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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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.

Valentine’s Week 2019 at Seasons 52 Tampa

Seasons 52 is doing Valentine’s Day a little differently this year and celebrating an entire Valentine’s Week 2019 from February 10th to February 14th.

Valentine’s Day is the second most popular date to get engaged according to WeddingWire and is the inspiration for the grand finale of this week of love.

Here is a breakdown of the events they are having in celebration:

  • Sunday, February 10th – A Mini for your Mini: Children under 12 will receive a special mini dessert in celebration of Valentine’s Day. Some flavors include Mocha Macchiato and Pecan Pie.
  • Monday, Feburary 11th – Wine & Flatbread Special: Seasons 52 will run a $15 wine and flatbread special that features Loveblock Pinot Noir. Six flatbreads will be available to choose from.
  • Tuesday, February 12th – Galentine’s Day: Seasons 52 will offer a special for the ladies with Riondo Prosecco for $5.
  • Wednesday, February 13th – Endless Bubbles: Enjoy endless bubbles of Riondo Prosecco for $14.95 with the purchase of an entree. Select locations only.
  • Thursday, February 14th – Engagement Special: Get engaged at Seasons 52 and enjoy a complimentary champagne toast on every dining visit for a year.

Now if only I had someone to engage me this February 14th.

Restaurant Name: Seasons 52

Cuisine: New American

Neighborhood: WestShore

Address: 204 N. Westshore Blvd., Tampa, FL 33609

Phone Number: (813) 286-1152

Cost: $$

Reservations: http://www.seasons52.com/reservations

Website: http://bit.ly/2UMCrM7

Sushi Battle Tampa Bay coming February 20th – tickets on sale

Sushi Battle Tampa Bay will occur on Wednesday, February 20th, 2019 at Armature Works in Tampa Heights and tickets are now on sale. The event is organized by Big City Events.

The battle for who makes the best sushi in Tampa Bay is not to be missed. The winning restaurant will win the “Golden Chopsticks Award”.

Buy tickets: http://bit.ly/2M8bdfF

The event will run from 6:30PM to 9:30PM. All guests must be ages 21 or older.

VIP guests will get an extra hour of private entry to the event. VIP also includes complimentary Sapporo beer and VIP-exclusive areas.

All guests will enjoy unlimited sushi samples from quality restaurants around town and plenty of opportunity to enjoy some sake and beer. All tickets include 1 sake bomb drink.

Entertainment includes taiko drummers, Godzilla, sumo suit wrestling, karaoke, sake tasting, and group sake bombs. DJ Fresh will be the Sushi Battle chairman.

Participating restaurants:

Don’t miss it!

Event name: Sushi Battle Tampa Bay

Venue: Armature Works

Address: 1910 N. Ola Ave., Tampa, FL 33602

Date & Time: Wednesday, February 20th, 2019, 6:30PM-9:30PM, 5:30PM for VIP

Cost: $50-$85

Buy tickets: http://bit.ly/2M8bdfF

Ages: 21 years or older

Website: http://www.gotosushibattle.com/

Valentine’s Day 2019 specialty menus at Seminole Hard Rock Tampa

Looking for a romantic day at the casino on Valentine’s Day 2019?

The Rez Grill Valentine's Day 2019 special in Tampa at Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino
The Rez Grill Valentine’s Day 2019 special in Tampa at Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casnio

Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Tampa, located I-4 at North Orient Road and Hillsborough Avenue, about 10 minutes east of downtown Tampa, has a few options available for hungry visitors at four of its dining destinations:

  • Council Oak Steaks & Seafood: Steakhouses and Valentine’s Day dinner pretty much go hand-in-hand. Council Oak is offering specials such as strawberries and baby greens ($15), tournedos of filet and lobster ($90), king-crusted Chilean sea-bass ($70), and a dark chocolate pot de crème or wild berries and citrus sabayon for dessert ($11 each).
  • The Rez Grill: You’ll find quality, original cocktails and delicious food by Chef Frank Anderson at The Rez Grill from 4PM-10PM. Valentine’s Day specials include cocoa-nib crusted filet mignon ($75) and warm valrhona chocolate cake for dessert ($14).
  • Fresh Harvest Buffet: If you’re looking for a buffet option before or after hitting the slots, Fresh Harvest is offering a special buffet on Valentine’s Day from 4PM-9PM for $40 per person. Seminole Wild Card members can enjoy a $5 discount at the buffet. ELITE and XCARD members can enjoy comp. dollars for Valentine’s Day. There will be a carving station, Cucina Italiana, noodles, greens, dessert (called “Sweets a la Mode”), and more.
  • Hard Rock Cafe: Guests at this Hard Rock staple can enjoy a grilled filet mignon and lobster special ($40).

Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino is a AAA Four Diamond rated property and offers seven award-winning Zagat-rated restaurants, including the upscale dining venues Council Oak Steaks & Seafood and The Rez Grill. 

Visit Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino online at www.seminolehardrocktampa.com 

Follow them on Instagram @hardrocktampa and on Twitter @shrtampa

Armature Works celebrates one year anniversary of success in Tampa

It has been exactly one year since Armature Works opened its doors to the City of Tampa in Tampa Heights.

The historic building and food hall changed the city for the better and gave many restaurateurs and food brands and opportunity to shine on Tampa’s waterfront just outside of Downtown Tampa.

The venue has also served as a coworking space, event space, wedding venue, and more.

One of the owners and operators of Armature Works, Taryn Bruck, reflected on the past and future of the facility:

“We have learned a lot over the past 365 days and look forward to making your experience at Armature Works better than the last. Our success is attributed to our incredible vendors, hard-working team, and most of all our loyal AW fans! We can’t wait to show what we have in store for 2019!”

Photo credit: Zach Gresham of Adventure Marketing

I talked to a few of the businesses inside the Heights Public Market. Heights Public Market, HPM for short, is the food hall portion of Armature Works. The hall has thousands of customers walk through every week for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

I spoke with Stephanie Swanz, owner of Empamamas, and she told me:

“This past year has been one of the most rewarding times of my life and I am forever grateful to Chas, Taryn, Adam, and Frank for the opportunity and believing in Empamamas. Not only has Armature Works become one of the most desirable places to visit in Tampa, but it has completely changed the landscape of the neighborhood and I’m so excited to see their future projects unfold over the next few months”.

Graze 1910 has served over 90,000 eggs to hungry diners in the Heights Public Market according to owners, Ray and Lauren Menendez. If you haven’t enjoyed a mimosa and avocado toast with an egg for breakfast, you should. I did for Valentine’s Day 2018.

Clifford Barsi, Vice-President of Social Enterprises and Food Services at Metroplitan Ministries, reflecting on the past year:

“Metropolitan Ministries is very thankful for the opportunity to expand our Social Enterprise concept, ‘Inside the Box Cafe‘, through the generosity of Armature Works owners/developers: Chas Bruck and Adam Harden. They have given us a platform for our Culinary Program to get exposure for our students and to gain foodie acclaim for our in-house brined, cured, roasted, and smoked meats. That’s Good Food, Doing Good with the help from Good People! #Training+Jobs+Hunger Relief = Good Food Doing Good!”

Felicia “Phe” Lacalle , owner of Hemingway’s, told me this:

My experience at Armature Works has been nothing less than extraordinary, to be in such a spectacular place and to open a modern Cuban restaurant that instills nostalgia in such a beautiful city with amazing history is a blessing! We couldn’t have done it without the support of Armature Works, our amazing guests, and my fabulous staff.

Jen Bingham, owner of Cru Cellars, shared this:

“It’s been an amazing year at Armature Works, and we are so proud to be part of the wonderful space they’ve created here! For Cru, it’s been a great opportunity to engage with guests about wine – helping them to find that perfect glass of wine to enjoy, while also introducing them to new things. The Show & Tell space has been a hit for our Cru U wine classes and walk-around tastings”

Here are some upcoming events at Armature Works:

  • Saturday, February 9th from 9AM-1PM – Heights Morning Market: Shop around for locally sourced and grown produce, meats, seafood, artisanal food items, packaged jams, sauces, and more on the Armature Works lawn.
  • Saturday, February 9th from 2PM-4PM: Chinese New Year: Armature Works will celebrate Chinese New Year. It is the Year of the Pig! Watch live performances and enjoy some great from Asian vendors inside the Heights Public Market.
  • Wednesday, February 13th from 5:30PM-9:30PM – Heights Night Market: Live-music and local vendors will rock the night away in front of the Hillsborough River. This event occurs every 2nd Wednesday of the month.
  • Thursday, February 14th from 7PM-9PM – Valentine’s Movies on the Lawn – Hitch: Looking for something low-key on Valentine’s Day. Celebrate the day outside at Armature Works with a free public screening of Hitch. Don’t forget your lawn chair or blanket. Popcorn and drinks will be available for purchase as well as food from the 14 vendors inside Heights Public Market. First-come, first-serve. Arriving early is recommended.
  • Wednesday, February 20th from 6:30PM-9:30PM – Sushi Battle Tampa Bay: Tampa Bay’s hottest sushi competition is back and this year it’s at Armature Works. Restaurants will compete for who makes the best sushi, while attendees will feast on all the sushi they can eat. 21+ event. Tickets are now on-sale.
  • Saturday, February 23rd from 3PM-8PM – One Year Birthday Bash: Armature Works will celebrate its one year anniversary as Tampa’s largest food hall and historic venue.

Check out the full event calendar at: http://armatureworks.com/calendar/

WTR Pool & Grill launches new Florida-inspired menu for 2019

WTR Pool & Grill located at 7700 West Courtney Campbell Causeway inside the Godfrey Hotel in Tampa has launched a new dining menu for 2019 that is now available to the public.

Menu prices start at $7.99 for starters and move up to $36 for a special prix-fixe menu.

Matthew McCahill, Food & Beverage Director at Oxford Hotels and Resorts in Chicago, has worked with WTR Pool & Grill Executive Chef, Joe Garcia, to curate this menu that is inspired by Florida and meant to appeal to large audience throughout Tampa Bay.

Chef Joe Garcia has over 20 years of experience in the food industry and previously worked for Grille 116. He is originally from Dallas, Texas.

New menu items include a Maple Chicken and Waffle cone, Florida Bayou popcorn, Strawberry Shortcake French Toast, Beignet Donut Burger, and a Titan Power Bowl.

The Florida Bayou popcorn features buttermilk battered gator tail with creole remoulade. The dish mixes Chef Joe Garcia’s New Orleans background the popular Florida gator.

Some menu items I want to try in the future are the Walkerswood Shrimp & Grits and the Miso Glazed Scallops. Both look incredible and from the ingredient list seem like they would complement my taste buds.

The prix-fixe menu has several options including Apple Panzanella Salad, Pepper Crusted New York Steak Strip with truffle shallot demi, Seafood pasta made with fresh diver scallops, and more.

7 new foods to eat at Florida State Fair 2019

There are less than 10 days to go until the Florida State Fair comes back to Tampa for 2019 and they have a good amount of new food items coming for your waistline. Here are 7 new food items available this year.

  1. Black Cherry Burger – Carousel Foods: Many of the past hits or mouth-dropping food items have come from Carousel Foods at the Florida State Fair such as the ramen burger and mac and cheese burger. This year they have a burger filled with cherries, basil, shallots, garlic, and a cherry orange relish on a brioche bun. Intriguing? Yes. Will it be tasty? We’ll find out soon enough.

2. Rainbow Grilled Cheese – The Giddy Piggy: This one is for the ‘gram as kids like to say. Rainbow everything is usually a huge magnet for Instragram influencers. This grilled cheese features Gouda, mozzarella, and provolone.

3. Cuban Pizza – Pizza Emporioum: It was only a matter of time before Miami’s crazy Cuban sandwich pizza traveled back across the state. This pizza features a Dijonnaise base topped with a mozzarella and Swiss blend, roast pork, ham, and pickles. Make sure to go and have a real Cuban Sandwich later around Tampa, where Cuban Sandwiches were created and home of the annual International Cuban Sandwich Festival.

4. Red Beans and Rice Funnel Cake – The Best Around: A new funnel cake arrives every year to test our willingness to take our appetites on a new horizon. The batter for this funnel cake has spices, red beans, and rice mixed into it. It is then topped with smoked sausage, peppers, onions, and beans on top. I almost want to throw some sour cream and guacamole on this bad boy. Maybe I’m on to something…

5. Giant Mozzarella Cheese Stick – Angela’s Pizza: One of the great pleasures of the fair is not second-guessing having a giant corn dog or a giant turkey leg. Now cheese fans have something for them with a giant mozzarella cheese stick that has over 1/4 a pound of mozzarella cheese inside. Hopefully some marinara comes with it.

6. Coconut Cream Doughnut – Peachey’s Baking Co. – You simply have not gone to the Florida State Fair if you have not stopped by Peachey’s Baking Co. for a delicious doughnut or pretzel. It is some of the best food I have had in my life. They were known before as the Amish Baking Co.

7. Fried Cookie Dough – The Happy Dough – Considering how popular cookie dough is now as a food trend, why not eat it fried? Flavors include classic chocolate chip, birthday cake, and peanut butter cookie dough.

What are you looking forward to trying at the Florida State Fair? I am personally dreaming of a footlong corn dog and some french fries right now…and now the wait begins.