Eat, Sea, Stay: Tampa, FL
Last stop, Tampa! Tampa Bay is in a Bay, so this isn't your beach town of the road trip but it's so worth the stay. With a population of nearly 3 million, you'll get to a manageable yet big city feel while the food and culture is very diverse. This bustling metropolis has two major league sports teams, Tampa Bay Lightening and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and become electric with diehard fans and "watch parties" at every.single.bar whenever the game's on. With so much ground to cover, we really spent our time touring the great local hangouts and stuffing ourselves silly but I can see how this city would also appeal to many different kinds of travellers with the option to get active boating around the bay, bear down on sports or conduct business at the many HQ's about town.
As per usual, I have put together some "musts" for where to eat, grab a little time on the water and where to rest your head + spend your quality time in Tampa. To learn more out more about this region of Florida and ToFoodies' time there, check the Eat, Sea, Stay Guides for Punta Gorda and Sarasota.
Oxford Exchange - What an epic space, holding a surprising amount of desire-worthy retail (you know the items- cute greeting cards, flattering eye frames, punny books, perfect prints) and a restaurant to boot. The solarium is definitely where you want to be making your reservation, and I suggest you do make a reservation. With natural lighting, checkerboard floors against white brick walls, tangled garden vines snaking upward, this place is the photo opp stuff of dreams. Not to mention, the brunch I had was splendid. Steaming hot chocolate chip pancakes with strawberries. Eggs Benedict with chorizo, cilantro queso, micro greens, and a side of razor-thin home potatoes. Smoked Salmon on an everything bagel with chive crème cheese, red wine pickled red onion and enormous caper berries. French press coffee. Latte art. The list goes on.
The Hall on Franklin - This is Tampa's answer to Toronto's Assembly Chef's Hall but in a more intimate, seated-service-forward restaurant style. The selection of restaurant is small but mighty with offferings by KOFE, BAKE'N BABES, FISH CAMP, HEIGHTS MELTS, NORTH STAR and POKE ROSE. You can grab 'n' go at the counter of each resto but the design is so on point that it give you a one room feeling, like you're sitting at a restaurant with seven menus integrated into one. Seared Ahi tuna chiarashi from Poke Rose with chirashi rice, pea shoot salad, and yuzu vinaigrette was super simple and fresh start to the meal. Other highlights were the softshell crab po' boy sandwich from North Star, super crispy itself with fried garlic + shallots and serious zing from pickled vegetables, jalapenos, cilantro, and a ginger aioli. Peel 'n' eat shrimp with cocktail sauce, sweet potato tots and fried grouper fish tacos from Fish Camp. Waffle fries from Heights Melts with bacon, queso, chives, and sour cream. I'm a savoury gal and the hits just wouldn't stop coming.
Ciro's Speakeasy & Supper Club - You need a password for this one! Inside a nondescript building lies Ciro's, and we were treated to a private room, behind a bookshelf, kind of experience. I adored the punch bowl we ordered, such a beauty entitled, "Flowers In Her Hair". Imagine Fontana Pisco, St. Germaine, Creme de Violette, pineapple, lemon, sugar and Peychaud's Bitters. Taste like summer with flower petals and tiny rosebuds popping up in my mouth.
Bulla's Gastrobar - Drawing from Spain, this menu delivers all the hits (patas bravas, ham croquettes, churros, etc.) as well as new, not yet exposed dishes. Instead of Paella, Arroz Caldoso graced the table and was a soupier version with a robust smoky flavour, perfectly cooked shrimp, chicken and calamari strewn inside with red sofrito and saffron. Also, there was serious egg yolk-popping technique going down tableside for the Huevos Bulla- a mix of homemade potato chips, serrano ham, truffle oil, potato foam with poached eggs on top popped open table side, tossed together. White wine sangria with fresh strawberries and blueberries completes the look.
Coppertail Brewing - Brews on brews! Catch the super fun names + labels like the Gucci Mango, Slam Piece, WHOOPS!, Captain Jack's Stone Crab Stout, and MORE. Coppertail Beer is inspired by the Florida lifestyle, using natural carbonation, whole leaf hops, and no filter. They produce four core beers year round (Free Dive IPA, Unholy Belgo-American Trippel, Night Swim Porter, and Independant German-Style Pislner) in draft and bottles, but go to the shop to try the weird stuff.
Hyde Park Village Circle - Enter snacking central. We spent a good couple hours in this neck of the woods and treated ourselves so well. First up, The Hyppo for gourmet ice pops in fun flavours like ginger dragon fruit and mango chia seeds. Next up, a location of Sprinkles, complete with a cupcake ATM outside. And for your needed hit of caffeine in a glass bottle of cold crew, Buddy Brew Coffee is right in front of you.
The Franklin Manor - On all my stops during a pretty intensive, self-guided bar crawl with the crew, this bar was a stand out. The open air nature is a true treat for any Canadian and the band was out of this world. They played a lot of 90's hits, but made them their own by infusing super unique mashups. Imagine a medley where the only theme is Will Smith and, "Wild Wild West", "Welcome to Miami" and "Men in Black", go back and forth effortlessly. For a good time, go here.
Pirate Water Taxi - As I mentioned, didn't get out on the water SO much during this stop since we're on the bae, but we still got a lot of water views thanks to our hotel and highways alongside the water. One evening for dinner, instead of a typical cab, we took this water taxi company and it was such a treat! They have fifteen stops that can give you access to over 17 attractions + museums, 24 restaurants and 13 parks. We were out there during sunset, took in beautiful & unique views of the city & Bay at the very same time.
The Marriott Waterside Hotel & Marina - Our hotel for this leg of the #CANlovesFL! The location was pretty perfect, and for a sports fan, the stadium was literally across the street. The room was big and bright, with ample space to work on a laptop or luxuriate in the tub. I had a lovely breakfast at the Waterside Grill's waterside patio of Mojo-marinated pork, fried eggs, Cuban toast and black beans over white rice. Titled "Ybor Breakfast", it was the perfect, dense meal to settle my stomach after a big night out in Ybor. Most interesting, the hotel is about to undergo a major revitalization which will even further modernize the spaces, opening itself up to the street and the waterside.
Tampa Theatre - A side of culture in between all of this food! We toured the recently restored Tampa Theatre and it was so interesting to get some Floridian history through the lens of film. All the ghost stories and funny little anecdotes came together to explain today's theatre's state. They always have an impressive lineup of films showing and this could definitely be a fun beginning or more chill night out. Check the schedule to see what's coming up next!
Epicurean Hotel - Full disclosure, I didn't stay here but I did eat at Elevage Restaurant and it was divine. With the same owners as the beloved local phenomenon Bern's Steakhouse, they certainly know how to cook a steak and MORE. We started the night on the rooftop patio, EDGE Social Drinkery where both the cocktail and wine list is vast. For dinner, when we ordered two mains off the menu and said we'd split, it came out in two half order plates. I loved that. The style is "nostalgia meet nouveau". Other hits for me were the steak tartare and the calamari. The steak - with a knob of bleu cheese butter and the perfectly cooked medium rare- was everything.
Ybor City - To say this is a fun neighbourhood would be an understatement! First we came here to check out Tabanero Cigars and it was fascinating to see the work that goes into these things. Then we ended up going out one night here and I'm sneaking in two (okay, three) bar recommendations for you. For a casual drink and dip into cider life in Tampa, Cigar City Cider and Mead. For karaoke with current hits and cheap drinks, Double Decker. And for a gay bar + drag show experience go to Bradley's On 7th. You will not be disappointed.
#CANlovesFL #loveFL #TOFtravels
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