Over lunch today, Tampa Tribune food writer Jeff Houck and I were reminiscing about great Tampa food over the ages. Here are the ones that stick out in my memory. A few are even still around...
Alessi's has been a staple of my foodie life in Tampa. Still located on Cypress (though massively expanded), Alessi's has great cubans, deviled crabs and sweets as far as the eye can see. My standard order was the Cream Horn and my brother got Napoleans. It's a great stop on the way to see the Bucs play... or heading to the airport as I am tomorrow. (I plan on buying Cuban bread and smuggling it past TSA to my freezer in Washington, DC)
Double decker pizzas, giant red plastic glasses of coke and a train running around the ceiling are my memories of Babe's growing up. This was where everyone went in Brandon after baseball games... back when there was nary a chain restaurant in Brandon (to think at one time, the pinnacle of foodie bliss for me was when Bennigan's opened on Highway 60!)
When my birthday rolled around each year and I got to pick where I wanted to eat, Crabby Bill's in Indian Rocks Beach, FL. The original, old school Crabby Bill's was a great dive across from the beach where people crammed together at picnic tables. I'd order up a bucket of crabs and dig in.
The Columbia's been a tradition in my family for a LONG time. It opened in 1905 and my parents went when they were growing up. It was considered "fancy"... our schools took field trips there to eat paella and watch flamenco dancers. Every year, they roll back the prices to their original 1905 rates on a few items (this is when my family would go!) and people stand in line for HOURS. I'm not a fan of any of the locations except the gorgeous original in Ybor City. And, no Tampa food list of the ages would be correct without it.
I've been around one year longer than West Tampa staple, La Teresita. I miss the quaint old supermarket/cafe now that they've built a huge new restaurant, but the same family runs it, the same great old Cuban men frequent it, and they serve up quality Cuban food.
The Old Meeting House - CLOSED
As a kid, both sets of grandparents lived in South Tampa. (We had moved to Brandon... which was like another planet back then...)
When we'd come in to visit, my brother and I would beg to go to The Old Meeting House on Howard Avenue. I loved climbing up on the stools and ordering sundaes, cones and milkshakes. I don't know why, but I remember Nana's favorite was coffee ice cream and I was shocked that I liked it (I hated coffee back then... pre-Starbucks addiction.) I've linked to the site selling their formula to restaurants and distributors, but sadly, there's no way for fans to get access... YET. (Listen up Whole Foods!)
Seabreeze Restaurant - CLOSED
My dad used to take me down where the boats came in to Tampa bay and get piping hot fresh deviled crabs from The Seabreeze Restaurant. They were wrapped in paper and I'd dip it into hot sauce on the side. I think I realized it was gone on a visit from college and I was so bummed. Several places make a decent stab at this in Tampa still, but nothing comes close to those Seabreeze deviled crabs. The great thing is that in researching this post, I learned that there's a cookbook with the recipe that exists. I emailed the author and am hoping to buy the book ASAP! (Hyperlinked in the Seabreeze title if you'd like to do the same.)
The Original Silver Ring - CLOSED
This was the gold standard for Cuban sandwiches while I was growing up in Tampa. It closed for a decade and then reopened. I hear it's not the same, but worth a shot on my next visit when I blog my quest for the Best Cuban in Tampa Bay. (Readers have suggested Brocato's, La Septima, Tropicana, La Segunda, Wright's Gourmet House, Hugo's & Carmines... I clearly have my work cut out for me.)
What'd I miss?