Buttermilk Bakery – Orlando, FL

It’s taken us over a year to try these off the wall, idiosyncratic or dare I say Craftsmen and Wolves-esque lineup of croissants, tarts, cakes, pies, financiers, cookies, and kouign ammans. As a self profressed food lover, it’s a travesty that I’ve waited so long. 

buttermilkbakeryI’m comfortable in my critiquing abilities and knowledge of the greater Orlando area, and so I it seems natural to see Buttermilk Bakery, aka I love Buttermilk as arguably the finest patisserie in Orlando. You can’t browse any of the reputable, nay popular blogger community figureheads without seeing top down shots of what I would consider their flagship flavor: The double baked matcha croissant. Of course, I followed suit, the lamb that I am. But let’s get serious. How many bakers in the area are performing at this level?  With a scope ranging from caramel cornflake crunch croissants to roasted sunchoke goat cheese & herb quiche, and about 100 other equally innovative creations, the answer is roughly 3-4. How many bakers in this area can actually deliver a quality product? I’m going to hold firm with 3-ish. We tried two items on our visit. The aforementioned double baked matcha croissant and a slow roasted strawberry pop tart for the kid.

Why the confidence in Buttermilk Bakery after just one first trip? They’re already firmly established pillars of the community. I mean, if they sucked, I’d have heard about it by now. So what I’m tasting on my first trip cant be a fluke. What I’ve been waiting a year to try has long been warmly accepted by the masses.

matchacroissantEven though I have strong ties to my dear friends (and partners to some extent) at Born + Bread Bakehouse  here in Lakeland, I was reminded by a t-shirt I saw at Urban Canning Co. stating, it’s about “community not competition.” It’s ok to show love to people doing great stuff similar to what you or your loved ones do. We can all learn from, and respect each other’s qualities and be better for it. Even though Buttermilk Bakery ain’t my kin, I still love what they’re providing to the people of Orlando and hope said people continue to sustain these craftsmen so that I can make a repeat visit on April 11, 2017.

The croissant was simply obese, the flaky crust moist with butter. Generously stuffed full and adorned with delicate, matcha tinged frangipane. The pop tart shell was akin to pie crust, flaking as easily as Talia Al Ghul in the Dark Knight Rises. The strawberry filling was extraordinary from the slow roasting which concentrated the berry to a paste. It was close to overwhelming how much strawberry came through, as they don’t skimp on anything.

To understand how highly I view Buttermilk Bakery, take note of my day. I went to Anh Hong, a staple in the Viet-centric neighborhood on Colonial Drive in Orlando for a delicious lunch with the family. This was followed by a trip to the bowling alley closer toward the attractions where my 7 year old son rolled a 92 on his first game ever. The intent was to quickly head back east after bowling around 4:30 pm to arrive at the Audubon Park Market right at 5 pm. Traffic dictated that I would arrive at 6 pm. The drive home normally from Winter Park area is 52 minutes. Traffic decided that 52 minutes wasn’t long enough. Traffic was thinking more like 1 hour 30 minutes. In conclusion, If you find yourself en-route to or from great pastry, your body will forgive 98 extra minutes on I-4.

 

Lakeland Barbecue Co.

I don’t remember exact flavors at Good Buddies, exempt them dirty fries. Why my phantom taste buds can recite this one menu item among all the others is beyond human comprehension. Yet, as an ode to the restaurant that once bustled then succumbed to a tragic fire a half dozen years or more in downtown Lakeland, my French fry cart The Root concocted our own version of dirty fries. Unfortunate or indifferent as it is, Good buddies isn’t back although the team that once brought some of the best BBQ around is. And what’s in a name really? For me, it happens to be nostalgia for  something I honestly can’t really remember too much of other than my brain verifies they was awesome. Lakeland BBQ Co. has risen out of the ashes of a burned down building and years worth of domination in local BBQ competitions. That is what their reputation of this new to you named BBQ Co is built upon.

LkldBBQ
This isn’t really a review, think of it more of an introduction to how I gauge my barbeque.
When you walk in, head toward the bar in the far reaches of the building where you might see someone waving a wooden stock pot spoon at you to control foot traffic in the right direction. If you don’t already know how to order BBQ from a new place here’s how you do it. Everyone’s got one or two favorite cuts of meat or preparations. From birth I’ve been a rib guy, mainly spare with the tips attached. If that’s not available, I wont always go for the back ribs as the next option. If not pork ribs, ill usually gravitate (if available) toward more rare white rabbit type forms such as Burnt Ends, In House Smoked sausage, Pig Belly and Mutton. If you don’t have a preference with BBQ I think you’re on the verge of being lost. I’m saying this because we have rules. Without rules, chaos reigns. When chaos reigns, you get your queues from a talking fox. On the first trip to a new BBQ restaurant or frankly one you’ve never been before, always order what you already love. This is your gauge. If you don’t think they do what you like very well, you probably aren’t going to like the rest. I would never order pulled or chopped pork over ribs, brisket, sausage, lamb, duck or even chicken, so why would I judge based on that? Chopped pork is way down my list, but this is  not at the behest of anyone that likes it. We all have our security blankets.

The ordering structure at Lakeland BBQ co. makes it easy to perform a second test because the subject is already at the table. Saucing. Take your less predominant index finger  out. Place a few dabs of whichever sauce you think you’ll enjoy. You want control, which is why I squeeze with my right and test with the left. Their spicy sauce is not overbearing on the heat index, but it’s cold inside to be honest. Usually shivering will cause you to feel the heat more than it’s meant to be felt, so sit near the window for maximum effort. It was very tolerable nonetheless. I detected a flavor combination with a subtle complexity right off the bat. I think I got some coffee and smoked chile, caramelized brown sugar in there somewhere.

As for the ribs:

The smoke ring was there as you see, but the smoky flavor wasn’t as bring you to your knees powerful as you’ll find at other joints.  Because of these factors, the texture made me think more of deeply roasted shoulder. I respect the restraint they exhibited as it caused me to actually taste pork. Kind of the reason we like the stuff in the first place.

lkldribs

The menu is brief with the main and sides at a minimum, so you don’t have a myriad of options. I’m fine with that. I’d rather have fresh tasty sides done very well, over a pliable sheet panned week old macaroni and cheese. Opting for what I perceive everyone will gravitate toward, Cheesy Hash brown casserole was my side of choice, although the following visit allowed me to put their Collards under the microscope. You see, in actuality making good Collard Greens isn’t tough. Just don’t serve them raw in a salad or turn ’em to mush. everything else within the spectrum is allowable. The problem is people who make really good Collard Greens don’t want to admit anyone else does them good.  I have to admit, they done did the Collards right. Tender, ham hocky, salty and tangy with some great pot likker broth to sip as an after meal digestif.

A fitting suprise was the wedge of cake like cornbread on my lunch tray. I wasn’t expecting it, probably didn’t need it from the generous amount of ribs they provided, however I was very happy to eat the entire brick. Restaurant cornbread can be as fickle as a newspaper editor, twice as crummy and three times, no four times as dry. Not here.

Since they’re only open for Lunch, this new place might not end up on everyone’s to do list. If you’re a fan of Good buddies, maybe you’ll try this and think it’s just like they used to do it. Maybe you’ll think they have grown from the years being on the circuit. Maybe you’ll be elbow deep in pork fat  and far too busy to pontificate over these trivialized matters.

Eat a Duck Weekly Recap #6

It’s shaping up to be quite the epic contest of Noodle Wars 2015 between James and myself. While I have gotten more strict with my eating habits, there’s no chance I will ever deny myself the joy of eating great Vietnamese food. I may have temporarily dislocated pork shoulder from my daily intake, but that isn’t stopping me from enjoying the extensive menu over at Pho Cali in Sarasota. I opted for a bowl of lemongrass beef bun, with spicy chile and onions. It almost made me forget my fatty pork patties. Jimmy more than made up for my pork omissions. We both have a deep yearning to find that next great menu item that’s possibly hiding on the back page. In this case, it was Ha Noi noodles with pickled green papaya, grilled pork and pork meatballs. What a refreshing feeling it is for each of us to have a place in our respective towns with such high flavor and quality. It’s been a long time coming.

Speaking of a long time coming, a wood fired pizza insurgence is under way. Have you joined the republic? We are feverishly composing our thoughts on Polpo Pizza Co. to express our love for what they are producing. I know there are a lot of pizza people out there. You owe it to yourself to plan a nice beach day in the Sarasota area, with special attention paid to procuring a pizza pie produced particularly by Polpo at the precise period and place Polpo pre-determines to park.

Moving on, we found that going back to our well of old favorites resulted in great rewards. I haven’t been back to Beewon Korean restaurant in almost five years until last week. I found an old picture of my son noshing at the table back then. Poor guy didn’t even have a hair on his head. But he sure was happy taking on their bulgogi beef. While the sure things (Mahans & Oxford Exchange) triumphed, the new stumbled. Deciding after many contemplative passing glances at their storefront on Colonial Dr. in Orlando, I gave Mamak Asian Street Food a shot. While their rendition of Char Kway Teow (a wide rice noodle dish similar to chow fun) impressed, the beef curry meatballs left me wincing with confusion. The curry sauce itself tasted fine, yet the meatballs seemed like they were purchased at IKEA. Truthfully, I guess I should say that I quite enjoy their meatballs. But I expect them to stay at IKEA, in a pool of brown gravy, garnished with Lingonberry compote and not curiously found in an Asian hawker style restaurant. I cant say for a fact they bought them elsewhere or made them by hand, shaped to extremely perfect proportions. They were just very, very familiar to me.  I say maybe give Mamak a shot, but not before going to every single other jaw dropping place in a two block radius. With big guns like Ming’s Bistro, Anh Hong, Little Saigon, and Chuan Lu Garden, Mamak has a lot of competition. It’s by far the prettiest space on the block. So if they can get the entire menu hitting on all fronts, look out!

Finally, we finish at home. We try to eat what’s in season and tastes best, wherever we live. In Florida, we’re seeing a burst of peaches on the scene. They’re mainly smaller and thinner skinned than their relatives that hail from Georgia in my opinion, which results in a more concentrated flavor. We found some gems at Sweetwater Farms yet again. Large heads of broccoli, Japanese eggplant, and a slab of grass-fed sirloin from Providence Cattle proved to make a wonderful version of a New York style Chinese take out favorite; Beef and Broccoli. Another Stone Crab season has come to an end. I got my last chance to enjoy my favorite claw based foods. For one day last week, Whole Foods had them on special at their beer bar for 2$ a claw, so I took advantage of the situation. When you see that kind of deal, never pass it up! We’ll see you next week!

EAD Weekly #6

EAD Weekly Recap No. 3

As one of Eat a Duck’s main contributors celebrated an anniversary this week, there was cause for much rejoicing. The vacation got started at Tia’s, to sample what was voted 2015’s Best Cuban Sandwich in the Universe. I don’t think it stacked up to the best of the best in our #Apuercolypse competition, but it was a valiant effort with great roast pork and extra buttery, pressed La Segunda bread. Everything else inside didn’t seem to receive as much attention as far as detailed flavor profiles or “homemadeness” is concerned.

For the most part, we visited some great old favorites in Orlando in Siro’s and Little Saigon, as well as some Tampa joints with Chocolate Pi, Fodder & Shine, Pinky’s, Squeeze and Jet City Espresso. Then we ended our trip where I’m typing, with family, eating great food at home. This week spanned a pretty large radius. Time to get out there and go eat!

EAD Weekly spread #3

Cuban Sandwich Festival 2015: Uncensored – Ybor City, FL

It’s been a few weeks since we attended the 2015 Cuban Sandwich festival. We milled over this piece a little too long to be timely, but our opinions are up to date, so it’s still a good read for any of you trying to find good Cubanos in Tampa. Especially true if you’ve already viewed the list of winners. Here goes:

The Cuban sandwich is a masterpiece, likely born out of necessity. Various cultures blended what little they had to create one cohesive, bread based package, although exactly when this occurred has never been proven. We feel things because we want to believe in them, we love a good food story and we try to let history justify our feelings toward the stories we hold dear.

I have every reason to believe that the Cuban sandwich as it is known today was curated right here in Ybor City. You can believe it’s from Miami, Cuba or even Geneva, Switzerland for that matter, but until you bring me some notarized or patented paperwork, there’s nothing to discuss.

I will not accept a Cuban sandwich as being traditional unless it contains salami. For those who want to argue this point, you’ll always come up lame, just like Miami’s sad salami-less imposter. I’ve asked many Miami residents, and contest participants to give one solid reason why the lack of a delicious cured meat would ever detract from it, but they never, ever respond with a good reason. Maybe because they know better, or maybe it’s just unwarranted geopolitical pride. Being too prideful in a weaker product is what brought down Ming Dynasty isn’t it?

One argument of note is from Sergio’s in Miami, who says on the subject of salami on a Cuban, that some people like pickles on their cupcakes. That’s weak. It’s as weak as Steve Rodgers pre-gamma ray. Salami is a complimentary flavor that only enhances the end result of the sandwich.

I think the results of this year’s Cuban sandwich proved, if nothing else, that the greater Miami population doesn’t really know what they’re doing with the sandwich they, for whatever reason, like to tout as their own. You did invent something, something awful. From the exclusion of one of earth’s most precious prizes, that being salami, to your hardtack version of Cuban bread, just about everything I’ve sampled on the Miami Cuban sandwich front has been sub-par. I do however have a deep admiration for Versailles in little Havana. They do a chorizo and manchego sandwich that would make even the mighty Jose Marti put off his activism for at least a day or two.

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My Cuban sandwich love is strong, which is why I just went off on a 500 word tangent, even after recently completing a lengthy three part Cuban sandwich competition of our own, where I thoroughly pontificated on the subject.

Let’s get to the festival itself. This year’s version, if you are talking on an all around enjoyment level, was a huge success. So many festival attendees got to experience rich, Cuban culture through music, dance and of course food. I give the founders of this event a sincere bow of respect. Not only did tens of thousands attend, but the proceeds went to fund a great cause.

As far as the competition, I held a judging position in the Non-Traditional category, in which competitors were asked to get creative, while still keeping things recognizable as a Cuban. They were encouraged take on the challenge by flipping the usual Cubano on its head.

I’d like to share my comments as well as the ranking for each entry. I was only able to match a handful of sandwiches to their respective entrants, so the others will remain a mystery, possibly due to shame, but most likely from lack of any social media presence.

The ranking was 1 to 10.  I still don’t know all 8 competitors, so here goes.

1

1. It’s just a Cuban sandwich. I think this got put in the wrong category. Looks like someone tripped and spilled chopped cilantro all over the top. Struggling to find what makes this non-traditional. Kind of really sweet now. Struggguuuuhhhhlinnnnng. (Maybe La Septima, 1st Place) 2 Stars

2

2. At least they tried to do something different after what #1 was. I see coleslaw. There is Mango. Smells like garlic bread. Very tropical. Outstanding, flavorful roast pork. Soggy. (Wheelhouse Deli 2nd Place) 3 Stars

3

3. It’s just a Cuban sandwich with a cherry tomato and an American flag stuck on top. Tomato of any kind, no matter where you put it, makes it non-traditional. This is non-good (Maybe La Septima, 1st Place) 1 Star

4

4. I don’t know what to call this thing. A Cubanpanada? I didn’t appreciate the hot sauce shower I got when I raised the lid from the box it was housed in. However, being assaulted by Crystal sauce is pretty non-traditional if you ask me. An empanada with Cuban sandwich filling is a great idea. The dough wasn’t very stellar, the mayo/mustard/mojo dip was. Inside, a little dry but great effort. 6 Stars

5

5. With all that green inside, I was expecting a chimmichurri or pesto bomb. Instead, it was like the time my dad made a ham & Swiss melt with a heaping scoop of hot dog relish. Extra 2 stars for nostalgia. Tried it twice to make sure I was tasting it right. Still tested positive for hot dog relish taste overload. 4 stars

6

6. Should be noted that all the meat is poultry. The switcheroo on animal proteins made this an “OK” non-traditional, I suppose. I think the spice coming from the pulled chicken really stands out. Everything else just reminds me of a bologna sandwich. I like bologna. Good sandwich. 4 Stars

7

7. If you’re going to be the 2nd dog in a two dog Cuban sandwich coleslaw king of the ring dog show, you have to bring it. They brought a better slaw with less sweetness, properly drained and more vinegar based acidity. In addition, they switched Swiss with something aged and nutty (Parm or Manchego?) to attack the enemy. Enough to come out victorious in Slaw Wars: Episode 2 – Attack of the Coles. (Dochos Concessions) 6 Stars

8

8. I couldn’t tell what, what was going on???! Sweet, sweet, sweet pickle or something else really sweet. What could be the roast pork part, was a really nice shade of mahogany and was pretty fatty so maybe they went with a braised beef brisket or short ribs instead. Who knows? I know. Too sweet. (The Dude and His Food) 4 Stars

After seeing the top three finishers in each category, I understood why many were upset with the results, as they ended up with very few of our proven favorites. The winners were a real hodge podge. “Head scratching” is what one on-looking fan was quoted as saying after seeing the final result in the four major categories of the weekend. I have a decent hypothesis about how this came about. Any given place can win if they make the best sandwich on that specific day. And to them go the spoils. They garner attention because they can say, “Hey we have one of the top three Cuban sandwiches around, and we can prove it with our award.” Then when you go get the sandwich at the restaurant, deli or truck, in reality it’s nowhere near the quality it was the day of the contest. That’s a bamboozle and I think we got a touch of that this year. It’s just a theory though. My only proof is that I’ve eaten at almost all of these places and a lot of them just aren’t very good. The only truly accurate ranking is that the Miami Cuban fell so far off the face of use earth in competition that people were holding candle lit vigils due to the disappearance.

To tell you the truth, I was pretty bummed out to not be included as part of the Best Cuban Sandwich in the World category. Even so, I took my assignment seriously, something I can’t say for my fellow judges who I have a sneaking suspicion weren’t even aware of the category, as a very, very traditional sandwich was the eventual winner. I got pretty annoyed once I found out what they did to put their twist on the original. Mayonnaise, allegedly infused with guava was the only thing that was different. I absolutely didn’t taste guava and guava is in my DNA.

Still, it was an honor to be a judge. Team Eat a Duck is hopeful that we can come back and judge with the big boys in the most important category. Shoot, we just hope to get asked back next year after the competition complaints  we made, which again, have nothing to do with the fantastic organizers.

Here’s what needs to happen. I love the categories of competition. I just ask that all participants who enter the non-traditional category to please try to have a semblance of creative expression. Dip your Cuban in a sweet and spicy batter then deep fry it. Make the vessel a glazed donut then griddle the outside so that it’s nice and caramelized. Turn it into an oozy quesadilla or make a savory pop tart, croissant or scone even. Why not use a different set of ingredients all together, that still pay homage to the classic. Sort of like Buddy Brew did with their version during the #apuercolypse. In the immortal words of Busta Rhymes, “Gimme sum mo, If you want it lemme hear you say, gimme sum mo.”

Cuban creativity

Challenge yourself and the judges. Don’t let us get confused, thinking we’re judging a different competition, because that’s another issue all together.

If you want to read about who we firmly believe has the best all around Cuban sandwich in Tampa, check out all 3 #Apuercolypse articles here (1, 2, 3). Oh, and if you think your favorite place stacks up to our list, let us know why and we will give it a shot!

Locale Market – St. Petersburg, FL

On my right, sits an older woman, a wiser woman, quietly scarfing down duck confit and potato gratin out of a takeout container. It’s obvious that she’s eavesdropping on the conversation my dear friend Jeff Houck (Marketing and PR Director of Locale Market) and I are having regarding the evolving beast that is Locale Market. As I surveyed the frenzy of activity, I realized what this was, an enormous “choose your adventure” book, played out over flat tops and fryers. With such an enormous and dynamic enterprise as this, it’s easy to see how every person that comes through the door experiences a unique eating adventure.

Locale Market spread

A couple of young fledgling’s across the way, both eating burgers, are moaning as if this were more than just a mid-day nutrient injection to them. That’s because it is. It’s partly entertainment. While Thing 1 gives out a slow “ohhhh myyyyyy gaaaaaahd” like a younger, less annoying Janice Litman-Goralnik née Hosenstein, Thing 2 exclaims ever so braggadociously, “This is…like…oh em gee…the foodie version of Disney World”.

In the future I’m really going to attempt to be less argumentative, as I really am getting sick and tired of people being outwardly negative just for the sake of it. Still, it’s in my genes, and because of that, I must wholeheartedly disagree with Thing 2’s statement, though I can’t fault her for making it. Locale Market is an amazing place, and she was just so excited she couldn’t find a more eloquent way to express herself. My new unofficial home base is better than Disney World, or D23, it’s even better than getting three fast passes for Toy Story Mania in the same trip, which is now physically impossible thanks to Fastpass+ armbands. Disney World has the ability to leave you wanting more or at least wanting a better experience. If you want a fantastical telling of how a Disney getaway can cause you to think it’s going to be one thing and then it turns out to be something completely inverted, watch the low-budget movie that was made entirely in the park incognito, “Escape From Tomorrow.*” (*Watch the first 30 minutes, maybe 45, after that it gets weird and falls apart like a loaf of gluten-free millet bread.) At Locale, no sane person could ever be disappointed. Let me reiterate. This is better than Disney World.

Locale meats

You need to prepare yourself for the first trip to Locale Market. It can be completely overwhelming if you’re not familiar with the concept of mega food halls. Each time I’ve gone, my company gets lost in it all. My advice is to focus on the first thing you see that looks good and order it, then immediately plan your next trip so you can try the next thing down the line. The next stop for me is the fish station.

If you had enough people, you could each tackle one area per person. Then after each team member has found something good, pick a rendezvous point and share the haul with everyone. There are at least a dozen unique food stations to visit and order things to either eat right away or take home. You can also do real grocery shopping as well, although I still don’t think the normal consumer has quite figured out that part of the storefront just yet.

Locale spread 2

If you’re looking to have a full meal without the need to shop for it, you can take a little hike upstairs to the wine bar. It’s a place where cheeseboards rule the day and the steaks come served on slabs of wood with bones intact. All the items have been curated from the minds of Michael Mina and Don Pintabona, so you are guaranteed to have fantastic food in a very casual relaxed environment. Speaking of the partners of Locale, they seem to be very hands on with this passion project. I’ve seen Mr. Mina a few times, not including the night of the Grand Opening ceremony, which is a pretty impressive thing since honestly; he has an empire to run. They are completely involved in the operation, so much so that Mr. Pintabona has been spotted in his chef whites every single time I’ve visited. Don’t just think it’s because he knew we were coming. We always arrive as unannounced guests. He even comically ran into one of my friends on our way to the liquid nitrogen enriched ice cream and shake shoppe.

Locale spread 3

Not only that, you can take a seat at the full service restaurant called FarmTable which opened earlier this year and features a ticketing system unique to the bay area. Similar concepts have had great success at places like the renowned Alinea in Chicago, Trois Mec in L.A and é by Jose Andres in Vegas. Expect to see as much hoopla as the rush to get floor seats for Queen’s 1981 “THE GAME” tour.

Locale at home

As the fever of the first few months has died down a little, I would like to give some advice to those who have yet to go or who have gone and maybe had a shaky experience. Internet trolls tend to only highlight the negative aspects without appreciating how much awesome is all around them. This concept on such a large-scale is entirely new to Florida. It’s the first of its kind from the Mina Group, so even an experienced group of food and business people have to deal with a slight learning curve. Sure, there are a couple of things that could be handled a little better, like clearly indicating where the lines begin for each station. It might be because nobody figured this kind of place would stick so incredibly fast. For goodness sake, the lines for the burger station rival those of Snow White’s Seven Dwarves Mine train. The biggest difference is after Snow White is done with you, you’ve got no St. Petersburger to make out with, and speaking of a burger bound for stardom, it’s made out of a house-ground dry aged beef from the Locale butcher. With a salad tossed in In-n-Out sauce, topped with smoked Gouda, bacon, caramelized onions and mushrooms to boot. This comes in between a brioche bun straight out of Locale’s bakery. It also comes with a molten cheese sauce which I will always omit because of my disdain for American cheese. Yet, if you want it all, I don’t blame you.

Locale meats 2

Another thing many people can’t take is crowds. These kind of people probably also don’t like Disney World or waiting in general. They want it all, they want it all, they want it all and they want it now and if they have to be around the general population, they’ll avoid it like the plague. Don’t go between 11:45 a.m.-2:00 p.m. because you’ll be swarmed and I really do want you to enjoy yourself. Lunch rush gets crazy. Please bear with everyone’s uncharacteristic way pushing and shoving while stumbling around like fashion zombies, looking for grilled persimmons on warm ricotta toast, as if grilled persimmons on ricotta toast were Daryl and Merle Dixon’s brains.

Locale Italian

Last thing, this isn’t Eataly, Gotham West Market, The San Francisco Ferry Building or any other example of the gourmet food court. It’s also nothing like Mazzaro’s; a larger Italian focused market on the other side of the city. If Locale, is Disney World, Mazzaro’s is Dollywood. So please, let’s stop with those silly comparisons people. I’ve said already but it bears repeating, this is the first of its kind in the state. The name is Locale for a reason. I couldn’t think of many things they sell that are not either made in-house or sourced locally. That goes for the meat, cheese, produce and the seafood. Even the water that bears Locale’s name is from Florida. The only things I can think that doesn’t fall in line are the packaged items that simply can’t be done in these climates, or because there is a far superior product elsewhere, such as pints of Cool Haus ice cream from L.A. or bottled cold-brew coffee from Stumptown in Portland, OR. Arguably the best bottled coffee in the country and the only place I’ve found it nearby is Locale.

Locale sweets

If treating your body like a temple sounds fun, you can be that person and still enjoy yourself here as most things are either organic, sustainable or wholesome and, if possible, all three. If treating your body like are amusement park is more your style, Locale market is your Magic Kingdom.

Fodder & Shine – Tampa, FL

People sometimes don’t understand why we love food so much. It’s a great debate that I don’t usually have a well-constructed position on, save for one exception. Unlike anything people involve themselves in that isn’t a form of secular work or family time, things considered as hobbies, extra-curricular activity, even time wasters aren’t a basic human need the way eating is. We just choose to survive in a more taste conscious manner. Everyone in the world has to eat, but not all take it in as a possible existential experience. I will never share the philosophy that life, whether free or not, is just about three hots and a cot.

This leads me to my own personal heritage. I’ve lived smack dab in the center of Florida my entire life. According to our tree and the U.S. Census, my father’s side migrated to Polk County from Georgia in the early 1800’s. Before that was South Carolina for a stint. Before that we landed in Virginia around 1665. It’s safe to say I have deep seeded roots planted in the South. As any self-respecting son of a Florida cracker (my Dad actually worked much of his early life on different farms and cattle yards, raised his own livestock and studied veterinary medicine, so he was the real deal), the cuisine I love, the food I crave like a magnet are the things my mother fed me, the recipes she learned from my dad’s mom, who was taught by his grandmother, the person we affectionately referred to as little meemaw due to her slight stature. I think there’s only one photo I have of us together as she died shortly after my birth, yet I think of that photo every time I eat cornbread and black-eyed peas as she was the touchstone for the cooking history of the Crumpton family in the modern era.

I can’t speak for them, but I do know a bit about Greg and Michelle Baker. Not enough to be a stalker but almost enough to be a newspaper restaurant reviewer. They too are Florida natives and hold their history and that of each of their families history very dear to their hearts and stomachs. I don’t mean to speak out of turn regarding family matters I know nothing about, but I can’t help to think they might share a similar fondness for each of their Meemaws home cooking. If I had to wager a bet, I would guess much of it was done on well-seasoned cast iron skillets.

FS Logo

Obviously, Florida cracker cuisine is dear to them. They just opened a shrine to honor the cuisine that I feel has been recreated oh so poorly in our area over the course of my adult life.

I had to leave the Raschke brothers sitting at the table immediately after the inaugural meal on opening night at Fodder and Shine. They without question were probably still debating old school punk rock and hardcore, wondering if there were other punk rock foodies in the Bay area other than ourselves.

While they were still seated, I walked to my car and just sat there for a couple of minutes in silence, thinking mostly about my dad and how much I was still missing him after nearly 2 rough years without him. Wondering how much he might have liked eating all the food of his life encapsulated in this single restaurant, and how he definitely would not have written this place off his list. He introduced me to fried gizzards, smoked mullet roe, frog’s legs and many more things F&S have added to their repertoire. I began to drive away with tears in my eyes, moved by the thought of food and how it has been such a large part of what I hold near to remember all those loved ones who have passed away.

Fodder Spread

Our recipes are sometimes the only thing we have that helps keeps those memories alive. I’ll never be a wealthy person because I don’t come from money. I don’t plan on having some large inheritance somewhere down the line, yet I feel rich with recipes that have been passed down through my family. Now that I finally pried it from my mom’s hands after about a decade of begging, I sure as heck will never be without my meemaw’s chewy cake recipe or the way my Nana makes her neck bone spaghetti.

The Bakers have captured the feel of centuries old Florida cooking with every keystroke of that menu, and they’ve succeeded in executing the cooking process, even in things that might seem small to the untrained eye. Right down to the perfect coloring and doneness on a side of sautéed zucchini squash, it’s all as I remembered it. It’s not 100% old school though and it shouldn’t be. Greg is still a chef for goodness sakes, and for me, good cheffing is about three key things, which he possesses moreso than almost anyone I’ve met.

1. Constant progression

2.Teaching others what you know

3. Respect for tradition.

Fodder and shine is the perfect place to use as equilibrium.

Fodder Spread 2

The feel and size of the space is our main and only concern. It’s massive and feels like a modern restaurant and not a place my meemaw might be cooking back in the kitchen. I think this kind of restaurant really belongs in a more intimate setting, more like in a house turned into dining establishment. My idea is flip-flop The Refinery and Fodder.

If you are a Florida native, I hope you have your own wonderful food registry that’s been passed down from generation to generation. If not, take a trip over to Fodder and Shine to see what you’ve more than likely been missing. And if you are a transplant just putting down roots down here, or maybe you’re just passing by, I sincerely hope you get it, even if these traditional preparations are not in your taste memory bank.

Friends of James Beard Benefit Dinner: Elevage – Tampa, FL

Who is James beard and why does everyone in the food world love him? Honestly, I’m not exactly sure all the reasons, and as most can confirm, I’m too lazy to do a Google search to find out. What I do know is that he loved food more than you or I ever will. He built up a grand knowledge of cookery, developing a huge following through the many series of instruction throughout the country and in his home in Manhattan for decades during the middle of the 20th century. So many credit Julia Child for her enormous influence on the American home cook. Well, Mr. Beard was a similarly potent influence on just about every aspect of food, be it in the restaurant industry, food writing, instruction and even in our groceries.

When gauging the greatness of an American chef, a simple check to see if he or she has ever been a semi-finalist in the yearly award ceremony will erase all doubt. Just to sniff at a James Beard award is basically a confirmation that you know what you’re doing, and the best part is, anyone can win. Except me maybe, but I don’t hold it against them. I’m not bitter…really.

FOJBB_LOGO-web-page

The James Beard foundation has instituted a roaming dinner series all over the country as a vehicle to raise money for the vast amount of charity work they do. They call them Friends of James Beard Dinners. The Tampa Bay Area has been host to a few of them, but not for a long time. It’s been almost two years since we enjoyed the cavalcade of local chefs coming together for a great cause. You might think that bringing together eleven chefs from Tampa Bay, who in a round about way compete everyday for our business, and sticking them  in the same kitchen might be a recipe for disaster. However, from what I’ve heard about the back of house goings on, it was more camaraderie than competition. Even though I’m sure they all wanted to put up the best food possible, they did so without vitriol.

Consider the state of the Tampa food scene two years ago. A meal like this couldn’t have even been conceived, as many of the chefs that shared the spotlight didn’t have places of their own back then. Now, we have a bare minimum of eleven chefs representing their respective establishments to give us the meal of a lifetime. All of these restaurants have their own identity and point of view, yet acted like worker bees inside the host kitchen, Chad Johnson’s Elevage at the Epicurean Hotel.

Tampa James Beard Foundation 2014

I realize the timeliness of this piece is a bit off as it has already been covered by other entities. I don’t feel it required an immediate write up as you can’t find any of these dishes in any of the kitchens of any of the restaurants. At least that I know of. The purpose is to show you what these guys and gals are capable of. We can give them all our blessing to really go for it all the time by supporting them and being good patrons. Order the specials or the tasting menus at these places. You will almost always be given a sleek meal that is usually a peek into the future when compared to the rest of the menu. To describe every dish in dramatic detail would result in an additional 5,000 word essay and I’m sure you don’t want to suffer through 14 separate dishes each with their own unique pop culture reference to describe the flavor. And you probably don’t want to hear about how I thought something tasted like bologna, but in the best possible way of course.

Tampa James Beard Foundation 2014 2

I will say this though, every chef paid homage to their home state, be it in the technique, the ingredients used, or the Florida cracker cuisine that’s gaining notoriety. From the lobster & avocado salad with passion fruit vinaigrette curated by Restaurant BT, to the smoky quail with a burgoo sauce that married the flavors of our Florida swamp with the simple elegance of the rolling Basque hillside presented by Chef Johnson himself, even our favorite dish of the night, the Snapatrufalojam, a perfectly portioned piece of crispy skin on Florida red snapper laid on a truffled mash and sweet tomato jam with little black truffle shavings strewn all over the plate. Thank goodness it’s truffle season! I love the fact that chef Zack of Z Grille didn’t let anyone in on the concept, not even the head of the wine program knew, as he had to guess on the pairing. It added to the mystique in a Jennifer Lawrence way, not the odd Rebecca Romijn Stamos O’Connell kind of X-3 the Last Stand kind of cluster.

Tampa James Beard Foundation 2014 3

My only concern is my waistline. Some of the dishes were entrée size. By the third or fourth course, most of the room was belly aching about being full. If some of the dishes were smaller, I think we would have enjoyed the visually sensational peanut butter and chocolate kitchen sink dessert that was presented by Café Ponte. There was even a petit four bar from Chocolate Pi that was too tempting to bypass. I sampled one of the coolest bites ever thought up, what do you get when cross a cheese plate with a cookie? A beet and goat cheese macaron. Great idea and execution, hopefully that will end up in the case this fall.

My wife and I were invited guests of the Epicurean hotel for this meal to support a great cause, namely providing scholarships to underprivileged kids so that they can fulfill their food based dreams. The event helped us to meet new friends with the same love of eating, we may not have ever met otherwise. Those included were Laura Riley of the Tampa Tribune along with her photographer who gave the table some nice insight into was really going on in the kitchen. Not to be forgotten was a married couple who were some of the most humble and down to earth conversational people I can remember. The wife mentioned in passing how her father traveled the globe and actually created a cookbook from all the ideas he brought back home. I asked if it was in circulation, and she said it was still somewhere out there. After exchanging contact information, a few days later to my bewilderment we received a copy in the mail. How sweet was that. Thank you very much Sadie. We plan to put it to work real soon. Along with giving me a couple more places to add to the list of must eat restaurants, it also grew my desire to plan a visit to the Beard house in Manhattan to attend one of the more than 200 dinners they host a year.

Indigenous – Sarasota, FL

Sarasota, Florida. It’s not exactly at the top of my list of food-centric cities, but it is the place where I happen to call home at the moment. So as always, before I made the move, I did my research to see what kind of eats my new town had to offer. My wife has joined me in this task the last two times we had to move, and I’m proud to say she’s growing quite adept at sniffing out the good stuff. After three months, her discovery of Indigenous, a rustic little place just south of Main St. in Sarasota, has taken the proverbial cake.

Like me, chef and owner of Indigenous, Steve Phelps, can’t seem to sit still. After paying his dues at a family run restaurant in Ohio and making his way through the food scene in Cleveland, he found himself in Sarasota. In a few years he saw his shot to open his own place and took it. Seven years later, I arrived and booked a table at Indigenous before my last box was unpacked. My urgency was rewarded with a meal that could stand up against some of the best restaurants in the country. I get the feeling Chef Phelps would be too humble to say this himself so I’ll say it for him, Indigenous is single-handedly raising the bar for quality eats in Sarasota and the town is better for it.

Indigenous sign

The menu is at once worldly, taking cues from New Orleans to Southeast Asia, and distinctly regional with ingredients sourced from nearby Providence Cattle Co. and Open Blue Sea Farms in Miami. A cozy wild mushroom bisque spiked with truffle croutons was enticing despite the balmy weather. Chef Phelps’ take on a BLT, an attractive composition of pork belly, tomato marmalade and jus aioli, is a clear display of his love for Sarasota. Chefs often make the false assumption that small town demographics are less sophisticated than in the city. It’s nice to see him flex his culinary muscles a little!

Indigenous apps

The workout continued with a glistening plate of cobia crudo. Crisp sea beans and sesame quinoa played it crispy opposite the supple fish, while sweet soy and ginger crème fraîche seamlessly wove Asia into the dish. (Something about supremely fresh raw fish makes me rhyme, who knew)

Cooked fish on the other hand, is rarely an area of the menu I spend much time on. Strangely though, as our waiter explained the Hook to Fork special that night, I was caught…well you know. Red grouper was the star, perched (I’m sorry about the fish puns and clichés, I’m not sure what’s come over me today) atop a corn cake with a luxurious pea tendril remoulade. The depth of flavor in the grouper was unparalleled. As strange as it sounds it had the unctuous mouth feel reminiscent of pork belly at times. This dish has joined hamachi kama and miso glazed black cod in the rarefied air that is my cooked fish pantheon.

Red Grouper

 Dessert was no less impressive than the savory dishes. Lavender is a fickle ingredient in my opinion. Incorporating it into a cupcake and cream can be a tight wire act as the line between floral and hand soap is razor-thin. Thankfully the chef knew exactly where that line was, deftly navigating the flavor with the same confidence he displayed throughout the meal. The cupcake had the consistency of a fresh, buttery madeleine, one of my childhood favorites.

Indigenous Lavender Cupcake

I never truly feel at home in a new city until I’ve found the great spots to get a meal, after all, that’s where some of life’s greatest comfort is found. I have Chef Phelps and Indigenous to thank for much of the comfort I feel now, so early on. Indigenous isn’t just a great restaurant for Sarasota, it’s a great restaurant in general. So if you want a break from the Tampa food scene but don’t want to skimp on quality, get down here and give Indigenous a shot.

Indigenous on Urbanspoon

Rooster and the Till – Tampa, FL

What makes a restaurant truly great? It’s obviously a subjective question as preferences in taste, service, ambiance and price vary widely from person to person. In my opinion, the overarching quality that I look for in a great restaurant, is consistency. The places that can provide, not only delicious, but creative food, along with knowledgable, friendly service and comfortable atmosphere, all at a reasonable price, are few and far between. That’s why I chose to wait a while before I sat down to write about Rooster and the Till in Tampa. It’s easy to get caught up in a one-off meal that blows you away, only to find out it was a fluke. The real test of quality is whether or not the restaurant in question can deliver equally impressive meals over multiple visits. It’s been a long time coming, but after a half-dozen trips to Rooster over the last few months, I can happily report that they’ve passed the test, wowing me each time with their inventive flavor combinations and constantly changing menu.roos_logo_colorNow I would expect a high level of performance from a place with access to vast amounts of financial backing, top of the line equipment and the hottest PR team to generate buzz. In that case, there are no excuses, you’d better deliver, every single night, without fail. Rooster is not that place, and yet they are capable of producing legitimately high level cuisine with nothing but four hot plates, an impeccable mise and a small crew of exceedingly talented cooks led by two no-nonsense dudes in Ferrell Alvarez and Ty Rodriguez, no excuses necessary.

Recently, Logan and I joined the boys from Tasting Tampa to put Rooster through its paces. I like to think four voracious eaters like ourselves, posed at least a small challenge to the kitchen as we ordered at least 80% of the menu. Keeping with tradition, we began with the raw items from the chalkboard, a scallop crudo and a smattering of oysters. The source and flavor profile of these items changes with the wind, so don’t be disappointed if you don’t see these specific items, I’ve never been let down by their raw offerings.

Oysters & Scallop Crudo

This crudo only reinforced my belief that scallops are, first and foremost, meant to be eaten raw. These were so supple they were nearly a mousse. Pickled onion with corn and red pepper offset the sweet and malleable scallops in both texture and flavor, as a smooth avocado schmear joined the creamy party.

For the carnivores, I suggest you add the charcuterie slate to your order. On any given night you’re likely to find a pâté, a couple of cured offerings and maybe even duck rillettes if you’re lucky. At the moment the slate is sporting a beef heart bresaola with bread and butter pickles and hibiscus all-spice mustard.

Charcuterie slate

Rooster goes to great lengths to use what’s fresh, keeping it seasonal and local when possible. For us that meant heirloom tomatoes marinated in aged sherry vinegar, cucumber, smoked goats milk yogurt, charred lemon arugula emulsion and flax-seed pumpernickel crackers. Dishes like this are often the most impressive as they’re so simple, yet most of us would never think to combine the flavors just so. The short rib gnocchi is an auto-order item for me. Ferrell prepares his gnocchi in the Parisienne style, resulting in a far lighter and less dense pillow than their heavier set cousins. The clincher for me is the duo of smoked ricotta and pickled peperonata. Creamy and rich, tangy and electric, it’s a great response to the unctuous short rib as it relaxes in its San Marzano coating. The star of course are the dainty gnocchi that almost dissipate on your tongue instead of adhering to the roof of your mouth like a barnacle.

Heirloom tomatoes & short rib gnocchi

I’ve been called a pole bean my whole life. Until I had them at Rooster, I’d considered it an insult. When you add in potato confit, garlic chips and duck cracklings, it becomes a compliment of the highest order. If you are what you eat, then I’m a tasty fellow. Another small plate selection that keeps with the earthen theme is the roasted mushrooms. Thankfully Ferrell didn’t go crazy with the bleu cheese, a known flavor bully, by piping small dots around the plate. Savory mushrooms are showcased front and center with a bacon and roasted bone marrow backup band to rival the Spiders from Mars.

Pole beans with potato confit & roasted mushroom with bacon and bone marrow

Ferrell presented us with a surprise care package of sous vide face bacon. That’s right, bacon of the face. A protein like this calls for some headstrong accompaniments, able to make themselves known. These came by way of chili flake broccolini, more of their amazing house ricotta, pine nut bread crumbs and tomato gravy. Dishes like this give me pause, if they can come up with plates of this calibre on the fly, out of leftovers no less, what else are they capable of?

Facebacon

Veggies, specifically beets. Normally I’m not a fan of this root, but the preparation here sold me. The healthy dollops of rich ricotta didn’t hurt either. Beets two ways, roasted and shaved raw, with cherry tomatoes was a light and refreshing departure from the previous dish, but no less enjoyable. Vegetarian friendly isn’t a phrase that rears its head on Eat a Duck often, but Rooster has a way of showcasing ground treasures so even this hardened protein protagonist can sing their praises.

House ricotta, beets

I write about this next dish with a heavy heart. After a good long run, the orecchiette with uni butter and bottarga has finally been retired. Bitter broccoli leaves and chili spiked confit tomatoes proved to be winning combination. If it was available, I ordered it every time without fail. It really was one of the most memorable dishes I’ve had, but I know all good things must come to an end. I take comfort in the fact that Rooster always comes up with something new and exciting to replace classic veterans. As I write this, the menu is already reflecting the hot new rookie, garlic chive cavatelli with charred tomato, pancetta, arugula, shave crontonese and gremolata breadcrumbs.

Uni butter orecchiette

At Rooster and the Till, for me at least, dessert consists of more savory dishes, or perhaps another half-dozen oysters. But their sweet dishes are as delicious and well designed as anything else on the menu. They’re typically on the refreshing end of the spectrum, a welcome palate cleanser after hearty meal. On this occasion they featured passion fruit, coconut and berries. The beautiful presentation is matched only by the depth of flavor.

Rooster dessert

Rooster and the Till are often maligned for serving small plates with high prices. I’m not sure what planet these commenters are from, but you won’t find a better value in Tampa. There are hardly any other restaurants in town serving up this calibre of food with such consistency. Even fewer establishments earn a spot in my “where to eat dinner tonight” list, but Rooster and the Till have landed a permanent reservation, as one of my favorite restaurants of all time.

Rooster & the Till on Urbanspoon