Full disclosure: I was invited to Busch Gardens Tampa Bay for a complimentary media preview of their new Giraffe Bar and to experience the safari for this story. All opinions here are my own and do not represent Busch Gardens.
I have visited Busch Gardens Tampa Bay since I was a little kid. I rode the, now torn-down, Gwazi on the first day the right was available with my best friend of 4th grade, Richard. I had a fun card over the summer in middle school and would hangout at the theme park with my friends to pass the time. One time we must have been on the Kumba coaster at least 30 times in a row.
Along the way Busch Gardens has grown and changed as it adapts to the growth of Disney and Universal Studios in Orlando. The Africa themes have given way to a variety of events and other add-ons over time. One thing I never did too much was spend time with animals and I admit I have always been more of a roller coaster guy when it comes to theme parks.
However, when I first received notice about the coming Giraffe Bar I was immediately excited. Why has no one does this before? I thought to myself. The animals are literally right there and somehow there was no way to enjoy a drink and observe them.
I visited the theme park for a media visit recently to check the new bar and to get the backstory. First, media guests were invited on a safari tour to actually visit with the giraffes. I have always read you can do this, but never opted to and honestly it is one of the best things I have ever experienced.
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published to News Break – follow me there.
As we enter the light at the end of the tunnel of the pandemic, there are new possibilities on the horizon and businesses are ready to launch new projects. Busch Gardens Tampa Bay announced today that they will be opening a new bar at the theme park with an inside and outside concept that overlooks their Serengeti Plain called The Giraffe Bar.
This bar will come with exciting new options, such as craft cocktails, beers, and also wine that benefits conservation and environmental efforts all with a pandoramic view of all the animals at the theme park.
The indoor-outdoor concept is smart considering how the pandemic has reshaped the way businesses look at the future in case the nation finds itself embattled again with a virus in the future. The addition of air-conditioning is also critical considering how hot it can get in the summer while exploring the theme park.
The theme park also announced there will be televisions that will broadcast sports games which is probably a dream come true to all the sports fans out there who also want to take their families or kids out for a day. Not too shabby for “Champa Bay” that recently won both the Stanley Cup and the Super Bowl.
Food selections at the bar will include options such as shareable bites, with bourbon-glazed sticky wings, braised brisket mac and cheese, and smoked brisket-loaded French fries. For vegetarians there will be shareable items, such as loaded hummus and fresh oversized Bavarian soft pretzels with hopefully more options on the way.
The soft opening for The Giraffe Bar is planned for March 19th, 2021, with more food options hinted at in the future for the theme park as they aim to regain momentum as the COVID-19 pandemic begins to wind down.
Annual Food and Wine Festival Happening Now
Busch Gardens is also celebrating their annual Food and Wine Festival right now at the theme park through April 25th. The festival features over 110 items to sample, including 20+ new dishes, 50+ wine, beer and seltzers offerings for all tastes, as well as 20+ cocktails to choose from. A number of sampler lanyards are available for sale from the theme park to enjoy discounted food and drink items at the event.
Some new items on the menu at the festival include a Five-Spice Duck Lettuce Wraps with Asian Pear Slaw, Plum Sauce Drizzle, Lollipop Chicken Drum with Sticky Honey Whiskey Glaze, Korean BBQ Pork Ribs with Slow Roasted, BBQ Sauce, Daikon Slaw, and Hummingbird Donuts with Apple Cider Red Velvet Dough, Sweet Bourbon Caramel, Pecans.
New drinks at the festival include a Frozen Rum Mai Tai made with Cutwater Bali Hai Tiki Gold Rum, Triple Sec, Orgeat, Lime Juice and Frozen Hawaiian Pineapple Express with Ocean Organic Hawaiian Vodka, Pineapple, Mint, Lemon, and Honey. Some other creations include a Montu Margarita, Lion’s Lemonade, Monkey Around, Puffin Punch, and Stone Fruit Frosé.
Nationally recognized music acts are scheduled to perform at Busch Gardens Tampa Bay every Saturday in March and April during the Food and Wine Festival. Upcoming music acts include Parmalee, Dylan Scott, Sugar Ray, Sister Hazel, Tito Nieves, and more. VIP passes to the music acts are available for $39.99 and include reserved seating and a 5-item sampler lanyard as well as a private bar experience.
Reservations are currently required to the theme park in observance of COVID-19 protocols. Discounts are available for those that register on their website. Single day tickets are currently $89.99, while a 2-park fun card for Busch Gardens and Adventure Island is currently $114.99. Annual theme park passes are also available and start at $12 a month.
Find more information at buschgardens.com/tampa/events/food-and-wine-festival. Busch Gardens is located at 10165 McKinley Drive in Tampa near Interstate 75 Exit 65 and Interstate 275 Exit 50 just near the University of South Florida.
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published to News Break – follow me there.
White Castle is raising its sign as it moves closer and closer to its scheduled spring 2021 opening in Orlando. This is the largest free-standing White Castle in the world and choosing the City Beautiful is an ambitious move. 120 pre-scheduled interviews are being held by the franchise.
The new location is planned in southwest Orlando at Unicorp’s $1 billion “The Village at O-Town West” mixed-use development.
“We’re trying to create a whole place. We’re trying to create a complete sense of place with dining, entertainment, shopping and living,” Unicorp President Chuck Whittall told the Orlando Sentinel when the project was launched.
To join the team and ensure a safe process for all, interested applicants must apply online at careers.whitecastle.com. Applicants can also text “ORLANDO” to 56379, and receive a link that will take them directly to the Orlando Castle’s hiring site for ease applying.
For applicants who advance in the hiring process, White Castle will schedule and conduct in-person interviews with all COVID-19 safety protocols in place.
White Castle is America’s first fast-food hamburger chain, founded in 1921 as a family-owned business satisfying cravings for 100 years. The Orlando Castle marks the beloved brand’s first return to Florida since operating a Castle in Miami in the 1960s. The 4,567-square-foot restaurant will sport the iconic tower in a sleek, modern industrial-style architectural design and include indoor and outdoor seating plus two drive-through lanes.
As part of the ceremonial sign raising, and a White Castle good luck tradition, the Latin phrase “Desideres Ego Ergo Sum” has been added to one of the hidden steel beams in the tower construction. The phrase, when translated means, “I Crave, Therefore I Am.”
The Original Slider, named in 2014 as Time Magazine’s most influential burger of all time, is served alongside a menu of creatively crafted sliders and other food options, including White Castle’s Impossible™ Slider, named by Thrillist in 2019 as the “Best Plant-Based Fast Food Burger. The Original Slider is made with 100% beef, steam grilled on a bed of onions, and served with a slice of pickle on our signature bun.
According to America Comes Alive, the “hamburger industry owes White Castle a “thanks” for creating National Hamburger Month in 1992. Every year when the month of May rolls around, places that sell hamburgers come up with new promotions to entice the public.” Hopefully we will be able to munch on burgers before that rolls around.
White Castle stepped up their protocols during COVID-19 around the country saying, “We have aggressively intensified our already rigorous cleaning procedures—including increasing the frequency of sanitizing and cleaning the food preparation areas, dining rooms and restrooms in all our restaurants. Additionally, we are providing single-use condiments, straws and napkins from our counters, upon request. In addition, we offer on-line ordering and delivery and we will continue to pursue new ways technology minimizes contact and improves our customer experience.”
According to Restaurant Business, “the company’s long-term family ownership and the family’s role can be seen throughout the restaurants—White Castle boasts some remarkable longevity among its corporate staff. The chain’s general managers have an average tenure of 21 years.” This long history in the restaurant business has allowed strategic rollouts and the opening of the ghost kitchen earlier this year could be a sign of things to come for the franchise.
White Castle owns and operates more than 360 restaurants dedicated to satisfying customers’ cravings morning, noon and night and sells its famous fare in retail stores nationwide. White Castle is known for its faithful fans, affectionately referred to as Cravers, many of whom compete each year for entry into the Cravers Hall of Fame.
Get your spicy cream taste buds ready. BENTO Asian Kitchen has officially announced that it will be firing up the wok this month at its newest location at Tampa’s Armature Works. The Florida-based concept will be joining Buddy Brew Coffee as Heights Public Market’s newest vendors, serving up an array of fragrant, wok-fired dishes from across Asia.
Featuring dishes, such as Coconut Curry Tofu, Spicy Sichuan Chicken, Shrimp Pad Thai and Mongolian Steak, BENTO will be bringing the sights, smells, and tastes of Asia to the popular neighborhood food hub.
“We’ve been eyeing Armature Works for a while now. Aside from being a hub of amazing local eateries, its waterfront location along Riverwalk makes it a prime hang-out spot for the growing neighborhoods of Downtown Tampa, and the Heights, especially with all the new surrounding retail, condo, hotel, and office spaces,” says Johnny Tung, co-founder.
BENTO will assume the space formerly occupied by Ichicoro Imoto, and its design will feature a modern take on Japanese aesthetics with a mix of traditional patterns, warm woods, and Tokyo-esque neon lights.
BENTO at Armature Works will offer the concept’s fan favorites all served hot and fresh off the wok or grill over rice, noodles, or in a bento box. The concept will also offer a bites menu for those who want to snack on a variety of shareables. The new location will be open 7 days a week for quick-service, takeout, online orders, and delivery through 3rd party platforms.
This location will mark the family-owned-and-operated company’s fourth in the Tampa Bay area following its locations in Downtown St. Petersburg, USF Tampa, and Sarasota in UTC, it’s latest addition.
The new Armature Works location is part of a growing family of BENTO concepts across Florida, including brick-and-mortar locations in Orlando, Jacksonville, South Florida, and Gainesville along with virtual kitchens in Atlanta and Houston – in total over 15 locations.
BENTO made a name for itself in the fast-casual Asian food space and frequently anchors itself around Downtown core areas and busy college towns. This location should be an attractive option for both busy Downtown workers, residents, and students nearby at the University of Tampa. The first BENTO location opened in the summer of 2002 near the University of Florida.
“We’ve watched the Tampa food scene evolve over the years, and are excited to be in such great company with other local chef-driven concepts. Armature Works, specifically, is a place we frequent ourselves on trips to Tampa so we’re thrilled to finally call it our new home,” says Tung.
The Heights is a 50-acre mixed-use urban district located along the Hillsborough River, just north of Downtown Tampa. When completed, The Heights District will include hotels, apartments, condos, office buildings, restaurants, retail stores, green spaces, parking garages and more. The Heights District is anchored by award-winning Armature Works, a 73,000-square foot historic warehouse reimagined as the signature food and entertainment destination in the Tampa Bay area.
Change is certainly in the air at Heights Public Market.
When I first heard that Datz Restaurant Group was launching a steak house, I could already visualize it in my head. The group owns numerous restaurants around the Tampa Bay area, but when I first started writing about food it was just the location on MacDill. Little by little the empire grew and now Datz operates on both sides of the bay and in the suburbs and they have numerous other concepts including Dough and Dr. BBQ. I was excited to check Donovan’s out recently on a media dine.
In many ways, Donovan’s Meatery captures the Datz Restaurant Group expertise in a fine-tuned steak house. Like Dr. BBQ in St. Petersburg, Donovan’s often looks to take a concept and to zone in on what makes it good to create a hit concept. Looking over the dining and cocktail menu, you will be reminded of both present and past concepts including their now-closed New Orleans-style Roux concept in South Tampa but also a clear understanding behind what makes a steak house tick.
One thing that is well-appreciated is the observance of COVID protocols. Host stands are outside making it easy to have a completely outdoor experience, which was how I chose to attend during my visit due to the COVID-19 pandemic still raging in Florida.
Employees are well-masked and tables are spaced accordingly.
We started off with the Old Bay Crab Dip ($13) with lump crab, cheese blend, and grilled toast. Let me just start off by saying the toast at Donovan’s is excellent, I love bread and even the starter bread hits the spot. The crab dip is simply excellent, its filling and enjoyable shareable item. You will definitely want to take leftovers home, and I cannot say that about many seafood dips at restaurants. It’s savory and still not too heavy on the palette.
I followed up with a Lobster Bisque ($10) with lobster meat, sherry, crema. One of my favorite soups to enjoy and this one did not disappoint. Take your toast and dip it inside for a surprise. Cold weather in Florida may be sunsetting soon, but this is definitely item to enjoy on an evening or even for take-out. Some places go overboard with pepper or have no lobster meat, but this one is just right.
I went with the Filet (Certified Angus Beef) ($27) as my main course with a Cabernet Reduction Sauce. The steak was a flavorful cut and satisfying. Easily shareable depending on your appetite, but it was the two sides that I was most in love with. The Truffle Mac and Cheese ($14) was excellent, oozing inside of a cast iron pan. It hit all the right spots. I would order this again and again if given the chance. The Potatoes Au Gratin ($12) was also superb. Crispy and flavorful.
Getting a good cut of steak and preparing it right is one thing at a steak house, getting the sides right and actually making them enjoyable is another. So many places have a great cut, but mediocre sides and I am happy to say that is not the case at Donovan’s. The sides may cost more than other places, but they are big enough to share and taste better.
One of the really great and surprising dishes was the Delmonico Steak Sandwich ($18). Huge and juicy sandwich and makes for a great lunch item. Definitely share this. One great is that they have Happy Hour from 3PM to 5PM with a number of starters and drinks. So you could easily do a late lunch and transition into happy hour.
It shouldn’t be too surprising that there is quality cocktail menu at Donovan’s given the background of the group. You’ll find both an extensive wine list and classic drinks like a Manhattan, Sidecar, Steak House Martini, Mai Tai, and the Big Guava which was my favorite. Cocktails sit at $10 flat which is about baseline for Tampa.
The atmosphere at Donovan’s Meatery, at least on the patio, was mostly casual. It has all the elements of your favorite steak house without the stuffiness which is one of the things that has challenges this type of restaurant concept over the years. I observed women out for a girls night out, business meetings, and also just family gatherings in tables in the distance.
The location choose on Bloomingdale is right in the middle of suburbia, which means there isn’t the same kind of crowd you might find in trending South Tampa and artsy Downtown St. Pete. Brandon is middle-class and indeed Donovan’s plays the field as both offering upscale steak options and also a variety of other choices for diners without breaking the bank.
We were too stuffed to order dessert, but took a delicious slice of chocolate cake home and it was out of this world. If you love dessert, definitely don’t miss the menu at Donovan’s.
The number of sides and dishes means multiple visits could easily be in order and of course they have takeout as an option if you just want to enjoy a quiet night at home. For me, this concept is a winner and I hope to dine again soon at Donovan’s.
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published to News Break – follow me there.
A new American and French-inspired restaurant concept, Willa’s, is now open in North Hyde Park just minutes from Downtown and South Tampa. The restaurant is built by Tampa natives, Nate Siegel and Merrin Jenkins, who named the restaurant after Merrin’s great-, great-grandmother and 19th-century Tampa pioneer, William Lowry. The Tampa Bay Times first reported Willa’s was coming to town in December of 2019, but plans were delayed due to COVID-19 according to an interview with Tampa Bay Business Journal.
“To us, a neighborhood restaurant is casual, serves classic food people want to eat all the time and has an attentive staff that remembers regulars,” says co-founder Nate Siegel.
“With Willa’s, we’re thrilled to serve and support Tampa with a place we hope locals and visitors alike will want to come again and again.”
Siegel has a decade of experience working at Tampa and New York restaurants, including Mise en Place, Ruschmeyer’s, Tacombi and with the Keith McNally Restaurant Group, which includes Balthazar, Pastis, Minetta Tavern, Morandi and more. Jenkins has worked for several non-profits, including the Tampa Museum of Art and New York University, and most recently, she served as the Director of Development for the Akilah Institute, an award-winning women’s college in Rwanda educating female leaders for a sustainable future.
Hours are currently 5PM to 10PM from Wednesday through Sunday with expanded service, lunch hours, and weekend brunch soon to come.
In observance of COVID-19, Willa’s is seating at 70% capacity and implementing safety measures, including wellness checks for all employees before each shift, socially-distanced tables, air filtration, surface disinfecting, and mandatory masks for all staff and guests unless seated and more. Both Willa’s and Willa’s Provisions plan to roll out takeout programs in the near future.
A 10-seat sister cafe and retail shop, Willa’s Provisions ,will open next month at the front of the building to serve coffee, a menu of pick-up fare and retail including gourmet pantry items and homemade Willa’s staples at 310 North Rome Avenue.The menu at Willa’s has been prepared by Chef Zakari Davila, a Tampa native who trained at French Culinary Institute in NYC and Lyon, then worked with Tom Colicchio’s Crafted Hospitality at the TAO Group and La Pecora Bianca.
Willa’s signature dish is Rotisserie Chicken, an item that the restaurant says “sets the tone for the simple, American dishes found throughout”. The kitchen makes use of the whole bird to make stock and bone broth from scratch for dishes like Chicken & Rice Soup, Schmaltz Potatoes, and more.
There is a large selection of fresh veggie sides and salads round out the menu, which is made up of roughly 70 percent vegan or vegetarian dishes. Other menu highlights from the restaurant include Miso Ōra King Salmon with seared haricot verts, lemon & dressed greens and Tahini Caesar Salad with little gems and kale with a mountain of grana padano and rustic croutons.
Desserts will be made by Pastry Chef Benjamin Copeland (formerly of The Gasparilla Inn & Club) and include Profiteroles with soft serve vanilla ice cream drizzled with chocolate and Carrot Cake with coconut, caramel nuts & whipped mascarpone.Kids menus are available upon request.
The wine menu features options by the glass and bottle with 50 bottles from small producers of organic, biodynamic and natural wines. There will be a focus on switching it up regularly. The cocktails are curated by Head Bartender Ronnie Wyche Jr. (formerly of Rooster & The Till, The Bricks and Mise en Place), the bar team makes in-house cold brewed tonic with lemongrass, lavender & a natural form of quinine and triple-filtered ginger beer brewed with fresh ginger, both served on tap.
A range of house drinks include the Parsley Pepper Margarita with fresh green juice, jalapeno & a lava salt rim, the Hotel National and the Strawberry Aperol Spritz, along with non-alcoholic beverages on tap. Beer fans can enjoy local crafts and imports on draught.
Willa’s Provisions, opening next month, will serve locally roasted King State Coffee, tea and adaptogens from HOUSE of WARIS Botanicals out of NYC, baked goods and breakfast tacos in the morning. Starting at lunch, guests can dine in or pick up soups, salads, sandwiches, soft-serve ice cream and Willa’s Rotisserie Chicken to-go, and aperitifs and digestifs will be served in the evenings.
Other offerings at Provisions will include Merrin and Nate’s curated selection of their favorite pantry staples, including olive oil, apple cider vinegar, honey, wine and more, plus items made in Willa’s kitchen like their signature rotisserie chicken spice rub, Chef Zak’s garlic confit, almond milk, fresh juices, granola, pastries and baked goods.
There will also be a rotating selection of Willa’s merchandise, from hats and sweatshirts to espresso cups. Twice James Beard Foundation nominees, Austin’s FÖDA Studio, leads interiors, identity and brand development. RDB Design serves as Architect of Record.
The design team carefully preserved the qualities of the aging structure while introducing new finishes to create a precise contrast. It included a focus on forms and materials native to a humid coastal setting, presented without kitsch. Willa’s seats guests in the bar and dining area, and on its pet-friendly outside patio. Free parking is available in the Willa’s parking lot, which can be accessed from West Fig Street. Find more information at willastampa.com or willasprovisions.com.
Chipotle Mexican Grill announced today that they are giving away $200,000 in free burritos and Bitcoin for National Burrito Day on April 1st. This makes Chipotle the first United States restaurant brand to offer a cryptocurrency giveaway to consumers.
“National Burrito Day is a huge moment for Chipotle as our fans traditionally flock to our restaurants and digital platforms to order their favorites,” said Chris Brandt, Chief Marketing Officer.
“We’re always looking for unique ways to enhance the celebration, and this year, we’re giving fans the opportunity to acquire two highly valuable assets: Burritos or Bitcoin.”
How to enter: Each player will have ten (10) tries to guess a valid six-digit code for a chance to win a free burrito or up to $25,000 in Bitcoin. If players are unsuccessful in their ten attempts and endure the same fate as Thomas, they may be surprised and delighted with a special offer from Chipotle.
The contest officially goes live on April 1 at 9:00AM PT and ends at 6:00AM PT that same day. Fans can play “Burritos or Bitcoin” by visiting burritosorbitcoin.com.
10,000 fans will win one (1) free burrito, 50 fans will win $500 in Bitcoin, and 3 fans will win $25,000 in Bitcoin. No purchase is necessary to participate, but participants must be 18 years or older. The giveaway is valid in all 50 U.S. states. Bitcoin prizes will be awarded based on the USD exchange rate as of the Cut Off Time. The actual exchange rate at the time of prize award may vary from the Cut Off Time; no difference in value will be paid to winners.
According to coindesk, “Bitcoin was the first cryptocurrency to successfully record transactions on a secure, decentralized blockchain-based network. Launched in early 2009 by its pseudonymous creator Satoshi Nakamoto, Bitcoin is the largest cryptocurrency measured by market capitalization and amount of data stored on its blockchain.”
Chipotle Mexican Grill had over 2,750 restaurants as of December 31, 2020, in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, France and Germany and is the only restaurant company of its size that owns and operates all its restaurants. It employs over 88,000 people. Steve Ells, founder, first opened Chipotle with a single restaurant in Denver, Colorado in 1993.
Chipotle locations in Tampa:
2011 North Dale Mabry Hwy, Tampa, FL 33607
533 South Howard Ave, Tampa, FL 33606
2576 East Fowler Ave, Tampa, FL 33612
309 North Westshore Blvd, Tampa, FL 33609
3696 West Gandy Blvd, Tampa, FL 33611
18019 Highwoods Preserve Pkwy, Tampa, FL 33647
2223 North West Shore Blvd Ste FC 204, Tampa, FL 33607
12827 N Dale Mabry Hwy, Tampa, FL 33618
5114 E Fowler Ave Ste 101, Temple Terrace, FL 33617
2021 is already looking better than 2020. Krispy Kreme announced today that they will be giving free donuts to everyone who shows their COVID-19 vaccine cards all year long, so make sure you keep it safe.
Guests who show a valid COVID-19 vaccination card at any Krispy Kreme shop in the U.S. can receive a free iconic Original Glazed® doughnut – anytime, any day, even every day – through the remainder of 2021.
“We all want to get COVID-19 behind us as fast as possible and we want to support everyone doing their part to make the country safe by getting vaccinated as soon as the vaccine is available to them,” said Dave Skena, Krispy Kreme Chief Marketing Officer.
Krispy Kreme says they will continue to support health care workers and volunteers who are helping administer vaccines, delivering free doughnuts to select vaccination centers throughout the country in the coming weeks.
In addition, employees at Krispy Kreme are being offered up to four hours of paid time off each to help encourage and enable their COVID-19 vaccinations, furthering the safety of team members and guests.
Krispy Kreme, headquartered in Winston-Salem, North Carolina and founded in 1937, joins a number of employers and businesses looking to support the vaccine effort around the country. Krispy Kreme Doughnut Corporation is a global retailer of premium-quality sweet treats, including its signature Original Glazed® doughnut. The chain gave out a total 30 million free donuts during the pandemic.
Krispy Kreme will encourage everyone to share joy and take care of each other by launching a promotion called “Be Sweet Weekends,” offering guests who purchase any dozen additional “Be Sweet Dozen” to safely share with a friend or neighbor for just $1.
The Original Glazed dozen with a special smiley-face doughnut will be available for nine consecutive Saturday‑Sundays, March 27th through May 23rd to spread cheer.
The chain also announced they will help Americans get their week off to a good start in these tough times with one free medium coffee and a free Original Glazed doughnut, with no purchase necessary, every Monday, March 29th through May 24th.
They opened a flagship store in New York City in the Fall of 2020 with an eye on growth. The 4,500‑square-foot location offers guests “an immersive and interactive doughnut experience” with the world’s largest “Hot Light”, a donut making theater, a glazed waterfall, 24 hour side-street pickup, and exclusive merchandise specific to New York City and Times Square.
If you’re starting to get hungry for a donut like I am, here are Krispy Kreme locations you can enjoy in Tampa Bay:
The impact of wine is truly massive in this country.
According to The Wine Institute, California wine has one of the biggest impacts on the U.S. economy employing 786,000 Americans and generating $114 billion in annual economic activity. The impact on Florida’s economy is nearly $6.8 billion with $2 billion in wages paid and $991.2 million in taxes generated.
Over 900,000,000 gallons of wine were produced in 2017 according to Wine America and the U.S. leads the world in wine consumption. U.S. wine exports reached and estimated $1.46 billion in value in 2018. Florida is ranked 4th in economic impact by the wine industry in the United States.
Tampa Bay has a history with wine thanks to a couple of wine growers in the region and the national attention to Bern’s Steak House. In the last decade more sophisticated wine bars have been appearing over town as Tampa grows into a bigger cities and St. Petersburg and surrounding areas follow.
The pandemic has led to a rise in not just local wineries but virtual tastings from wineries around the country and world as producers seek to capture a consumer base that is finding itself at home more often due to remote work. Some groups, such as PRP Wine in Tampa, have capitalized on this with both in-person events and tastings done virtually. Many of the best wine spots in Tampa are still in-person experiences although some have outdoor seating available.
Here are great places to grab a glass around Tampa Bay:
Bern’s Steak House: The king of wine in Tampa. Bern’s Steak House and their associated concepts including the Harry Waugh Dessert Room, Haven Tampa, and Epicurean Hotel are a celebration of wine. Bern’s is well-known for having one of the largest if not the largest wine selection on the planet. You can order almost anything provided you can afford it. Bern’s has world-class servers and is certainly a place to impress. 1208 South Howard Avenue, Tampa, FL 33606. (813) 251-2421. bernssteakhouse.com
Ybor City Wine Bar: A home for people who truly love wine. Ybor City Wine Bar is quaint and something you might expect to see more abroad as a small bar with limited seating outdoors, but there is no doubting the commitment to providing a variety of wines. Their wine classes have been offered for a few years now and people who really love wine have found a community here. Jayme Kosar, Certified Sommelier and Owner of Ybor City Wine Bar, has carefully handpicked a variety of over 200 reasonably priced boutique wines providing a wide selection in a variety of price points. These wines are available for purchase by the glass or by the bottle. Check out their sister location in Seminole Heights next to Mekenita Cantina. yborcitywinebar.com
Keel & Curley Winery: Just 10 to 15 minutes from Tampa, get off I-4 near Dinosaur World and visit this blueberry farm and winery for some very unique libations. Keel & Curley makes wine from blueberries and also has a number of other fruit wines including pear, strawberry, and key lime. They offer wine flights and sell their bottles in grocery stores around Florida. It’s about to be strawberry season so look out for limited-time promotions as well and U-Pick Blueberries. 5202 Thonotosassa Road, Plant City, FL 33565. (813) 752-9100. keelfarms.com
Michael’s Wine Cellar: Take a trip South to the Sarasota beaches and grab a glass of wine and a bottle to-go on the way at Michael’s. Michael’s Wine Cellar is connected to Michael’s On East, a great restaurant run by a pioneer in the independent food scene in Sarasota that features a 1940s supper club environment. Michael’s Wine Cellar has been in operation for 30+ years. They now offer curbside pickup and delivery for their local customers. You can shop online at michaelswinecellar.com. 1283 South Tamiami Trail, Sarasota, FL 34239. (941) 955-2675
BIN + BOARD wine / cheese / provisions: The Greater Brandon Area finally has a wine bar to call home on Bloomingdale Avenue. Guests report this to be a date-friendly experience with custom cheese boards and an excellent selection of wines from the same family as the popular Stein & Vine neighborhood restaurant and bar. An ever-expanding wine list is something to look forward to for locals and visitors alike. 807 West Bloomingdale Avenue, Brandon, FL 33511. (813) 438-5252. binandboard.com
Cru Cellars: This Palma Ceia has long been a staple in South Tampa and opened doors in 2010. The concept has now expanded into Armature Works over the last few years and become more mainstream, but that doesn’t mean the focus on wine has slipped at all. A location in WestShore Marina is also in the works. Co-Owners Jennifer and Torrey Bingham are both Certified Sommeliers through the Court of Master Sommeliers. 2506 South MacDill Avenue, Tampa, FL 33629. (813) 831-1117. crucellars.com
Annata Wine Bar: This wine spot on Beach Drive in Downtown St. Petersburg features outdoor seating right across from Straub Park and features excellent deals regularly rotating. Wines are served by the glass paired with global plates, cured meats & cheeses. The menu leans Italian. 300 Beach Drive NE #128, St. Petersburg, FL 33701. (727) 851-9582. annatawine.com
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published to News Break – follow me there.
Apparently Sa Ri One in Brandon has stopped offering AYCE Korean BBQ and is now charging per pound for meat according to a news tip. Please be advised.
Korean food has been in Tampa for quite some time, but only really became popular around town after the Hallyu korean cultural wave hit (thanks K-Pop and Korean dramas) and more people became interested in trying Korean food locally. Even with this there is still only a modest amount of restaurants compared to neighboring Orlando.
My advice for someone who has never had Korean food before is to start with sweeter dishes like Bulgogi and Galbi and then to work your way towards a more traditional dish like bibimbap which is an egg with assorted veggies and sometimes beef.
Once you’ve been introduced, I recommend trying the soups (don’t order a ton because they are huge) and then more traditional dishes, such as bossam (Korean pork lettuce wraps), budae jjigae (army stew), jajangmyeon (black bean noodles), and you really can’t go wrong with Korean fried chicken. The great thing is that Korean food is really diverse and almost none of these places make things the same so there is plenty to try.
Here is a list of 7 local Korean restaurants in Tampa that you can check out:
One Family Korean Restaurant: This has long been one of my go-to restaurants. There was a karaoke spot upstairs in the past and the downstairs is very quaint with only a few booths. Their menu is a little limited, but I have had solid experiences at One Family for years. It helps to have a Korean community close by and even Korean grocery stores around the corner. They have plenty of specials regularly and this place always makes me think of mom-and-pop with usually just one server on shift. I really miss coming to eat there. 7030 West Hillsborough Avenue, Tampa, FL 33634. (813) 901-0153.
Soul of Korea: As a USF student in this past, Soul of Korea was my go-to when the Korean cravings were hitting me. Located off 50th street just about 10 minutes from USF, Soul of Korea has changed ownership in the past few years but still has delicious eats. The most recent owner was a successful restaurateur in South Korea. I used to come by quite a bit for Korean fried chicken and the dinner for two which has gone up in price a little bit, but comes with a ton of food. I watched the owner make some kimbap one day and was impressed with how thorough the prep work was. 7612 North 56th Street, Tampa, FL 33617. (813) 989-9030.
Sa Ri One Tampa: I have long been a customer of this Korean spot off Cypress in what is quickly being reshaped into Midtown just between West Tampa and WestShore. Sa Ri One has all your Korean food essentials, but I usually just order a bulgogi or galbi dinner. Their soups are great as well. Overall a solid spot. You’ll spend about $15-20 for an entree. They don’t give a ton of banchan (side dishes) with the food, but it’s a good time. 3940 W Cypress St, Tampa, FL 33607. (813) 874-2911.
Sa Ri One Korean BBQ and Sushi: This is a Brandon spinoff concept of a location out on Hillsborough Avenue and they serve all-you-can-eat Korean BBQ and sushi as well as traditional Korean food. The AYCE is a little too pricey for me, but their Galbi Tang was killer. I want to try more things on the menu, but I simply haven’t made it over often enough to get a full feeling for this spot. This restaurant location has turned hands many times, so hopefully they will succeed here. 1025 W Brandon Blvd, Brandon, FL 33511. (813) 548-0024.
Sushi Ninja Tampa: Sushi Ninja has two locations, one in Tampa and one in Brandon. Both have plenty of options but I am partial to the Tampa location on Kennedy as I feel the menu is wider and filled with more Korean food options. One of my favorite things on the menu in Tampa is their Korean fried chicken. It’s excellent. Most things are very tasty though and you can find some hard-to-find Korean food here. 3018 West Kennedy Boulevard, Tampa, FL 33609. (813) 898-2874.
Chop Chop Shop: This isn’t traditional Korean food at all, but the owner fuses Japanese and Korean cuisine and it really works. Chop Chop Shop opened as a food truck and then eventually made their way into Seminole Heights and has been growing over the years. Their burgers and sandwiches are absolutely delicious and so are the side dishes. I recommend pretty much everything they make. You can’t go wrong here. 4603 North Florida Avenue, Tampa, FL 33603. (813) 770-7306.
Gangchu Chicken & Beer: This spot just opened in Seminole Heights from the same owner as Ichicoro Ramen and focuses specifically on Korean Fried Chicken with a number of sauces and methods available. It’s too soon to make a judgement on it just yet, but there is already a ton of buzz for this place suggesting that Korean food is in high-demand in Tampa. 6618 North Nebraska Avenue, Tampa, FL 33604. (813) 723-4264.
Photo Credit: Changupn, Bourree, Yuri9092 on Pixabay