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THE HOT TAMPA FOOD GUIDE
 
(2023 - Fall/Winter Issue)

Writer: JIM BAMBOULIS



Оn the food front, The Big Guava (one of Tampa’s nicknames) is a melting pot of cultures best reflected on dinner plates across the city. Think Cuban classics, as well as Spanish, South and Native American spices and influences.

Yet this popular Floridian city perched on the Gulf Coast hasn’t been known exactly for its exceptional fare until recently. Last autumn, I visited Cigar City, another moniker attributed to its earlier cigar-making days, with the aim of tasting the local flavours and to dispel any connections to the once-tired food scene.

A closer look reveals how Tampa is on the cusp of a new culinary frontier that’s been adding flair to a landscape of locavore shrines. In June 2022, the inaugural edition of the Michelin Guide Miami, Orlando and Tampa was unveiled, which recognized 118 restaurants, including 16 in Tampa. And to date, Michelin-recognized restaurants now have been boosted to 24, further solidifying Tampa’s global reputation as a culinary destination.

A STEAKHOUSE LIKE NO OTHER

In the Hyde Park district, Bern’s Steak House is not only a fabled steak and wine mecca but with nearly 7,000 wine choices, and over half a million bottles, it’s also purportedly home to the largest wine inventory on earth.

With its Michelin-Recommended status, a ranking that nearly meets the higher standard of Bib Gourmand or the chef-obsessed Michelin star, I can’t wait to sink my teeth into a mouth-watering 9-oz chateaubriand, paired with an Argentinian Malbec, which accentuates the nuanced flavours of this seared, lean tenderloin cut. Before long, the scent of honey and cinnamon lures as a Bananas Foster, a Bern’s must, is prepared tableside upstairs at the equally famous Harry Waugh Dessert Room. I savour a mortal trinity of caramelized bananas, rum and vanilla bean ice cream.

THE CUBAN AT THE COLUMBIA IN YBOR CITY

In 1905, Casimiro Hernandez Sr., a Cuban immigrant, opened the 60-seat Columbia Restaurant, serving Spanish family favourites, and something called the Cuban sandwich.

Today, the Columbia in Ybor City is a Michelin-Recommended culinary cathedral. I do myself the honour, order the Cuban, and bite into authentic history. Made using Casimiro’s original recipe of ham, roasted pork, pickles, mustard, Swiss cheese, and Genoa salami that are layered in soft, yet crispy Cuban bread from La Segunda bakery—incredibly, the same supplier of Columbia’s bread for much of its history—the experience leaves me humbled and appreciative that a tradition of family flavours is time honoured, celebrated and enjoyed with as much respect as it was when it was first invented there. 

GREEK GRUB REVIVAL DOWNTOWN

Investors like Bill Gates have poured billions of dollars transforming the Water Street district into a culture and culinary hotspot, and home to the city’s first 5-star property, the Tampa EDITION. Inside the boutique hotel, an oasis of tropical plants resembles an island paradise that easily morphs into a teaser to what surprises sizzle in the kitchens.

Celebrated Michelin-starred chef John Fraser’s Florida-focused, Mediterranean-influenced Lilac restaurant was awarded one Michelin star in May, while his equally imaginative rooftop resto Azure is reminiscent of a Greek island escape as is his Greek-inspired menu. Lemon-sprinkled grilled octopus with capers, alongside lamb meatballs with kefalotyri, blissfully transport me back to my own Greek childhood, helping Grandma (Yiayia) cook these same dishes in the old country.

RIVERWALK’S INDIGENOUS FLAVOURS

Ulele, a restaurant named after a young daughter of local Tocobaga Chief Hirrihigua, sits along Tampa’s winding Riverwalk. I meet owner Richard Gonzmart, a 2017 James Beard Outstanding Restaurateur semi-finalist, whose passion for food and art is contagious.

Inside this fun Michelin-Recommended gem, I opt for palate-pleasing dishes I can’t make at home, including perfectly crispy, hand-cut okra fries tossed in lime juice and sea salt, delectable saffron risotto, and Barbacoa-grilled oysters, caught offshore, topped with grated parmesan and Romano cheese.

I came, I ate, I savoured. I’ll be back, because Tampa’s food scene is only getting hotter.

A SIDE ORDER OF MIAMI + ORLANDO

SIZZLE IN MIAMI

In tropical vibe Coconut Grove, Ariete offers a dining excursion of the senses care of Michelin-starred executive chef and owner Michael Beltran. The culinary impresario (Beltran has eight restos under his belt) shines a light on his eclectic fusion of Cuban, French and Floridian ingredients that lure you in like a siren song.

NOUVEAU ORLANDO

From downtown to Restaurant Row, Winter Park to Lake Nona, Orlando has come of age, increasingly raising eyebrows with its diverse, international flavours. Among them is Amit Kumar’s cheerful uber local Bombay Street Kitchen south of downtown. Awarded a Michelin Bib Gourmand tag for good quality and good value, the South Indian-inspired eatery caters to everyone from carnivore to herbivore.

TRAVEL PLANNER

For more information about Tampa’s Michelin dining scene, visit guide.michelin.com/us/en/article/dining-out/michelin-guide-tampa-new-additions-restaurants For travel information on Tampa, Miami and Orlando visit visittampabay.com; miamiandbeaches.com; visitorlando.com; and for Florida see visitflorida.org

 
 
 
 
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