Tampa chefs, Chef Rosana Rivera and Chef Ricardo Castro will take their talent to the masses in America on Thursday, December 26th when they compete on Food Network’s “Beat Bobby Flay”. The chefs currently own Xilo Mexican at The Hall on Franklin and focus on serving fresh Mexican-inspired cuisine. I stopped by last weekend to sit down with Chef Castro and discuss how they got here and where they are going.
Chef Rivera and Castro are best known for their past project called Piquant, a popular French bakery concept that was located first in Hyde Park Village and then West Tampa. The project was supplying the Tampa Bay area with fresh breads and pastries and certainly a local pioneer in that space where French bakeries are far and few between.
Their Kouign-Amann was a personal favorite and when I went west to San Francisco, I was amazed and how the ideas that Rivera and Castro brought to Tampa Bay area are so huge out there and still mostly unknown out here. Piquant went through various cycles, but was ultimately closed much to my dismay.
When Chef Rivera and Chef Castro opened Xilo at Hall on Franklin, I wasn’t sure what inspired the move to Mexican cuisine. Castro explained to me that the idea to make Mexican food came from their unique past. Castro was trained at the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) in New York City and he volunteered at a church where he was trained on Mexican sauces and cuisine.
Rivera previously worked for a corporation that regularly flew her around Mexico and exposed her to many of the regional cuisines of the area. When deciding on a concept, Mexican came to them as something both different for the area and something that they could both uniquely bring to the table.
Slowly the chefs have added items to the menu that are representative of their love for Mexican cuisine including brunch options such as chilaquiles. They are one of the only vendors that are open during breakfast at the food hall.
When the chefs entered Hall on Franklin they also took control of the Kofe Tampa shop and have slowly moved into coffee as a business, with prior experience selling their own proprietary roasted blend at their bakery. Soon they will move toward plans to provide their coffee on a bigger scale with a more wholesale focus.
Their coffee can best be described as a truly Latin roast with bold espresso flavors.
The future may hold more restaurant locations in the Tampa Bay area, although the chefs are still considering potential locations across the state of Florida. They are well-traveled and have received much of their inspiration from past culinary projects and mentors. Hopefully their love for baking will also be a part of these next moves.
One thing that is clear is that both these chefs are passionate about food and are passionate about baking. Their debut on the Food Network is a great win for Tampa and also for themselves. Latinx representation is still lacking on Food Network and in the food industry in general.
Let’s hope they can beat Bobby Flay. Catch Chef Rosana Rivera and Chef Ricardo Castro on Food Network at 10:30PM EST on Thursday, December 26th. Free tickets are available to their watch party on Eventbrite that will run from 8:30PM to 11:30PM at Hall on Franklin.
Xilo Mexican.The Hall on Franklin. 1701 N Franklin Street, Tampa, FL 33602.
Full disclosure: I was invited to Council Oak Steaks & Seafood for a media dinner where food was served complimentary. These opinions are my own and do not reflect Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino.
Tampa is a happy hour town. You can wander to most bars and find a decent happy hour menu with cheeses, small bites, and discounted cocktails on any given day of the week. Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Tampa is doing things are little differently at Council Oak Steaks & Seafood.
Instead of offering heavily discounted appetizers with tiny bites, Council Oak has opted instead to provide diners with shareable entries that offer complexity in flavors that you might not find anywhere else in Tampa. The price points will run anywhere from $10 to $40 depending on the item.
The most noticeable item on the menu, which occurs daily from 3PM-6PM for a limited time, is the Japanese Wagyu Carpaccio ($15). I am a fan of beef carpaccio in general, but the bold flavors of the wagyu on top of a crostini is not to be missed. The heavy flavors of the meats on the menu almost ensures you are going to want beer or a cocktail to wash down your food and luckily they have provided some great choices.
During my visit I had the Vina Cobos Felino Malbec ($12) which was a great red to pair with the meat dishes, especially the Council Oak Prime Burger ($22), rich with flavor and an egg with yolk that will run all over your tongue. The portion is generous, but the price certainly makes this something you want to share. The added truffle fries are just another layer in a meal that will most certainly be a pleasant trip for diners.
The Council Oak Bacon ($14), aged in-house, is for true believers only. Four thick slabs of bacon will arrive on your table with a tiny side salad. The balsamic reduction will perfectly complement the fatty pork in your mouth. It reminds me of a millionaire’s bacon, but more refined.
For those looking for something on the lighter side, there is the Council Oak House Salad ($11). This salad features salami, prosciutto, bacon, tomatoes, egg, mozzarella, and house dressing. It is an excellent salad and perfect with some wine. The tomatoes and dried egg yolk on top is my favorite part. The salami is also excellent and noticeably not too salty.
There are several other options on the social hour menu such as Jumbo Shrimp Cocktail, Tuna Tartare, Caesar Salad, a N.Y. Strip Steak Sandwich, and a Beef Tenderloin, but personally I wanted to experience things I can’t find anywhere else. I would still be interested in trying them in the future though after seeing how masterfully everything was served at Council Oak for social hour.
Social Hour at Council Oak Steaks & Seafood offers excellent options that can be shared by diners before a night on the town. The elegant environment of the bar complements the menu that seems to have been carefully planned. I recommend stopping by soon to try it.
Miracle at Mezzo is coming to St. Petersburg starting on Black Friday (November 29th) 2019. The event started in New York City back in 2014 at Mace cocktail bar and is now at Intermezzo located at 1111 Central Avenue in Downtown St. Petersburg.
According to the press release, “each Miracle and Sippin’ Santa location will celebrate the season with a festive menu of signature cocktails, décor of lights, garlands, ribbons, and tchotchkes inspired by nostalgic vintage Christmas decorations, and a soundtrack of holiday songs.” Intermezzo is one of over 100 locations nationwide participating in the event.
Owner/GM Jarrett Sabatini has put together a calendar of events to keep the pop-up busy throughout the holiday season:
Monday December 2nd – World’s Largest Ugly Sweater Party – Over 100 Miracle locations around the world participating! Don your best (tackiest) garb and join in the revelry
Monday December 9th – Holiday Trivia with Santa Claus
Tuesday December 10th – Holiday Karaoke
Thursday December 19th – Songs Around a Christmas Tree with performer J.T. Brown 7PM-10PM
“In our sixth year, we’re excited to keep making Miracle better year after year while keeping our true love for the holiday season alive,” says Greg Boehm, owner and creator of Miracle.
“We offer a true experience for our guests as soon as they walk through the doors. Our partners across the U.S. and world are all dedicated to delivering exceptional visits with quality cocktails.”
Atlanta will soon get a taste of Tampa with Hemingway’s expanding north to A-Town’s Krog Street Market in spring of 2020. Hemingway’s is currently located inside the Armature Works food hall in Tampa Heights and serves Cuban dishes with a focus on Tampeño food such as Cuban Sandwiches (WITH salami).
Chef Felicia “Phe” Lacalle is a previous winner of the International Cuban Sandwich Festival. She worked in the past as an Executive Sous and Regional Pastry Chef at Roy’s and Executive Chef at Samba Room.
Make sure you try the chicharrones, they are not to be missed.
Here’s one of my favorite videos featuring Chef Phe:
Diners can enjoy unlimited hot pot and Korean BBQ for around $30. The option to exclude bbq will save you a few bucks, but I don’t suggest doing that.
I stopped by for a visit earlier this week and tried the Korean BBQ and hot pot and was pleasantly surprised at how delicious the food was. The quality of the meat and seafood were far superior to competitors throughout the Tampa Bay area and although the prices are a little higher than Izziban BBQ in Orlando, I do think the higher price-point is worth it.
The quality of the spicy pork belly cut and bulgogi was noticeably great. The Korean BBQ grills cooked the meat cuts quickly and efficiently. The restaurant offers butter to grease the surface. Hot Pot offers your standard lettuce wraps available and side veggies to add to your meats. I highly recommend the Korean BBQ at Hot Pot BBQ.
The seafood selection was also satisfactory and on-par with popular hot pot places in Orlando and St. Petersburg with crawfish, squid, clams, mussels, fish balls, and more. The broths for the hot pot are a little on the blander-side, but you can easily spice it up with their sauces and side offerings including heaping of garlic and cilantro.
Veggies, fruits, and desserts rotate around the restaurant on a conveyor belt that is similar to many modern Asian eateries around the country. Diners can simply pick up anything they like to eat and add it to their food. Some things we enjoyed were the cake desserts, oranges, instant ramen, dumplings, and more.
Beware that there is a fee for those who do not finish their food that is marked at $13.99 and a 2 hour limit for enjoying the buffet.
I recommend Hot Pot BBQ and suggest you give it a look if you’re interested in trying something new in Tampa. Soon Yum Yum Hot Pot AYCE will also be joining this area. The winner, of course, is diners in Tampa.
Thanksgiving is quickly approaching and there a number of places offering Thanksgiving specials. One of those places is Wine Bar George at Disney Springs in Orlando.
On November 28th, Wine Bar George will be serving a traditional turkey plate ($34 for adults, $16 for kids 9 and under) as well as new Santa Carota Short Ribs ($39) alongside select items from their regular menu. Choose from 140 wines all available by the glass, bottle and ounce for the perfect holiday celebration.
Black Friday and Thanksgiving are a busy time for tourism in Orlando. Wine Bar George is one of many places offering options for the season.
LPCX announced today on Instagram that they will close their doors starting end of the day Saturday, November 9th until further notice as they work out what is next for their business.
The cafe has been known to serve great coffee drinks and beautiful latte art so it is certainly a loss for Tampa’s coffee community.
They were recently featured on That’s So Tampa’s 3 hidden coffee shops you need to visit. Unfortunately – it may have been too late to change the trajectory for the LCPX Cafe. Make sure you stop by for a last cup of joe if you have a chance.
La Pequeña Colombia will remain open across the street.
Fox 5 DC is reporting that someone has been stabbed to death over the Popeye’s Chicken Sandwich in Maryland. The chicken sandwich returned to stores this past Sunday. Police are investigating the incident. The victim was 28 years old.
Sweet Buns Bakery is now open by USF in Tampa’s Uptown. The Asian bakery is originally from Gainesville and has the same ownership as Yummy House. It is yet another new business to come to the area in recent months.
The concept is similar to a popular chain called 85°C Bakery Café, a Taiwanese bakery chain that serves a variety of baked breads and pastries as well as drinks to customers. 85°C Bakery Café is currently experiencing rapid expansion across the United States.
This concept is notably going to compete with a number of bubble tea shops already in the area which usually sell snacks and sweet beverages. There is a quite a few other Asian concepts currently in the works for the neighborhood.
According to the Sweet Buns website the stores “feature free wifi, made-to-order baked goods, cakes, and a relaxing environment to study or just hang and enjoy some sweets.”
The bakery is located at 2788 East Fowler Avenue,Tampa, FL 33612.