As a Florida food and travel writer since the 1980s, I have joyously eaten Tampa Bay’s best dishes for ages. But, just when I think I know the local foodie scene, bang! An explosion happens with a new wave of diverse cuisine emerging from the kitchens of Florida’s most talented and creative. Grab a fork and join me in tasting this new revolution of food. I’ve left my notes to help you start your endeavor.
Hero Water Cocktail Well, I couldn’t leap tall buildings after this signature sip, though its Japanese shochu spirit distilled from sweet potato was clearly emboldening. Mostly, I felt refreshed by its cucumber, lime and coconut heroism.
Tonkotsu This ramen bowl, like many of Ichicoro’s specialties, fuses Asian cuisine with Tampa Bay’s Cuban heritage. Mojo-style asado pork snuggles with the house noodles in a rich broth close to gravy. Ginger and toasted sesame tones spark the fiesta of textures from spiced hard-boiled egg to bamboo shoots. Not my dorm room’s ramen!
Spicy Abura Soba They call it “Japanese carbonara.” The broth-less ramen bowl layers roast pork, ginger tempura, applewood bacon and poached egg.
Pink Moon When “shine” shares a restaurant’s name, ’shine it is. This moonshine libation elevates the kicky liquor with fruity notes of grapefruit, carpano bianco and St. Germain elderflower liqueur. Starfruit gets muddled within, and is used as a garnish. My first clue that this place knows how to class-up Southern classics.
Cornmeal Fried Chicken It may sound cliché, but nonetheless, here F&S sticks close to tradition. Prepared to order in quarter or half portions, it’s like sinking your teeth into crackle and juice. The bacon-braised greens are sticky sweet, requiring only a dash of the house’s datil pepper sauce.
Brown Butter Buttermilk Ice Cream I am not a big ice cream fan, but the ingredients grabbed me. Buttermilk contributes a note of tang to the ice cream, and orange in the caramel makes this brilliantly Florida. The benne wafers? The thinnest, crispiest, most buttery imaginable.
Benedict An inspired reinvention of biscuits and gravy founded on large, fluffy, griddled biscuits with black pepper caraway crème as the crowning touch. But the fresh, peppery, housemade chicken sausage patties are the boss of this dish.
Chicken Burger In a historic former livery building, graze on the signature dish. Roasted tomato, fresh jalapeño, avocado, feta and cumin aioli turn the ground chicken tenderloin (flavored with cilantro and scallion) into a mouth party.
Fried Avocado Wedges Crisp panko crusting gives way to buttery filling. A sauce of sambal-ignited sour cream, smoked sea salt and lime completes the taste-bud tango.
Scallop Crudo Thin, salty slices of raw sea scallop in cashew milk. Then the flavors go a little nuts with ginger cashew gremolata and slivers of flash-fried chives for a novel yin-yang conjunction of land and sea.
Morcilla Reflecting Chef Farrell Alvarez’s Colombian roots, the silky blood-and-rice sausage filling counterpoints with the casing’s snap. Jalapeño, cilantro and charred tomato in the relish perfectly balance the richness.
Gnocchi with Short Ribs On an ever-evolving menu, this one remains constant—once you’ve tasted it, you are addicted to the pillowy gnocchi, dollops of creamy smoked ricotta and pickled rings of spicy peppers.
Fig Lebowski From Edison’s Mixology Lab, it shakes up bourbon that’s house-infused with dried fig, sumac-infused maple syrup, citrusy Licor 43 and Seville orange bitters. Served up in an old-school martini glass, it tastes like a liquid fruit bowl drizzled with autumn.
Potato-Crusted Oysters A prime example of Chef Jeannie’s wizardry and a constant on a daily changing menu. Blue Pointe oysters breaded with finely shredded potatoes for a flash fry. Plated on the half shell puddled with sweetened, reduced dill pickle brine, a splotch of house dijonnaise for creaminess, and micro Dijon greens for texture and punch.
Vadouvan-seared Red Snapper Uses a housemade Indian-inspired spice blend and comes with coconut turmeric jasmine rice, vanilla-pickled carambola (starfruit) and tropical fruit curry for a gallivanting brush with exotica.
Charbroiled Oysters Mmmm! The smokiness sparked memories of fresh oysters on the grill for Christmas Eve. These go a step more festive with chunky garlic and a crust of melted Parmesan and Romano.
Florida Pompano It is difficult to find pompano on Florida menus, so I didn’t hesitate to order the mild fish, thinly fileted and pan-seared. Finely chopped sundried tomatoes and shallots gave the creamy tomato sauce textural complexity. I loved the color and crunch the carrot ribbons (French fry-style) added to the dish’s landscape.
Water Works Meatloaf Comfort food gets a kick off the couch. Dry-aged strip steak and fresh vegetables go into the meatloaf, topped with cabernet garlic demi glaze. For surprising flavor, housemade white cheddar popcorn tops the garlic-leek mashed potatoes.