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.

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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.

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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.

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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
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I’a Poke serves delicious eats (San Francisco)

Poke (poh-keh) has taken America by storm over the last few years. Poke by definition is a raw-fish salad.

The Food of Paradise: Exploring Hawaii’s Culinary Heritage states that poke first became popular in the 1970s in Hawaii. The trend spread to the U.S.A. in 2012 and at some point began appearing everywhere. Many places just started chopping up fish and selling “poke” to increase sales with no real focus on the history.

Much like “Kobe beef”, “poke” has become a strong sales buzzword without much meaning at many restaurants. Some restaurants actually stay true to the origins of the dish though and use attention to how the fish is prepared and served. Once you taste real poke, the knock-offs just aren’t good enough.

The sushi burrito seems to have come about in 2011 when Sushiritto was founded in San Francisco by Peter Yen. Sushi burritos are essentially a closed sushi handroll packed with tons of rice and ingredients. I tried Sushiritto last December in San Francisco and found the dishes to be rather dry and not quite what I expected and was quite disappointing.

I ended up at I’a Poke by accident this past July when I was looking for a sushi restaurant for lunch and found that most restaurants in SF close at 2PM. After trekking on the BART to the Castro to try Eiji, I ended up going to I’a Poke instead and was glad I did!

The restaurant takes Hawaiian-inspired poke and combines it to offer both sushi burritos and poke bowls. Large bowls and Burritos are allowed to have unlimited toppings, which rocks.

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I’a Poke allows you to build your own poke bowls or sushi burritos and also sells pre-arranged meals as well. The freedom to choose toppings was expansive and a great deal. I wasn’t ready for how delicious the food was going to taste.

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I’a Poke opened my taste buds to how amazing poke and sushi burritos can taste. There wasn’t any topping that did not pack full flavors. The fish was insanely good. I had a salmon burrito with spicy mayo, surimi crab meat, tamago (Japanese egg), sun dried tomato guacamole, masago, furikake, and it was incredible!

It absolutely blew Sushiritto away.

Never have I tasted better ingredients for a sushi burrito and the serving portion was fair.

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In addition, the attendants who made the sushi burrito were incredibly hospitable and the overall place brought me very good vibes.

Cheers to all the poke lovers 🍻

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Watching the people around me eat their poke bowls stuffed with ingredients, it was clear I need to return one day for a bowl. Still, the sushi burrito itself impressed me enough to also recommend the poke bowl (the ingredients are the same after all).

I would recommend I’a Poke to anyone in San Francisco looking for an amazing sushi burrito or poke bowl. Here’s hoping that I quickly am able to return to San Francisco and enjoy I’a Poke again.

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Restaurant name: I’a Poke

Neighborhood: Castro

Cuisine: Poke, Sushi Burrito

Address: 314 Church Street San Francisco, California

Menu: http://www.iapoke.com/menu

Website: http://www.iapoke.com/

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

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

Burger Culture South Tampa now open

Full disclosure: Burger Culture and I cross-promote on events and I have consulted for Burger Culture. Last year’s popular Grilled Cheese Festival was coined by Burger Culture. Any opinions stated are my own and do not reflect Burger Culture specifically.

Burger Culture is finally open in South Tampa after much planning in preparation for a second location. The new location is in North Hyde Park at 2304 West Gray Street.

The full menu is available and their current hours are 11AM-9PM although that is subject to change in the future. Delivery is still available through UberEATS, extending Burger Culture’s delivery range.

The interior has a warehouse vibe with lots of art painted on the walls by local graffiti artist, Justin Bass. I was honestly really impressed with all the artwork both inside the building and the mural made last week during Burger Culture’s Launch Party. I just got back to town from San Francisco and truly believe that art and culture is what Tampa needs if it is going to become a bigger city.

You can reach Burger Culture at (813) 992-7444.

This Sunday, July 23rd – Burger Culture will host a Grilled Cheese Sunday Brunch and I’ll be there from 12PM-3PM. The event will showcase gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches, brunch sides, and complimentary champagne (while supplies last). Come out and check out the new location.

RSVP: http://www.facebook.com/events/1303073126456560/

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.

Beautiful bar area inside @s__bar #vipnight #taste #foodies #sushi #tampafl #tampabay #CarlosEats

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Scooby Snacks @s__bar #CarlosEats #sushibar #tampabay #tampa #tampafl #sushi #foodies #taste #vipnight

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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.

Yellowtail Nigiri @s__bar #CarlosEats #tampafl #tampabay #foodies #brandonflorida #brandonfl #sushi #nigiri

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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/

CL Meet The Chefs 2017 coming June 15th

Creative Loafing is bringing back Meet The Chefs on Thursday, June 15th, 2017 from 6PM-9PM. The event will showcase many of the best chefs in Tampa Bay and take place at The Vault at 611 N. Franklin Street in Downtown Tampa.

The event will kickoff CL’s Tampa Bay Restaurant Week 2017.

Each of the chefs will be sampling a soup, appetizer, main course, or dessert to make up a small plates meal featuring wine pairings handpicked by the chefs. The event will be a cocktail-style event and is 21+ only.

General Admission tickets cost $50 in advance and $60 at the door. VIP Tickets are SOLD OUT. Hurry because the event sold out in 2015 and 2016.

Event is rain or shine and no refunds will be given.

Participating restaurants include:

  • Ava – Chef Joshua Hernandez
  • Castile – Chef Nicolas Lebas
  • Cru Cellars – Chef Brad Sobo
  • CW’s Gin Joint – Chef Gui Alinat & Chef Cody Tiner
  • Dr. BBQ – Chef Ray “Dr. BBQ” Lampe
  • Elevage – Chef Jonathan Atanacio
  • Haven – Chef Courtney Orwig
  • Holy Hog BBQ – Chef Danny Hernandez
  • Mise en Place – Chef Marty Blitz
  • Proper Kitchen & Cocktails – Chef A.J. Lambden
  • Rowe Bar & Sea Porch at Don Cesar – Chef Patrick Gossett
  • The Black Pearl – Chef Christopher Artrip
  • The Living Room – Chef Tony Bruno
  • The Refinery + Fodder & Shine – Chef Greg Baker

VIP presented by Saltblock Hospitality and Catering with Chef Viet Vo.

Buy tickets: https://www.xorbia.com/events/cltampa/chefs/

Facebook RSVP: https://www.facebook.com/events/220014065170265/

Tibby’s New Orleans Kitchen in Brandon

This past weekend I dined at Tibby’s New Orleans Kitchen in Brandon across the street from Portillo’s.

Our new favorite Cajun spot!!

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The restaurant is fairly new and opened back in 2016 and is part of a small chain of restaurants that are also found in Winter Park and Altamonte Springs. My family is hooked on their food and I found out why during my visit.

Prices are fair and the quality is excellent. My Aunt has been to New Orleans a little over half-a-dozen times and praised the food –  I’m sure this would vary from person to person.

What I can say is that I enjoyed my food – the Rita’s Chicken which is panko-crusted chicken with lemon sauce over dirty rice ($15.25).

The portions here are huge and easily shareable between two people – not a problem. The server and bartenders encountered were all friendly and even during their slow times the restaurant was nearly at capacity.

😋😋😋😋😋 @tibbysrestaurant #tampa #brandon #foodies #beignets #tampaeats #CarlosEats

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For dessert we enjoyed beignets covered in powdered sugar. I don’t think there are too many places in Tampa where you can grab these and I usually stop for some at the Poor Porker in Lakeland on trips to Orlando. It wasn’t quite the Poor Porker – but still delicious and a shorter drive (If the Poor Porker is reading this – please come to Tampa).

Overall – I enjoyed my food and experience and will return soon. There’s a lunch menu and daily happy hour plus plenty of drink specials. Interesting menu items for future visits include the Jambalaya, Po’Boy selections, Chicken & Waffles, Fried Catfish, Cajun Shrimp Pasta, and Gumbo selections.

Restaurant name: Tibby’s New Orleans Kitchen

Cuisine: Cajun

Neighborhood: Brandon

Address: 1721 W Brandon Blvd, Brandon, FL 33511

Phone Number: (813) 315-8443

Menu: http://tibbys.com/site/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/2017_TibbysMenu-Brandon_Online-Only.pdf

Happy Hour: 4PM-6PM Daily

Website: http://tibbys.com/

Ceviche Paella Porch Party Sundays: $25 Unlimited Sangria and Paella

Full disclosure: This is a sponsored post for Ceviche Tapas Bar and Restaurant about the Paella Porch Party series they are currently hosting. I have been compensated for this article. Any opinions expressed are my own.

Sundays in South Tampa are getting more upbeat with Ceviche’s Paella Porch Party series being held on Sundays from 11AM-4PM. Enjoy unlimited paella and endless house sangria (white/red) for $25 during this special event.

For those who haven’t tried Paella – it is a Valencian rice dish from Spain. The name of the dish comes from the Old French word paelle which means pan and the Latin word patella meaning pan. The dish is often cooked in a large pan with all the ingredients cooked to perfection. It can also be cooked in small pans for personal servings.

House sangria normally goes for $7 a glass and around $20-$40 a pitcher and the Paella on the menu is normally over $20 – making this a great deal for Sunday Brunch attendees.

I’m personally a fan of Ceviche’s sangria and have celebrated numerous occasions there with friends – it definitely stands as one of the top places to get sangria in Tampa Bay.

Ceviche South Tampa is located at 2500 West Azeele Street Tampa, Florida 33609. Ceviche was founded in 1997 as the original tapas restaurant in the region.

Visit Ceviche online at http://www.ceviche.com/tampa/

Gaspar’s Grotto in Ybor City now serving weekday breakfast

Local Ybor City pirate-themed restaurant, Gaspar’s Grotto, is now selling breakfast daily with an expanded menu on Saturday and brunch buffet on Sundays.

The weekday breakfast menu is available from 7AM-10:30AM and has items ranging from $4.95 to $8.95 with most items at around $5.95. Items on the menu include 3 Egg Cheese Omelet, Two Eggs Your Way, Cuban French Toast, Breakfast Skillet, Biscuits and Gravy, and more.

I visited yesterday and had a late breakfast with Ybor City Geeky Gal and Chef Mark Hook.

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One of the first dishes I tried was the biscuits and gravy. Everything is prepared fresh in-house and it really shows. The biscuits were soft and delicious and the gravy was incredible – definitely one of the best gravy toppings I have ever had in Tampa Bay. Even the side of potatoes was delicious – normally something that isn’t even worth mentioning on breakfast dishes.

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The bacon was notable for having a peppery flavoring to it and was perfectly crunchy. Many of the breakfast items come with bacon, but if you want more you can get 2 strips for $2.

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You can also take a more traditional route with simple eggs made you way with sides and Cuban toast from La Segunda Bakery. The great thing about Ybor City being the heart of historical Tampa is great Cuban bread is always nearby.

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I also checked out their Gaspar’s Specialty Bloody Mary of the Day at Gaspar’s Grotto – it’s loaded with all kinds of toppings including cheese, meats, sausage, ribs, and more. It could very well be a meal on its own.

All of the breakfast items were delicious and fresh and the price was right – easily beating out many breakfast chains and competing with the pricing of diners. The best part is you can enjoy your breakfast outside on the outside decks of Gaspar’s Grotto and there is plenty of free 2-hour parking available in the morning hours in Ybor City.

Breakfast is also available for take-out – you can call ahead to 813-248-5900 and pick-up your breakfast to take to work or whatever engagement you may have.

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Finally, I couldn’t leave without trying the Cuban Sandwich at Gaspar’s Grotto with the 6th Annual National Cuban Sandwich Festival approaching. The Cuban here was excellent – the bread toasted perfectly and the pickle having just the right crunch. The Cuban sticks to traditional with the exception of a mayo-mustard mix. Plantain chips on the side were also excellent. I love plantain chips and these did not disappoint.

Gaspar's Grotto Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Gaspar’s Grotto. 1805 E 7th Ave, Tampa, FL 33605. (813) 248-5900. http://gasparsgrotto.com/

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

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

Ciccio’s Gasparilla Brunch & Brews – 1/28

This Saturday, January 28th, is Gasparilla and Ciccio/Water is celebrating with a special event called Ciccio’s Gasparilla Brunch & Brews from 10AM-2PM at 1015 South Howard Avenue. Guests will also enjoy a live DJ set.

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The event will feature a $35 All-You-Can-Eat-And-Drink Beer & Brunch celebration. Cash only. Tickets can only be purchased at the door. Parking will cost $20 with limited spaces available.

Don’t forget your pirate gear!

Use #TurnTampaTeal to score a FREE drink at the party.

Proceeds will benefit The Teal Recovery Project, which is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization that focuses on fundraising, educating, and empowering women battling cervical cancer.

Event name: Ciccio’s Gasparilla Brunch & Brews

Date & Time: Saturday, January 28th, 2017, 10AM-2PM

Address: 1015 South Howard Avenue Tampa, Florida 33606

Cost: $35 to attend, $20 parking, Cash-only

Facebook RSVP: http://www.facebook.com/events/1773892346265765/

Gyro Zone serves up excellent, affordable Lebanese food

There is this is hole-in-the-wall restaurant I have been frequenting by USF and the University Mall called Gyro Zone. It fits every definition of the phrase “hidden gem”.

The prices are fair and trend under $10 with student deals and combos that can appeal to the college students. The hours are also college-friendly with Gyro Zone open until midnight from Monday-Saturday (good luck finding a decent meal after 10PM at other places by campus). The food will leave your heart and stomach in a good place.

When you walk into Gyro Zone – you’re not sure what to expect. The place is simple enough – a long hallway with tables and a counter for ordering your food and pickup. The kitchen is open you so you can see the schwarma in all its fine excellence and their dedication to quality as they prepare the food.

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Picking a menu item can be tough – I have trended towards chicken schwarma on most visits – simply because it is the best chicken schwarma I have had in the Tampa Bay area. It’s incredible. I usually grab it in a pita, but on my last visit yesterday I decided to go for the Schwarma Bowl which comes with rice, chicken schwarma, some veggies, and a drink. All for around $7. It. is. amazing.

Gyro Zone has 41 reviews on Yelp and seems to have organically reached a 5-star average, yet every time I visit the place isn’t busy which has me concerned, so here I am…writing my love to this excellent food. I have visited over 6 times in the last 3 weeks and I left happy and satisfied every single time.

The fries that they serve with their pita are better than Five Guys and cooked to perfection. The owner (I assume) and employees who work there are always super chill and friendly. They offer delivery (I hear they may be on UberEats soon? – let’s hope).

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I finally tried the hummus on my last visit. I LOVE hummus – but my experiences with it are all over the place depending on what restaurant you eat it at. The hummus at Gyro Zone was excellent and came with some of their pita chips which I’ll add are also crazy good. Everything here is just on-point and exceeds expectations.

My friend was feeling adventurous yesterday and decided to order the cheeseburger at Gyro Zone. Sure – not an ode to Lebanese cuisine. However, I took a bite or two or three out of his burger and it was insanely delicious. I’m not sure if it was the sauce in the burger or the seasoning in the beef that made it taste so good – but this burger was not your average burger and it seems like that applies across the entire menu at Gyro Zone.

It’s hard to open a great, local business and restaurant in Tampa Bay and all the right elements are at Gyro Zone. All that is left is for people to go and experience it for themselves. Don’t just take my word for it. Go try it yourself. The prices are fair and the food is excellent.

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Restaurant Name: Gyro Zone

Address: 2709 University Square Dr. Tampa, FL 33612

Phone Number: (813) 284-0777

Website: http://www.gyrozonetampa.com/

Menu: http://www.gyrozonetampa.com/menu.html

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/Gyro-Zone-166848396852439/