My trip to Tampa was paid for by the Tampa Bay Economic Development Council. As always, all content and opinions are my own.
Last fall, I took a press trip to Tampa, Florida. If you're a frequent reader of the blog, you know that I've taken hosted trips to destinations like Winnipeg, Fargo, and Kansas City. On hosted trips, some or all of my expenses are covered in return for blog and social media posts about the destination. Since I don't run ads or affiliate links, and I rarely do sponsored posts, hosted trips are an important way that I can use my blog to subsidize my travel.
Press trips are different. They're for members of the media (like me) to experience a destination and then pitch stories about that destination to print and online publications, like magazines, newspapers, and travel websites. On press trips, I don't have an obligation to post to my social media accounts or write a blog post about my stay. Instead, my job is to research potential articles, pitch my ideas to editors, and if my editors are interested, write the articles.
That said, I genuinely enjoyed my stay in Tampa on a personal level, and it seems weird not to write about it here. I got to stay in a cool hotel in a former courthouse, and I saw a dolphin on my morning run. I checked out a food court made from shipping containers, sipped cocktails at a rooftop bar, and took lots of photos. And I ate plenty of delicious food—in chronological order, here are eight standouts.
1) Cortado with banana bread, Buddy Brew Coffee
Confession: I tried to order a horchata at the Park Tower location of Buddy Brew Coffee, but the barista misheard me, and then I misheard her when she repeated my order back to me, and then I was very confused when I received a shot glass of espresso with latte art. But my accidental cortado was a tasty error, and the perfect pairing for a dense slice of banana bread that was almost as good as my mom's.
(For the record, a cortado is equal parts espresso and steamed milk. It's a good balance to pastries—unsweetened but smoother than straight-up espresso or black coffee.)
2) Slutty brownie, Bake'n Babes
I'm not a fan of the name, but I'll save my rant about using moralizing language to describe food for another day (there's also a lot I could say about about sex negativity and double standards).
However, this brownie from Bake'n Babes was an over-the-top celebration of everything I love about dessert. It was so very chocolatey and unabashedly loaded with sugar, featuring a chocolate chip cookie base, layer of Oreos, and a thick fudgy brownie layer on top. It was served warm, drizzled with hot fudge, and sprinkled with sea salt. If I had to use a morally-tinged word to describe this brownie, it would be "heavenly."
3) Acai bowl, Whatever Pops
Even in October, the humidity in Tampa was oppressive, and an acai bowl from Whatever Pops' Sparkman Wharf location was the refreshment I needed on a hot afternoon. A thick blend of frozen fruit topped with fresh berries, granola, unsweetened coconut, and a generous drizzle of local honey—the variety of textures and flavors made eating this a delight.
4) Gnocchi with short ribs and smoked ricotta, Rooster & the Till
I don't eat much meat (due to personal taste and environmental reasons), so I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this meaty pasta dish at Rooster & the Till. Plump, chewy housemade gnocchi were cooked in a tomato-based sauce enriched with tender shreds of short rib. The dollops of ricotta offered a creaminess that tied the dish together, and the thin slices of hot pepper added a welcome snappiness.
5) Euro Trash ice cream, Revolution Ice Cream Co.
I try to eat local ice cream wherever I travel, so yes, I asked the staffer who was showing me around Tampa to take me out for ice cream at Revolution Ice Cream Co. It's an ice cream shop with a punk rock sensibility and creative flavors, often with cheeky names. After much sampling (obviously) I opted for a waffle cone of Euro Trash: Nutella ice cream with crumbled Bischoff cookies.
6) Cuban toast, Goody Goody
Typically, I would not consider a few slices of toast to be an adequately filling breakfast. But then I tried Cuban toast at Goody Goody. Cuban toast is made from Cuban bread, which is similar to a French baguette but includes lard or vegetable shortening. To make Cuban toast, the long, narrow slices are spread with butter and toasted in a panini press. Often, Cuban toast is dipped in a cup of cafe con leche (coffee with heated milk).
This is toast to be reckoned with.
7) Cuban sandwich, Stone Soup
Since many people claim that Tampa is the birthplace of the Cuban sandwich, I seized the chance to try the award-winning version at Stone Soup Company. Cuban bread is piled with pulled pork, ham, salami, Swiss cheese, a mustard-mayonaisse mixture, and pickles, then brushed with butter and cooked in a sandwich press.
All of the classic components are well-executed, but what takes this Cuban sandwich to the next level is a unique Stone Soup touch: the sandwich is served with a little cup of the mojo sauce that's used to marinate the pulled pork, so you can dip each bite for an extra boost of garlicky flavor.
8) Cheese and guava danish, Tampa International Airport
Airport convenience stores aren't known for noteworthy cuisine, but I loved the cheese and guava danish that I ate for dinner before my flight home. Flaky layers of pastry, a slightly tart jam filling, a cheesecake-like topping—it was the perfect ending to my time in Tampa.
Many thanks to the Tampa Bay Economic Development Council for flying me to Tampa and providing my accommodations, food, drinks, and transportation during my stay.
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