Take a foodie road trip from PB County to Tampa


Highlights

 

Can one zip over to Tampa for a head-snapping 48 hours, by car, and make it count as a foodie get-away? Totally. 

Sure, 72 hours would be swell. But when you’ve got a two-day window for a 561-to-the-813, round-trip escape, snatch it. 

Taking a culinary angle will help focus your travel plans – plus, it will boost the trip’s delicious factor. And taking Florida State Road 60, which runs along cow-dotted pastures, through Lake Wales, Bartow and Brandon, will boost the Florida funk factor. Win, win, win. 


WHERE TO STAY

The Epicurean Hotel 

Yes, Tampa has an epicurean-themed hotel – so, where else would a foodie stay? The Epicurean, a boutique hotel that’s part of Marriott International’s Autograph Collection, opened in Tampa’s eclectic SoHo (South Howard Ave district) in January 2014. 

The $35 million hotel project aims to be more than a place to crash while in town – it aims to cater to food and wine enthusiasts. 

It is home to Elevage, a fine dining restaurant that’s helmed by regional star chef Chad Johnson, a repeat semifinalist for the prestigious James Beard Award. For dessert lovers, there’s the Chocolate Pi sweet shop, where a variety of ice cream, cakes and pastries are made onsite. There’s also a craft cocktail bar called Edge. 

The hotel also boasts a 40-seat, state-of-the-art culinary theater a la “Iron Chef” Kitchen Stadium, where cooking and wine appreciation classes are offered and local chefs’ competitions are staged. Visitors observe the action from sleek viewing stands that double as their own personal dining space. The Epicurean Theatre is a gem. 

Plus, there’s a nicely organized wine shop that’s run by one of Tampa’s most beloved wine collectors, Bern’s Steak House. 

Epicurean Hotel: 1207 S. Howard Ave., Tampa; 813-999-8700 


WHERE TO EAT

Breakfast at Goody Goody 

Goody Goody, a diner-y burger chain that was a Tampa tradition for decades before closing in 2005, was brought back to life in August 2016 in fashionable Hyde Park. It sports some of its original furnishings and signs as well as its vintage color scheme. 

If it’s evident that the place is proud of its roots, you can thank new owner Richard Gonzmart, who knows a thing or two about vintage establishments. His family founded Ybor City’s iconic Columbia Restaurant in 1905 and still operates the Cuban favorite. 

Sure, there’s a “Famous Burgers” reference in Goody Goody’s name, but trust me, this is where you want to have breakfast. Let’s cut to the chase here: This is where you want to have grits, as a main or side. It’s creamy, rich, heirloom stuff, which starts with good product – Anson Mills organic grits. Another winner: the OMG! French Toast, slices of Cuban bread that’s battered and grilled and served with Goody Goody’s proprietary “Cracker Maple Syrup,” a buttery-rich glaze that’s more than slightly addictive. 

There’s plenty on the menu to keep you sipping your coffee (or gigantic café con leche) as you decide. 

Goody Goody: 1601 W. Swann Ave., Tampa; 813-308-1925 

Lunch at La Segunda Central Bakery 

You can’t really dine here, but the takeout is worth the drive into Ybor City. The bakery turns out one of Tampa’s best Cuban sandwiches. There’s a distinction between a Tampa Cuban and a Miami Cuban: Tampa’s version adds a layer of Genoa salami. And the best Tampa Cubans are stacked upon bread that’s baked at La Segunda in the old-school way: A palmetto leaf strip is stretched lengthwise along the loaf, denting its center. 

The bakery offers an eye-catching selection of pastries as well, so pick up a guava and cheese turnover for your picnic lunch as well. 

La Segunda Central Bakery: 2512 N. 15th St., Ybor City; 813-248-1531 

Dinner at Bern’s Steak House 

Tampa’s iconic temple of beef sits across the street from the Epicurean. This 61-year-old landmark is a must-stop for carnivores. Not only are the steaks top-notch and the meals served with retro panache, they’ll give you a tour of the kitchen after dinner.

You may want to save room for dessert, however – Bern’s famous Harry Waugh Dessert Room sits upstairs. This is an entire dining room devoted to sweets and spirits. The dessert menu is enormous and it lists tons of classics, flambé desserts, frozen desserts, even sugar-free desserts. Plus, there are dessert wines and drinks. 

Bern’s Steak House: 1208 S. Howard Ave., Tampa; 813-251-2421 


WHERE TO DRINK

Cigar City Brewing 

There’s history in every sudsy sip of a Cigar City beer – there’s local history, nods to the city’s cigar-making culture, its Cuban flavors and its waterside location. Take a tour of the brewery or sample some beers in the tasting room. Take home what you love most – they’ve got bottles, cans and growlers for sale. 

Cigar City Brewing: 3924 W. Spruce St., Tampa; 813-348-6363 ext. 206 


WHERE TO CHILL

Oxford Exchange 

Nearly five years after its debut, Oxford Exchange remains one of the most stunning multi-use spaces around. There’s a café, a tea counter, a book store, a coffee bar and a retail shop, all tucked into a vintage structure that stretches 24,000 square feet. Finding a quiet spot to read or sip your tea won’t be too difficult. Linger a while. It’s magical. 

Oxford Exchange: 420 W. Kennedy Blvd., Tampa; 813-253-0222


WHERE TO STOP ON THE WAY BACK

La Botana Market 

Tucked into the back of this cozy grocery store is a simple, no-frills Mexican restaurant. The food is real-deal, the customers a mix of locals and Yelpers passing through. Served on soft corn tortillas, the tacos are outstanding and generously filled. But the place also offers big bowls of Mexican soups and stews, combo platters, burritos and tostadas. Plus, there are homemade aguas frescas and horchata. 

You dine here amid the piñatas, the rows of handsome, Mexican-made cowboy boots, all under the watchful eye of the Virgin of Guadalupe. 

La Botana: 2415 FL-60, Lake Wales; 863-679-3335 


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