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What to eat

Wedding Noms

“One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.” -Virginia Woolf

“I couldn’t eat another thing. I’m absolutely stuffed.” – Mr. Creosote

Dining well is something we hope to provide in abundance on Friday and Saturday night.

Friday – those of you out-of-towners and those of you with substantial contributions to the ceremony can expect what any good resident of Tampa would consider a celebratory meal – CUBAN FOOD! Get ready to get your ropa vieja, platanosfrijoles con negros, and yucca frita on! Kari is extremely excited. A beber y a tragar, que el mundo se va a acabar.

For the wedding on Saturday all we can say is this: Wear your best eating dress. Gentlemen, expanding pants are recommended. We are going to transport the best of South Carolina to a tiny patch of land in Clearwater.

And it will be good.

There will be a full pig roast  (from a wonderful and loving local farmer [CL – you can love your pig, just … don’t love your pig]) and a Low Country Boil (with Gulf shrimp, naturally). You can expect some tasty sides and whatever we come up with.

This is an ecumenical pig roast. That means you should feel welcome to express your feelings about the preparation and sauce selections, as anyone who might have an opinion about such things will tend to have a vigorous opinion about such things, but you should be respectful of other people’s opinions about BBQ sauces and try not to punch anyone in the nose.

In honor of April 20th and Crawford’s service to the City of Atlanta [CL – my path has taken me from Greenville to Atlanta to Tampa … sort of a latter-day, reoriented Sherman’s March to the Sea, with less fire], we’ll have lots of cold SweetWater 420 Pale Ale and wine.  We’ll also have an assortment of mixers and sweet tea.

If you are a vegetarian, please let us know and we will point and laugh.  (And provide you with a tasty alternative).

Bibs will be provided.  For real.

Nomming your way through Tampa Bay

There are lots of amazing places to eat in the area and this is just a short list. All of these have been tested and are well worth the drive. This list is not exhaustive, it’s just awesome. Here we go:

The Refinery
The Refinery gets top billing for many reasons. First, this James Beard nominated restaurant has become a national darling for its changing menu, its innovative approach, and its good sense not to use terms like “gastropub,” “artisian,” and “foodie.” Second, the owners, Greg and Michelle Baker are really good friends with Team Goetz and Jobsite Theater (those two groups are interchangeable btw) and will be part of the wedding festivities. Third (as if you need a third, go eat there already), The Refinery was where Kari took Crawford to dinner after seeing each other for the first time in 20 years. The staff knew the situation and were asked that if it looked like we weren’t able to talk to each other – please stop by and chat us up. (We did fine for the record.)

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The Independent
This is right down the street from The Refinery and part of Kari and Crawford’s neighborhood, Seminole Heights. If you love beer, you’ll love The Independent. Kari considers The Independent to be an extension of her living room, and owner Veronica Danko is proof that you can be a high-powered New York attorney and then do something really meaningful in your life, and open a kick ass biergarten. And the food is really good too.

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The Columbia
A list of places to eat in Tampa would not be complete without a nod to the oldest restaurant in Florida. This Ybor City landmark is a testament to the rich and diverse history of Tampa. Have a 1905 Salad, a real Cuban sandwich, and wash it down with a mojito. Your breath will stank so bad that you might as well give up and go smoke a hand rolled Tampa cigar at King Corona, sip a cafe con leche and watch the epic wildlife that roams Ybor. You’ll have a blast.

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Bern’s Steak House
Got a good deal on airfare? Staying on Marriott points? Just won the lottery? If you’ve got some money to burn and want to have a truly amazing dining experience – you owe it to yourself to check out Bern’s. With the ambiance of a whorehouse (trust me, it works), unbelievable service, and over half a million bottles of wine to chose from, you will have an amazing night. Ask to take the kitchen and wine cellar tour, then stay and have an aperitif in a private booth at the dessert room.  Then call a cab.  If you want to try their other restaurant Sidebern’s, this innovative American cuisine concept will not disappoint. Head chef Chad Johnson, along with Greg Baker of the Refinery, and Richard Gonzmart of the Columbia make up Tampa’s triumvirate of James Beard nominees.

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Taco Bus
On the other end of the spectrum there is Taco Bus. This magical bus full of Mexican goodness. It’s cheap, it’s delicious, it’s filling, and once you’ve had it, you will wake up at 4 a.m. craving it. Broken English is perfectly spoken, the tejas music is hella loud, and the verde sauce will transport you to a place of transcendental bliss. Oh, and the Conchinita Pibil is this good.

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Wat Mongkolratanaram of Florida (The Temple)
The Temple. The amazingly tasty Temple. Okay a few things – first – you’re going to have to really want this. This is going to require you behaving yourself at the wedding, getting up somewhat early on Sunday morning, and making the drive to The Temple by no later than 11 a.m. (and it will be a 30 minute drive from St.Petersburg). If you arrive much later than 11, you’ll find most things are sold out.  On Sundays, the congregation of Wat Mongkolratanaram has a open market with fresh vegetables, herbs, orchids, and food – So. Much. Food. Bring cash, and be prepared to stare down at a big beautiful bowl of beef noodles (that only cost $5), a skewer of delicious grilled chicken, pork, beef, and this crazy lemongrass sausage ($1 per skewer), a plate of fried bananas ($3) and then look up to the sky and thank Buddha for his amazing gifts. The Temple sits on the River and after you’ve eaten your face off, you can stroll around and look at all the fish that congregate near the dock, or go and quietly watch the monks chant.  (Full disclosure – Kari brought Crawford here on one of his first visits and she is pretty sure that from that day forward, he loved her a little bit more).

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There are so many other places to try in Tampa – we haven’t even scratched the surface with this list. Ella’s Americana Folk Art Cafe, The Bricks of Ybor, Saigon Deli, New World Brewery, Yummy House, El Puerto, Rick’s on the River, we could go on and on. Here’s a Best of the Bay list with a lot of options… enjoy.

St. Petersburg/Clearwater Noms

Ted Peters Famous Smoked Fish
The name kind of says it all, doesn’t it? Floridians tend to take their smoked fish and smoked fish spread pretty damn seriously. You can’t type in “smoked fish Florida” without Ted Peters coming up on the top of the list.  There’s a reason for that. This little shack on Pasadena Ave. has been smoking the best fish in the state for over 50 years. The fish spread is amazing and the smoked mullet is something you will think fondly of on your death bed.

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There are a lot of Frenchy’s along the Pinellas coastline and they all serve their world famous Grouper Sandwich. Whether you chose the Original Frenchy’s or Frenchy’s Rockaway Grill or any of the others in between you can be sure that the beer will be cold, the grouper will be real and the dress code will be casual.

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Meze 119
We haven’t thought much of the vegetarians in all of this. That’s rude and we intend to correct that momentarily. Meze 119 is our apology and you’re welcome. The food is unique and interesting (these are the adjectives I can come up with when there isn’t meat involved). Chef Jason Kingsley‘s creation is in the heart of St. Petersburg’s Museums.

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El Cap
It’s debatable whether this is the best burger in St. Pete, or even a good burger, but it is an institution. Most folks we know think the burgers are pretty good. The people who don’t think the burgers are pretty good are Yelp trolls and take pictures of everything they eat and knock a place down a few stars because there were mosquitos on the patio. El Cap is a great burger and you get major local street cred for saying you ate there.

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Red Mesa Cantina
Make sure you eat on the outdoor patio if you can (the inside can be a little loud), and enjoy this fun Mexican restaurant for its upscale fare and deep commitment to Mexican wrestlers. Red Mesa is great for a large group (call ahead) and the margaritas are really good. This place gets busy, but it is in a great section of St. Pete  and you can go over  to Push Ultra Lounge and watch the beautiful people teeter around in their high heels and catch a waft of Axe Body spray.

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This place is disgusting. The food is barely edible. The bands are so bad you will clap the loudest when they announce they are going on break. There will be a nauseating number of whale tails  and folks who have brought their own beer koozie. You’ll wonder why we put this on the list. But then you’ll look out and see the prettiest damn sunset you’ve ever seen and you’ll say, “This beer isn’t so bad,” “I’ve heard worse versions of Sweet Home Alabama,” “The french fries are edible,” “Life is good.” Then you will realize why folks around Tampa Bay find themselves at Caddy’s a couple of times a year, and we always come back for more.

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So these are a few recommendations, there are more. Y’all know how Yelp works. We trust you’ll find someplace great and you’ll tell us about it.