I didn’t know you were a Buccaneers fan. Business travel is the worst! Visiting family? Such were everyone's assumptions when I told people I was spending three days in Tampa, Florida. For what it's worth, I'm not a Bucs fan and have no work or family there. My trip to Tampa was for fun.
While Tampa may lack the glitz of Miami, the shell-speckled beaches of Ft. Myers, and the mega mouse of Orlando, it has its appeal—it's close to charming downtown St. Pete and has several pristine beaches, and it's home to at least one incredible theme park, Busch Gardens, to fulfill all those thrill ride needs. But for our money, the best reason to visit (along with dirt-cheap direct flights) is the food. The promise of unique baked goods and sandwiches is more than enough reasons to lure anyone to the Cigar City. Order these dishes and you won't be disappointed the next time you find yourself hungry in Tampa.
Original 1905 Salad at Columbia Restaurant
Although it’s the Cuban sandwich that draws many to the historic Columbia Restaurant, the Original 1905 salad is absolutely spectacular and worth ordering if only to watch your server perform its table-side preparation. Named for the year of the restaurant’s founding, the signature salad is an elegant homage to the many immigrants who settled in the city at the turn of the century—chopped iceberg lettuce tossed with grated Romano cheese and garlic dressing is a hat tip to Tampa's Italian community. Layered with Swiss cheese allumettes, baked ham, and Florida tomatoes, the salad is then tossed in a fragrant garlic dressing traditionally used in Cuban marinade. The 1905 eats like a full meal, but diners can order a smaller version with their entrée too.
Crème Brûlée Bread Pudding at La Segunda
The bakery cases at La Segunda are packed with tempting pastries, Italian cookies, and creative cannoli, but for a highly original confection that'll make your eyes roll back in your head, opt for the crème brûlée bread pudding. The marriage of these two unctuous desserts yields a most delicious love-child bursting with rich ova flavor and toasty pas caramel notes. Need some savory to balance out the sugar (and delude yourself into believing you didn’t just eat pudding for lunch)? Pick up a slice of Scachatta, a spongy Sicilian flatbread topped with tomato sauce and a light dusting of Pecorino Romano.
Cuban Sandwich at Alessi Bakery
Just as NYC’s water is said to be responsible for the special quality of their pizza crusts, so too must Tampa’s water contribute to their Cuban bread, which is so terrifically soft on the inside and delightfully flaky on the outside. Alessi Bakery’s version is no exception and when layered with thinly sliced salami, baked ham, Swiss cheese, pickles, and roasted pork, this Cubano has some serious mojo (both literally and metaphorically).
Deviled Crab at Brocato’s
Imagine spending three days for the first time in New Orleans without trying a po' boy and returning home to have everyone and their mother chide you for not sampling one of the city’s most iconic dishes. In Tampa that iconic dish is the deviled crab croquette. The best are at Brocato’s, where chunks of sweet blue crab flesh are heavily laced with pepper and paprika, breaded and deep-fried to a honey brown. And because they’re technically a snack, you can enjoy these delicious croquettes in between meals.
Puerco Asado at La Teresita
Locals will tell you that everything at this famed Spanish-Cuban eatery is excellent, the puerco asado stands out for its complex, flavorful dimensions that arise from a marinade packed with citrus, root vegetables, cumin, and basil. Pair with a side of sunny yellow rice to sop up the juice, and resist the urge to lick your fingers.