Roux Tampa launches new lunch menu and it’s excellent

Full disclosure: I was invited to Roux Tampa for a tasting of their new lunch menu in exchange for my opinion. Any opinions stated are my own and do not reflect Roux Tampa or any affiliates.

I visited Roux Tampa today for a tasting of their new lunch menu. The new menu has a variety of dishes added alongside items that were traditionally available. Most menu items are $12 or less, providing an affordable and quality experience.

Boudin Balls at Roux

We started with the Boudin Balls ($7): Two crispy boudin balls with rice, pork, onions, green peppers, seasonings, creamy pepperjack cheese, Zatarain’s Creole mustard crema. These were excellent and plenty to share. Every last bite was delectable and a waiter nearby was correct to mention that they went great with the in-house hot sauces at Roux.

Florida Gator Bites at Roux Tampa

The Florida Alligator Bites ($14) also did not disappoint. They were crispy in a way that might remind you of Bang Bang Shrimp though with a Cajun-twist. I also loved these – they were on the heavier side compared to the Boudin Balls, but went extremely well with the cocktails tried.

Cornbead Skillet at Roux Tampa

Another appetizer we indulged in was the Roux Iron Skillet Cornbread ($9) which features sweet corn, streusel topping, jalapenos, and Steen’s Cane Syrup butter. First of all, everyone who goes to Roux should have this on EVERY visit. It is phenomenal. It might not be new to the menu as I remember it being served in the past, but it is memorable and delicious down to every last bite.

All three appetizers stood up well and I would have been happy with any of them, but like I said you must order the cornbread if you visit Roux. If you love yourself that is.

Cucumber Fizz at Roux Tampa

Cajun Mule at Roux Tampa

Then there was the Cucumber Fizz Cocktail and Cajun Mule. The Cajun Mule features an exclusive Tidal Boar Cajun Ginger Beer that twists the expected flavor of a Moscow Mule, but in a good way. Both drinks were refreshing and exactly the kind of drinks you want to enjoy in Florida.

The ingredients balanced well and the booziness was just right, which shouldn’t come as a surprise considering the importance Datz Restaurant Group has placed on drinks at their establishments.

Moving on to the main courses…

Steakburger at Roux Tampa

Pork Belly Banh Mi Po' Boy at Roux Tampa

We enjoyed the Steakburger ($12) with fries which has a ribeye-filet patty that will most certainly satisfy a quick burger craving, but the Pork Belly Banh Mi Po’ Boy ($12) stole the show.

Each piece of pork belly hit your tongue with pleasurable fatty goodness. The composition of the sandwich fit the banh mi name well and the ingredients were all fresh. The French Bread in the sandwich had the crunch we all have come to expect from a delicious banh mi sub without hurting the jaw.

The Asian-Creole fusion works well and I’m quite curious to see how this could be utilized in other dishes considering the heavy influence the French have in Vietnamese cuisine.

It’s important to note that this isn’t your average banh mi and to examine that in the pricing as well since a banh mi sub will normally run you somewhere between $4 and $7 by itself.

Red Beans & Rice at Roux Tampa

We couldn’t leave without having some red beans & rice ($8) which is a staple of New Orleans cuisine. The dish normally adds meat on top for an additional charge, but we wanted it as a side dish. It’s a solid dish and a true homage to Louisiana Creole cuisine.

Summer of 75 at Roux Tampa

Finally, before leaving I had the Summer of 75 which is a gin cocktail (please keep reading!) that actually tastes more like a pineapple French 75 (hence the name I assume). This cocktail was excellent and continued the excellent mixology menu. Well-balanced and not too sweet, while having the right amount of booze. Roux could carry itself on its cocktail selection by itself, but of course the food is also great.

To conclude, what we have here is a great lunch menu and cocktail list that is well worth your time and fairly priced. Stop by Roux for lunch. I’d recommend it.

Roux Tampa. 4205 South MacDill Avenue Tampa, Florida 33611. (813) 443-5255. http://www.rouxtampa.com/

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U Poke Spot: Quality poke bowls arrive in Tampa near USF

Full disclosure: I was invited to try the menu at U Poke Spot in exchange for my opinion about their food. These opinions are my own and do not reflect U Poke Spot.

U Poke Spot opened recently just a block away from USF across from MOSI by Einstein’s and Qdoba. It’s a fast-casual Hawaiian-style poke restaurant.

Despite the national popularity of poke, it hasn’t quite taken off yet in Tampa. Many restaurant have tried to use poke as a marketing tactic to upsell their typical fish without offering real poke. Often times the sauces will be downright awful or the fish doesn’t taste good.

Poke Rose at The Hall on Franklin was the first serious take on poke in Tampa, but unfortunately it does not allow you to customize your bowls. The Poke Cafe may be good to the people in Dunedin, but to me it was a disappointing example of poke.

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U Poke Spot resembles more of what I expect in a poke restaurant. The owners background ties back to sushi restaurants, so the fish and toppings reflect that and they go well.

They have salmon, tuna, spicy salmon, spicy tuna, octopus, and even chicken for people who are trying to avoid fish all together. Some toppings include masago, edamame, tempura flakes, seaweed salad, guacamole, mango salsa, crushed nuts, and more.

The main sauce is poke sauce but there are at least 4 other available. The eel sauce and spicy mayo sauces I tried were also great and just what you would find at any sushi restaurant. To be honest, this is the best poke I have had since I last went to San Francisco.

Some things I hope to see added to the menu are tamago (Japanese egg) and eel.

I went with the spicy salmon all the way and added a bunch of toppings and I found all of them to be fresh and flavorful. I built my bowl the same way I would build a sushi burrito or a sushi roll and modern poke is pretty much that.

The guacamole was flavorful, but I would be interested in seeing the guacamole mixed with some other things perhaps in the future. I’a Poke in San Francisco has sun-dried tomato guacamole which sounds ridiculous, but is actually ridiculously amazing with poke and sushi burritos. The cool thing about poke bowls is you can constantly re-invent the menu for customers.

The key to a good poke bowl will depend on how you mix the fish, toppings, and sauces. You have to think about how the flavors all complement each other. There are pre-arranged bowls to help those who might struggle with that.

The prices seem a little expensive for the college area it is situated in with 2 proteins at $10.95 and 3 proteins for $13.95, but it is actually comparable to other poke restaurants. The price will mostly increase when you add higher end toppings such as guacamole or avocado which is expensive pretty much anywhere.

On average I think a typical for me would probably run around $13-15 which isn’t unfair for the bowl portions in my opinion. The truth is quality fish is never going to be cheap without something else to make up for the margins lost such as alcohol or events.

The owners could mitigate that feeling for students by providing a rewards program, student discount, or flash sales that will draw them in even if they are reluctant. Although students claim to be price-conscious, they are willing to spend extra for the right brands. See Chipotle, iPhones, electronic music festivals, etc.

I was also a fan of the drink selection with numerous drinks from Japan available including various green tea brands, Japanese Ramune sodas, and Calpico which I love.

This selection was also available at poke places I visited in San Francisco and the owners of U Poke Spot told me much of their inspiration came from poke restaurants in New York that they visited.

The interior is modern with digital screens and clean and to me makes a good case of probably a franchise one day if U Poke Spot is successful.

The owners indicated they will be adding sushi burritos to the menu as well which I look forward to trying in the future.

I really enjoyed U Poke Spot and look forward to coming back again soon. It is the first time I have felt like poke is being done how I imagined it in Tampa. I recommend giving them a look.

Restaurant name: U Poke Spot

Neighborhood: USF, Temple Terrace

Cuisine: Poke

Address: 5001 E. Fowler Ave., Unit F, Tampa, FL 33617

Phone Number: 813-533-3707

Hours: 11AM-10PM Sunday-Thursday, 11AM-11PM Friday & Saturday

Menu: http://www.upokespot.com/menu-2/

S Bar in Brandon now permanently closed

S Bar in Brandon has permanently closed for business. The restaurant combined sushi, southern bistro cuisine, and prohibition era cocktails. It is the former location of The Rack in Brandon and had an impressive re-design.

The owners decided to move and help family out of state and ultimately decided they could no longer keep the business going.

Here is a statement from the restaurant:

Here’s hoping something new will open in this space in the future.

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

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

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/