Tampa Bay has been a part of the country's larger culinary conversation for a while now. When one considers factors like everything from high-end restaurants and Stella's corned beef hash and fried green tomatoes to chefs scoring James Beard Award semifinalist nods and Andrea Gonzmart Williams spreading the Tampa Cuban sandwich gospel, it's no surprise more national exposure is coming our way.
In late January, a few eateries in one of the region's most poppin' food cities, St. Petersburg, were given the opportunity to film with a national television program, highlighting what they bring to the table on a bigger stage.
The premise of Cooking Channel's Cheap Eats is for its host, Ali Khan, to go on an affordable taste adventure through one town, in one day, and on a budget. The show made stops at The Wooden Rooster, Brooklyn South, (swah-rey) and Red Mesa Cantina while eating out around the 'Burg. CL caught up with Leslie Ann Ciccone, owner of (swah-rey), and Brooklyn South owner Matt Bonano to get details on the behind-the-scenes action, plus what this type of spotlight means for the St. Pete dining scene.
Remember: It wasn't long ago that the Sunshine City scored a plug on Beach Bites with Katie Lee, or that Guy Fieri and his red Camaro were spotted outside of Buya Ramen.
According to Bonano and Ciccone, Cheap Eats sent out a bat signal to a select number of restaurants in St. Pete. After each candidate submitted photos of their menu items, four finalists were chosen to star in an episode. Both owners were ecstatic to be in the running in the first place.
"I think it's an incredible opportunity for independent establishments in the St. Pete area to get publicity on a national outlet," said Ciccone, whose two dessert bars specialize in house-made treats big and small. "This is a hard business, so getting recognized can be difficult in a city that is filled with so many talented restaurateurs."
Brooklyn South — known for its cheese and charcuterie in the EDGE District, but also sandwiches — has the show's lunch portion covered. The host requested a variety of choices, so Bonano served up the braised pulled pork 'wich, another with brisket, and the signature rosemary chicken sando.
Viewers will receive an insider's look at how Brooklyn South makes its pork, and naturally, catch a glimpse of those charcuterie and cheese boards. Although the Saturday lunch rush made filming a little hectic, Bonano says he thoroughly enjoyed the experience and only wished he had some merch to hand out to the crew.
He's hopeful the episode will set the food landscape of St. Pete apart from Tampa's to show that the 'Burg has its own special buzz going on.
"The smaller city of a metro area usually has the allure of a DIY neighborhood and more of an eclectic group of entrepreneurs," Bonano said.
Snack time led Cheap Eats to (swah-rey)'s original Grand Central District location for a slice of white chocolate berry cheesecake. In preparation for filming, the dessert bar created three cheesecakes before the crew arrived, then hosted a tutorial of the bake in the kitchen.
Thankful for the strong connection she's formed with the community over her last three years in business, Ciccone managed to fill (swah-rey) with sweet-tooth fanatics for a shoot on a Monday, when her place is typically closed.
The St. Pete episode of Cheap Eats will air on Aug. 8., kicking off its fifth season. Those who'd like to tune into the program during a live viewing party should shoot an email over to (swah-rey) at [email protected]