Chicago Paulie’s serves the best hot dog in Tampa

Several people have told me to try Chicago Paulie’s for the last few years. I made a mental note, but did not stop by until today. The restaurant stand is located in a gas station parking lot with a humble table and umbrella nearby in the corner of North Hyde Park (NoHo). This isn’t fancy eats, but an excellent culinary destination that most people will drive right past as they jump on Interstate 275 on Howard Avenue. Don’t be that person.

Chicago Hot Dog from Chicago Paulie's in Tampa

I ordered a Chicago hot dog and some fries. The hot dog was cooked to perfection. The toppings superb. No ketchup (of course), but a healthy amount of mustard. It was hot out. Summer is already starting to take over Florida and I really cannot think of a better thing to enjoy in the summer than a hot dog and maybe some beer. Fries were a nice add-on.

Chicago Paulie’s may be one of Tampa’s best kept secrets although people who love food know about it and they have won Best of the Bay from CL in the past. I thought about Taco Bus and California Tacos before Guy Fieri. Tampa has some good eats if you’re willing to go off the beaten path and many of them are undiscovered and hardly talked about. Chicago Paulie’s is one of those places that would immediately jump to the Food Network just for great eats.

My last visit to Portillo’s by USF was truly disappointing with a sad hot dog, mediocre toppings, a bad bun, and stale fries that would probably upset Mr. Portillo himself, but Chicago Paulie’s…now that is a good hot dog. Simple. I inhaled my food.

 

Chicago Paulie's storefront

The prices aren’t overly cheap or expensive, but just right. Chicago Paulie’s holds a 5-star rating on Yelp with 129 reviews in an era where people will 1-star you just for not having the right kind of ketchup or signage. Most of the customers seem to be natives from Chicago who know their food, and Mr. Paulie himself is a transplant from Chicago.

Chicago Paulie’s is open from Monday to Friday from 11AM-6PM and Saturday from 11AM-2PM. Closed Sundays. I have heard they do sometimes close so you may want to call ahead if possible.  I highly recommend Chicago Paulie’s. It is the best hot dog I have enjoyed in Tampa.

Restaurant Name: Chicago Paulie’s

Cuisine: American

Neighborhood: North Hyde Park

Address: 1301 N. Howard Ave., Tampa, FL 33607

Cost: $

Phone Number: (813) 494-4275

Website: http://www.chicagopaulies.com/

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WEPA! Cocina de Puerto Rico St. Pete is a trip down memory lane

Full disclosure: I was invited to WEPA! Cocina de Puerto Rico to try their food and received 50% off my bill in exchange for feedback about my experience. Opinions below are my own and do not represent WEPA! Cocina de Puerto Rico or any affiliates.

I visited WEPA! Cocina de Puerto Rico recently for dinner. It is owned by Jean Totti of St. Pete Foodies, a former architect who is of Puerto Rican descent. The recipes from the restaurant are his family recipes that have been handed-down generations, I was interested in seeing how this would compare to my experiences growing up in a Puerto Rican household.

Appetizer sampler at WEPA St. Pete

We started off the meal with appetizers: tostones, yucca fries, and alcapurrias (on-special). You can get 2 appetizers for $12 or 3 appetizers for $15. This makes this a fair sharing platter, but not really something that makes sense if you are dining alone or in a small party.

A few tostones are given for approximately $5 or $6 (if you do the math) which is a high price-point for a typical side dish that is generously plated in most Spanish restaurants. The actual flavor of tostones was great, it was probably the closest I have enjoyed to my Mom’s home-cooking which is difficult to match.

Good tostones require a very thin crispiness that comes from being twice-fried, unripe green plantains, and just the right amount of salting. WEPA made them well and I give them credit for that, I do think more should come for the price-point. I wouldn’t mind paying $4 or $5 and getting a full tray of tostones instead.

As for the alcapurrias, excellent flavor – these were so good! Alcapurrias are normally made with green plantains and taro root. I think this should probably be a regular side dish on the menu. The portion for this was also quite small, I have been to plenty of restaurants where you can get a huge portion of alcapurrias for just a few dollars.

Yucca fries at WEPA Cocina de Puerto Rico St. Pete

The favorite of the appetizers was the yucca fries. Yucca fries are so good, hearty, crispy, and delicious. More restaurants should put this on their menus. I was drawn back to the days of Mobile Munchiez food truck, a Spanish and Italian food truck, which used yucca in most of their dishes.

Yucca is such a great and underutilized starch. I would actually consider ordering these on my own just as a general side dish. The mayo-ketchup and dipping sauce were both excellent, you’d be surprised how many restaurants fail at that.

One thing that made me happy was the availability of Malta India at WEPA. I love Malta and it has surprisingly become harder to find in some restaurants after Hurricane Maria drove the price up on it. Malta completely disappeared from some grocery store shelves after the tragedy. It is certainly an acquired taste, but one that belongs with Puerto Rican food.

Dinner dishes at WEPA Cocina de Puerto Rico St. Pete

For the main courses we ordered Chicharrones de Pollo ($14) and Pernil Asado ($14). Both these dishes are popular dishes in Puerto Rico and most people who are Puerto Rican have grown up with them.

Chicharrones de Pollo at WEPA St. Pete

The Chicharrones de Pollo ($14) is certainly a shining star on this menu. The flavors brought familiarity to my Grandma’s cooking growing up. She loved frying food despite my mother’s misgivings about the healthiness of it all and there is nothing like a perfectly fried piece of chicken (especially living in the south). Despite the perfect crispiness and taste, I found myself wishing there was more meat on the actual pieces used. It can be a little difficult depending on shipments to get this right, but the flavor was certainly there.

The sides to the dish were the disappointing part. WEPA was out of arroz on gandules, a staple of Puerto Rican food and the white rice they subbed it with did not compare at all in flavor or match the food well. The pinto beans were way too salty, which was a big contrast to the rest of the food on the menu that seemed undersalted. I would recommend adding some table salt and pepper to the tables so guests can adjust accordingly. Beans are such an important staple to Latin cuisine that I hope the beans will improve in the future.

Pernil Asado at WEPA St. Pete

Next was the Pernil Asado ($14), a dish I know all too well. The pernil was on the drier side, although there were some good seasonings on top and a sauce underneath. The key with pernil is to allow the meat to soak in the juices you can want to flavor it in and use a good amount of sofrito in it to push up the flavor. The pernil was certainly better than some other restaurants and cafeterias I have eaten it at around the bay, but still not quite worth ordering again. The rice and beans were the same as the Chicharrones de Pollo so it seems that the chef is intentionally making their beans salty.

Flan de Vanilla at WEPA Cocine de Puerto Rico St. Pete

Finally, for dessert I chose the Vanilla Flan ($6). This flan was actually quite incredible and perfectly made, better than I have had at most restaurants in Tampa. It was just the right amount of sweetness and texture was perfect.

Everyone likes to brag about their flan and desserts, but most places are just “okay”, not the case at WEPA! I wouldn’t mind taking my Mom there to try the dessert, I feel like she might be impressed. The dessert was a nice ending to the meal, and although I tend to shy away from desserts nowadays, I would order this again.

Service was satisfactory, the server regularly stopped by for refills and checked on guests in the dining room. The dining room is small so in the interest of driving up sales, I would consider adding some more high-end steaks or more appetizers that are both easy to execute for the kitchen and can be sold at a fair price-point.

The restaurant closed quite early at 9PM on Wednesday Night and a party arrived 3 minutes before closing and was still seated, which is great from a customer service point-of-view, but certainly not something any server or cooks likes in this business and that matters when talking retention.

I think there is tremendous potential for a restaurant like WEPA! to serve up excellent Puerto Rican food and the flavors were all relatable to my childhood and family experiences. There is so much people still don’t know about Puerto Rican food and culture. Some things I would think about featuring in the future are pasteles, pastelón, coquito (literally WEPA!), bacalaitos, I could go on…the important thing in restaurants though is for people to feel like they get a value for their food so that customers become regulars and positive word of mouth spreads and I hope they consider this in all their pricing and portioning.

My impression was that WEPA is still figuring things out which is okay for a new restaurant. They seem to be taking customer feedback and applying it and I think they can have a very bright future as a leader of this food in Tampa Bay.

I recommend giving WEPA! Cocina de Puerto Rico a try. Like so many of us, it isn’t perfect, but it’s out there working hard to provide quality cuisine to the masses and I respect and support that.

WEPA is located next door to 3 Daughters Brewing in St. Petersburg, which is great for hungry craft beer fans. I hope they will join forces and plan some dinners together – I would like to see more beer pairing dinners with Puerto Rican food as the star. There is so much potential. We’ll have to see what happens right?

Restaurant name: WEPA! Cocina de Puerto Rico

Cuisine: Puerto Rican

Cost: $$

Address: 2149 3rd Ave S Unit #6, St Petersburg, FL 33712

Phone Number: (727) 420-7832

Website: http://www.wepastpete.com/

Review: WTR Pool & Grill Tampa

Hello!! My name is Natalie Kass and I’m a fellow travel blogger based in Tampa (see: Journey to the East). Last week, Carlos invited me to experience WTR Grill’s new dinner menu debut. I made it just in time to snag some beautiful photos with the setting sun, and dinner began shortly thereafter.

As a Florida native, I’m very familiar with beach hotels/restaurants. In fact, I’ve visited this location twice before and never knew about WTR Grill because the space was totally unrecognizable. Beachside venues are made to be transformable so they can accommodate diverse events — from weddings, to concerts, to formal events — which is why I never noticed the restaurant side of it!

The general aesthetic of beachside venues are always “beach themed,” meaning, light blues, soft lighting, and beach artifacts as decor. Usually, you can only get what I call “beach food” which might include burgers, fries, and chicken tenders — strictly casual dining items. However, WTR Grill’s new dinner menu offers more sophisticated dining options like NY Strip and Steamed Snapper!

In my opinion, the aesthetic of WTR Grill does not accurately reflect the upscale dining experience they’re trying to sell. For example, there was a large, empty space in the middle of the restaurant and ship rope hanging from the ceilings.

If they want their space to be cohesive with their menu, I would suggest keeping it traditional and elegant: fill the empty space with tables lined with nice tablecloths (rather than keeping the tables bare), and remove the ship rope and perhaps replace with a lattice design.

The actual dinner was served in 3 courses with 3 dishes each. Here is my review of all the menu items:

First course:

  • Chef’s Soup of the Day — Cajun style soup with sausage and okra

This soup is perfect for cold weather. Chef Joe Garcia explained that it was one of his sous chef’s homemade recipes that had been in her family for generations — you can definitely taste the love! The Cajun broth itself is loaded with spices and anchors the rest of the ingredients. If Florida gets hit with another cold front — I’m going back for seconds.

  • Apple Panzanella Salad

I was most skeptical about this dish because I don’t usually like fruit mingling with my veggies, but this salad actually turned out to be one of my favorites of the night! The sweet apples and tangy dressing were perfectly balanced — I ended up having 2-3 portions!

  • Kale Caesar Salad

While I wasn’t a huge fan of the kale itself (it had a lot of dressing on it), I really liked the baked cheese and multigrain bread that came along with it. The baked cheese was similar to a soft, cheese cracker and the multigrain bread was freshly baked, but I would order these 2 items as an appetizer without the kale.

Second Course:

  • Crispy Brussel Sprouts

Whenever I roast brussel sprouts at home, they have this distinct “roasted” taste, so I was expecting that when I tried this dish. However, these brussel sprouts maintained their fresh, green color. Not only that, but the bacon accompanying it was high quality and delicious!

Out of all 3 appetizers, if I were trying to get my greens in for the night, I would choose the Apple Panzanella Salad.

  • Caribbean Shrimp Lettuce Wrap

I was really looking forward to this dish as I anticipated a “mango-chili-salsa” experience….but it just wasn’t. The lettuce made the wrap taste bitter, so I decided to ditch the lettuce and just eat the shrimp and glaze. Still, there could have been more flavor — whether in a sweeter mango or a spicier glaze.

  • Smoked Salmon Dip

I, personally, am not a huge fan of Salmon or Lox sandwiches, which is what this dip reminded me of. I took one bite and decided it was not for me. For those who do like it, though, the dip was creamy and had lots of Salmon slices in it.

Third Course:

  • Pepper Crusted NY Strip Steak

When I used to work at a steakhouse, the chef taught me “If a steak is cooked right, you don’t have to put sauce on it!” Since then, I’ve never used A-1 sauce or any other kinds of sauces. Additionally, I usually order filets or sirloins, so I was excited to try a different cut. To my surprise, the strip came paired with a mushroom gravy which I decided to try “just for fun” — I am so glad I did because the gravy completes the steak! By itself, the steak was just okay (again, I prefer a filet or sirloin), but with the gravy? Amazing!!!! I would order the NY Strip again as long as it comes with the gravy.

  • Steamed Florida Snapper

Oddly enough, as a Floridian, I’m not a huge seafood fan. But when Chef Garcia explained that the Snapper was steamed with just a little bit of white wine and minimal spices, I decided I would try the fish. I was surprised by how much I liked this dish because I didn’t taste anything overly fishy at all! In fact, it tasted really clean. Additionally, the jasmine rice underneath was a nice touch because it soaked up all the flavor. As a non-seafood lover, I have been proven wrong and would definitely come back to order this.

  • Seafood Pasta (scallops / shrimp)

Usually when I eat a red-sauce pasta, I can taste the acidity from the tomato which is why I usually go for a creamy alfredo sauce. This seafood pasta, however, even though it was made with a red sauce, actually tasted sweet! I don’t know how they did it, all I know is that I went back for seconds! This dish is not overly fishy and it was my favorite dish of the night — I’ll be back soon to order it again.

Dessert:

  • Waffle Cone with Brownie & Ice Cream

The homemade waffle cone was crisp and not stale at all. I think the brownie inside was mixed with cookie dough because it wasn’t just a chocolate – it was chocolate, cookie, ice cream, and whipped cream all in one. I ate mine and my partner’s!

Overall, I enjoyed dining with a nice view of the Tampa Bay. I would most likely come back to WTR Grill after a day at the beach so I could enjoy something more sophisticated and creative than regular old “beach food!”

Restaurant Name: WTR Grill

Cuisine: American, Seafood

Neighborhood: Rocky Point

Address: 7700 W. Courtney Campbell Causeway, Tampa, FL 33607

Phone Number: (813) 281-0566

Menu: http://wtrpool.com/pool-grill-menu/

Prost Kitchen is Tampa’s best new restaurant

After a few visits to Prost, I am happy to say that Prost Kitchen + Bar is Tampa’s best new restaurant.

The owners of Prost have shown a true dedication to quality food and drinks. Out of all the restaurants in Tampa, Prost is showing strong promise and dedication to providing a great experience for customers.

The story behind Prost is an interesting one that starts with a college bar called The Study. The owner there and his roommates decided that they would open a restaurant with some of the money he made on that venture. After heading to Germany for research, they found a great cook and made plans to open Prost Kitchen on Bearss Avenue.

It isn’t the most sophisticated neighborhood in town, being located smack dab between New Tampa and USF’s University Area. Don’t let that stop you though, there is plenty of parking in their parking lot and ample seats both inside and outside Prost.

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Image Credit: @prosttampa

The menu is obviously inspired by Germany, but also features modern American cuisine and the burgers are a MUST. I had the Maple-Bourbon Burger on my first visit and was blown away by the quality and attention to detail that Prost uses. It features bourbon bacon jam, cheddar cheese, a fried egg, and hash-brown served on a pretzel bun.

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So this past weekend I decided to visit @prosttampa for a bite to eat. I kept seeing friends check-in there and I couldn’t tell if it was hype or the real deal. This restaurant was great. Truly quality food and service. Everything from the pretzel bun to the quality of the beef and the egg inside were all perfect in this Maple-Bourbon Burger ($12). The tavern chips were excellent. Shoutout to Bourbon Bacon Jam! This might be my new favorite restaurant in Tampa and the price wasn’t ridiculously high either – I actually am wishing I lived by USF again just so could come here more…well sorta haha. #carloseats #tampa #burgers #foodies #tampabayfoodies #tbeatsout #hiddentampa #choosetampa #igerstampa #usf #university #newrestaurants #food #tampaflorida

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Let me start by saying the burger was cooked exactly as requested. The fried egg was cooked to perfection – no burnt edges. All the toppings enhanced the burger instead of distracting from it.

The meat quality in the burger was above your typical burger joint. Eggs on burgers are always messy, but this was a good messy and the incredible pretzel bun did not suffer at all from the ingredients moving around inside of it.

Oh and the tavern chips and beer cheese served with it? Completely delicious. The cost? Only $12. Oh so worth it.

It was during this visit that I met the bar manager who comes up with their cocktails and drink menu. He has put lots of thought and emphasis into their bar selection. It is far above your typical college bar list and they offer a cocktail flight every month that is centered around a certain country. During this visit they were doing Britain so there was a butter beer cocktail on the list made with vodka.

Their craft beer list is quite solid as well and they made sure to source some German beer. It isn’t quite the caliber of Mr. Dunderbak’s, but maybe there is an opportunity there for a collaboration?

One thing I’ll say is Prost still has lots of room to grow with the growing beer and bartender community we have in Tampa.

My next visit was for Taco Tuesday where Prost offers deals on tacos and 2-4-1 Margaritas. The tacos were far from traditional, but were still delicious, savory, and packed with ingredients.

Prost offers deals most days of the week obviously understanding their college student base. This is a good thing for everyone though – Tampa isn’t the highest paying city in the world and a good deal is always a great way to try something.

$8 bottomless mimosas on the weekends and a brunch menu also are not a bad thing. I still need to make a visit for that.

On my most recent visit I tried the Jager Schnitzel. You can’t really review a German business without trying their actual German food. The schnitzel was excellent. There was no dryness to it and the mushrooms and gravy topping were great.

The price was still fair compared to other German spots in town.

The attention to quality has been clear on ever one of my visits to Prost. I am happy to say that it is the best new restaurant in Tampa. If you haven’t been to visit yet, you should be making plans soon.

Restaurant name: Prost Kitchen + Bar

Neighborhood: USF, New Tampa

Address: 2802 E. Bearss Ave., Tampa, FL 33613

Phone Number: (813) 466-5249

Website: http://www.prostkitchen.com

Inay’s Kitchen serves delicious Filipino Cuisine in West Orlando

Filipino food is one of my all-time favorite cuisines. The mixture of Asian and Spanish cuisine speaks to me. Unfortunately, Filipino food is not too popular in Florida and has experienced much difficulty catching on in Tampa Bay. I saw Inay’s Kitchen opened in Orlando and bookmarked it a few weeks ago.

I finally made it over today. The restaurant is a mom-and-pop dive that clearly is family-run. They have a small cafeteria-like setup in the back. You can order 2 meats and a side for $10.99, but I opted for 1 meat and a side for $6.99 (Filipino food is filling). An order of Shanghai Lumpia was added on for $2. I can’t pass that up. My friend also ordered the pancit noodles.

The server brought out our food fresh and warm and we dug in. The lechon kawali (crispy fried pork belly) was perfectly crispy on the skin and was incredibly juicy. It beat out any other business I have eaten at in Tampa Bay or Orlando so far. We enjoyed it with some Mang Tomas sauce which is similar to a gravy sauce and available upon request.

The shanghai lumpia was perfectly rolled and delicious. The pancit was flavorful and not dry at all. This restaurant was a really simple setup and nothing complex was going on inside, but everything was done well and the price was right. I would return in the future for more food and recommend it to people who love Filipino food.

There was ample seating inside and from talking to the owners it seems the weekends are their busiest time. They add more menu items on the weekend such as Dinuguan and Kare-Kare.

Check out Inay’s Kitchen – you won’t be disappointed with their food.

Restaurant Name: Inay’s Kitchen

Cuisine: Filipino

Neighborhood: West Orlando

Address: 1097 S. Clarke Rd., Ocoee, FL 34761

Phone Number: (407) 601-2126

Menu: http://places.singleplatform.com/inays-kitchen-0/menu?ref=google

Review: Coppertail Brewing S & V Kitchen a great place to eat and drink

Full disclosure: I was invited to Coppertail Brewing for a complimentary menu tasting in exchange for my opinion of their menu. Opinions are my own and do not reflect Coppertail Brewing.

Coppertail Brewing located in Ybor City has been serving food from the Stein & Vine Kitchen (known as S & V Kitchen for some time now). I visited recently to give the menu a taste. What I found was plenty of great food that paired well with their beer. How about that?

The meal started off with the potstickers. Potstickers are one of the things that you’ll find on plenty of menus but are often ruined. Sometimes they are soggy or fried too much. These were perfect – and it went perfect with an assortment of beers ranging from sours to lighter beers. The dish is seasonal and rotates on and off the menu, but to me it was good enough to be a regular item.

Then came the Drunken Shrimp made with Coppertail Unholy Trippel. I was a little skeptical of this dish when I first saw it, but oh my god this was the best sauce ever. I wanted to put it on everything. This is simply the best menu item they have and I will definitely be ordering this one in the future. They could sell this sauce…it’s that good. Yum.

From this beer flight there was some German inspiration and some sours mixed in. The BOMP! was by far the winner and I just had to have a glass of that with my food. Coppertail always has an interesting mixture of beers on the menu, but that BOMP is something special.

HECK YES.

Back to the food.

Stein and Vine has always had an arrangement of spicy burgers. This one packs the heat and I’d recommend tuning down the sauce if you’re heat sensitive. However those who love the heat will love this Sriracha Bomb. Burgers and beer makes perfect sense especially with summer coming – I’m hoping to see some more burger ideas on the menu for that!

Then there was the Schnitzel Sandwich. My favorite of the two entrees I tried. Schnitzel and German beer is just perfect. The price was fair and the portion was great. I was dipping my tator tots in that drunken shrimp sauce because ITS DELICIOUS. I am a fan of this sandwich and I hope it eventually would make its way to the standard menu. German food and beer just makes me happy.

Overall, the options at S & V Kitchen are excellent for Coppertail Brewing. There is definitely some culinary genius going on here and I think the more they incorporate the beer in the process the better! I’m a fan and can’t wait to go back soon for more.

Restaurant Name: S & V Kitchen at Coppertail Brewing

Neighborhood: Ybor City

Address: 2601 East 2nd Ave, Tampa, FL 33605

Phone Number: (813) 247-1500

Website: http://coppertailbrewing.com/the-food-1/

Ichicoro ANE in Downtown St. Pete impresses

I crossed the bridge last weekend for the Distant World’s Final Fantasy concert at The Mahaffey Theater and needed a bite to eat after. Geniabeme raved about Ichicoro ANE when I last saw her at Keel & Curley for U-Pick Strawberries the day before so I had to check it out for myself.

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Ichicoro ANE is located downstairs from Station House in Downtown St. Petersburg. The inside is beautifully done and has plenty of seating both in the bar and in the restaurant which is a huge difference between this location and the original in Seminole Heights.

I can best describe it as an Izakaya or Japanese pub. The best way to think of most of the menu items is similar to the concept of Spanish tapas. Ramen is also on the menu but there are a number of Japanese appetizers and dishes that we decided to try during our visit.

The dim lighting and ambiance is masterful and takes the best parts of the original location’s foundation.

You’ll find wooden decor throughout and an open kitchen that is unlike most restaurants in Tampa Bay. The music sets the mood for a perfect and intimate night out with friends or for a chill date. I was in love with the atmosphere.

The food was also a winner. The meal began with a gyu bao bun. Spicy and flavorful with a gochujang mustard inside. The price was the standard for Japanese and Asian bistros in Tampa Bay these days ($7). I appreciated the complexity of this dish compared to average pork belly bao.

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After that I decided I needed something a little filling since I skipped lunch and went for the Tonkatsu ($10). This dish was cooked practically to perfect. There was a slight chew in the middle, but it was minor enough that is didn’t cause the dish to falter. The ends were perfectly crispy. They used bulldog sauce which I also use at home (the only proper way to serve this dish as approved by Japanese cooking tv shows and documentaries). It was beautifully presented and the cabbage underneath was a nice bit of greens.

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The Smokey Yucca Korroke was also enjoyable a nice starch to be enjoyed during the visit. Many of the dishes on the menu are traditional Japanese pub food and there are also some hard to find items such as Okonomiyaki which I certainly want to try in the future.

Our waitress was chill and friendly and I am happy with all the seating choices at Ichicoro ANE. She didn’t rush us to make decisions and also was quick to put in orders. It’s completely different from the rushed environment at the Seminole Heights location and I like it much more for that. I dine more for experience than because of necessity or because I’m in a rush. I like to savor every moment.

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For drinks it was hard to make a decision and I finally went with The Chocobo Lure (in honor of Final Fantasy). Imagine my surprise when the drink was inside a ramune glass which shook me with excitement. The drink features umeshu, yuzu cordial, Cappelletti, Aperol, Velvet Falernum, Agnostura and plum bitters. I normally don’t like plum wine but this one was enjoyable.

In the future I would like to certainly try more of the Japanese whiskey selections. The matrix charts for spirts seem to be the rage lately in restaurants.

I didn’t even dent the fish or meat menu and I hear the wagyu is delicious, but I’ll have to do that another day. Ichicoro ANE leaves plenty of things to try and an incredible environment to enjoy it in.

I’m impressed and I’ll be back soon and I recommend you also make a trip if you find yourself in St. Petersburg.

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P.S. Make sure to check the photobooth in the entrance. It’s pretty neat!

Restaurant Name: Ichicoro ANE

Cuisine: Japanese, Asian

Neighborhood: Downtown St. Petersburg

Address: 260 1st Avenue South, St. Petersburg, FL 33701

Phone Number: (727) 300-0281

Website: http://www.ichicoroane.com/

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

Sunday Brunch at O Cocina (South Tampa)

Full disclosure: I was invited to try the brunch menu at O Cocina for a complimentary tasting in exchange for my opinion. These opinions are my own and do not represent O Cocina.

I am normally skeptical of the phrase “Modern or Contemporary Mexican”. It usually means expensive food that pretty much ditches all the things that make Mexican cuisine what it is minus some tortillas or guacamole. I’m happy to report that my experience at O Cocina was the furthest thing from that and truly represented a thorough understanding of Mexican cuisine in a gourmet twist.

I specifically came to try the brunch menu on my visit. What I found is that O Cocina maintains the freshness of Mexican cuisine and doesn’t ditch but embraces the spices or flavors that make it so great as it tries to reinvent it to a more elegant audience than your taqueria or dive food truck.

The meal began with an order of Huevos Rancheros ($11). To me the standard will always be represented by dishes such as this one. It sounds like an easy dish, but there is so many complications to it such as the ranchero sauce used, quality of the sides, tortilla, and of course the egg. O Cocina includes chorizo in their brunch dish and masterfully complements it with their version of beans that maintained true to Mexican staples.

The ranchero sauce has a fresh tomato taste as you can see. Nothing spicy here (not a problem for me). The fresh avocados were a plus – but for an even greater experience, I recommend adding sour cream to this dish as a side. The tortilla could be a little crispier for my liking, but I still enjoyed it nevertheless. The egg was also cooked just right (commonly ruined at many restaurants trying to adopt this dish).

I added Carne Asada ($7 extra) to my dish simply because I knew I wouldn’t be able to order both and stay hungry to finish.

The thing I found to be great was the seasoning of their Carne Asada, many chefs when creating their Mexican steak on the menu ditch the traditional seasonings that are honestly perfect to begin with and I was happy to find that O Cocina seasons their Carne Asada perfectly.

You can order a bowl of Carne Asada for around $11 which is a great price for brunch considering how much brunch seems to cost at some restaurants these days.

One interesting dish I also tried was the Churro Waffles ($5 for a side). Clearly playing to a trend happening in the restaurant sphere with churros literally being used for anything, this dish masterfully played both the flavor a waffle and a churro into an excellent breakfast item. I was impressed and would order it again. It was clear the creator of the menu wanted to do more than provide a sugary adventure and this dish was successful at this fusion dish.

For libations, I tried the mimosa which is standard and met my expectations (they are available bottomless by the way).

Although, the real winner to me was the cocktail I tried called Jose Gaspar (pictured above). This cocktail has milk, rum, bourbon, Madagascar vanilla bean, Mexican cinnamon, and nutmeg, It is a powerful and tasty concoction that reminded me of Rumchata but was a thousand times superior.

During my visit I decided to sit at the bar and watched the bartender at O Cocina carefully making cocktails from scratch. They all looked good and I can’t wait to try more in the future.

Speaking of the bar at O Cocina, it is one of the most beautiful bars I have seen in town. It brings up thoughts of Alice in Wonderland or Secret Garden. It is truly underrated how few bars in Tampa actually have a good ambiance so this was a welcome addition to me at O Cocina.

The chips and salsa were also great as was the guacamole, but at $10 for a fresh spread of guac – you’ll want to make sure you’re sharing with someone if you choose to order it (the portion was quite generous). I found it went well inside my Huevos Rancheros and with the steak.

I recommend visiting O Cocina if you haven’t had a chance to stop by yet. The operators will also be opening a second location soon at the new Armature Works food hall in Tampa Heights called Cocina Taqueria so look out for that soon.

Restaurant Name: O Cocina

Cuisine: Mexican, American

Neighborhood: South Tampa

Cost: $$

Address: 4110 Henderson Boulevard, Tampa, FL 33629

Phone Number: (813) 289-0649

Website: http://www.ococina.com/modern-mexican

Menu: http://www.ococina.com/modern-mexican#menus-1-section

Beef O’ Brady’s launches new menu items and deals

Full disclosure: I was invited to Beef O’ Brady’s to taste their new menu and check out the new deals they have available in exchange for my opinion. Opinions are my own and do not represent Beef O’ Brady’s.

I recently visited the original Beef O’ Brady’s location (founded in 1985) in Brandon to check out their new menu and deals. I have lived in Brandon since 2005 and was not aware that the restaurant chain originated in my own backyard or of their location on Kings and Oakfield. The founder, Jim Mellody, who passed in 2002, continues to have this location run by family heirs.

The original location is exactly what you would expect from a classic sports bar and is a reminder of the dominance this concept carried in the late 90s and early 2000s era with wood decor and dim lighting. The entrance is reminiscent of a time long gone for Americans as fast-casual chains have taken a bite out of the restaurant industry and the 2008 Financial Crisis ate many of the prominent American chains.

This was especially true in Brandon which suffered greatly when the housing market collapsed as a suburban neighborhood. Times have changed though and Brandon is growing faster than ever with new apartment complexes and home communities appearing year-round.

Many of the additions to the menu at Beef O’ Brady’s are following current food trends such as healthier menu items at arguably affordable prices. The prices are much cheaper than similar American concepts such as Applebee’s, Chili’s, and the like.

Boom Boom Shrimp

I first tried their Boom Boom Shrimp which looks pretty much like Bang Bang Shrimp from Bonefish Grill. This appetizer has appeared on menus in numerous restaurants in the last few years as Bonefish has sought to push it into the limelight. The dish doesn’t match the flavor or taste of the obvious dish it resembles but isn’t half bad either.  I wouldn’t mind sharing this with a few people as an appetizer occasionally.

Chicken Fajitas

One of the better deals I saw that is new to the menu is Fajitas on Thursdays for $9.99. Some chains have driven the price of these menu items up to $15-$20 that historically was always a draw for more budget-conscious, middle-class families. Beef O’ Brady’s gives a nod back to that trend with this and the quality is arguably the same or better when compared to those other chains. The regular price of this dish is also great at around $12.

The wings on the menu have also managed to weather a hike in chicken wing prices that have hindered profits at other sports pubs such as Buffalo Wild Wings. Beef O’ Brady’s continues to offer specials for wings on Wednesday and the traditional wings are meaty. I tried the Nashville Hot Dry Rub flavor which is far superior to the spicier rubs at Buffalo Wild Wings that hardly stick to the meat.

Another dish I was tried was the Five Cheese Cheeseburger. It resembles a Frisco Melt and is quite filling.  The topping is a mozzarella stick. As a fan of burgers in general, I found the burger was good, but missing a sauce to help with all the meat and bread happening. During my days at USF I was frequently grabbing a burger from Beef O Brady’s in between classes and they have always been above-average for the price-point and concept. Curly fries are always great  as well, though this time I went traditional (still good).

From the healthy options or “lighter side”, I tried a chicken salad with quinoa. I was a little surprised to see this on the menu but see it as a nod to the changing habits of Americans and probably an attempt to lead to a compromise in couples and families trying to find a place that caters to different food habits and tastes. The grilled chicken tastes good and the prices are around $10 which again is not too bad for a healthier dish.

Overall, these new menu items suggest Beef O’ Brady’s is making a serious effort to diversify the menu and add more options than traditional pub fare and that makes sense considering the price of wings these days and the way the average diners tastes have diversified.

These options and prices could mostly stand up by themselves (especially the fajitas) for the restaurant sphere they are in. I recommend it to people wanting traditional American food on a budget.

Poke’ Cafe’ in Dunedin could use some changes

This past weekend I visited Poke’ Cafe’ in Dunedin with a family member for a bite to eat. I hadn’t enjoyed a sushi burrito since I visited I’a Poke in San Francisco. Indeed, I have grown accustomed to avoiding poke or sushi burritos in Tampa because of the sheer lack of effort people seem to put into the product.

Poke’ Cafe’ definitely gave me the impression that it is trying to be a stand up poke restaurant, but overall it wasn’t to my taste. It bills itself as a “fast food concept to ensure super fast service and the lowest price possible”. Poke is sold by the pound. Prices range from $7.50 for 1 scoop to $13.50 for 3 scoops.

pokecafe2

They offer a ton of options for fish and the menu seems to tilt toward Korean-inspired flavors and dishes. I wanted to try the sushi burrito which they call a “poke burrito” so I went ahead and ordered it.

It comes with two scoops of “poke, rice or noodles, kale, avocado, kimchi, scallions, crunchies, togarachi, choice of sauces and non-premium toppings. With a side of pineapple-mango salsa.

Available toppings include scallions, togarachi, wasabi Peas, masago, sesame seeds, wasabi, roasted peanuts, jalapenos, crunchies, crispy garlic & onions, house pickled ginger, cucumber salad, roasted pineapple-mango salsa, shaved coconut, radishes, tomatoes, seaweed salad, edamame, avocado, house-made kimchi, and roasted shittake mushrooms. Some toppings cost extra.

I took the sushi burrito or “poke burrito” ($10.50) as is. It is a little strange because they use a tortilla and then put the seaweed inside and wrap the sushi burrito twice.

pokecafe1

The tortilla was cold and didn’t really have any flavor to it. Being Hispanic I will judge the tortilla more harsh than an average American probably would. I understand the tortilla from a control point of view (sushi burritos are messy), but adding an extra layer between the fish takes away from the flavor and didn’t end up helping my experience.

pokecafe4

The fish was good, but I found the toppings included in the burrito to be both detracting in flavor and also lacking in appeal. The rice didn’t really leave anything worth writing home about.

The kimchi was by far the biggest detractor and heavily overpowered everything else in the burrito – it also was not to my liking in flavor and was neither spicy nor flavorful. Their spicy mayo uses gochujang which is Korean spicy paste and it also underwhelmed and left a strange aftertaste.

Overall, I don’t think Korean ingredients taste particularly good with fish (unless we’re talking octopus) and would be better with meat items such as beef or chicken. The eel sauce didn’t really taste great either, which was kinda surprising because normally eel sauce is a major plus on sushi dishes.

The pineapple-mango salsa was also a bust.

The restaurant outside says “It’s better than sushi”, but I think some elements of sushi would be particularly good with these dishes and should be incorporated better.

My overall impression was that they have a good idea and the fish was good, but they could fine-tune the toppings and sauces. I would also ditch the tortilla in the burrito and recommend building your own bowl or burrito.

The staff was really friendly, seemed like a family-run business, and overall I had a decent lunch. Service was definitely a plus. I still am not sure if I would visit again though.

Restaurant Name: Poke’ Cafe’
Neighborhood: Dunedin
Cuisine: Poke, Sushi Burrito
Address: 1140 Main Street Dunedin, Florida 34698
Phone Number: (727) 871-7653