NEWS: Inside the Box closing at Armature Works on June 23rd

Inside the Box cafe’s outpost at Armature Works Heights Public Market is permanently closing down this week. You have until Sunday, June 23rd to enjoy their food at Armature Works.

Metropolitan Ministries will shift the focus of the social enterprise concept to catering. Inside the Box was given a year and a half lease at no cost from Armature Works to raise money for programs at Metropolitan Ministries and has used the lease to raise money at one of Tampa’s busiest spots in town.

Inside the Box served fresh sandwiches and fresh deli meat to visitors at the food hall. Metropolitan Ministries says this lease was helpful to “gain many valuable lessons while providing a rich learning experience for our clients and culinary students”.

Fans of the concept can still enjoy their food in the future at the Tampa International Airport and Orlando International Airport as well as at the Times building. Catering will be available for businesses or events.

Inside the Box has a Culinary Arts Program that helps train culinary students and pull them out of poverty. Their culinary program is growing and expanding and will soon open a second training location in a partnership with the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field. Over 250 students have graduated in the first 6 years. All graduates are now employed.

Inside the Box as a social enterprise made $1 million revenue in 2017 and grew that to $2 million in 2018 with Armature Works and Dough Nation added to the enterprise. Metropolitan Ministries has plans to continue growing and helping others through their social enterprise in the future.

Find out more about Inside the Box at itbcafe.org.

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NEWS: M. Bird rooftop bar and lounge now open at Armature Works Tampa

The minds behind Armature Works, Ciro’s, Boca, and Ichicoro have joined forces to create M. Bird, a rooftop bar and lounge, on top of Armature Works Tampa, a historic building that has been recently restored and opened a mixed-use space in Tampa Heights.

The bar program features a tropically-driven craft-cocktail menu with VIP bottle service and a selection of rums and other sugarcane spirits. Some cocktails on the menu include Mai Tai ($13), Hemingway Daquiri ($10), Singani Sour ($11), and Daisy de Santiago ($13).

Small plates will be available for visitors including vaca fritas tostones ($16), citrus glazed branzino ($28), jerk chicken egg rolls ($15), and a bite-sized version of mofongo ($15).

Taryn Buck, co-owner of Armature Works, shares: “M.Bird’s origin comes from the Florida State Bird, the mockingbird, with live greenery and pops of color, guests will feel as if they are stepping into another city…it will be a completely different and unique experience.”

Decor-wise the bar and lounge with have a mod-dec design with unique seating options. The rooftop bar offers unobstructed views of the skyline in Tampa and waterfront views of the Hillsborough River. Guests must be 21+ to access M. Bird and reservations are required for parties of 6 or more.

Find out more about M. Bird at mbirdtampa.com.

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/

New Years Eve Gala 2019 at Armature Works

New Year's Eve Armature Works Tampa

Want to spend New Year’s Eve 2019 at one of the hottest new spots in town? Armature Works is throwing an all-inclusive New Year’s Eve Gala with Big City Events and tickets are now on-sale starting at $205 per person (excludes taxes and fees). Reserved table options are also available.

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

Tickets include a top shelf open bar (liquor, beer, wine, and champagne all night long), live music, DJ entertainment, and a selection of hor d’oeuvres. The event will run from 9PM on New Years’ Eve to 1AM.

Prices will increase until the day of the event although tickets are limited so it is recommended that you get your ticket early.

Armature Works New Year's Eve Gala 2019

Guests will enjoy fireworks waterfront at midnight from the outside lawn at Armature Works with the Downtown Tampa skyline in the backdrop.

For more information visit http://nyeaw.com

Tampa Bay Food Fight 2018 a smashing success

Metropolitan Ministries had their Tampa Bay Food Fight 2018 charity fundraiser tonight at Armature Works in Tampa Heights.

St. Pete edged out Tampa for the best food city with chefs claiming victory from The Mill, Parkshore Grill, Locale Market, Dr. BBQ, Red Mesa, Il Ritorno, The Birchwood, and The Peabody.

Metropolitan Ministries raised $250,000 at the event and is still aiming for $300,000 as their goal to help them in their mission to fight poverty, hunger, and homelessness.

The proceeds help their Culinary Arts Program that teaches valuable skills to those seeking to improve their lives and work in the food industry.

You can donate at 
http://secure.metromin.org/site/SPageNavigator/ITB_Culinary_Arts_Program.html


Here are highlights from the evening:

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#tbff2018 #behope #tampabayfoodfight @levy.restaurants

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Support Tampa Bay Food Fight October 16th at Armature Works

The Tampa Bay Food Fight is returning this October in the fight against poverty and hunger. Chefs from Tampa and St. Petersburg will put out their best food in the name of charity. Which city do you think will will win? The fundraiser will occur on Tuesday, October 16th, 2018 from 6:30PM-9:30PM in Tampa Heights at Armature Works (1910 North Ola Avenue).
 

The competition will be hosted by WWE Superstar Titus O’Neil and Radio Personality Mike Calta. Tickets are $125 and are now on-sale. Buy your ticket at tampabayfoodfight.org Participating Tampa restaurants include:
  • Elevage
  • CENA
  • Steelbach
  • Oystercatchers
  • Armani’s
  • Hemingway
  • Ava
  • Oxford Exchange
  • Bern’s Steak House
  • Inside the Box
  • Dough Nation
  • Cru Cellar
  • Graze 1910
  • World of Beer
  • Zukku Sushi
  • Ciccio Cali
  • Ocean Prime
  • Mise en Place
  • The Rez Grill
  • Rooster & The Till
  • Forbici
  • Haven
  • Chismis
Participating St. Pete restaurants include:
  • The Mill
  • Parkshore Grill
  • The Avenue
  • Noble Crust
  • Better Byrd
  • Hawker’s
  • The Birchwood
  • Big Storm Brewery
  • Mini Doughnut Factory
  • Il Ritorno
  • The Peabody
  • Locale
  • Dr. BBQ
  • Red Mesa
  • Ichicoro
The line-up is truly exceptional. The event is organized by Metropolitan Ministries and benefits Metropolitan Ministries and Inside the Box which are working to fight homelessness, poverty, and hunger.

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

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.

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

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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.

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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.

Surf & Turf Truck serving great seafood at Armature Works

Surf & Turf Truck and I go back a few years. We met during a food truck rally blitz in Seminole Heights and Ybor City. Always friendly at the register and humble about their food and vision.

I met the owner of Empamamas, Stephanie Swanz, at Surf & Turf Truck when she was working their front window while her food truck was being finished up. She perfectly matched their chill and friendly attitude – something not to be missed in a business where most of your business is done at an ordering station.

Surf & Turf always came ready to serve and would knock out order after order at each event they were at. The truck remained creative with themed events, while also serving seafood staples on the regular.

Now they have landed at the new Armature Works building as a vendor in the Heights Public Market. This lucky break came through their network of business contacts. I am sure the owners of Armature are pleased with what they found at Surf & Turf. As a vendor they are a great contrast from the other options at the market.

Lobster Roll

Genuinely good seafood in Tampa is harder to find than one would think. Way too many places stick to just grouper and tilapia and charge too much. There are only a few places that you can enjoy seafood in a casual setting. Surf & Turf took risks on lobster rolls before it was hip in Tampa. During my chat with the owner, Adam, I took a look at some other menu items including the Blue Crab Roll and Salmon Burger.

Blue Crab Roll at Surf & Turf

The Blue Crab Roll is at a much friendlier price point than the Lobster Roll at $12 and still packs tons of flavor. I have to say that for a small amount of time restaurants in Tampa were throwing Old Bay seasoning on everything and doing it incorrectly (much to my disappointment), however the Old Bay Mayo in this blue crab roll is superb. The bread is perfectly done as well. Is there anything better than a delicious sandwich? I think not. A scrumptious side of brussel sprouts completes the order.

Salmon Burger sample

*sample size

Surf & Turf’s Salmon Burger also did not disappoint and left me licking my fingers in joy. Quite buyer friendly at $8 – this burger is both filling and delicious inside and on the healthier side. I would order this Salmon Burger any day of the week and it was indeed sold out that day after customers gravitated to it.

Surf & Turf is on The Daily Meal’s Top 101 Food Trucks for 2016 at #42 and it deserves more recognition in Tampa. It is great to see gourmet food trucks on the move in our city. You can now visit Surf & Turf daily at Armature Works for the time being and I highly recommend heading over and giving them a try.

Empamamas now open at Armature Works

Local food truck Empamamas has joined the vendor list at Armature Works for the Heights Public Market today. Several empanadas have appeared on the soft opening menu and it will expand with some time.

This is a huge deal for local food trucks and shows their gourmet power, especially after Surf & Turf is already doing great inside Armature Works. Today I had the signature dish, Tampa Girl Empamama, which is pretty much like a Cuban sandwich inside an empanada.

Here’s hoping to see more from them soon!