Thursday, August 20, 2015

bartaco – Tampa, FL

Hyde Park Village was one of my favorite places to spend time when growing up in South Tampa.  Sadly, for awhile it turned into a bit of a ghost town, but in the past several years it’s started to revive!  Several new businesses have opened their doors in Hyde Park, and half a dozen more are scheduled to open in this next year – including Buddy Brew Coffee, Goody Goody Burgers, On Swann, and Sur La Table. 
One of the latest new arrivals was bartaco – a California beachy-vibed Mexican restaurant that took the Cactus Club’s old abandoned space on Snow Ave.  We finally checked it out this week and it definitely lived up to all the great reviews I’d heard so far!
We expected that going on a date night on a Tuesday wouldn’t be a problem, but this place was actually packed – not sure if it’s just the newness, but it seems that it’s the popular place to be.  We snagged some seats at the bar, which was fine for just the two of us.  Their atmosphere feels laid back yet upscale at the same time – I guess I’d describe it as sophisticated surfer.  The employees all wear blue and white checkered button-up shirts.  Our bartender, Raul, was super friendly and informative.  He seemed pretty excited that we were checking out the restaurant for the first time, so he went over the whole concept for us. 

Clearly their main focus is tacos.  They’re pretty cheap – just $2.50 or $3.50 each – and not just your standard beef or chicken flavors.  We ordered one each of baja fish, pork belly, spicy chorizo, curry shrimp, and sesame ribeye tacos.  We also ordered a side of their grilled corn with lime, cayenne, and cotija cheese.  You fill out the menu by ticking off how many of each menu item you’d like (sort of like at a sushi restaurant). 

While we waited for our food, we sipped on a mojito and margarita.  I think they offset the inexpensive food prices with pricey drinks, but they can definitely justify doing that because they were amazing. The margarita was one of the best I’ve ever had – they squeeze the lime juice right there in front of you, so you know it’s fresh, and it wasn’t sickly sweet like the pre-made mix that a lot of Mexican restaurants serve.  They have an entire menu just for different types of tequila (if you really wanted to go all out, you could try their tequila flights – we weren’t quite that adventurous). 

I’d recommend pretty much everything we ordered.  The corn was traditional Mexican street-style – which I’d never had before, but now I don’t want corn on the cob any other way.  I think our favorite tacos were the pork belly and chorizo. 

We finished off with something sweet – churros with chocolate dipping sauce.  When I was a kid, there used to be a churro truck that parked outside our elementary school, so they are a nostalgic food for me. 

It’s kind of a loud atmosphere, so if you’re looking for a quiet date night, this isn’t your place.  But if you want a fun night out with really tasty modern takes on Mexican food, go check them out! 

bartaco has several locations around the country.  The Tampa one is located at 1601 W Snow Ave, Tampa, FL 33606 and is open 11:30am – 11pm Sunday through Wednesday and 11:30am – 1am Thursday through Saturday.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

5th Annual Great St. Pete Cupcake Contest


Yesterday I went with my friend Raena to the Great St. Pete Cupcake Contest at the Morean Arts Center.  I wasn’t sure what to expect since I’d never attended before, but 1700 people had RSVP’d on facebook, so we got there early just in case.  Lucky we did, because there was a line down the block before it even started. 

While in line, they sold tickets for $1 each to vote for the “People’s Choice” cupcake.  I expected that meant each cupcake cost $1 – but when we got inside, it turned out that you could sample as many as you wanted for free! Then you voted on your favorites. 

Over 60 bakers participated in the contest – some amateurs and some professional bakers.  The whole gallery was packed with people – and there were so many varieties that it was impossible to try them all.  There were quite a few featuring bacon (I especially liked the Maple with Bourbon Buttercream).  I was impressed by the range of flavors and innovative presentations. 

And here were the winning flavors:

Novice Category:
1st Place: Lemon Blueberry Lavender - Michelle Saxton
2nd Place: Bottom of the 9th Bacon with Caramel Buttercream - Sarah Perkins
3rd Place: Banana Nutella - Jennifer Jacobs

Professional Category:
1st Place: Hopcakes - Lori Schmidt
2nd Place: Strawberry Coulis and Lemon Curd - Michelle Garner
3rd Place: Cannoli Cupcakes- Lori Schmidt

People’s Choice:
1st Place: Jennifer Jacob's Banana Nutella
2nd Place: Michelle Saxton's Lemon Blueberry Lavender

The Urban Canning Company – St. Pete, FL

Lance and I did our wedding registry different than most people.  We live in a tiny condo and it doesn’t have a square inch of space left for stuff.  Plus, since he works for Macy’s, he already gets a big discount on most things you’d see on a traditional registry.  So when I came across this website Zola, I was really excited!  You can register for anything you want, and even set up cash funds for experiences.  Plus, it keeps track of everyone’s addresses & what they bought you for thank-you notes which I love.

One of the things we put on our registry was money towards The Urban Canning Company.  It’s a local company that makes the BEST jams you’ll ever have.  They also have really great mustards that they sell at Green Bench Brewing, and pickled veggies (I’m not as big on pickled foods, but Lance is pretty excited about them). 

They are $10 a jar, which is a splurge for us, but it’s 1000% better than your boring Smuckers jellies.  They have unique flavor combinations and everything is natural.  They don’t use artificial preservatives, dyes, or any artificial ingredients.  Plus, you’re supporting a local business, and I’m all for that. 

My friend Lynn Pham, who runs the restaurant Bamboozle, was super sweet to contribute towards our wedding registry fund for The Urban Canning Company!  And while we aren’t getting married until next April, I didn’t wait to wait until then to redeem our gift. 

Now that I have weekends off I can actually go to our local farmers markets.  St. Pete has a fantastic one on Saturday mornings – even during the summer it draws a huge crowd.  I ended up getting a nice variety of canned goodies – Mixed Berry & Thyme Jam, Smoked Paprika Tomato & Basil Jam, Surrealist IPA Sour Beer Pickles, Strawberry Bourbon & Vanilla Jam, and Blueberry Lavender & Vanilla Jam.  I can’t wait to make the most exciting PB&J sandwich ever for work on Monday. 

Another thing I love about The Urban Canning Company is that they themselves support local businesses.  The beer they use in the pickles is an IPA from Green Bench Brewing (one of Lance’s favorite beers…) and the produce is locally sourced.  You can read more about them on their Etsy page. 

If you don’t live here in the Tampa Bay area, you can actually purchase some of their canned goods on Etsy.  They even give you food pairing suggestions. 

And for you local people, go buy their products at these locations:

-      Brew D Licious - 667 Central Ave. – St. Pete, FL - carries a variety of their artisan jams.
-      Green Bench Brewing Co. – 1133 Baum Ave. - St. Pete, FL – carries their mustard, and serves it in their tasting room.  Also serving Surrealist IPA Sour Beer Pickles.
-      Duckweed Urban Market – 803 N Tampa Street - Downtown Tampa, FL – carries a variety of their artisan jams, mustards and pickles.
-      Squeeze Juice Works – 675 30 Ave. N - St. Pete, FL – serves their pickles on their grab-n-go menu items, carries a variety of their artisanal jams and pickles.
-      Rare Hues – 10005 N Dale Mabry Hwy Tampa 33618 – carries a variety of their artisanal jams.
-      Local Public House + Provisions – 32750 Pennsylvania Ave. San Antonio, FL – - carries a variety of their artisanal jams.

FARMERS MARKET SCHEDULE: (check their websites for updated information)

AL Lang Stadium Parking Lot 1 Ave. S + 1 Street - St. Pete, FL
9am-2pm every Saturday October – May, moved to Williams Park June – August (this is where I picked up the jams this morning)
662 Central Ave. - St. Pete, FL
12-6pm First Saturday of every month.

742 South Village Circle - Tampa, FL
10am-3pm First Sunday of every month.

28211 Paseo Dr. - Wesley Chapel, FL
10am-2pm First Saturday of every month.
The front lawn of Hillsborough High School
5000 N. Central Ave. Tampa, FL 33603
9am - 2pm The second Sunday of every month (this summer through September it’s actually 11am – 4pm at Southern Brewing & Wine Making on Nebraska Ave)