jacksonville, FL

Best Small Batch Beer In Florida: (Presented by Country Malt Group & Brewcraft USA) Chocolate Stout, Fort Myers Brewing Company, Fort Myers, FL

Second Runner Up Best Beer In Florida: Guayabera, Cigar City Brewing, Tampa, FL

Runner Up Best Beer In Florida: West Floridian, Infinite Ale Works, Ocala FL

Best Beer In Florida: (presented by Brewer’s Supply Group) Lightest Thing Ya Got, Big Blue Brewing, Cape Coral, FL

Full competition results page: http://bestfloridabeer.org/2018-medal-winners/

TBBW: 81Bay Brewing Co. and American Social Beer Dinner – 3/7

Join 81Bay Brewing Co. and American Social Tampa for a special craft beer dinner this Wednesday, March 7th, 2018 at 7:30PM for Tampa Bay Beer Week 2018.

Tickets cost $50 and includes 4 courses of food and 5 craft beers as well as hors d’oeuvres paired by American Social Chef Jay Jones and 81Bay Head Brewer Hayley Brown. Enjoy dining on the waterfront of Tampa Bay at this event.

Buy tickets: www.eventliveus.com/purchase/event/752422

TBBW: Sons of CANarchy Pub Crawl – 3/7

Ready to drink your way around Ybor City? Head out for the Sons of CANarchy Pub Crawl on Wednesday, March 7th, 2018 for Tampa Bay Beer Week 2018. 11 breweries, both national and local brands, will participate and serve 11 beers at 5 different bars around Ybor City. The event is FREE to attend.

The events kick off at 6PM at The Bricks of Ybor. The schedule is as follows:

6PM: The Bricks (1327 East 7th Ave., Tampa, FL 33706): Brew Hub, Sierra Nevada

7PM: Reservoir Bar (1518 East 7th Ave., Tampa, FL 33605): Bell’s Brewery, Two Henry’s Brewing Co.

8PM: The Brass Tap (1600 East 7th Ave. E-113, Tampa, FL 33605): Dogfish Head Brewery, Crooked Thumb

9PM: Boneyard (1823 East 7th Ave., Tampa, FL 33605): New Belgium Brewing, Brew Bus Brewing

10PM: The Dirty Shame (1929 East 7th Ave., Tampa, FL 33605): Terrapin Beer Co., Cigar City Brewing, Lagunitas Brewing

TBBW Beer Dinner at The Restorative (Dunedin) – 3/10

Local gourmet and fine-dining restaurant, The Restorative, will have their first craft beer during Tampa Bay Beer Week 2018 with Dunedin Brewery on Saturday, March 10th, 2018.

Dunedin Brewing is the oldest microbrewery in Florida. Tickets are $100 per person and are now on-sale. The Restorative won the Critic’s Choice for Creative Loafing Best of the Bay in 2017.

Address: 420 Patricia Avenue Dunedin, FL 34698

Email restorativerestaurant@gmail.com to purchase your tickets today.

Here is the menu:

Tampa Bay Beer Week 2018 Guide


Tampa Bay Beer Week 2018 is going to be one for the books. There are tons of events lined up to enjoy for the celebration of Tampa’s growing craft beer scene.

Per the website “The inaugural Tampa Bay Beer Week was established in 2012, and has since hosted thousands of events ranging from large-scale festivals to beer tastings, beer dinners and more”.

“The success of TBBW has been a major factor in the continuing growth of the Tampa Bay area craft beer community. Tampa Bay Beer Week begins on the first Saturday of March and ends 8 days later. It has become the premier Beer Week destination in the Southeast”.


This is my guide to the events going on and my recommendations:

Visit them on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/TampaBayBeerWeek/

Review: Coppertail Brewing S & V Kitchen a great place to eat and drink

Full disclosure: I was invited to Coppertail Brewing for a complimentary menu tasting in exchange for my opinion of their menu. Opinions are my own and do not reflect Coppertail Brewing.

Coppertail Brewing located in Ybor City has been serving food from the Stein & Vine Kitchen (known as S & V Kitchen for some time now). I visited recently to give the menu a taste. What I found was plenty of great food that paired well with their beer. How about that?

The meal started off with the potstickers. Potstickers are one of the things that you’ll find on plenty of menus but are often ruined. Sometimes they are soggy or fried too much. These were perfect – and it went perfect with an assortment of beers ranging from sours to lighter beers. The dish is seasonal and rotates on and off the menu, but to me it was good enough to be a regular item.

Then came the Drunken Shrimp made with Coppertail Unholy Trippel. I was a little skeptical of this dish when I first saw it, but oh my god this was the best sauce ever. I wanted to put it on everything. This is simply the best menu item they have and I will definitely be ordering this one in the future. They could sell this sauce…it’s that good. Yum.

From this beer flight there was some German inspiration and some sours mixed in. The BOMP! was by far the winner and I just had to have a glass of that with my food. Coppertail always has an interesting mixture of beers on the menu, but that BOMP is something special.


Back to the food.

Stein and Vine has always had an arrangement of spicy burgers. This one packs the heat and I’d recommend tuning down the sauce if you’re heat sensitive. However those who love the heat will love this Sriracha Bomb. Burgers and beer makes perfect sense especially with summer coming – I’m hoping to see some more burger ideas on the menu for that!

Then there was the Schnitzel Sandwich. My favorite of the two entrees I tried. Schnitzel and German beer is just perfect. The price was fair and the portion was great. I was dipping my tator tots in that drunken shrimp sauce because ITS DELICIOUS. I am a fan of this sandwich and I hope it eventually would make its way to the standard menu. German food and beer just makes me happy.

Overall, the options at S & V Kitchen are excellent for Coppertail Brewing. There is definitely some culinary genius going on here and I think the more they incorporate the beer in the process the better! I’m a fan and can’t wait to go back soon for more.

Restaurant Name: S & V Kitchen at Coppertail Brewing

Neighborhood: Ybor City

Address: 2601 East 2nd Ave, Tampa, FL 33605

Phone Number: (813) 247-1500

Website: http://coppertailbrewing.com/the-food-1/

Chef Spotlight: Gia Tran of Zukku Sushi & Astro Ice Cream Co.

Full disclosure: Chef Gia Tran and I are personally acquainted and have collaborated/worked together. He is a mutual friend through an old friend and we were first introduced at the first Sushi Battle in Ybor City. We have gone on to see each other around town at different restaurants and businesses. I reached out to him for this story when Armature Works opened. All opinions expressed are my own and do not represent him.

The writing scene in Tampa often captures restaurants opening and closing as well as menu items and new trends. However, we don’t cover the chefs in the city that often and although some events try and make up for this – chefs are busy people and so are writers in this growing city.

The main reason for the lack of coverage is because chefs are always in the kitchen cooking (go-figure) and many of them aren’t really people-people (laughs).

Chef Gia Tran is a unique chef that I thought would make a great article when discussing the new Armature Works  – so I reached out to get his story.

I initially met Chef Gia Tran at the first Sushi Battle in Ybor City. Surrounded by Godzilla costumes and Taiko drummer group, Tampa Taiko, as well as thousands of hungry people, we were quite busy and did not get to talk much besides talking about the sushi burrito I ate (he was a vendor competing in the competition). I was a Judge at the competition and was impressed.

Chef Gia was doing sushi burritos long before anyone in Tampa probably knew what a sushi burrito was (alas many people still do not know). As a food writer myself, I had not seen sushi burritos anywhere besides on popular food websites such as Eater in 2015.

Come try @zukku.sushi.burritos out before we open!!

A post shared by Zukku Sushi. Burritos. Poke. (@zukkusushi) on

Over the years I saw him and his staff at the Margarita Festival, Rum Festival, and other drink festivals organized by Big City Events, whose leadership (Ferdian Jap and Monica Varner) are now a partner in his two new ventures inside Armature Works: Zukku Sushi and Astro Ice Cream Co.

Years passed and then I was a Judge again at the Sushi Battle – this time in St. Petersburg. I wandered the booths consuming plenty of sushi. The best booth? Ocean Prime. I was a little shocked because I was previously unaware that sushi was even on the menu at Ocean Prime. Apparently, Chef Gia Tran pioneered this successful menu at Ocean Prime and it is still served there after his departure and a top seller.

The rolls were simply superb and I could not resist going again and again for a bite until Ocean Prime eventually was sold out. The rice, fish, and composition was all excellent. I wasn’t accustomed to Tampa sushi restaurants getting these things right (sorry I’m from San Francisco). Ocean Prime won the Audience Choice Award that year.

I was initially unaware that Chef Gia Tran was behind this menu. I just knew it was delicious.

Years passed again and then I heard about a new place opening in Brandon called S Bar from  Chef Gia. This restaurant was a new project by a few original management pieces of The Rack. Although a short-lived venture due to the owners relocating, this project lead way to what is arguably the biggest project Chef Gia Tran has to date: the opening of Zukku Sushi and Astro Ice Cream Co. at Armature Works.

Chef Gia Tran has saved since his first sushi job 10 years ago at Sushi Alive in Carrollwood (now in Westchase) for this business venture at Armature Works.

Many of Tampa’s local head sushi chefs had their start at Sushi Alive, which was one of the busiest places in town thanks to an excellent dollar sushi deal and happy hour specials.

Ask anyone about Armature Works in the food business and they will tell you it represents a change for Tampa and hopes for the future of our city.

It’s forward-thinking, historic, and diverse. People might argue about different facets of the venue, but can anyone deny that this undertaking is a huge risk? Restaurateurs have embraced it in a move for something different. I respect that as someone who covers the food scene on the other side.

Throwing it down at @armatureworks_tampa 🐷 pc: @kiki_trinh

A post shared by Tony Nguyen (@tonydnguyen) on

Addicted to this place already!!!

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Zukku Sushi has a variety of poke choices and sushi rolls on the menu.

What makes it different? A sharp attention to fish quality. Chef Gia Tran is clearly using his background at other restaurants to decide the menu items and to source higher quality fish. The price does reflect it, but fish is one of those things where you get what you pay for.

Prices are comparable to nearby Poke Rose at The Hall on Franklin, but here you can pick your toppings and customize your bowl which is definitely one of my gripes about Poke Rose. Also – Poke Rose seems to lean towards Poke Salad while Zukku is clearly connect more to the sushi side of things with sushi rice being carefully prepared.

Zukku Sushi is open at Armature Works in Tampa Heights 7 days a week. Astro Ice Cream Co. will also provide nitrogen ice cream to the public. Chef Gia Tran is on the move in the City of Tampa.