Food Issue 2016: The 10(-plus) tastes we can't forget

Local dishes and drinks our staff and interns can't get out of their noggins.

Now that CL’s resident food guru has armed you with his most unforgettable tastes after a year of restaurant reviewing, it’s our turn. We’ve all got a little bit of gastronome in us, after all. Go from St. Pete Beach to New Port Richey with these drinks and dishes we can’t shake.

This is part four of a six-part series in CL's annual Food Issue.


Tonia C. via Yelp

The Bricks, Tampa

VEGGIE CUBAN

For obvious reasons, those who eschew animal products can't exactly be purists about Cuban sandwiches. Those who are offended that there's no pork to speak of on this wonderful lunchtime option ought to suspend their disbelief and give it a try. The bread is perfectly toasted, it's got loads of veggies, and there's something about a combination of avocado, pickle slices and mustard that really makes it pop (even for the pickle-averse). Vegans: remember to ask for it without cheese and honey mustard, and extra avocado. 1327 E. Seventh Ave., Tampa, 813-247-1785. thebricksybor.com. —Kate Bradshaw


Brix 33, New Port Richey

RED WINE & BLACK PEPPER-INFUSED CAPELLINI IN OIL & GARLIC WITH SESAME SEARED TOFU

Minimalist in form and presentation, this Brix plate does a healthy job fusing Eastern and Western culinary sensibilities with a delicate blend that’s deeply fulfilling. The tofu is seared to perfection, and its crispy exterior provides a textured balance to the rose-colored noodles. 8351 State Road 54 #109, New Port Richey, 727-835-7912, brix33.com. —Brian Roesler


Carne ChopHouse, Tampa

GRAPEFRUIT MARTINI

Sure, this is a place where people are supposed to go for steaks. But what brings us in is a lesser-known detail we may regret publicizing: $2 Finlandia martinis. Every. Single. Day. (Until 7 p.m.) They're not the size of your head or anything, but they make for an ideal happy hour. We like the grapefruit martini because it's the least sweet of the fruity ones (and classic martinis are a little much for us). 1536 E. Seventh Ave., Tampa, 813-341-9555, carnechophouse.com. —KB


Ceviche, Tampa

ELDERFLOWER GIMLET

A gimlet that’s decidedly floral in tone from the presence of the juniper from the gin; it’s bright and fragrant while still maintaining a mature flavor. Though the drink isn’t wholly one-of-a-kind, its subtle contrasts work beautifully during a hot and humid Floridian night. 2500 W. Azeele St., Tampa, 813-250-0203, ceviche.com. —BR


Kate Bradshaw

The Cider Press Cafe, St. Pete

PAD THAI

You wouldn't think an all-raw, vegan dish could be filling, let alone something of a comfort food for spice-o-philes. But, as with most of its offerings, Cider Press pulls it off. Topped with diced fresh veggies and tossed in a perfectly spiced sauce, the plate eschews rice noodles for ones made of zucchini and kelp. It's all garnished with a lovely orchid, reminiscent of your favorite not-so-raw Thai place. 601 Central Ave., St. Petersburg, 727-914-7222, ciderpresscafe.com. —KB


Carlynn Crosby

Grey Salt, Tampa

SEA SCALLOPS

Grey Salt has a good thing going on at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino. Using fresh, locally sourced ingredients, the new summer menu’s sea scallops are everything you’ve ever wanted (or, if you’re like me, never even knew you wanted). They’re seared and served on a bed of charred corn and parsley pistou. The gulf shrimp and rosemary polenta takes a really, really close second. 5223 N. Orient Road, Tampa, 813-627-8100, greysalt-restaurant.com. —Carlynn Crosby


The Hyppo, St. Pete

GOURMET ICE POPS (ANY OF THEM, REALLY)

Within the first week that this St. Augustine transplant opened, I’d already earned a free popsicle on my Hyppo stamp card. The place uses non-GMO ingredients without preservatives or added colors in its artisan ice pops, and there’s always a full menu board of crazy flavors, everything from jalapeño mint to an Elvis Presley. On the 600 Block in the heart of downtown St. Pete, the pop shop’s great for patrons traveling by foot or bike. 627 Central Ave., St. Petersburg, 727-498-6536, thehyppo.com. —Katie Callihan


Benjamin S. via Yelp

Ichicoro Ramen, Tampa

CACTUAR

Many braved a long wait at this casual-cool ramen-ya when its doors officially opened to Seminole Heights in late October 2015. And good thing, too, because the shochu-based cocktails, which my crew and I enjoyed on our first visit while waiting for a table, are exceptional. The one that stole my heart (and the CL restaurant critic’s, P.S.) was the Cactuar — a lovely mix of shochu, Fabbri tamarind, house-made ginger syrup and lime juice. Don’t miss its wonderful gingery goodness. 5229 N. Florida Ave., Tampa, 813-517-9989, ichicoroya.com. —Meaghan Habuda


Katie Callihan

Love Food Central, St. Pete

PULLED BBQ SANDWICH

I’ve never had a better “pulled barbecue sandwich” — that wasn’t actually pulled barbecue pork. The vegan and gluten-free cafe uses savory jackfruit in place of the real thing, pairing it with soy-free vegenaise and topping the whole delicious creation with arugula and avocado. The Love Food Central crew also throws in a side of fresh coleslaw. What’s not to love? 2057 Central Ave., St. Petersburg, 727-317-2034, lovefoodcentral.com. —KC


Nitally's Thai-Mex Cuisine, St. Pete

YELLOW CURRY BURRITO

The combination the two best dishes in the world — thick, spicy curry and stuffed-to-the-gills burritos — seems like the makings of success. Order this dish, and your plate comes with not one but two burritos. For some of us, that's at least three meals. It comes with extra curry in a little cup on the side, which we admittedly might slurp when no one's watching. Caution: ordering medium-hot here is like ordering hot anywhere else. 2462 Central Ave., St. Petersburg, 727-321-8424, nitallys.com. —KB


Cathy Salustri

PJ’s Oyster Bar, St. Pete Beach

PEEL-AND-EATS, OYSTERS & CRAB LEGS

Nothing beats Florida seafood. When my boyfriend and I started dating we’d head here for a pound of cold you-peel-’em shrimp (no Bay), raw oysters from Apalachicola and crab legs, ending the date covered in horseradish and drawn butter. Seven years later, we’re still slurping oysters and eating shrimp with wild abandon at these plastic green booths; PJ’s buys hyperlocal and fresh when they can. Forget gastropubs and kale done 20 ways — our state’s seafood needs no help. 7490 Gulf Blvd., St. Pete Beach, 727-367-3309, pjsoysterbar.net. —Cathy Salustri


Station House St. Pete via Facebook

Station House, St. Pete

FALAFEL FRIES

Stacked in a neat grid and accompanied by a cup of tahini for dipping, the falafel fries at Station House are everything I like about falafel (savory, crunchy, rich), everything I like about french fries (crisp, piping hot, easy to eat), and none of what I don’t: They’re not heavy and they’re not greasy. What they are is addictive — and they tend to disappear in a hurry. 260 First Ave. S., St. Petersburg, 727-895-8260, stationhousestpete.com. —David Warner


Urban Comfort Restaurant and Brewery via Facebook

Urban Comfort, St. Pete

HOT CHICKEN

Oh, man. The best fried chicken in town got even better when they made it Nashville-style spicy — but not too spicy, with just enough vinegar-y acid to accompany the kick. Last I checked, it wasn’t a permanent addition to the menu, but keep an eye out for it on the specials board whenever you stop in. Or maybe try to bribe your server (and the chef) with a round of UC’s crafted-in-house beer to whip you up an order on the fly. 2601 Central Ave., St. Petersburg, 727-623-9823, urbancomfortstpete.com. —Scott Harrell


Big Easy in the ’Burg Dinner at Stillwaters Tavern, St. Pete

STEAMED AMERICAN RED SNAPPER, BLACK EYED PEA PUREE, CALLALOO & ANDOUILLE SOY BROTH

OK, this one’s not exactly fair, since the chef who created it, James Beard winner and New Orleans resident Allison Vines-Rushing, won’t be cooking it again around here anytime soon (unless she whips it up during a visit to her mom, St. Pete insurance and arts doyenne Sylvia Rusche). Part of a delicious five-course dinner she prepared with Stillwaters Executive Chef Jeffrey Jew to benefit the St. Petersburg Free Clinic, this was the dish that stood out: the red snapper was meltingly tender, the pea puree offered an earthy textural contrast, and the andouille broth drenched the components in deep, savory flavor. C’mon, Allison: Wouldn’t it be fun to open a restaurant in St. Pete? 224 Beach Drive NE, St. Petersburg, 727-350-1019, stillwaterstavern.com. —DW

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