Sampling Tampa's food history: Revisiting the rum omelet and Cuban bollos

I was inspired last month when I judged a heritage pie baking contest at Cracker Country, a living history program at the Florida State Fairgrounds. Some of the 19th-century recipes sounded unusual, especially the vinegar pies and jelly pies, but many shined despite my doubts. Florida has its share of iconic dishes, but many have fallen out of fashion into obscurity and disrepair. How many near forgotten classics could shine again with a little love? Here are a few notes on my own recent explorations into two local favorites that are rarely celebrated these days.

I’ve always been intrigued about a simple Cuban snack once popular in Tampa and Key West, black eyed pea fritters called “bollos” or “bollitos.” These “balls” or “little balls” are little more than mashed bean and garlic. After fooling with a few old recipes, I quickly found they didn’t work so well. The bean mixture was never firm enough, and the outside of the fritter wasn’t nearly crispy enough. Thankfully, making bollos was a cheap experiment and kept trying.

I have heard of battered bollos, but wanted something simpler, so I settled on a flour and cornmeal crust. I also switched gears on the filling, opting for black beans and store bought crispy fried onions. Garlic, jalapeno, cilantro, and hot sauce and spices rounded out the flavors. Traditional bollos were much simpler, with little more than garlic and bean, but my version tastes much more interesting. Serve with hot sauce.

The next recipe I tackled was more unusual and more intriguing: The rum omelet. Once famous as a dessert in Tampa’s Spanish restaurants, it takes the idea of a Spanish omelet, or tortilla, into sweet territory, studding eggs with fruit and flambéing in rum. For decades, the rum omelet stood beside Crepes Suzette and flan as a favorite dessert.