If Gumer Rodriguez shows up at your doorstep wanting banana leaves, don’t think it’s the sequel to Pineapple Express. The Veracruz, Mexico native needs the leaves to wrap the tamales he cooks up every Friday in the tamale truck parked at Tampa’s Downtown Market. Best of all, net sales of the $5 lunches go to the non-profit organization, America’s Disaster Relief.
Haven’t been to the market? Why not? Spilling down the length of the 500 and 600 blocks of Franklin Street is a smorgasbord of international treats.
Friendly faces introduce you to common and not-so-common meat and seafood offerings, hydroponic produce, organic fruits and vegetables, candles, jewelry, and other extras. They open at 10 am and stay till 2 pm if the weather isn’t iffy. Wander the market to people watch, hobnob with co-workers downtown, and just put off facing a return to the office. The market can take on the frenzy of the stock exchange some days, while it can also be a leisurely walk and nosh.
My posse of tasters persevered at these stops:
Brats Sensation: The office HR maven gets all bent out of shape if you pull on a long neck at noon, but we imagine how these grilled wiener dogs would taste after 5 pm — oh the horror of waiting for cocktail hour! In the meantime, slather on the Grey Poupon and dream of your favorite lager.
Brooklyn Knish: The Yiddish bun of fun (pronounced as two syllables, kin-ISH) bake into little puffs that embrace a hearty artichoke and spinach pairing. Clearwater’s head bread roller Brian Wachtler schleps lunch and breakfast varieties with 10 other fillings.
Vivian’s Cajun Crawfish Pies: Where is Natchitoches, La.? Obviously that’s where they know plenty of seafood secrets. It is the home of Vivian Clark who lends credence to plump crawfish nestled in flaky pastry. From bite-sized, mini appetizers, to large, $30 pies you take home and bake yourself, Vivian tops them with cute pastry mudbugs. She sells to about 200 customers on a good day.
Grandma Graces Goodies: Granny garners acclaim for blue ribbon-worthy, strawberry, blueberry and wine jellies, mango butters, guava and calamondin-pineapple jams and sassy salsas. www.grandmagracesgoodies.com.
Hey Mon Caribbean: The hot sauces in the current Caribbean vanguard typically are pure heat. Errol and Dianna Bishop turn out sauces with a nice range and enough spice for island flair. All are made without artificial ingredients or additives. Spicy Mango sauce rocks. www.heymonsauces.com
Java-Planet: Aaron Doerges pours organic, fair-trade hot and iced coffee to keep the most studious office worker alert. www.java-planet.com
The Dancing Goat: Find farm-fresh eggs, chevre, and goat’s milk (of course), yogurt and more.
No-Ho Bistro: Here is a window to one of our favorite West Tampa restaurants. www.thenohobistro.com
O’taste and See Catering: Another homage to Louisiana is blistering-hot (in temperature), crab and shrimp gumbo that is definitely worth trying. Lively Katrina Elliott serves chicken and sausage jambalaya, Creole chicken and more.
Simply Cupcakes of Tampa: Chocolate lovers find pure delight in a two-bite (or one, when my handsome Chas tastes it) or Chambord-spiked cupcake, or Bailey’s Gold, devil’s food cake topped with Bailey’s Irish Cream frosting, trimmed with gold sugar. This is not a stop on the diet-minded tour. www.simplycupcakesoftampa.com
The Pierogi Place:You’ll want to eat a dozen pierogis. I advise against it. But if you have the patience, take some home and heat them, you can’t go wrong.
Tamales de Gumer de la Veracruz: Chicken, pork and veggie tamales with a purpose. Teeming with potatoes, carrots and peas, their moist masa dough wrap is topped by a mild tomato sauce. Jan France, CEO of America’s Disaster Relief, sells about 200 on a good day to help others through her nonprofit organization. Typically, she would take the truck back to Colorado this summer, but steep and climbing gas prices will keep the tamale truck here a while.
The Alligator Pear: This newcomer’s fusion tacos are destined to become a new fave. Smoked chicken, Thai spices, garlic and diced mangoes tucked into shells blur the definition of taco. “Business is great,’’ says Greg Williams who runs the business with his wife, Amanda.
Wook’s Inc: Deborah Wilk named her product for her hubby, who is called Wook. He learned to make jerky when he was overseas. “He would be deployed out for months on end and the guys would get together and make it so they would have a food source other then what the military provided. They sometimes didn’t know where their next meal was going to come from, ‘’ she says. Teriyaki, pepper, spicy Cajun, and hickory jerky tame the hungry bear in your life. www.wooksbeefjerky.com
Gauchos serve skewers of beef, pork, chicken, sausage and lamb at the all-you-can-eat Texas de Brazil, which opened last week. First tastes were sumptuous. Find it on churrascaria row (a stone’s throw from the other gauchos on Boy Scout Blvd.) at 4112 Boy Scout Blvd., in the MetWest International complex. www.texasdebrazil.com. More about it soon.