NEWS: Mini Doughnut Factory flagship South Tampa location now permanently CLOSED

The Tampa Bay Business Journal broke news last night that Mini Doughnut Factory’s flagship store in South Tampa is now permanently closed. It appears that the legal and financial woes were too much for the franchise to handle.

Just a few years ago Mini Doughnut Factory was one of the fastest rising businesses in Tampa with a fever pitch of business and support throughout the city. Mini Doughnut Factory won best donuts in town for multiple years in a row and was a local favorite of most locals. Major plans for expansion and to become a chain failed to materialize after an ill-fated opening in St. Petersburg.

The chain had a huge social media following and not a day would pass without seeing some mini donuts on Snapchat and Instagram in the last few years. John Mayer even stopped by a for a bite one day. Lines of little girls and mothers would be visible from early in the morning at the South Tampa store.

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Terra Gaucha Brazilian Steakhouse serves excellent meat

Full disclosure: I was invited to Terra Gaucha Brazilian Steakhouse for a complimentary tasting in exchange for my opinion. Any opinions displayed here are my own and do not represent Terra Gaucha. 

Brazilian Steakhouse concepts have had mixed success in Tampa Bay. Boizao disappeared one day without an explanation. Texas de Brazil has managed to be successful elsewhere on Boy Scout Boulevard. Now, Terra Gaucha Brazilian Steakhouse is open on South Dale Mabry in a former GrillSmith location.

My experience at Texas de Brazil when I’ve visited was nothing to write home about. The meat is plentiful, but extremely salty and sometimes completely dry. I’m happy to report that is not the case at Terra Gaucha Brazilian Steakhouse. I visited for a tasting this week and was impressed with what I found.

I brought along a friend who lived in Brazil for a year as my point of reference and she agreed that this is perhaps one of the most authentic experiences she has had since she left Brazil.

Our favorite meat cut during our visit was the Picanha or beef sirloin-cap. It was so juicy and flavorful. The perfect taste in your mouth.

The close second was the Linguiça or pork sausage. This is usually not my favorite dish, but I enjoyed it quite a bit at Terra Gaucha. I was a big fan of the Cordeiro or lamb, but lamb is certainly one of those things that isn’t for everyone.

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Like most Brazilian steakhouse concepts servers come around and cut meat tableside. You use something called a “brasa card” to indicate if you want food or not. Red means stop and green means go. The servers constantly flood the floor with food and you can get full just watching them cut the meat.

The buffet bar or salad bar as some might call it has numerous options for diners including bacon, prosciutto, cheeses, soups, and more. Personally I try to focus on the meat when I go to Brazilian steakhouses so I can get the best bang for my buck, but I know that will vary for some people. I can report that the bacon was delicious.

Terra Gaucha is doing many things right. The cuts of meat were all great quality, flavored just right, not too salty. The service staffed was prompt and attentive, I observed the other tables and watched the servers regularly checking on customers around me.

The cocktail menu was great and I loved my Caipirinha which is Brazil’s national cocktail made with cachaça, sugar and lime. Good cachaça is a little difficult to come by in Tampa and I was delighted to find that the cocktail at Terra Gaucha was up to par. The rest of the cocktail menu looked good and the wine list was extensive.

It’s easy to get stuffed beyond control at these kinds of all-you-can-eat spots, but we paced ourselves and I felt just right at the end of the meal.

For dessert I had the Papaya Creme dish which is a throwback to the 90s in Brazil. The classic dessert was refreshing after a meal filled with meat and tasted almost like yogurt, which reminded me of the little yogurt drinks I have when I finish chowing down on some Korean BBQ.

My friend ordered a Creme Brulee and enjoyed her dessert. It was light and airy. Not super sugary, but just enough for my palate.

Bossanova music was playing in the background on the speakers and I liked that.

One thing that could be improved at Terra Gaucha is the decor of the restaurant and ambiance in the dining room. Brazilian steakhouses are not cheap affairs and will easily run you $50 per person at dinner and the dining room inside Terra Gaucha didn’t match that kind of spending level.

The restaurant was mostly casual, which can be a plus for people who like that, but I think people dining in this area expect a little more. Decor is not a hard thing to improve though, the entrance is beautiful (as pictured above and below) and the bar is also nicely setup. Perhaps some lighting changes and something around the tables would change the vibe some.

I think adding some live music on the weekends would be a plus, maybe some Samba music or Bossanova cover artists.

Terra Gaucha has excellent food and I would really like to go here in the future for a meal again. I think its a great place to celebrate a birthday, anniversary, or have a business meeting and that the food is truly unique in this area.

The bar has a daily happy hour on weekdays with $5 Caipirinha cocktails so I know I will be returning for that no matter what.

Restaurant name: Terra Gaucha Brazilian Steakhouse

Cuisine: Brazilian Steakhouse

Neighborhood: South Tampa

Address: 1108 S. Dale Mabry Hwy., Tampa, FL 33629

Phone Number: (813) 999-4332

Price: $$$

Website: http://www.terragaucha.net

Shula Burger now open in SoHo District

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

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

Shula Burger

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Restaurant Name: Shula Burger

Neighborhood: South Tampa

Cuisine: Burgers, American

Cost: $

Address: 500 South Howard Avenue, Tampa, FL 33606

Phone Number: (813) 867-8230

Website: http://www.shulaburger.com

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

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

Gasparilla Party @ The Drynk Soho – 1/27

The Drynk Soho will have a Gasparilla party from 4PM-3AM on Saturday, January 27th, 2018. The event will be hosted by Floribama Shore’s Gus Symrnios.

The Drynk is located at 302 South Howard Avenue, Tampa, FL 33606.

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Tickets are now on-sale and are currently at $15 for General Admission. The event is presented by The Black Heart Group.

Buy tickets: https://www.tablelist.com/e/gasparilla-2018-day-party-at-the-drynk-soho-d68b062de86254f4

Smashburger plans 35 new restaurants in Florida West Coast

Smashburger opened its first Tampa location last week in South Tampa at 4035 South Dale Mabry Highway and plans to open at least 35 new restaurants along the Florida West Coast in the next 5 to 6 years.

The investment will cost $37 million dollars. Each location will employ 30 people, adding about 1,400 new jobs in total to the region.

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The Denver-based, fast-casual, burger concept is also located in Clearwater and Sarasota. Smashburger was founded in 2007 and serves “made-to-order, never frozen” burgers.

Their localized burger for the Tampa Bay area is the “Media Noche” burger, which contains smoked ham, aged Swiss cheese, pickles, red onion, and mustard on an egg bun. Local craft beer from the area will be a highlight of these locations.

Some would say the Tampa market is over-saturated with burger concepts. I don’t think that is necessarily the case.

There are just a number of low-quality, badly-managed, and overpriced restaurants that have expanded too much and you can see that playing out in the market with bankruptcies and retreats from locations.

The burger business is a $73 billion dollar business and isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.

Smashburger is participating in the Creative Loafing Tampa Bay Burger Week and serving their “Sin City Burger” from Vegas for the promotion for $6.69 plus tax. The burger features “signature Smash sauce (a mayo, mustard, relishy blend), topped with a fried egg, applewood smoked bacon, and haystack onions”.

I stopped by last week for a taste and my favorite burger was the Truffle Mushroom Swiss. I thought about that burger days after visiting. I don’t care what food snobs say about truffle being overrated, I’ll take some on everything, thank you very much.

Caffeine Roasters now open on Kennedy in South Tampa

Caffeine Roasters has moved into where Drama Burger once stood at 2420 West Kennedy Boulevard and is now open. Caffeine is also located in Downtown Tampa minutes from Franklin Manor at 212 East Cass Street. I am a fan of the Downtown location and also really enjoy the new space as well.

The expansion mirrors an expansion happening with many of the new coffee shop brands taking on Buddy Brew Coffee and Kahwa locally.

The menu is the same at both locations and the space has lots of seating from couches to tables and plugs and Wi-Fi available. The only downside of the new location on Kennedy is lack of parking – the place has only been open for a few weeks and parking already sucks.

On the positive side, they have a drive-thru so you can take your coffee with you if you can’t find parking.

The staff is very friendly and happy to explain the types of coffee they provide and the background of what they are doing – that was also noticeable when I visited the Downtown Tampa location in the past as well.

Last but most certainly not least, their coffee tastes great – I had an El Salvador roast during my visit and fully enjoyed it without hardly any sweeteners or add-ons. Check out Caffeine Roasters!

Restaurant Name: Caffeine Roasters

Neighborhood: South Tampa

Address: 2420 W. Kennedy Blvd., Tampa, FL 33609

Phone Number: (813) 644-7245

Website: http://www.caffeineusa.com/

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

Twitter: @CaffeineTampa

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

Petit Piquant now serving kouign-amann pastries

Full disclosure: I was invited to Petit Piquant for a tasting of the new kougin-amann pastries in exchange for my opinion and feedback on my blog. Opinions are my own and do not represent Petit Piquant.

Delicious pastries from France? I am on-board. I visited Petit Piquant last week to try their new pastry that launched this past weekend: kouign-amann. The pastry comes from Brittany, France and can be identified between a croissant and brioche. Piquant decided to make the pastries both sweet and savory with a variety of flavors.

On the savory menu: LOX, Braised Short-Rib, Roasted Tomato & Goat Cheese.

On the sweet menu: Lemon, Guava, Strawberry, Cinnamon Sugar, Passionfruit, and Raspberry.

Kougin-Amann at Petit Piquant

I tried an assortment of these pastries and truthfully enjoyed them all. My favorite was the Guava – I felt like it pays tribute to the City of Tampa and Ybor City as well as played well to my Spanish roots. The Braised Short-Rib was a close second and would be a great snack in the afternoon hours.

Petit Piquant is located just off Howard Avenue maybe one or two blocks from I-275 and just north of South Tampa. The bakery and shop is quaint and reminds me of a cafe you might see in San Mateo or San Francisco.

I tried Piquant’s privately sourced coffee from Colombia during my visit and enjoyed both a cold brew and latte that definitely paired well with the pastries at Piquant. The coffee has chocolate notes.

I also enjoyed an Arnold Palmer made with TeaBella tea which was excellent as well…if you’re not feeling up to coffee during your visit.

I see Petit Piquant as a great place to stop by in the morning on your way to go to a meeting or a place to grab a quick coffee and bite before you head to another part of town and hope to visit again soon.

The kouign-amann desserts from Piquant will also be available at the Tampa International Airport’s Illy Coffee and Bay Tea & Coffee Company.  I recommend giving it a try and seeing what flavor you like – I’m definitely curious to find out what other people enjoy.

Restaurant name: Petit Piquant

Neighborhood: South Tampa

Cuisine: Bakery, Cafe

Address: 1704 N Howard Ave, Tampa, FL 33607

Phone Number: (813) 251-1777

Hours: Monday-Friday 6:30AM-6PM, Saturday-Sunday, 8AM-3PM

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

Website: http://piquantbrands.com/

Izakaya Japanese pub ‘Noble Rice’ now open

Tampa residents can enjoy a whole new experience with the soft opening of Noble Rice, an izakaya or Japanese style pub in South Tampa on Platt Street. These pubs normally serve Japanese appetizers and beer/sake wine to customers in an intimate setting used for socializing or meetings.

The restaurant is aiming for a traditional Japanese environment and menu with some inspiration from the south. Head Chef and Co-Owner, Eric Fralick, feels “southern comfort food and Japanese comfort food are so compatible, they were meant to be together”.

Fusion dishes include Sake Ribs utilizing Japanese sake to kick up a southern favorite and Tan Tan Men Wings inspired by buffalo wings. Many of the traditional dishes also incorporate fusion elements into them.

Traditional Japanese izakaya finds include yakitori (meat and vegetable skewers), takoyaki (octopus balls), gyoza (pan-fried dumplings), yamakake (grated yam), and a number of nigiri/sushi options. Ramen lovers will also find a variety of Shoyu ramen soups (soy-sauce base).

It wouldn’t be a true izakaya if we were not also discussing the drink selections. Sake lovers can find a wide-selection of rice wine. Noble Rice serves a Japanese distilled spirit, called shochu, which is derived from a variety of ingredients including sweet potato, barley, buckwheat, and sugar cane. Popular local craft beer will also be available on tap.

Here is a current list of beer/wine (7/21/16):

Shochu

  • Satsuma Shiranami – Sweet Potato
  • Hakutake Shiro Kome -Rice
  • Chiyonosono 8,000 Generation – Rice
  • Kintaro – Roasted Barley

Sake

  • Ama No To Heavens Door
  • Junmai
  • Kikusui Blue Junmai
  • Southern Beauty
  • Born Gold Konteki Pearls of Simplicity
  • Tozai Snow Maiden Nigori
  • Hiko’s Reserve Junmai
  • Eiko Fuji BanRyu
  • Sword of the Sun

Wine

  • Cabernet Savignon – Grayson Cellars
  • Pinot Noir – Block Nine
  • Chardonnay -Annabella
  • Sparkling – Francois Montand Brut

Beer on Tap (rotating to local companies)

  • Big Storm – Wavemaker
  • Coppertail – Free Dive
  • Coppertail – Unholy Tripple
  • 3 Daughters- Beach Blonde
  • Darwin- Parata Pils

Bottled Beer

  • Duchesse de Bourgogne
  • Nest Red Rice Ale
  • Seadog Blue Paw
  • Stella Artois
  • Woodchuck Granny Smith Cider
  • Motorworks – V Twin

Here are some photos via Noble Rice Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/NobleRiceCo/

Yakitori

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Blood Orange Ramen

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Noble Rice. 807 W Platt St, Tampa, FL 33606. (813) 284-7423 noblericeco.com

The Rack (Brandon)

The Rack has been in Brandon for quite some time now and although I live near it, I haven’t made it a point to stop here…visiting the location in South Tampa more often. Before visiting I grew a little concerned when I read online that The Rack in Brandon was more like the Blue Martini (known by many for being pretentious) and that there was strict dress-code. We were relieved to find out  there wasn’t as strict a dress-code and decided to I visit The Rack earlier tonight and the experience was pretty disappointing.

The main thing The Rack has going for it is that it is perhaps the only late-night sushi spot in Brandon (almost every restaurant in Brandon closes at around 10PM). The Brandon location is larger than the South Tampa location, but loses all the ambiance of the original in favor for a more upscale kind-of-lounge feel (which doesn’t necessarily have to be a bad thing). Unfortunately, it also loses the friendly-atmosphere and employees you find at the SoHo location as well.

We entered around 10PM and the place was only slightly packed. We grabbed a table in the restaurant side and the waitress immediately left a sour taste in our mouths (she didn’t seem to want to be there). My friend signed up for their mobile mailing service and received a text message for a free drink and the waitress almost ignored his inquiries about how much the message was worth. She evaded this until the check was closed and then proclaimed it was too late to do anything about it. The Manager wasn’t much more help and his demeanor was like that of a bouncer, not welcoming and almost confrontational.

Now I can understand there is some confusion when it comes to mobile deals (especially in large franchise chains, such as Chili’s and their Foursquare deal). However, there are only 2 locations of The Rack, therefore I don’t really see how they can make such an issue over a deal they opt to provide customers. Why offer deals if you are going to hassle customers to honor them? Doesn’t that defeat the purpose of mobile deals? Indeed, we seemed to be getting treated different because we are younger. The waitress seemed to be hovering over us and honestly if it wasn’t for her and the crappy service and dead crowd, we might have actually had fun and enjoyed our night here.

We ordered a good amount of food and drinks. The $5 Three Olive Bomb special was satisfactory and went down well. I special ordered a Salmon Roll and it ran me about $7.45. The salmon was fresh and the avocado was great as well. The sushi was perhaps the best part of our experience (although it is pricey, at least they make it good). We split a Small Deuce ($10.95), an assortment of appetizers: crab rangoon, coconut shrimp, chicken tender, and fusion rolls. The menu says it can feed 2-3 and I would say it can feed either one hungry person, or two people just snacking. You would really need to upgrade to the next size for 3 or more (add $8). The food came out quick and the best days to come to The Rack are definitely Tuesdays/Thursdays for the $20 all you can eat and drink special (cash only) from 9-11PM or on Wednesdays for their $5 Volcano Rolls. Otherwise, you are better off going to Samurai Sushi for some cheap eats in Riverview.

It costs $8 an hour to play pool and there was a good amount of tables there. You won’t have much of a problem grabbing a table (you sometimes can’t dream of grabbing one in South Tampa because it is really packed).

Overall, I prefer The Rack in Hyde Park to the location Brandon. The Hyde Park location is livelier, the people working and crowd are very friendly and it is the kind of place you can strike up a conversation with anyone. The Hyde Park location occasionally has bumps like any other restaurant, but is usually a good experience. The Brandon location made everyone look disconnected and the lack of people there on a Friday night was pretty surprising. The food lives up to the name and is convenient to Brandon residents, but I would recommend driving out to Hyde Park and visiting The Rack there for the full experience.

Restaurant Name: The Rack

Cuisine: American, Sushi

Address: 1025 W Brandon Blvd. Brandon, FL 33511

Neighborhood: Brandon

Phone Number: (813) 571-7225

Website: http://www.hittherack.com/

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