Restaurant News: Sparkman Wharf now open

FeaturedImage via Strategic Property Partners

Sparkman Wharf is now open in the latest Water Street Tampa completion.  I had the pleasure of going to a blogger preview this Tuesday of the new food destination. 

After visiting I can say it is more of an outdoor food hall with multiple vendors selling different kinds of food and drinks. 

Speaking of Edison’s Swigamajig they were by far my favorite booth at Sparkman Wharf. They brought their culinary chops to the menu and still made food you can eat easily. Their grouper sandwich was phenomenal and there is an obvious approach to not cut corners despite being outside in a box restaurant.

My second favorite booth was Boat Run Oyster Company which was serving an excellent clam and oyster chowder during my visit. I’m from San Francisco and finding a good clam chowder can be a chore in Tampa, thankfully this place delivered with a hearty chowder that still had plenty of ingredients to munch including a generous portion of oysters.

The gelato at Whatever Pops was excellent and a nice snack, but don’t miss out on their grilled cheese sandwiches. I had one last year at Curtis Hixon Park and it was one of the best grilled cheese sandwiches I’ve had in the Tampa Bay area.

Craft beer fans should check out Fermented Reality Biergarten whose co-owner, Joel Bigham, has a rich history with craft beer in Tampa and plenty of know-how to bring in some of the best craft beer options to Sparkman Wharf. Downtown Tampa is lacking breweries and I hope this will be a sign for them to look around Water Street and setup shop.

Foundation Coffee is serving up coffee however I did not try it during my visit. I’m sure it is no different from the one up the road in Tampa Heights.

BT To Go had a couple of Vietnamese options up for sale, we decided to try the banh mi which was tasty but will run you back $12 which is a little too pricey for that dish that is easily $3-$6 at most sit-down restaurants. One of my favorite things about BT is her culinary prowess and I hope maybe the dishes at BT will get a little more creative and experimental versus playing save dishes like Vietnamese Summer Rolls that you can find almost anywhere now.

Gallito was serving up tacos and we decided to do a pork belly taco, but were not impressed with the flavors. The pork belly lacked flavor and was overpowered by the pineapple in the taco. Hopefully that won’t be the case with the other tacos on the menu.

Also – The outdoor nature of Sparkman Wharf just doesn’t justify an expensive menu price system unless the food is top-tier to complement.

Speaking of Sparkman Wharf being outdoors, there is limited shading and seating around the venue. I can definitely see that being a problem when it starts raining every single day in the summer for months, but it should be enjoyable as we enjoy these short winters and cold fronts for now.

Parking is also an issue with the lot across the street still under construction and expensive and the nearby lot charging $20 to park during Lightning games and events at Amalie Arena (which are frequent). Hopefully they will add a system to validate your parking ticket like other restaurants have inside Sparkman Wharf to help offset this for people who just want to stop by to eat.

It wouldn’t be bad idea to add some valet parking as well as Tampa once had when Channelside was in this spot.

When I asked about it during my visit I was told parking isn’t the responsibility of Sparkman Wharf which was a little unsettling.

One thing I was surprised about was the lack of liquor around the main stands except for the excellent Edison’s Swigamajig. You can grab a cocktail inside Splitsville which just re-did their menu or hit up craft cocktails at Edison’s Swigamajig.

Overall, Sparkman Wharf has potential – it does bring new food options to town from many people that we already know in town and provides a way to enjoy the outdoors when the weather allows it. Most of the food I tried was delicious and you should make it a point to try it when you have a chance.

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Restaurant News: Sparkman Wharf opening November 30th in Downtown Tampa

Image via Strategic Property Partners

The highly anticipated Sparkman Wharf is opening on Friday, November 30th, 2018 where Channelside once stood.

This is part of the Water Street Tampa project that aims to rebuild and rethink Downtown Tampa, adding much needed green space and a focus on Tampa’s waterfront views.

Several restaurateurs have signed on to the project including Ichicoro owner Noel Cruz, Chef BT Nguyen of Restaurant BT, Chef Ferrell Alvarez of Rooster & the Till, and more.

One might even think of it as an outdoor food hall complete with an upcoming outdoor beer garden called Fermented Reality Beer Garden.

News: Petit Piquant now closed. New concept in the works.

Scoop: Petit Piquant located near North Hyde Park is now permanently closed. The French-inspired bakery served a wide range of pastries, sandwiches, and coffee. I was personally a big fan of their Kouign-Amann pastries.

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Coming soon, Tampa! 🌮🌮🌮

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Rumor Mill: The owners Ricardo Castro and Rosana Rivera are pursuing a new business venture called Xilo Mexican Steet Food. The concept was first used a pop-up at The Hall on Franklin in Tampa Heights.

More details as I get them!

Check out Xilo Street Mexican on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/xilostreetmexican/

Check out Xilo Street Mexican on Instagram: http://www.instagram.com/xilostreetmexican/

 

Shula Burger now open in SoHo District

Full disclosure: I was invited to Shula Burger to try their food for my opinion and to do a story about their opening which I wanted to publish. The opinions mentioned are my own based on my visit and do not represent Shula Burger.

Shula Burger is now open in the SoHo District in South Tampa at 500 South Howard Avenue, Tampa, FL 33606. The Fort Lauderdale-based gourmet burger concept is part of the same family as Shula’s Steak House and similar Shula brands. Named after Don Shula, an NFL legend and Hall of Fame Coach who won back to back Superbowls in 1972 and 1973 with the Miami Dolphins.

Shula Burger

Shula’s Signature Burger is made from premium black angus beef, short rib, and brisket. The burgers are fresh and never frozen. Bread buns comes from Tom Cat Bakery, one of the original artisan bread bakeries in New York City. Tampa Owner and Operator, Zydrunas “Z” Rackauskas, seeks to bring something different to the South Tampa area that provides quality food and customer service to a busy and active area.

Another important factor for Z is turnaround time. New technology allows Shula to provide burgers made in less than 5 minutes to customers making it a good option if you’re in rush for lunch.

Those looking for something besides a burger can check out the Goodseed Organic Veggie Burger and Marinated Chicken Sandwich as alternatives.

I found the “Perfect Burger” to be more filling than I originally anticipated. It has a clean taste and pretty solid flavoring. This burger features two patties with Shula’s Special Sauce, cheese, pickles, tomato, and lettuce on a bun. The onion rings were flavorful and I think they were the kind of big onion rings I’d want to dip in some mayo in the future. The strawberry milkshake was a guilty pleasure. I still need to try the french fries in the future and other menu items.

Some toppings I am interested in checking out include their Korean barbeque sauce, Sriracha mayo, fried jalapenos, and tomato-bacon marmalade.

The new location is planning a Grand Opening on March 7th with the South Tampa Chamber of Commerce. Don Shula will be in attendance. The new location hopes to have beer and wine for sale in the next two months. Customers can enjoy nearly daily discounts leading into the opening day.

First-Responders and Military-personnel can enjoy 15% off with uniform or ID.

Shula Burger is open from 11AM to 11PM from Sunday to Wednesday and 11AM to 4AM from Thursday to Saturday making it an option for those hitting the bars and nightlife in South Tampa.

Restaurant Name: Shula Burger

Neighborhood: South Tampa

Cuisine: Burgers, American

Cost: $

Address: 500 South Howard Avenue, Tampa, FL 33606

Phone Number: (813) 867-8230

Website: http://www.shulaburger.com

Menu: http://www.shulaburger.com/menu/

Rocco’s Tacos Grand Opening Sunday, February 11th

Rocco’s Tacos & Tequila Bar will have its Grand Opening on Sunday, February 11th, 2018 at International Plaza & Bay Street starting at 7PM. Guests will be joined by Co-Owner, Rocco Mangel and Big Time Restaurant Group.

Guests can enjoy Rocco’s signature chips, guacamole and salsa complimentary, as well as live entertainment and a cash bar during the event.

When party goers hear the buzzword “Tequila!” echo through the restaurant, Rocco will take his spot on top of the bar with a bottle of tequila in hand, ready to pour complimentary shots for guests.

Rocco Mangel is the restaurateur behind Rocco’s Tacos & Tequila Bar and has 7 restaurants in Florida and 1 in Brooklyn, New York. He is a New York native who began his start as as a busboy for Big City Tavern, another venture of Big Time Restaurant Group.

His first location in Florida was in West Palm Beach with co-ownership from Big Time Restaurant Group back in 2008. The brand plans another expansion to Hollywood/Fort Lauderdale International Airport this year. Additionally, you can find his “Rocco’s Spice” in the spice aisle of all Publix Super Markets.

Guests should regularly expect upbeat music, a spirited happy hour, Taco & Tequila Tuesday, and Bottomless Brunch on the weekend at Rocco’s Tacos & Tequila Bar.

Over 300 varieties of tequila will be on the menu and can be enjoyed alone or mixed in their signature margaritas.

Dinner service in Tampa begins Monday, February 12th and lunch service will begin on Monday, February 19th.

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!

Ocean Prime unveils new terrace, dining room

This is a sponsored post for Ocean Prime. I was invited to visit the restaurant for a dinner tasting to experience the new terrace and dining room and to check out additions to the menu and share my opinions with my readers. Opinions are my own and do not necessarily reflect those of Ocean Prime.

Ocean Prime recently finished a re-design to their terrace and dining room.

I visited the restaurant on Monday to experience and see it for myself. It is quite beautiful and features outdoor seating that can sit up to 80 guests with lakefront views. New high-top tables have also been added by the outside bar. The design is modern. Private dining is available in the terrace. The interior added improved woodwork and new seating, light fixtures, and fresh paint.

Dining at Ocean Prime has been a pleasure since they first opened and this visit was also enjoyable. Our waiter Brian Atwood was excellent and very helpful when going over the wine menu.

He recommended a Beringer Knights Valley Cabernet Sauvignon from 2014 which seems to be an exceptional year for California wines. The wine was excellent with our meal. It’s always helpful to have a waiter that understand good wine.

We started our meal with the Prime Roll ($18) which features Tempura Shrimp, Cream Cheese, Scallions, and Beef Carpaccio. Ocean Prime is a restaurant you wouldn’t expect great sushi at, but it truly delivers on sushi just like it delivers on steak and seafood. I voted for Ocean Prime in the 2015 Sushi Battle as a Judge and would gladly vote for them again after enjoying this roll.

I will normally shy away from cream cheese in my sushi rolls, I feel like it detracts from the main ingredient – but they perfectly matched the flavors here. The prices of the sushi rolls are not much more expensive than you’re mid-tier restaurants, but with much better quality.

The Teriyaki Salmon ($37) at Ocean Prime is also excellent. Ocean Prime is a seafood restaurant, but even their Polynesian influences beat out some of the best known Polynesian restaurants in the business, even in the higher-end restaurant space. Attention to seafood quality and sauce are the key here. I recommend this dish for a lighter dinner.

Would it really be a tasting at a steak and seafood restaurant without a steak? This special is the 30-day dry aged ribeye steak (MKT) and it had incredible marbling and was packed with fatty pockets from the dry aging process. The black truffle with it was quite an addition. Truffle always has a strong flavor so you might want to keep it to the side.

The Jalapeno Au Gratin ($12) is a perfect side. Utterly cheesy on top with plenty of potato inside. Initially you might think you can order another side, but I guarantee this dish is quite filling.

The food and drinks at Ocean Prime perfectly match the restaurant and the new upgrades to the terrace and interior only complete a great experience. Ocean Prime can fit both a personal and business atmosphere and I am consistently impressed with their dedication to quality.

I’ll be back soon.

Ocean Prime Tampa serves lunch Monday through Friday from 11:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. and from noon to 4 p.m. on Saturdays. Dinner is served from 4-10 p.m. Monday through Thursday, and from 4 to 11 p.m. on Friday and Saturday. On Sundays, dinner hours are from 5 to 9 p.m. 

The lounge is open daily, and happy hour is offered Mondays through Fridays from 4-7 p.m. and Saturdays from noon – 4 p.m. For more information, visit the website or call 813-490-5288.

To host your next gathering at Ocean Prime Tampa, contact event sales manager Jo Truett at PrivateDiningTampa@cameronmitchell.com or call 813-490-5288.

Bento Cafe opening in Downtown St. Petersburg

Popular Asian eatery, Bento Cafe, is planning to open their first Tampa Bay location in Downtown St. Petersburg in the Spring of 2018. According to St. Pete Rising the location will feature 80 seats along with outdoor sidewalk tables.

It makes sense considering how much Downtown St. Petersburg has grown over the years, but it is definitely a little disappointing to all the USF – Tampa students that have waited years for a location after frequenting locations at the University of Florida, University of Central Florida, and even University of North Florida. Apparently Bento is also looking for 2 locations in Tampa.

Bento Cafe has been hinting at a Tampa Bay location for over 2 years on Facebook and seems to be expanding rapidly across the state over the next year or so. Hopefully in the future Bento will look at the USF area as a potential future investment area.

Bento is known for their fast-casual Asian environment with inspirations from Japanese, Thai, Korean, and other Asian cuisines. 

Their sushi rolls are quite popular and their sashimi rice bowls are a personal favorite as well as their Spicy Cream Chicken. In addition, Bento also sells bubble tea and other popular Asian drinks.

Visit Bento online at http://www.bentocafesushi.com/

S Bar Speakeasy and Sushi Bar now open (Brandon)

Full disclosure: I was invited to S Bar for their preview night about a week ago where they served complimentary hor d’oeuvres to the public to preview their restaurant. I visited again today on my own for some sushi for lunch and decided to write a post about their grand opening. Opinions stated are my own.

Brandon has a new concept called S Bar open that fuses 1920s speakeasy cocktails and southern bistro food with a sushi bar. The restaurant opened to the public last Sunday June 11th, 2017.

The location was formerly known as The Rack in the past and the entire restaurant has been re-done to have a more intimate and upscale ambiance. Many of the staff members and management also are related to The Rack and you’ll find some of your favorite sushi rolls from that time on the menu at S Bar.

Sushi rolls range from about $4 to $16 and include the popular Volcano Roll and The Rack rolls from the previous tenant of the establishment. During the days of The Rack, I was personally in love with the Volcano Roll and many places simply could not compare. Specials are being developed and will roll out in the future – most information for that will be posted to their Facebook page.

The southern bistro menu includes grits, fried green tomatoes, corn bread, and more in development. The menu will be fully available in the near future.

S Bar seems to be targeting a more upscale crowd then its predecessor and it would be a great place to grab some drinks locally in Brandon or to go out on a date night or a night out with friends for young professionals or professionals in general.

The Executive Chef for S Bar, Gia Tran, has previously worked at Ocean Prime and won the Sushi Battle last year in 2016 and also ran the Urban Sushi Burrito food stand that could be found at most Big City Events festivals such as the Margarita Festival and Rum Festival.

If you’re in Brandon driving down State Road 60 off I-75, stop by and give it a look.  The restaurant is open late daily and apparently brunch is in the works.

S Bar - now open

Restaurant name: S Bar

Cuisine: Sushi, Southern

Neighborhood: Brandon

Address: 1025 W. Brandon Blvd., Brandon, FL 33511

Phone Number: (813) 575-7227

Website: http://www.thesbar.com/

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/theSbar/

Instagram: http://www.instagram.com/S__bar/

Wyndham Grand Clearwater Beach’s Ocean Hai Supports Local Charities

The next time you dine at Wyndham Grand Clearwater Beach‘s Ocean Hai restaurant, sit at table #31 to support Pinellas County local charities.

The program “You Dine, We Donate” will select a new local charity every month to feature and donates all net proceeds from food and non-alcoholic beverage purchases at the assigned table to a cause. Here is the upcoming list:

  • April: Autism Awareness Month – Tampa Bay Chapter
  • May: Troop Rewards
  • June: Pinellas County Lifeguards
  • July: Clearwater Marine Aquarium
  • August: Pinellas County Schools
  • September: Eckerd Kids
  • October: Hooked on Hope
  • November: Clearwater for Youth
  • December: Arts for Life

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Not a bad view for lunch!

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Ocean Hai is the signature restaurant at Wyndham Grand Clearwater Beach serving Asian-fusion cuisine with inspirations from Asian countries such as Japan, Thailand, and China.

Chef de Cuisine John Capponi previously worked at Tampa’s On Swann in Hyde Park Village as Executive Chef and as Executive Sous Chef at Skytop Lounge in Pennsylvania.

The Wyndham Grand Clearwater Beach is located at 100 Coronado Drive and is ocean-front. Clearwater Beach was recently named #4 on the 2017 “Top 10 Traveler’s Choice Beaches in the United States” by TripAdvisor.

Visit Ocean Hai online to book a reservation at http://www.wyndhamgrandclearwater.com/dining/ocean-hai