BBQ Love Fest takes over Tampa, Izakaya Tori's bar make its debut and more local food news

Plus the return of the McRib, drone Chick-fil-A delivery and a few more openings.

click to enlarge Over 20 local cook teams and professional pit masters will provide tons of BBQ at this weekend's festival. - c/o BBQ Love Fest
c/o BBQ Love Fest
Over 20 local cook teams and professional pit masters will provide tons of BBQ at this weekend's festival.

Tori Bar Last March, popular Tampa cocktail staple Fly Bar closed its doors, but a new concept just opened in its former downtown location. Back in September, the owners of Izakaya Tori took to social media to announce that a new Japanese-style pub called Tori Bar (one of three Tampa Bay spots on Yelp's "100 Best Places To Eat in 2023" list) will take over downtown’s old Fly Bar space. The "late-night" Japanese tapas spot soft opened this week and is already being praised for its Japanese whiskey, high balls, craft cocktails and menu items like grilled skewers, sashimi, sea urchin hand rolls and hokkaido scallop truffle carpaccio, alongside a few other small plates. Tori Bar is now open from 4 p.m.-midnight Monday-Thursday (with the kitchen closing at 11:30 p.m.), 4 p.m.-2 a.m. Friday and Saturday (with the kitchen closing at 12:30 a.m.), and is closed on Sundays. There are no reservations for this new Japanese bar just yet, only walk-ins on a first come, first served basis. 442 W Kennedy Blvd., Tampa. @tori_bar_tampa on Instagram

Fortu A hot new restaurant just opened in one of The 'Burg's most historic buildings. Fortu is located within the historic Ponce De Leon Boutique Hotel that formerly housed popular Spanish restaurant Ceviche before it moved a few blocks away in 2021. Although ILovetheBurg says Fortu’s official grand opening doesn’t happen until Tuesday, Dec. 5., it seems like reservations for its dining room and patio are now available via Tock. Promising an “elevated Pan-Asian dining experience that celebrates Asia’s vibrant and diverse culture,” Fortu’s menu boasts a wide selection of steaks—including specialty cuts of wagyu—both cooked and raw seafood, and a variety of fusion-forward shareables and sides. Since steaks are the star of Fortu’s menu, the newly-opened high end concept offers a variety of different cuts—from prime ribeyes, Australian ebony strip steaks and porterhouses to tenderloins, massive 40oz “cowboy cuts” and an A5 wagyu pairing, complete with dry-aged Miyazaki ribeye cap and miso koji aged-stone axe tenderloin. 95 Central Ave., St. Pete.

Da’ Shrine Self-described as a “cultural immersion that transports you to the heart of Africa and the Caribbean,” Seminole Heights’ newest restaurant made its long-awaited debut last week. Da' Shrine is located directly across from Spaddy’s Coffee Co. and adjacent to other concepts like Chocolate Pi, Independent Bar and Cafe and the newly-opened Champion Pizza. The Caribbean and African restaurant celebrated a grand opening on Nov. 9 and offers a variety of both traditional and fusion dishes, from whole red snapper with jollof rice and stewed oxtails to pounded yam and chicken stew, the popular Nigerian soup egusi, jerk chicken wings and spicy spaghetti. Da' Shrine is also open for breakfast, with a daytime menu of red velvet pancakes, shrimp and grits and a steak skillet, alongside its full-service bar which boasts a variety of craft cocktails, beer and wine. 5137 N Florida Ave., Tampa.

Gorditos We all know that Sparkman Wharf can be absolutely sweltering in the summertime, but luckily a new empanada and shaved ice concept can help cool things down next time you're strolling around the popular Tampa hotspot. Gorditos is the newest concept to join Sparkman Wharf, and will soon live next to neighboring Proper House Group concepts like Dang Dude and Gallito Taqueria. After hosting a “sneak peek” soft opening last week, PHG's Chef Ferrell Alvarez took to social media to announce Gorditos' official grand opening, which happened this past Wednesday. In addition to its lineup of fresh empanadas with fillings like beef, chicken, spinach and cheese, mojo pork and guava and cream cheese, Gorditos also dishes out various flavors of shaved ice to help cool off on a hot Florida day. The shaved ice itself is topped with different syrups and fruits, and comes in flavors like piña colada, mucho mango, watermelon and lime, strawberries and cream, and even coconut Thai tea, complete with lychee boba and toasted coconut. 615 Channelside Dr., Tampa.


Fazoli’s Less than two years after opening, fast-casual Italian chain Fazoli's has closed its first and only Tampa restaurant. Tampa's first Fazoli's debuted at 4011 E Busch Blvd back in February of 2022. It's unclear exactly when the Hot Bins-adjacent location closed, but the restaurant has been removed from the company's website, and both the Google and Facebook profiles now say it's "permanently closed." Creative Loafing Tampa Bay reached out to the company for more details, and calls to the location say the number is no longer in service. Known for its baked pastas, as well as lasagna, pizzas, breadsticks and wings, Fazoli's holds a special place in the hearts of mid-western transplants, who essentially considered this fancy fast food back in the late mid to late 90s. The celebrated opening of the Tampa location was originally part of a large push from Fazoli's to open 25-30 new franchises throughout the country in 2022.


BBQ Love Fest The phrase “cooking for a cause” takes many forms, but one Tampa native has launched a philanthropic event that combines his passion for barbecuing with his community-centered ethos. The Brisket Shoppe’s Danny Hernandez—alongside a variety of other barbecue enthusiasts, volunteers, musicians and vendors—hosts the inaugural BBQ Love Fest in downtown Tampa this weekend with the mission of “cooking for a cure.” Perry Harvey Sr. Park in Tampa’s Encore district is the host of the first-ever BBQ Love Fest, happening from 11 a.m.-6 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 18. This family-friendly event is free for children under the age of 12 and offers discounted admission for first responders. Tickets ($65 for general admission, $129 for VIP) include barbecue samples from 20 local cook teams and the “Pitmaster’s Showcase,” access to a variety of grilling-related vendors, live music and the chance to vote for your favorite plate of the day. 1000 E Harrison St., Tampa.

Tarpon Springs Seafood Festival For 35 years, residents of Tarpon Springs and beyond have indulged in a decadent spread of crab legs, shrimp, oysters and mussels at the charming waterfront town’s seafood festival. Live music, an arts and crafts show, a kid’s zone and a variety of local food vendors are part of the laid-back Tarpon Spring Merchant Association-organized festival, happening this Friday-Sunday. There’s free parking at Splash Park and Tarpon Towers, plus a complimentary shuttle that will take you to the festival itself. Event organizers estimate that about 30,000 people will be in attendance this weekend, so perhaps expect to wait in a line for certain vendors. There’s no cover for the Tarpon Springs Seafood Festival happening Friday-Sunday, Nov. 17-19 at Craig Park. 100 Library Ln, Tarpon Springs.


A Tampa Bay Chick-fil-A location is now offering free drone delivery The traffic is so bad in Tampa Bay that even chicken sandwiches are avoiding the roads at all costs. Earlier this week, the E. Brandon/Valrico Chick-fil-A restaurant (located at 1504 E. Brandon Blvd) announced that it's now offering free drone delivery. In a demonstration video posted to Facebook on Monday, the brief clip shows a Chick-fil-A order getting bagged up and handed off to a DroneUp pilot, who then puts the food in a white box and attaches it to a drone in a coned-off parking lot launch site. The food is then seen getting air dropped from the sky into some hungry guy's yard. The service is free for a limited time, says the company, and is available Monday through Fr​​iday from 10 a.m.-6 p.m. A representative at the location told CL that orders have to be within a 1.2-mile radius, but the location is hoping to expand that to two miles soon. This is at least the second major brand to partner with DroneUp. Last year, the company announced it was also brining drone delivery services to select Walmarts in the Tampa area.

The McRib will return to Tampa Bay McDonald's locations this week The McRib, a big savory wad of ground-up pork shoulder and spices emulsified into a food-like brick of preservatives and then carefully topped with pickles and onions, will make a limited return to Central Florida McDonald's locations this week. McDonald's recently announced that its fan favorite seasonal sandwich will come back on Thursday, Nov. 16, but in a very limited capacity. "Just like everyone’s favorite rockstar coming out of retirement, the McRib returns once again for a limited time only, but not nationwide," says a press release. "Head to a McDonald’s near you in Central and North Florida, South Georgia, or Southeast South Carolina while supplies last. As of now, participating McDonald's can be found in the following Central Florida counties: Brevard, Charlotte, Citrus, Desoto, Flagler, Hardee, Hernando, Highlands, Hillsborough, Lake, Manatee, Marion, Orange, Osceola, Pasco, Pinellas, Polk, Sarasota, Seminole, Sumter and Volusia.

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About The Authors

Kyla Fields

Kyla Fields is the Managing Editor of Creative Loafing Tampa Bay who started their journey at CL as summer 2019 intern. They are the proud owner of a charming, sausage-shaped, four-year-old rescue mutt named Piña.

Colin Wolf

Colin Wolf has been working with weekly newspapers since 2007 and has been the Digital Editor for Creative Loafing Tampa since 2019. He is also the Director of Digital Content Strategy for CL's parent company, Chava Communications.
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