Everyone has their own special way to wave goodbye to the past 12 months. Fireworks, champagne, kisses with strangers. Here at Eat a Duck, as you’d expect, our farewell involves food…and lots of it. Logan and I had been stewing over embarking on a food crawl for some time, and seeing 2013 out with a feasting trip seemed like a perfect fit. Todd from Tasting Tampa and his lady friend were kind enough to join us, rounding out a foursome with the ability and appetite to conquer the larder of any given municipality.
Naturally, as we were in Central Florida, we had a choice of Orlando or Tampa. We went with the latter and in our best Lemmy impression, we played it fast and loose, adding and substituting eateries on the fly, the final lineup is seen below.
Eight restaurants are no laughing matter. With this many places, one must pace themselves or run the risk of hitting a wall long before you reach the end, which in our case, would have been a tragedy. We made our rendezvous with Todd at our first stop, Yummy House. We had sampled the dinner menu on Christmas day, but today it was all about dim sum. Pork and ginger dumplings, pork siu mai, Chinese broccoli with oyster sauce, and fried calamari in their famous salt and pepper preparation. I’m cautiously confident in stating that this dim sum is the best in Central Florida. The only thing to keep it from knocking Ming’s off its throne is the lack variety on the menu.
It took everything I had not to overdo it here as I was famished, but we had a long road ahead of us. So I laid my chopsticks down and hopped in the car for our second stop, Cigar City Brewery. Both Logan and I had decided not to spend any of our crawl money on alcohol, but the call of a hoppy IPA was too much for my colleague. For eats, we kept it light with a small bowl of duroc pork chicharrones with mojo salt and lime. It was a perfect intermission to get us ready for our stop number three…
Woodfired Pizza. As is usually the case in the Tampa area, Todd was received like a conquering king, this time by a wise looking pizzaiolo working a smoking wood oven. Introductions were made and we were granted a VH1 style story from the owner himself, Peter Taylor, of his decades long quest to make (not bake!) the perfect pizza. Needless to say, we were anxious to get a taste. Todd took the lead and ordered two “must have” pizzas, the Pistachio and the Dante. The former came with pistachios, fresh mozzarella, raw red onion, olive oil, pecorino romano, rosemary and organic herbs. This was by far the most aromatic pizza we had ever sampled. The pistachio and herb mixture made a sort of pesto that filled your nose with an earthy aroma. Subtle and creamy with a slightly sweet crust as a compliment. The Dante on the other hand was bold, with its sriracha spiked tomato sauce. Smooth ricotta managed to shine through the heat and served to balance the dish. Sliced meatballs and grated Dante cheese rounded it out. We unanimously agreed it was the best pizza we had all had in a while.
After a bit of a drive, we landed at stop 4, Anise Global Gastrobar. Logan has sung the praises of this eclectic temple of food before, so I had taken this opportunity to try it for myself. Half a dozen oysters with hibiscus mignonette got us started. Crisp, clean and tender, they were a perfect appetizer for the stinky bunz that followed. The Eat a Duck boys covered four out of five of the bunz, Chinese BBQ pork, beer battered shrimp, red curried crispy chicken and braised pork belly. After a bit of each I was sold. They more than lived up to Logan’s praises. I was sad to leave without being able to sample more of the menu. The food crawl giveth and the food crawl taketh away, we had to continue!
Not far from Anise, we arrived at our fifth stop, Pané Rustica. Lo and behold, Todd spotted a couple more friends and lovers of food. After little coaxing, we managed to detour them from their plans in favor of joining us on the rest of our crawl, but not before we each devoured a quarter of a two storey burger topped with ham and cheese.
No building sized sandwich was going to slow us down. Élevage was our sixth stop, and I had high expectations following Logan’s recent post. We set up shop in the bar, just outside the main dining room. The menu in the bar was only a fraction of what Élevage has to offer, but in the name of efficiency we ordered the first three items the group agreed on. Deviled eggs with blackened blue crab, escargots parmesan and reuben beef tartare with comte, 1000 island, brussels kraut and rye bread. Surprisingly, these three items were underwhelming. The deviled eggs were a tasty but hardly eye-opening. Sadly the flavor of the escargots was lost beneath the layer of cheese and tomato sauce and the beef “tartare” was cooked all the way through. From what I read about this place in Logan’s post, Élevage is set to be a food destination for any serious eater in the country. However the lounge menu needs some work to say the least. The items sound amazing, but the execution leaves much to be desired. In any case, I’m in no way writing it off as every new venture needs time to work out the kinks. Onwards and upwards stop seven…
Sidebern’s. Anyone with an appreciation for food in Central Florida has been here, so we knew what was in store. We wasted no time and ordered up a pile of moules frites, duck rillettes, oysters, a stack of fresh ham with stone ground mustard and a couple of beautiful scallops with a striking herb pesto. Each item was executed to perfection. Fresh mussels bathed in a broth that could satisfy the strongest hunger all on its own. Moist duck settled in a layer of fat coated the tongue, only to be cut by the clean flavor of the oysters. This is what the folks running the Bern’s empire are truly capable of once they get in the zone.
Seven restaurants down and we were still going strong, our stomachs hadn’t betrayed us yet as we steeled ourselves for the eighth and final stop, Rooster and the Till. In hindsight, the place that excited me most. The entire restaurant is the size of a large living room. The kitchen resides just behind the bar, so everything is on display. The chef and his minions, armed only with three hot plates and a meticulously prepared mise en place, were pumping out food to the crowded room at an impressive pace. Even more impressive is that the menu changes with the wind, so don’t expect to find everything we did on your own visit. We had to wait about 30 minutes, but once we took our places at the bar, we were rewarded with truly inspired food for Tampa, or anywhere for that matter. Lamb heart tartare with a golden duck yolk was outstanding. Raw littleneck clams with pickled radish and grapefruit was addictive. Pork belly with cornbread and pickled apple with peppercorn honey showcased genius flavor combinations. Cauliflower in brown butter with pickled raisins and braised turnip with white beans and pickled celery in a pork fat vinaigrette wowed even this staunch veggie hater. Dessert was a pear and cranberry parfait with granola and homemade whipped cream. Rooster and the Till has the hunger and passion of a newly formed band looking for a label. I hope they hold tight to that hunger in the years to come as I plan on becoming a regular so as not to miss a single dish.
The first ever Eat a Duck food crawl was more than successful, starting with an explosion of salt and pepper and ending with a lamb heart attack. This could very well turn into a tradition, so keep your eyes and ears open this year for more Eat a Duck crawls, we’d love to bring some of our readers along on our next adventure!