This post is a bit overdue, due to limited Net access until two days ago, but I thought some of you would still be interested in how our last two weeks of dining in Tampa went before our move up to Gainesville.
The weekend before last, we decided to stop into Castellano & Pizzo Italian Gourmet Foods on Henderson one last time. This time, instead of bringing my parents, we went with Traci's dad. In addition to enjoying another pressed Cuban sandwich, we also ordered dessert this time from their bakery, too. Mazzaro's is the king of local Italian markets/delis, but I will still miss Castellano & Pizzo.
We hadn't been to Interbay Meat Market in several months, but were looking for a cheap and quick meal one night that was close by and thought of Interbay. On our previous visits, we had stuck to deli sandwiches, but on this visit we went with some of their cafeteria-style Cuban food. It's hard to beat a big serving of ropa vieja, black beans and yellow rice for five bucks (and no, I don't want to think about how long that food may have been sitting there). No frills and good food always works for me.
Speaking of no frills, we also stopped into El Taconazo aka "the Taco Bus" on Hillsborough in Seminole Heights one day for lunch. While I didn't love the place after my first visit maybe a year ago, the Taco Bus has grown on me with each subsequent visit. The "specials" for lunch - two soft tacos with refried beans and rice- are a good deal. The tacos are small but tasty (you do have to be a fan of cilantro to like 'em) and the thick green hot sauce on the table makes things taste even better. The Bus will be missed.
On our last week in town, in a break from packing, we hit Mel's Hot Dogs on Busch one day for lunch. I ordered a "Reuben" dog and Traci went with a "Chicago" dog. Mel's is a cool little place full of history and I'm glad that multiple readers suggested we visit Mel's before we moved. Mel himself unfortunately wasn't there when we stopped in, which, from what I understand, is part of the unique experience.
I also re-visited another reader favorite, the Tampa Bay Brewing Company, one day for drinks after work. To me, the Brewing Company's new location in Centro Ybor doesn't have nearly the charm of their previous location a few blocks away, but the beer selection is still great (I'm a light beer wimp and like their True Blonde Ale the best). The outdoor bar and patio area at the new location is a good addition.
We also couldn't leave town without having going-away drinks one night at Kahuna's, a favorite neighborhood dive bar of ours on Gandy across from Derby Lane. The food at Kahuna's can be dicey, but the drinks are stiff and priced right. People that think this place has a rough crowd probably spend too much time in SOHO.
Finally, we went ahead and splurged with a Sunday brunch at the Don CeSar Hotel on St. Pete Beach. While the Vinoy and Oystercatcher's may have better brunches, we have a warm spot for the Don since Traci grew up in South Pasadena/St. Pete Beach and we used to spend a lot of time in the area. For me, the fresh seafood selection was the highlight of the brunch. Traci liked the made-to-order pasta station. We were also able to get a table near the window with a direct view of the beach and the gulf.
There's lots of additional local restaurants we would have liked to hit before we moved, but we ran out of time. While some of the criticism of the Tampa Bay food scene is justified, the area certainly isn't starved for good food and good local restaurants either - if you know where/how to look. Granted it does take time, effort, experimentation (you can't find "hits" without being willing to eat at a fair share of "misses" as well), talking with your friends and neighbors, and just keeping your eyes and ears open.
And with that, it's time to start focusing on restaurants here in Gainesville...