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Spanish/Cuban cooking is usually spiced up with garlic, onions, olive oil, bay leaves and oregano. Traditional menu items include black bean soup, boliche (spicy sausage stuffed inside a beef roast), picadillo (seasoned ground beef hash with capers) and fried plantains (a yellow-green fruit similar to a banana). And for something sweet, the locals have always had a fascination with anything guava or Key lime.
Cuban Bread, Please
Cuban bread shouts Tampa's story. Consider La Segunda Bakery, a family business of three generations that produces most of the Cuban bread used around town.
The recipe for the long, crusty loaves originated in Cuba during the Spanish-American War and was brought here by the More' family. The crust is crisp and golden, but thin, with a beautiful split, or bloom, right down the middle. The dough is shaped by hand and rolled into 36-inch-long loaves. Freshly picked palmetto fronds are washed and laid down the middle (during the baking process the fronds cause the crust to split and the bread to bloom down the center).
The bread provides a base for another Tampa favorite, the Cuban sandwich. The bread was piled with cured ham, roast pork, Genoa salami, Swiss cheese, yellow mustard and sour pickles and prepared room temperature or pressed through a planchado machine. Time has altered the sandwich and it is now ordered with mayonnaise, lettuce and tomato.
The Columbia Restaurant
When Tampa restaurateur and icon Adela Gonzmart was a student at Juilliard in New York, she could hardly wait to get home to enjoy these dishes.
Gonzmart's grandfather, Cuban immigrant Casimiro Hernandez Sr., opened the Columbia Restaurant in 1905. What started out as a small corner café known for its strong Cuban coffee served up with political discussions is now a Tampa landmark covering more than a block and seating more than 1,600 people. The reputation of the restaurant grew and attracted notables including Jack Dempsey, Rocky Marciano, Liberace, and President Kennedy. Today, Spanish paella, ropa vieja and flan are served up nightly with live flamenco shows.
In 1921, Carlos Menendez, a Spanish immigrant, founded the Naviera Coffee Mills, named for the shipping lines that brought him to America.
Working in a cigar factory by day, he roasted the coffee at night and delivered his fresh roasted blends door-to-door by bicycle each morning. Today, four generations later, Naviera Coffee Mills, Inc. is still family owned and operated. Naviera supplies many local restaurants with custom blends. Visitors can walk in the storefront in historic Ybor City and taste a café Ybor, espresso beans blended with steamed sweetened condensed milk.
While Spanish and Cuban dishes took on new twists in Ybor City, the Italians stayed true to their traditional ways of cooking. However, in some cafes and delis, visitors will find homemade focaccia and cannoli on the same menu with Cuban sandwiches and guava turnovers.
Bern's Steak House is another legend of Tampa's food scene. In business since 1956, this iconic steak house was founded by Bern Laxer, a man who was passionate about offering the best products to his guests. He and his wife Gertrude landed in Tampa after their car broke down during a vacation to Florida to visit relatives. His aunt owned a local Chinese restaurant where the Laxers worked until they realized they wanted to start their own unique restaurant.
The evolution of a world-class restaurant with seven dining rooms and 350 seats via a small sandwich shop located inside a strip shopping center is a remarkable, but the philosophy that still serves Bern's, "the customer must always come back" is the reason this iconic steak house is internationally known. John Mariani, one of American's foremost food critics has called Bern's, "the most remarkable restaurant in the entire world."
To earn this credit, the steak house buys the best, freshest products available from its seafood to its land cress sprouts which are grown in the kitchen and used on the salads. Bern's standout entrée is steak - U.S. Prime beef; aged five to eight weeks in an aging room housed in the kitchen to control for humidity and temperature. The wine collection, the largest in the world, boasts more than half a million bottles and 6,500 different selections - wines that guests come from all over the world to drink. Additionally, all guests are invited to tour both the kitchen and wine cellar to see for themselves what makes the steak house world class. After dinner, guests can retire to their very own private space upstairs in the Harry Waugh Dessert Room where more than 50 handmade desserts, ice creams and sorbets await paired with one of the more than 1,000 dessert spirits. Bern's also operates its own organic farm where seasonal vegetables and herbs are grown.
In 1999, Bern's spawned a modern, sister restaurant called SideBern's. Today SideBern's is a food lover's paradise offering contemporary modern, Mediterranean cuisine. The sleek dining room invites diners to unwind and enjoy SideBern's progressive, fresh choices from its dinner menu to its seasonally influenced tasting menu paired with choices from the restaurant's award-winning wine collection. As you dine, savor flavors and textures that range from the exotic to the deliciously familiar created with seasonal ingredients and culinary influences from France, Italy, Spain and North Africa.
SideBern's accolades include a Four Diamond Award from AAA and consecutive Award of Excellence awards from Wine Spectator Magazine.
A Tampa dining institution since 1984, where the flavors of authentic Northern Italian Cuisine are combined with detail oriented hospitality, Donatello recreates the ambiance of an Old fashioned Italian restaurant.
Guido Tiozzo learned his trade at the Savoy Hotel in London and the Hotel du Berg in Geneve then opened his own restaurants in London and in Venezia, his hometown, before coming to Tampa.
"Quality and Tradition" is the motto of Donatello. "Quality" in the food, only the freshest ingredients are used, and in the service, professional and friendly. "Tradition" in the constant presence of the owner, his attention to details, from his greeting at the door to his checking at the tables or his lending a rose to the ladies.
The menu displays plenty of Italian specialties such as handmade pasta, risotto, ossobuco, veal scaloppini...each dish prepared at the moment of the order. In the piano bar, at the baby grand Mrs. Kitty Daniels and at the drums Majid Shabazz, two wizards of the artistic scene.
From the rising stars to the time-tested favorites of Tampa's restaurant scene, talented cooks and chefs pay their respects to those who built Tampa into a special and eclectic city. Search for your favorite restaurants or check out some of our favorite local recipes.