Tampa Food Truck Rally #1 – Tampa’s First Food Truck Roundup

Over the summer I visited Miami and had the pleasure of the attending the Biscayne Triangle Truck Roundup. Over 30 trucks meet by FIU in Miami and for someone who loves food it is simply paradise. The trucks range from Asian cuisine to grilled cheese sandwiches. I am happy to announce that the same food scene is now making its way to Tampa. TBO Food Writer Jeff Houck wrote a great piece on Tampa’s food truck scene back in July and here we are a few months later preparing for a real food truck rally.

The 1st Tampa Food Truck Rally will occur on September 24th, 2011 at the Hyde Park Presbyterian Church from 11am to 3PM. The event is co-sponsored by Tasting Tampa and 352 Media Group. There will be live music, home-baked desserts, free child care and it is even located in the shade. Some of the vendors include Wicked ‘Wiches’, 3 Ballers Traveling Bistro, and Michelle Faedo serving Deviled Crab & Cubans. A second rally is currently be planned for October as well.

Event location: Hyde Park Presbyterian Church 1309 W. Swann Avenue Tampa, FL 33609

Event time: 11AM-3PM

Event website: http://www.facebook.com/TampaFoodTruckRally and http://www.tastingtampa.com

Parking is available in the Hyde Park Village parking garage across the street.

Spread the word and tell your friends about this important part of Tampa food history🙂

The Columbia Cafe

My family and I dined at The Columbia Cafe tonight. It is located next to the Tampa Bay History Center. The outdoor patio doesn’t seem to be part of the restaurant at first glance. A branch of the famous Columbia chain, this cafe offers are more simplified menu and a beautiful waterfront view of Tampa Bay. Channelside is just a few minutes away from Columbia Cafe so we walked over from Channelside in just under 10 minutes. I honestly don’t think the restaurants in Channelside are appetizing so I think with some promotion it wouldn’t be difficult for The Columbia Cafe to steal the thunder for Channelside restaurants. Harbour Island restaurants are far superior to anything at Channelside.

Like many restaurants in this area, live music is available on Friday and Saturday nights (6-9PM here…an earlier show than some other places in the area, such as That’s Amore). Tonight there were two Spanish performers, a man running the instrumentals and a woman singing several covers of popular Spanish music, such as Olga Tanon and Celia Cruz. Her voice was pleasant, but more of a backdrop to make the mood then a show.

The waiter was quick to come and get our drink orders. He took a couple of minutes to bring us our drinks and then took our orders. We put our orders in. I decided to try their Chicken Salteado ($9.95). The food came out quickly and was on our table in less than 20 minutes. The waiter seemed pre-occupied for a portion of our meal, and just when I was starting to think that the waiter should come and check on our drinks he appeared and refilled my drink (almost like he read my mind or something). The restaurant was moderately busy, but there was still plenty of empty tables for Friday night. I don’t think many people are aware that Columbia Cafe is located here.

The warm Cuban bread at The Columbia is one of the reasons people love it so much and The Columbia Cafe does not disappoint. I negotiated with my little cousin and was able to have both my bread and hers, it’s just that good.

The menu reads the Chicken Salteado is “inspired by the Chinese who lived in Cuba in the 19th century, a very hot iron skillet with extra virgin olive oil is used to sauté boneless pieces of chicken, onions, green peppers, fresh garlic, mushrooms, diced potatoes and chorizo, splashed with a hearty red wine. Served with yellow rice”. The dish was still warm when it arrived on my table. The chicken was a little rough, but flavorful. The potatoes were great as were the vegetables. I was surprised that I actually did not like the chorizo on my plate (since I’m a fan of chorizo), perhaps it was just the way it was cooked. The yellow rice was moist, but a little plain. It might have been a little better with a side of black beans. I added some sour cream to give it a little more flavor. Overall, the dish was average but I probably would not order it again because it was just average. My Step-Dad had the 1905 salad which looked amazing. Maybe I will have that in the future.

One particular problem I identified during our visit was the portion of their children’s menu. My sister ordered my nephew chicken tenders and chips. They only gave him 3 pieces of chicken strips. We asked the waiter about the order and he confirmed that this is the standard…I honestly don’t know how they can even call this a meal. It was a good thing my six-year-old nephew was not hungry because it would have then taken two children’s menu items to fill him. My seven-year-old cousin had their macaroni and cheese, which was a more appropriate portion for a child.

Overall, The Columbia Cafe is a nice spot in Downtown Tampa. The view outside is fantastic at night (and I’m sure it is also great on a beautiful sunny Florida day). The menu leaves a little to be desired, but has the classic Columbia choices. There is a full bar and live music on Friday and Saturday nights. If this restaurant was open a little later and promoted better it could be a popular spot for the night scene in the area and easily dominate the area with its signature Spanish dishes.

Columbia Cafe on Urbanspoon

Restaurant Name: The Columbia Cafe

Cuisine: Spanish

Address: 801 Old Water Street #1905 Tampa, Florida 33602

Phone Number: (813) 229-5511

Neighborhood: Downtown Tampa

Website: http://www.columbiarestaurant.com/cafe.asp

That’s Amore

Tonight my parents took me out to That’s Amore, an Italian restaurant on Harbour Island where a singer they used to follow at the Jazz club “The Fox” was spotted by a friend singing. Being the food critic guy that I am, I started researching the place before I got there and found many negative reviews around Urbanspoon and Yelp. We cautiously headed to the restaurant unsure of what to think about it.

When we got there we were greeted with a pretty spectacular view of Downtown Tampa and complimentary valet parking. Upon entering we heard the piano and found a few seats by the door. The place was pretty busy, but the entertainment had yet to really start. We ordered some drinks and we noticed that the waitress was swamped, her ability to keep up with our table and many others was quite impressive. I think the restaurant should probably look into getting her some help during these busy nights, she seems to be managing…but a little too slow and you could get one of those angry writers. After taking a look at the menu my parents ordered a Veggie Pizza and some wings.

My Step-Dad was pleased with his wings and we discovered that one of my family’s favorite bartenders was also working in this place. The pizza arrived and looked quite unique. I had a slice so I could add it to my pizza tour. The sauce was made from marinara and not from your regular pizza sauce, it gave it a fresh and powerful taste. The toppings were all on thin crust and it almost tasted like something you could whip up in the oven, but much better. All the toppings were pretty good and the pizza actually had a slight kick of spice to it as well, which my family loved, and although I am not much of fan of spicy food fan, I still liked it.

After the pizza I decided to give some of their dessert a shot. I ordered a Tiramisu ($8.95). It was decent, although a little too much liquor for my liking. It stayed true to the taste, but I think I prefer the Olive Garden when it comes to this dessert.

If I was just going to review this place based on food and service, I would probably say that it is a mediocre experience and that it has a nice view (like many others have said). However, once the main Jazz singer for the night Cleo Heart (visit her website) hit the stage it was clear that all these critics had missed something. Vibrant and full of energy, she brought the crowd to the place and really brought that restaurant to life along with her on key pianist. She brought the experience from okay, to I’ll be back for sure. Extremely friendly to any stranger in the crowd, she was witty and her songs all had pizzazz. To be able to kick back to her singing while having a meal or some drinks, now that is worth coming here. She performs Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturday nights so I would recommend visiting during these times.

A restaurant that advertises itself as a “romantic Italian restaurant” has made the right move to have her sing there. The view of downtown waterfront, some interesting food, a bar, and live music combined makes this place a pretty cool spot to be at in Tampa.

That's Amore on Urbanspoon

Restaurant Name: That’s Amore

Address: 700 Harbour Post Dr. Tampa, FL 33602

Phone Number: (813) 221-9889

Website: http://www.thatsamorerestaurant.com/