The Tampa Tribune’s food writer since 2005, Jeff Houck covers the way people live through their food. He also hosts the Table Conversations food podcast and believes that everything crunchy is good.
Most Recent Entries
- Generation Food Truck Goes For Guinness World Record For Food Trucks In Tampa
- The Sip: Dawn Heidemann Represents Tampa in New York City At The ‘Bartending Olympics’
- Bill Walsh: Author, Copy Editor, Language Snob Who Finds Plenty Of Peeves On The Menu
- An Inconvenient Convenience Store Truth: Mom-And-Pop Shops Are More Fun
- Weekend Eats: Grouper Tacos, Deviled Eggs With Truffled Salt, Birch Beer Cupcakes
- Join The Plate Licker’s Club; Leave No Morsel Behind
- Greg And Michelle Baker To Follow The Refinery In Seminole Heights With Fodder & Shine
- Weekend Eats: Homemade Moussaka, French Fries With Cheese Gravy, Meatball Banh Mi Sandwiches
- The Sip: Drinking In ‘The Great Gatsby’ With Martinis And Mint Julep.
- Mouth Safari: The Stein & Vine Brings Great Eats, Outstanding Drinks To Valrico
- Weekend Eats: Pork Tonkotsu Ramen, Spicy Chicken And Waffles, Oysters With Crispy Shallots
- The Underbelly Tour Devours Central Avenue Restaurants In St. Petersburg
- Hot Rod’s BBQ In Lutz Serves Up It’s Last Plate Of Barbecue Fruit Bat. Or Whatever It Was.
- Hank Shaw - Hunter, Gardener, Fisherman, Cook - Wins A James Beard Award
- Gary and Amy Moran Out At Wimauma Restaurant In South Tampa
Generation Food Truck Goes For Guinness World Record For Food Trucks In Tampa
Posted Jun 6, 2013 by Jeff Houck
Updated Jun 6, 2013 at 06:05 PM
Jeremy (pictured above) and Candy Gomez‘s cellphone keeps ringing. Almost every time they answer, the caller is someone who wants in on their attempt to break a Guinness world record for the number of food trucks operating in one place.
Generation Food Truck, the Gomezes’ event-planning company, aims to lure as many trucks as possible to the Florida State Fairgrounds on Aug. 31.
An April rally in Miami at Magic City Casino set the bar with 64 trucks. The goal for Tampa is to assemble more than 100.
“We decided we can do Tampa proud,” Jeremy Gomez said. “We’ve already done rallies in Tampa with 35 to 40 trucks.”
Gomez said food trucks at the Funshine Music Festival in May at the fairgrounds were well received. The fairgrounds is an ideal venue for food vendors because of the paved surfaces, access to restrooms and nighttime lighting.
Local bands are being booked to entertain at the August rally, which will run from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Admission will be $6 for parking, with each truck charging individually for food. Beer also will be sold.
Gomez said he put the word out weeks ago to 168 operators in Florida, including about 45 from the Tampa area. Interest since has crossed state lines. Atlanta’s Happy Belly Curbside Kitchen [link] wants to serve its “farm to street” food. Charleston’s Cast Iron truck [link] plans to sell its Carolina chopped barbecue. Each operator will pay a $25 to attend.
The Gomezes’ own Not Your Ordinary Food Truck also will join the throng, serving an assortment of wild game and exotic meat dishes.
Gomez concedes few if any operators will make money that day, no matter how large the crowd. That includes his own truck.
“But the food trucks are really cool and they all know this,” he says. “They just want to be part of the Guinness record.”
The phone rings again. He takes the call.
“That was a Jamaican truck from Miami,” he said. “They didn’t get my email. They just heard by word of mouth that we were doing it and wanted to come. I love finding new trucks.”
The Sip: Dawn Heidemann Represents Tampa in New York City At The ‘Bartending Olympics’
Posted Jun 4, 2013 by Jeff Houck
Updated Jun 4, 2013 at 11:41 AM
In 2004, Dawn Heidemann was laid off from her management job at Capital One in Tampa after 6 ½ years.
In addition to severance, she was given career guidance, including a class that asked, “What Do You Want To Be?”
Being a bartender sounded fun. She had no hospitality experience, but it had to be more creative than managing a bank’s call center.
So Heidemann went to bartending school, eventually landing a job at a sports bar in Clearwater named Marbles. From there she worked behind the bar at the Paradise Lakes clothing-optional resort south of Tampa.
“The uniforms were very small,” she said.
But her expertise blossomed after she landed at Bern’s Steak House, making syrups and juices in-house for the high-volume bar. She later built her knowledge of dessert wine pairings while managing the restaurant’s Harry Waugh Dessert Room.
Heidemann, 34, now works at Fly Bar & Restaurant in Tampa and is one of the founding members of the local Left Coast Bartenders Guild which holds the enormous Repeal Day Party in Ybor City and last weekend’s Tiki Party on St. Pete Beach.
Yesterday and today, she has been competing against 20 contestants at the Diageo World Class U.S. Finale in New York City, which tested her culinary creativity, her palate and her mixology craftsmanship in what many call the Bartending Olympics. The winner is scheduled to be announced later today.
Challenges included blind tastings, food pairings and making cocktails, including one classic drink and one cocktail that reflects the 1970s or 1980s. For her classic drink, she made a Rosita with tequila, dry and sweet vermouth, Campari and Angostura bitters. For the second, she made an apricot cocktail reminiscent of the wine coolers that were popular during those years.
As one of only four women in the finals, she hopes her participation inspires others to compete.
“It stretches my creativity,” Heidemann told me on Friday before she left for the competition. “Something like this pushes me beyond my comfort level. I like to do it and I think it’s good for me.”
Bill Walsh: Author, Copy Editor, Language Snob Who Finds Plenty Of Peeves On The Menu
Posted Jun 4, 2013 by Jeff Houck
Updated Jun 4, 2013 at 07:37 AM
Getting through the day in this OMG, RFLMAO world is a second-by-second bar fight when you get paid to wrestle the English language to the ground.
Such is life for Bill Walsh.
A copy editor at the Washington Post, Walsh just released his third book on the peculiarities of word usage, “Yes, I Could Care Less: How to be a Language Snob without being a Jerk,” (St. Martin’s Griffin, $14.99). His first two books — “The Elephants of Style” and “Lapsing into a Comma” — are full of his grammar, punctuation, style and spelling peeves. His web site The Slot has been a copy editor’s oasis for longer than I can remember.
So many incorrect theirs. So little time for there’s.
The new book is a guide on how to love language in its true and proper form without strangling it to death or, for that matter, strangling those you love who recklessly mangle words into hot-mess sentences very much like this very one. He spells out a stickler’s rationale for telling whether your word peeve is one that makes sense or one you should go ahead and abandon.
“Sticklers worry about things they shouldn’t worry about, but how different is that from being a fashion snob or a food snob?” Walsh says.
“A lot of the things we worry about are worth worrying about, even if they are just tiny things,” he says. “It’s funny how much of the book ended up being about food and drink.”
Words matter when it comes to food. Make a dish with cippolinis and you’ll get one reaction. Fill it with chapulines and your guest might call the health department.
For cocktail snobs like him, the term that really grates is “gin martini.” Word wizards know that as a retronym. Think of it as using two words when one does the trick. Like “alcoholic cocktail.” Or “white milk.”
“It’s just kind of sad that a martini no longer means only gin,” he says.
A daiquiri is no longer a “Hemingway daiquiri.” People who once drank at fern bars and listened to Pablo Cruise with paper umbrellas in their glass see the word “daiquiri” and assume they’re getting a frozen strawberry drink topped with whipped cream. If you want a true daiquiri like the ones Papa drank with the six-toed cats in Key West, with rum, lime juice and sugar, you have to say “Hemingway daiquiri.”
Milk is no longer that white stuff. It might be of the chocolate or almond or soy or goat or sheep variety. Think words don’t matter? Only a few decades ago, dairies truncated the last seven letters from “homogenized milk” to separate it from 2 percent or skim.
“It was a more innocent time then,” Walsh says.
Want two eggs for breakfast? Well, what kind? These days, you better specify that it’s a hen egg, because people eat quail eggs and duck eggs and every kind of egg that comes from a waddler.
Hen egg. As if rooster eggs were a thing.
He wonders sometimes why clarifying terms would even be needed.
If someone says, “Here’s a burger!” You’re not going to say, “Do you mean a turkey burger?” You assume it’s a beef burger.
“And yet,” he says, “I see on menus ‘beef cheeseburger.’”
Not long ago at a steakhouse, he read a menu that allowed customers the choice between a sweet potato or a cowboy potato.
“What’s a cowboy potato?” I asked.
“A potato,” Walsh says.
When is a Ziploc a zip-lock or a zip-top bag? Walsh knows. It’s the kind of thing that catches his attention.
“Baggies is even lowercase in the dictionary,” he says, his outrage barely contained in a monotone. “I bristle a little at that. No, no! It’s a brand name!”
His exclamation points were inferred.
Cutesy shortcut words annoy him as well, especially when they become standard, accepted versions for the original. Wearing a tux in a limo on first reference sets him off.
“I really hate when veggies is the standard way you express the word vegetables,” he says, the measured monotone rising to a C-sharp, the resonant tone of planet Earth. “It’s OK once in a while, but occasionally, throw in the real word!”
The latest offender, the real burr in his word saddle, is “mac and cheese.” Everything is “mac and cheese” this, “mac and cheese” that. He never hears the entire, mellifluous, rhythmic Italian conjunction. These days, everyone wants to use the bare-knuckled abbreviation, as if they have an ATM code to finish or a flight to catch.
“You never hear the full word,” he says, his voice full of manufactured angst. “I just want to scream, ARONI! ARONI! ARONI!”
Think of that. A very grown, very dapper, highly specific word man in a tweed coat running after a cheesy-lipped middle-schooler, correcting every morsel of truncated pop-speak.
“COME BACK HERE, WORD RUFFIAN! ARONI! ARONI! ARONI!”
It’s enough to make you LOL. While eating a beef cheeseburger. With a martini.
Make it with gin, please.
An interesting addendum:
The week I interviewed Bill, his life exploded all over the Internet after he posted a helmet cam video he shot during his bicycling commute to the Post.
As Bill wrote on his blog:
“I was in the bike lane that bisects Pennsylvania Avenue, about halfway to work, when, as happens more often than it should, a cabbie (it’s usually a cabbie) decided to make a U-turn across that bike lane. Which is dangerous and illegal. And so I shouted “Illegal!” (I’ve shouted worse.) And he looked at me and thought about it and ... made the U-turn anyway. And, instantly, I heard a siren. Yes, right behind that cabbie was a police car, and he was being pulled over. It was the FBI Police, as it happens (the District of Columbia has a lot of police forces you’ve never heard of), but that’ll do.
“I thought the instant karma was mildly amusing, and so I edited my video and put it on YouTube.
” I had no idea. Quickly there were licensing and partnership offers. (I hope I did a good job accepting and declining.) There was coverage. I made Reddit, then Washington City Paper and DCist and Greater Greater Washington and Romenesko and the Orlando Sentinel. Even Kenneth in the 212. And a TV show! Before long there were a million views. A million.
“This is just wacky. If a million people know my book exists, I’ll be pretty darn lucky.”
An Inconvenient Convenience Store Truth: Mom-And-Pop Shops Are More Fun
Posted Jun 2, 2013 by Jeff Houck
Updated Jun 2, 2013 at 04:18 PM
I heard a rumor that couldn’t possibly be true.
First of all, I heard it on the Internet.
Second, the rumor was that the new Thorntons convenience store and gas station at the pizza-slice intersection of Lithia Pinecrest Road and Brandon Boulevard was giving away free fountain drinks, coffee and frosty treats.
This was news. I’m a big fan of liquids. And I’m always up for checking out a new convenience store. With a swarm of new Thorntons and Wawa stores opening this year in east Hillsborough County, my curiosity got the best of me.
I jumped into investigative-reporter mode. I got into my truck immediately, using the cover story that I needed some gas.
After spending much of my son’s college money pumping a full tank, I walked into the shiny, clean store, stood at the counter and said, “I heard a lie on Facebook that you’re giving away free drinks.”
“That was no lie, a large man behind the counter said, handing me a customer redemption card. “Help yourself.”
Remember the scene in “Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory” when the kids run into the room full of edible flowers?
I was Augustus Gloop, thirsty and ready to drink.
I had a phalanx of soda choices.
There was a battalion of flavored coffee dispensers all standing at attention as if they had consumed too much caffeine.
A few feet away was a wall of taps customers can use to make a Fizz Freeze, the Thornton’s version of the Slurpee, with such flavors as Cotton Candy, Root Beer Float and Pina Colada.
So I poured myself a delicious breakfast of watermelon Fizz Freeze, bought a shame banana for 99 cents and headed to work.
It was efficient and generous and, based on the many men in front of me with full cups and glasses at the cashier, a marketing coup.
And it was an experience I could have at any giant, corporate gas station convenience store anywhere in America.
Wawa is opening two stores this year in Brandon/Riverview/Valrico. Thorntons already opened its first store at U.S. 301 and Bloomingdale Boulevard several weeks ago. RaceTrac is transforming its menu of food inside its stores to match the upscale (for a convenience store) grub at Wawa and Thorntons.
I’m all in favor of better food in more places. I think of it as seeding the clouds for hungry palates.
But what you won’t get at those places is any sort of local flavor.
Like I said, I’m sort of a convenience-store aficionado. I love mom-and-pop shops because of the odd variety of snacks and drinks they stock. Each one has its own personality that both reflects the neighborhoods they’re in and the difference between their businesses and the corporate chains.
My fascination probably goes back to my childhood in St. Petersburg, when my friend Keith and I would violate Mom Law and sneak across busy First Avenue South and Central Avenue to the 7-Eleven on 64th Street to go buy Wacky Packages trading cards, Gatorade gum and Slurpees.
When we were worried our parents would find out, we’d ride our bikes to the safer alternative: the Short Stop Food Mart at 64th and Fifth Avenue South. They had cool stuff, too, but it wasn’t as much of a thrill as crossing two streets of rush-hour traffic.
There are stores in our part of Hillsborough County that remind me of the funky and tiny Short Stop.
At the Rainbow Food Store on Bell Shoals Road, you can help yourself to a Styrofoam cup of Cajun-flavored jumbo boiled peanuts from a slow cooker. If you’re in need, you can buy an emergency package of V-neck t-shirts, too.
Mmmmm. That’s good eats.
At the Erindale Food Mart on Lithia Pinecrest Road just south of Bloomingdale Avenue, you’ll find a rack of Arizona Jack’s Super Giga Peppered Beef Jerky big enough to use it as a floor mat in your car.
You might want to warm up your jaw before attacking this bad boy. You wouldn’t want to pull a muscle.
At Brummeyer’s One Stop on Turkey Creek Road in Plant City, a sign proudly boasts, “We make fresh Cubans.”
That announcement carries more weight in a rural area than in, say, Ybor City. In that part of the county, there isn’t anything for miles that resembles a grocery, much less a sandwich counter.
You can also get fresh Cubans, stuffed potatoes, empanadas and devil crab inside the Havana Café at the Quik Mart on Bell Shoals Road.
To wash it down, they sell All-Natural Relaxation Bob Marley’s Mellow Mood black tea.
Or, if you like, go for a can of Bang, the “potent brain and body fuel” flavored like lemon drops. You choose.
While paying for them, you’ll be tempted by the wooden necklaces with the wooden emblem of a crucified Jesus.
Those are next to wrist bands displaying a dozen Caribbean nations and the specialty condoms.
The pink-ribbon breast cancer pens are down at counter level.
I don’t know what will happen to these kinds of neighborhood stores when the invasion of the Wawas and Thorntons takes root. I’d like to think there is enough business for all of them.
But then I remember the Short Stop and the 7-Eleven I grew up with.
The Short Stop is still there.
The 7-Eleven is now called M&S Mart.
I wonder if they still sell Gatorade gum?
Weekend Eats: Grouper Tacos, Deviled Eggs With Truffled Salt, Birch Beer Cupcakes
Posted May 28, 2013 by Jeff Houck
Updated May 28, 2013 at 04:22 PM
Anyone who knows me knows that I am a friend of the pig and all of its various byproducts.
So it is no surprise that I have a porky little crush on plates of Mexican carnitas. Anytime you make anything out of the Boston Butt of the pig and then throw some Latin flavor on top, I’m on board.
Which is what that plate up there would be.
Twitter friend @michjenkins enjoyed a flight of Chicken mole, carnitas and chorizo tacos over the weekend. That tasty little offering won her this week’s Weekend Eats contest.
For her excellent taste in shredded protein, she wins the following:
A copy of Pati Jinich’s outstanding new book “Pati’s Mexican Table.” It’s a companion to her PBS show by the same name. (Allow me to suggest the Aztec Chicken Casserole.)
Intrigued? Here’s a video of Pati talking about Mexican food during a stop at the Google headquarters. Because, you know, they don’t have enough amenities there.
In addition to the book, @michjenkins also enters the hallowed confines of the Weekend Eats Hall of Fame.
Other slobber-inducing dishes this week included:
* @lonelygourmet: Lucious prime rib, done perfectly, with loaded baked potato and broccoli ... mmmmm
Not enough for you? Here’s this week’s Gallery of Noms: