Since moving to California almost two years ago, I’ve craved quite a few tasty morsels hidden in the folds of Tampa’s food underbelly. On a holiday trip back east, I undertook the momentous effort of packing all these culinary cravings into one very short, action-packed gorg-acation. The result left me not only with a dangerously dense belly but bliss beyond compare. The details are a bit too decadently delicious to share completely, but the highlights are a “best-meals” itinerary for anyone with four days in Tampa.
Day 1: Evening arrival
Destination: Dinner at Love’s Artifacts Bar and Grill
The perfect meal: Fried Chicken, Collard Greens, Black Beans (plenty of leftovers for the next day but you won’t have time to eat them – donate to your family or save for Day Three Breakfast)
4914 S. MacDill Ave.
Day 2 (the all day affair)
Destination: Breakfast at Pinky’s Diner
The perfect meal: Classic Eggs Benedict. Don’t add any of that other frou-frou stuff like spinach… it’s all good but the classic version of this brunch staple is always the best. Unlimited Jamaican Me Crazy coffee is the cherry on top at Pinky’s.
3203 Bay to Bay Blvd.
Ph: (813) 831-9339
Destination: Lunch at La Teresita
Sure, it’s not the cleanest restaurant in Tampa but man, the Ropa Vieja at La Teresita tastes like Tampa to me. If it’s not on the specials list for the day you’re there, no worries. Ask, and yea shall receive. Serve that up with yellow rice, black beans… and fried platanos for dessert. If a sandwich is preferred, Media Noche shouldn’t be missed. Again, there will be leftovers. Score.
3248 W Columbus Dr.
For years, Jeannie Pierola has blessed the inhabitants of Tampa Bay with her creative, artistic flair with food. Her most recent endeavor, Edison — named after its cross street location on Kennedy Blvd. – is a marvel of food experiments. Which, of course, don’t taste like experiments made in my kitchen. It’s good to know Jeannie is back in the saddle at a permanent place.
912 West Kennedy Blvd.
Destination: Lunch at Oxford Exchange
This über hip, much-talked about gift-shop-meets-restaurant concept is so cool, it’s palpable. Selling from $300 necklaces to $30 cookbooks, Oxford Exchange also doubles as an Architectural Digest coffee house. Local success story Buddy Brew Coffee has the honors of vending their brews and teas. The food at Oxford Exchange is really just OK (had the Grilled Salmon Salad) but the experience is worth the perusal. Heard “high tea” is unique as well. Only open 7:30 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.
420 West Kennedy Boulevard
Destination: Dinner at Bern’s Steakhouse
No trip to Tampa is complete without wallowing in the wine list at Bern’s, my Tampa alma mater. People say go to Bern’s for the wine and not the food, but — aside from an under-seasoned steak tartar — the onion rings, steak sandwich and macadamia nut ice cream remain ensconced in my in Tampa food hall of fame. I indulged in all of these, quite happily. And the wine list… ah… the Bern’s wine list. The best deals inside the tome’s pages are old Rhône Valley reds. 1982, 1986, 1996… my toes still tingle at the memory of the aged wines I enjoyed that evening. Sommelier Brad knows the serious scoop… ask for him. Tell him I sent you for the Rhônes he picked out for me that evening.
1208 S. Howard Ave.
Destination: Dinner at Mise en Place
By day four, I was slowing down. Belly swelling and feet bloating, I waddled into Mise (pronounced “meez”) to meet up with friends. Glass of Premier Cru French Champagne? Check. Favorite wild mushroom salad on the planet? Check. House made charcuterie? Bring it. Five hours and spicy duck wings, creamy risotto balls and fried chicken sliders later, my Tampa culinary immersion came to an unfortunate yet climactic and delicious end.
442 West Kennedy Blvd.
Now off to the gym to atone for my sins…