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Jeff Houck

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.

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Chocolate Chip Cookies For A Cause [Making A Hospice House Feel More Like Home]

Posted Apr 9, 2014 by Jeff Houck

Updated Apr 17, 2014 at 12:28 PM

Chocolate Chip Cookies

Touring the LifePath Hospice house recently in Sun City Center, I was stunned by how much care was taken by the staff to make the facility as comfortable as possible for those who are in the final phase of life as well as their visiting family and friends.

LifePath operates two houses; the one on Upper Creek Drive in Sun City Center and another on North 52nd Street in Temple Terrace.

From living room-plush couches and chairs to a cafeteria, library, chapel and a peaceful flower garden, the Sun City hospice aims to give comfort to those who spend time there.

I asked volunteer coordinator Sandra Cody if there was any way I could help from a food side of things.

She thought for a moment. “Chocolate chip cookies,” she said.

Although operated by Chapters Health System, LifePath relies heavily on volunteers and donations, as does the Chapters-owned Good Shepherd Hospice, which covers Highlands, Hardee and Polk counties. The demand for their palliative care and grief services is enormous, especially as the Baby Boomer generation ages in this region.

In order to keep costs to a minimum so services can be provided to as many needy patients and families as possible, providing chocolate chip cookies in the hospice houses became less of a priority.

Cody said patients crave the comforts of home, including cookies. It’s why, for example, there is a volunteer system in place to bring dogs and cats to patients who request a visit or hair stylists to offer haircuts and washes.

LifePath Hospice

Cody said a donation of between two or three-dozen cookies each week to the LifePath houses would give patients a heart-warming treat that they might not otherwise enjoy.

I promised her I would try to find bakeries that would be willing to bake and deliver each week for the houses.

If you’re interested, please contact Sandra at (813) 642-1827 to find out the details of where and when they need them delivered.

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Richard Gonzmart’s New Project: Targeting Prostate Cancer [And Opening a $5 Million Restaurant]

Posted Mar 27, 2014 by Jeff Houck

Updated Mar 28, 2014 at 11:59 AM

Men can talk all day about the NFL Draft, the best day of fishing they ever had or how their child hit a ground ball through the gap in Little League to win the game.

Talking about their man-plumbing and the health problems surrounding those sensitive areas is low on the list of Comfortable Topics for Chatting About with Other Guys at a Cigar Bar.

If restaurateur Richard Gonzmart gets his way, prostate cancer patients won’t feel like they have to hide their diagnosis.

“It’s not something men like talking about,” he says.

If there’s one thing Gonzmart is good at, it’s talking passionately about things.

And exercising.

On Wednesday night, Gonzmart invited close friends and powerful business associates to his new restaurant, Ulele, to enlist them in the cause. Gonzmart wants to hold a walk/jog on Father’s Day at the Tampa Heights restaurant to raise money for research.

Actually, Ulele isn’t a restaurant. Not yet.

Gonzmart is in the process of creating Ulele (pronounced “yoo-LAY-lee) inside the century-old former Tampa Water Works building. The restaurant will feature food inspired by ingredients used by the native tribes who lived along the Hillsborough River’s shoreline, as well as those foodstuffs brought to the land by the state’s first European pioneers.


Ulele First Dinner

Ulele First Dinner

The five-course tasting menu by chef Eric Lackey, with wine pairings selected by managing partner Keith Sedita and three house-made beers by brewmaster Tim Shackton served as a teaser of flavors to come once the restaurant opens as well as a lure for those in attendance to give their support to his cause.

Among the temptations:

Ulele First Dinner

Gulf shrimp and blue crab cocktail with a Florida avocado puree and charred corn datil pepper relish.

Ulele First Dinner

Chicken osso bucco (lollipop chicken) with a Florida citrus red chili glaze and apple kale slaw.

Ulele First Dinner

Fresh boiled pompano with Dade City kumquat browned butter.

Ulele First Dinner

Ulele First Dinner

Ulele Grilled Oysters with garlic herb butter, pecorino Romano and Parmesan.

Ulele First Dinner

Homemade Dade City Kumquat Ice Cream with Dakin Farms Dairy all-natural ice cream.

Ulele First Dinner

Water Works Pale Ale


As if creating a $5 million restaurant project wasn’t a big enough bite to chew, Gonzmart is equally as passionate about promoting prostate research through the Father’s Day event.

His annual Richard’s Run For Life, which in November will mark it’s 12th year, raises money for research on child and young adult cancer. The race has raised more than $1 million dollars during its existence.

This cause, though, has special resonance. Not only did cancer take his father Cesar Gonzmart, cancer also took the life of Tampa football great and Gonzmart friend Freddie Solomon.

More recently, David “Lags” Lageschulte one of the founders of the Hooters restaurant chain, died last week at age 62 from prostate caner.

On Wednesday evening, Gonzmart told the dinner’s attendees that he also has been diagnosed this year with prostate cancer. His diagnosis shows that it is treatable, he said. He begins treatment on May 2.

He plans to run a marathon three weeks later.

Defeating prostate cancer was a mantle once carried in Tampa by Bob Samuels. Diagnosed with prostate cancer in 1994, Samuels founded the Florida Prostate Cancer Network and the National Prostate Cancer Coalition. He broke trail on the effort to make prostate cancer a more preventable, less-fearful disease. Samuels died in 2012 at age 74.

What Gonzmart wants, is to put a face on the disease that few men want to discuss.

“Prostate cancer shouldn’t be a taboo subject,” Gonzmart said. “We’re going to change that.”

Prostate cancer. No longer a source of embarrassment.

It will happen.

If Richard Gonzmart gets his way.

* * * * *

For more information, contact:

Arlynn Haarer - (813) 248-3000, ext. 24, or .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

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Datz Owners Sign Lease To Open ‘Roux’ [Taste Of The Bayou In South Tampa]

Posted Mar 24, 2014 by Jeff Houck

Updated Mar 24, 2014 at 12:34 PM

Roux restaurant logo

The owners of Datz and Dough restaurants said today they plan to open a third restaurant on South MacDill Avenue in Tampa, this time in the St. Croix Plaza.

Roger and Suzanne Perry, who opened Datz in 2009 and Dough in April last year, said they signed a letter of intent with St. Croix owner John Zambito during the weekend to lease the former space of Wimauma restaurant at 4205 S. MacDill Ave.

Wimauma closed soon after former chef Gary Moran and his wife Amy left the restaurant in May 2013. The space remained empty since then.

Suzanne Perry said the new restaurant will be named Roux and will feature a menu with Creole, Cajun and other southern influences. A soft-opening is planned for mid-May.

Lunches at Roux will be “designed for speed” and will include po-boys and muffaletta sandwiches, she said. The menu will feature local ingredients when available. Other bayou staples, such as crawfish, will be purchased from Louisiana. Cajun sausages, such as boudin and Andouille, will be made in-house, as will the gumbo. Florida game, such as wild boar, alligator and frog legs will be featured as well.

Dinners will include white-tablecloth service, with fine seafood dishes, crab, lobster and steaks.

“There will be higher price-points, but still moderate and affordable,” Suzanne Perry said. “Not as high as Eddie V’s or Ocean Prime.”

The bar will feature craft beers and New Orleans-inspired craft cocktails, including absinthe. A wine program also is planned.

Desserts will be developed by sister restaurant Dough, including ice creams, pots de crème and bread pudding made with muffaletta bread.

The Perrys said they are excited to work with Zambito, who they said promised to revamp the plaza for all the tenants.


“We believe that their investment along with ours will add new energy to that stretch of the MacDill corridor – one we care about because we live in South Tampa,” Suzanne Perry said.

Roux twitter

You can follow the restaurant’s progress on its Facebook and Twitter pages.

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‘USA Today Made A List Of Tampa Bay’s Best Food Spots [Great Places They Missed]

Posted Mar 13, 2014 by Jeff Houck

Updated Mar 13, 2014 at 01:56 PM

USA Today - Top 10 Foodie Spots in Tampa/St. Petersburg

Tampa Bay food fans are abuzz about a list posted to USA Today’s web site of the 10 Best Foodie Spots in Tampa/St. Petersburg.

I’m always a little queasy when it comes to lists. Especially when they use the word “best” as a qualifier. Greatness is in the taste buds of the beholder.

The top 10 in this case starts with Taco Bus at No. 10 and puts the star on the tree with Mise en Place at No. 1. In between, the list is populated by the must-visit stalwart Bern’s Steak House, its modern sister restaurant SideBern’s, the rising star The Refinery, the stylish neighborhood hang Pane Rustica, the spiffy Bella Brava and the cool, crazy uncle Z Grille in St. Petersburg.

The list’s biggest surprises: Rococo Steak in St. Petersburg and Maritana Grille on St. Pete Beach, each for different reasons. Tucked inside the Lowes Don CeSar Resort on St. Pete Beach, Maritana Grille rarely gets the love it deserves. Rococo Steak in St. Petersburg opened only a few months ago. It’s worth a visit for all the reasons USA Today cited, but is only starting to make a dent in the dining public consciousness.

What I like is that you could have added another 30 places to this list and still not made a dent in the best the area has to offer. (My friend Kat Kinsman of Eatocracy sagely asks, ” What is a ‘foodie spot’ as opposed to a ‘restaurant?’”) Also, a Tampa Bay food list with no Cuban spots is suspect to say the least. Including Taco Bus barely gave a nod to the Latin community.

Which ones did the writer overlook?

Arco/Iris and West Tampa Sandwich Shop, for starters. Mazzarro’s Italian Market is glaring omission.

So are Columbia Restaurant, La Segunda Bakery, Rooster & the Till, Edison Food + Drink Lab and Datz.

I’d have loved to see Capital Tacos or La Pequena Columbia included.

I also would have put Yummy House, Saigon Deli and Kaisen Sushi in the batting order. And you can’t finish without Revolution Ice Cream Co. for dessert, of course.

Palm River Thai Temple

From a purely “foodie” standpoint (gritting my teeth at that word, yet again), I think you have to include Thai Temple (pictured above) for Sunday brunch. It’s a must-visit for anyone who thinks Tampa lacks a diverse, rich food culture.

Facebook friends of mine chimed in with additions as well:

Patrick Tracz - Cafe Ponte.

Jaime Rogers - Saturday morning market in St Pete

Deborah Barone Jonneaux - Vizcaya Restaurante & Tapas Bar most definitely

Mary B Jrvis - One Family Korean restaurant needs to be on the list.

So, yeah, lists. Not my favorite. But if it helps spur conversation about great food, I’m all in favor. Just hearing the word “foodie” and Tampa Bay has a nice ring to it. For once.

Chef Greg Baker: ‘I Now Believe In Coconut Cream Pie’ [Eating At Jestine’s Kitchen In Charleston]

Posted Mar 10, 2014 by Jeff Houck

Updated Mar 10, 2014 at 12:53 PM

Charleston Wine + Food Festival - Photo by Charleston Post & Courier

There are many food and wine festivals across the country. In the past decade, they proliferated in all parts of the U.S. as the interest in food as entertainment grew. Once-small events now command millions in ticket revenue and sponsor dollars as more affluent patrons flock to enjoy gourmet dishes and drinks.

Few festivals offer a window into the rising stars of American food like the Charleston Wine + Food Festival, held each year on the second weekend in March. In the past five years, the quaint gathering on South Carolina’s shoreline city blossomed into a major destination for American chefs and gourmands, mirroring the growth of Charleston as a home for modern southern cuisine ingredients reinvented for a new generation.

For several years, Greg and Michelle Baker, rising stars and owners of The Refinery in Tampa, have attended CW+F, both as fans of the festival and, for Greg, as a contributing chef participating in events. They returned last weekend to Charleston to again participate and represent Tampa.

But a trip to “The Holy City” wouldn’t be complete without and eat-around beyond the festival’s borders.

Greg and Michelle will be writing a story about Charleston for the Tampa Tribune in an upcoming edition. In the meantime I invited Greg to write about the great eats he found while in Charleston. He emailed me this missive on his way into the belly of the southern beast.

Looks like we all need to make a road trip.

# # # #

Greg writes:

Charleston Wine + Food is essentially a giant golf course for chefs across the country. We all look forward to it. Some of us participate. Some of us just attend and mock our peers, as they do in kind when it’s our turn on the brightly lit stage or jammed into a tent overflowing with drunken attendees. Some of us do both. We all rub elbows with the press. We all eat an insane amount of food. We all drink twice as much as we eat and none of us sleep. It’s a grand, grand time but it takes some prepping.

Eat as soon as you land in the old city of Charleston.

I always ask my cabbie where he/she eats. Typically, they know where the best food is. I then ask the front desk of the hotel where they have eaten recently. The trick is “recently.” You don’t want them to tell you about tourist trap restaurants. When both the cabbie and the hotel personnel name the same spot right off the bat, go. Jestine’s Kitchen was that place.

Greg and Michelle Baker in Charleston

From the moment you walk in, you’re in Jestine’s Kitchen.

Greg and Michelle Baker in Charleston

Fridge doors, cartoon figurine salt and pepper shakers, and accolades from every major food publication cover ever surface. Jestine Matthews is the namesake and it’s an awesome story of how the ‘Kitchen’ came to be. Check out their website for the full story. 

Greg and Michelle Baker in Charleston


Greg and Michelle Baker in Charleston

Don’t mind if I do.

Cornbread is great. So is fried chicken and mashed potatoes. And lima beans and stewed okra.

Greg and Michelle Baker in Charleston

All of it was full of goodness.

But I wanna talk about pie.

Greg and Michelle Baker in Charleston

It’s worth noting I have loathed coconut my whole life; my wife loves it. But dare I say it, I’m now a convert. The coconut cream pie served at Jestine’s has the flakiest pie crust I’ve ever eaten. The coconut filling is a true custard mix with toasted shredded coconut. The soft meringue on top was a work of art that only a few decades could master. Yes, the sausage gumbo, butter beans, cornbread with honey butter, fried chicken, green beans and mashed potatoes were amazing but that pie has inspired me to rethink my enmity with coconut.

Now that I’m wheel barrow full, I’m heading to the first leg of the golf course. The Opening Night Party, followed by another Opening Night Party followed by the After Opening Night Party. Wish me and my liver luck.