Tampa defends its Cuban sandwich title: The best in the Bay

Miami has its attributes but can it claim rights to the holy grail of tropical sandwiches? Ybor City was turning out these banquets on Cuban bread before the turn of the previous century. Early bricklayers flattened their “mixto’’ sandwiches between hot bricks thus toasting bread, melting cheese, and melding flavors. But Miami Herald reporter Fabiola Santiago says Tampa has no culinary chops and started a cat fight about Miami boasting the original. “There’s no doubt that our Cuban sandwich, served all over South Florida, is more authentic and tastier. Even in its Americanized or gourmet incarnations, a cubano in Miami is superior– my Tampa and Miami friends agree,’’ whined Fabiola. Harrumph!

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Pillsbury Bake-Off prize winner is wholly pumpkin ravioli: Recipe and pictures

On Monday, the Doughboy came to Mickey Mouse’s turf in Orlando at the 45th Pillsbury Bake-Off Contest, the premier American cooking competition. Five men and 95 women, aged 25 to 77, all amateur cooks came from cities like Brookline, MA, Beaver Dam, KY, Koloa, HI, and a few miles away in Windermere, FL to debut their original recipes. The prize seekers baked, braised and whisked their dreams and talent in 100 mini-kitchens set up in the Peabody Orlando Hotel ballroom. Each vied for the sweetest bragging rights of all, a $1 million grand prize and $10,000 in GE appliances.

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Tampa restaurant review: Un-ostentatious Osteria Natalina showcases seaside legacies

Osteria Natalina draws from its previous life as Spartaco to offer something new and something old. It’s set in the same location, a corner of a strip center in South Tampa. Its obscure location doesn’t keep it from being discovered — it’s a well-traveled haunt. And its short, uncomplicated menu, with English subtitles, showcases owner Spartaco Giolito’s hometown, Rimini, on the Adriatic coast.

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Food fit for a circus clown: Behind the scenes in Ringling Bros. kitchen

Ladies and gentlemen, children of all ages, I met chef Michael Vaughn who feeds about 200 hungry entertainers who live in some of the 61 train cars parked just outside of town. Chef Michael says he likes the adventure. “It’s definitely the greatest show on earth. We are the world’s largest city without a zip code,’’ he adds. The 16-year saw-dust veteran may have learned to cook in the south but his cuisine spans several continents. His international mix of patrons come from seven continents, including Uzbekistan, Uruguay, Russia, Mongolia and Paraguay. Michael invites the animal trainers, trapeze artists and others to bring him recipes and teach him about their special dishes that personify their home country.

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Don’t punt on Clearwater’s Café Ponte

Having enjoyed dinners at Café Ponte sometime back, we happily found an encore performance. As soon as you enter, the welcoming host assures that you are in good hands. Proprietor Christopher Ponte, who trained at Johnson & Wales University and later at the Cordon Bleu in Paris, has also worked at the famed Taillevent in Paris and continues to earn a litany of accolades.

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Thai Temple tops for Tampa Thai tastes

Consider Wat Mongkolratanaram a way station for hungry nirvana-seekers who can’t cross the Universal Dateline. Every Sunday, the Thai temple affectionately nicknamed “Wat Tampa,” opens its compound, about a half-mile from U.S. 41 on the banks of the Palm River, to sell an amazing array of foods and produce.

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Safety Harbor's Green Springs springs fresh favorites on repeat visitors

Owners Kris Kubik and chef Paul Kapsalis have a close connection to patrons. They know their guests’ names. They know what their customers eat. They know where their kids went to school. They probably could name the roles their children performed in school plays. And they make some great food.

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Tampa’s Queen of Sheba eschews the ordinary

Buticha, tibs and gomen may not be in your everyday vocabulary, just yet. Buticha is a garlicky, chick pea dip, gomen contains collard greens, and tibs takes on chunks of marinated poultry, beef or lamb. Queen of Sheba is like a safari, a journey where you’ll embark on earthy, Ethiopian flavors. Found in a simple, south Tampa storefront, the eatery with its mottled, pumpkin walls, native textiles, and serving basket mesop, is about as far from western food as you can get.

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