Tampa Bay Food Monster

…eating food since 1985.

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Tampa Bay Wine & Food Festival

Posted by Tampa Bay Food Monster on September 3, 2014

THE RETURN

the food monster will be in attendance at the tampa bay wine & food festival, september 12th and 13th.

visit their webasite for sexy food fun

remember the food monster? well, he’s back. in pog form. check him out at the wine and food festival, and then prepare your brain for the messiest rebirth you’ll ever know.

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Tampa Cuban Sandwich Festival

Posted by Tampa Bay Food Monster on May 28, 2012

reporter chad winters checks out the tampa cuban sandwich festival in historic ybor city.

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Seasons 52

Posted by Tampa Bay Food Monster on March 30, 2012

every once in a while, some legitimate establishment, a classy joint, will get in contact with me and invite me to their place for something nice to eat. or drink. it is always very pleasant, but i tend to get the suspicion that perhaps they meant to message scallywag journeys, not me. and then when i show up, with scraps of my last meal still sitting in my full, luxurious beard, they maybe begin to regret not double checking who this “food monster” is before sending out the invite.

MESSAGE TO POTENTIAL INVITERS: my reviews contain words like “ass” and “fuck”, and often reference vomiting. be warned.

so whether it be intentional or no, seasons 52 asked me to join them and a group of elite food critic-types for a special event celebrating their spring menu launch. as i would later learn, seasons 52 changes their menu every season (thus the ‘seasons’ in the name)… (the 52 is for the 52 weeks in each year, representing their weekly practice of sacrificing a market fresh goat to the god of the current season, be it WINTROUS, keeper of snow, or SUMMULON, the boiler of faces). the event would give us an opportunity to sample their new dishes, and take part in an interactive webcast of the head chef and wine chooser extraordinaire. also to rub elbows.

the main dining room

so i took this as an opportunity to prove, not just to the general public but to myself as well, that i am perfectly capable of carrying myself like a gentleman, and fitting in with those damned uptight blue bloods [who i secretly openly hate]. so i slipped into my fanciest dinner tuxedo, strapped on my most bold two-tone dinner tie, put on my elegantest dinner slippers, doused myself with my most fragrant dinner cologne, and coated my puffy lips with watkins patented dinner salve. i was most assuredly the classiest. they had to love me.

the table

on our arrival (i was accompanied by my equally-classy but far sexier assistant), we were directed to the decadent krebstar room, a special room reserved for meetings or bachelor parties in the back of the restaurant. inside we found a beautiful dining table, complete with glasses and silverware. fighting my instinctual urges to steal everything in sight, i settled for drinking one of the complimentary cocktails offered to us. they were serving strawberry kir royal, which is strawberry-infused vodka, with agave nectar and zardetto prosecci, which i believe is a fish-based wine. despite my harsh dislike for vodka, based on a single college party, this drink was surprisingly tolerable. light and bubbly, with a distinct strawberry flavor. my rampant alcoholism began taking over my senses, but i fought it off, reminding myself that each dish would be paired with a wine. only a bit of waiting until my next drink.

while the other guests arrived (all four of them), we were kept entertained by one of the managers, and a constant influx of delicious appetizers.

flatbread guy

apparently seasons 52 is known for their flatbreads. or at least they are one of their more celebrated items. we were treated to two different varieties of these flatbreads:

ripe plum tomato flatbread

the ripe plum tomato flatbread has little slices of tomato dudes, coupled with basil, roasted garlic, and parmesan cheese. the tomatoes were good, but this seemed to me nothing special. i mean, it was well presented, but i was not blown away. i have had more interesting flatbreads. of course, this was just an appetizer. still, i couldn’t see these as being as famous as they made them out to be.

artichoke & goat cheese flatbread

more to my liking was the artichoke and goat cheese flatbread, also featuring spinach, balsamic onion, and roasted peppers. now this one impressed me. the artichoke played beautifully with the cheese (which i wouldn’t have minded more of), and the spinach blended well into that flavor. the onions and peppers kicked out as a separate presence, which maaaaybe detracted from the main flavors here, but honestly i was pretty happy with them being there.

i found the second flatbread to be more crisp, likely having been made more recently. but that crispness was exactly what you’re looking for here, becoming more like a cracker than a bread, which i could eat endlessly. and that i did, having stuffed the rest of the flatbread down my pants when nobody was looking.

artichoke dudes

we were also treated to these little beauties, artichoke-stuffed artichoke leaves. with artichoke. the artichoke leaves had arugula and parmesan cheese, and were topped with an incredible balsamic glaze. we will see elements of this later.

artichoke-stuffed artichoke leaves

these turned out to be incredibly delicious, and i regret only having one. i had already used up the majority of my extraneous pant space on the flatbread, so i decided not to steal any of these. foolish mistake. it was a nice, warm treat, with the parmesan cheese kind of taking a lead after the balsamic glaze fades. a lot of flavor, but not too much at once. good appetizer. i continued chewing on the leaf throughout the dinner.

webcast

after a while, the exciting webcast began. the whole production reminded me of shitty late night infomercials, with hosts that you could tell were not quite entertainers. the hosts were, in fact, the creators of the menu, giving us a unique insight into the food and wine pairings they’d designed. near the end, they fielded questions brought the them via tweets. tweetz. #S52Spring

none of the questions i asked were given any mention, likely due to the constant spelling errors, and their largely offensive and often pornographic nature. having quietly slipped to the back of the room to polish off whatever was left of the wine and vodka, i suppose my sobriety was quickly escaping me.

luckily for me, food was now to be delivered, with its alcohol sopping properties. of course, unluckily for everyone else, everything was to be accompanied by more wine.

tomato & haas avocado salad

we began our tasting with a tomato and haas avocado salad. it used arugula as a base, and featured the same balsamic glaze as we experienced before in the artichoke leaves. and they chucked a nice piece of grilled bruschetta in there for good measure. the arugula turned out to be a great starting point, with a fairly strong flavor for a green. the thick balsamic glaze played sweet against it. the avocado was ridiculously creamy and delicious, a nice counterpoint to everything else present. the tomatoes i have little to say about. they were there. i mean they were hanging out with us. but i don’t know who invited them to the party. the grilled bruschetta’s charred exterior was a really nice compliment to the rest of the salad. it was excellent.

columbia river steelhead trout

next up was what would prove to be the star of the evening for me, as well as one member of the couple who came in during the salad course. but only one of us would end up embarrassing himself by singing about it at the end of the meal (it was me). this was one of the entrées – columbia river steelhead trout, served with “spring vegetables” and basmati rice with lemongrass sauce. the dish was accompanied by a glass of botani moscatel seco.

the trout… so. good. it was still mild, but with a full, fresh flavor. perfectly seared. the rice and lemongrass sauce was amazing, light, going well with the veggies. it was all extremely springy. SEASONS 52!! and the wine was like something i’ve never had before; it was light but it packed a large floral flavor, almost grassy. it played well with he fish, and almost perfectly paired the lemongrass flavor. incredible combination.

lamb t-bone chops

next they brought out the lamb, served with asparagus, truffle mashed potatoes, and with a red wine glaze. this was all accompanied by allegrini palazzo della torre, a rich red.

i was not nearly as impressed with the lamb as i was with the trout, finding the char grilled flavor to be overwhelming except in the very center of the chop, where i was met with perfect, tender lamb. it was disappointing, and i’m not sure whether this was intentional or not. i appreciate a nice smokey charred flavor, but i was far more interested in getting the lamb here. the potatoes were delicious, and the asparagus was asparagus. but the wine!

my god, this wine. it was a deep red wine, with such a lush, rich flavor. it was velvety, like a milk chocolate. sweet, smooth, warm, dark, beautiful flavor. pairing it with the lamb worked really well, and it would cut through the char flavor bringing out a bit of sweetness. it was an excellent pairing, and it is a wine i would love to drink by itself. perfect.

spicy snow peas & shiitake mushrooms

we began winding down the evening with a serving of spicy snow peas and shiitake mushrooms, served with roasted almonds. the spicy asian sauce they were drizzled with was perfect, warm, sweet, and lightly spicy. the mushrooms were excellent, and the almonds were a nice light touch; everything played perfectly against the snow peas.

this was served with a lioco indica rose, a light beautiful fruity wine. i usually hate roses, but this was a pleasant surprise, and worked to bring out the fresh flavor of the snow peas.

mini indulgence deserts

at the end of the meal, they tossed a couple of these trays filled with tiny desserts on the table, and gave us a sweet riesling to wash it all down with (but not too sweet). by this point, i had drank all my wine, and also managed to wrestle a few glasses away from my tolerant assistant. needless to say i was pretty trashed. my former plan to prove i had couth went out the window, as i had already begun stripping off layers of clothing. the revelation of the desserts was the final straw in my transformation from man to beast, and i leapt across the table and threw the mini desserts back like a bunch of jäger shots, as the rest of the guests screamed.

the “mini indulgences”, ranging from red velvet to key lime pie, were all quite delicious, none too sweet, and perfect endings to the meal.

our hosts helped hose me down after the mess i’d made, and calm me. eventually i sobered up, and they were kind enough to let me go without filing any reports with the cops (which is good for me because i’m on probation). after excusing myself to the bathroom to clean up a little, i joined my assistant and some of the remaining food reviewers left from the dinner, and we all had a nice drink at the bar. sitting among them, i finally felt accepted for who i was, despite the fact that i was no longer wearing pants.

here’s a photo of us all watching something on tv. what a magical evening it had turned into. just look at how casual and classy we all are! best friends forever.

Seasons 52 on Urbanspoon

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The Florida State Fair 2012

Posted by Tampa Bay Food Monster on February 21, 2012

the title is to be read “twenty-twelve”. because that way it’s like this year’s florida state fair… TOOK PLACE IN THE FUTURE!!

terror man

now that that important business is out of the way, i can begin. after last year’s state fair visit was such a rousing success, leaving me with many an erotic, food-entrenched memory, i decided it must become a tradition. so we went back this year, hoping to find all sorts of new, disgusting foods, and pet all sorts of new, disgusting animals.

sarcastic goat

sarcastic. fucking. goat. i hate you, sarcastic fair goat.

i met with a bunch of people, and pretty much all we did on our fair visit was eat food. we almost watched some stupid X-TREME BMX MOTOCROSS SPORTZ event, but our spidey senses told us the show was going to be far too bogged down with christian undertones to be worth sitting through. oh, and because it was a bmx sports show. so all we did was eat food. and maybe a couple grown adults went down slides. FUN FOR ALL!

75 cent sweat tea

tiki tea, the purveyor of 75¢ sweet tea, was my first target. their tea proved to be the lubricant of last year’s fair, and this year was very much the same. i counted three stations around the fairgrounds, each serving up delicious, perfectly sweetened tea (also in a variety of flavors!!). and at seventy-five cents for a twenty ounce styrofoam souvenir cup, you can’t afford not to buy this! multiple times!

hand dipped corn dog

and then was the state fair hand-dipped corn dog. last year’s corn dog was ruled as butt by all involved parties (me), so i made sure to go to a place that specialized solely in corn dogs this year. and i was not disappointed. this one kicked so much ass. i wish i had the ability to leap through time, so i could pit this year’s corn dog against last year’s corn dog in a corn dog battle royale. just to watch last year’s corn dog lose like the bitch it was.

note the subtle pool of bubbly saliva resting atop the dog’s inner meat sanctum. mmm corn dog.

fried pickles

and fried pickles!! AGAIN with the fried pickles! god i love these guys. light batter, fried crisp and hot right before your eyes. the perfect way to settle into the “i’m going to eat everything fried” mindset.

fried cheddar cheese curds

here we have fried cheddar cheese curds! what a little delight. the frying on these bad boys is nigh professional! just look at that battered exterior. nice. they were fairly pleasing, with stretchy cheese like 90’s pizza commercial. the only problem here is that cheddar cheese is so lame. they had jalapeño cheddar as well, which i also tried, and it was exponentially better. they also had mozzarella, which i’m sure was great, but i mean come on what is this tgi fridays SERIOUSLY FOLKS AM I RIGHT?

fried bubblegum

and the year’s special event: fried bubblegum. wow. yeah. that sounds just awful. but it was all the buzz! because it’s so outrageous! so crazy!! well, you know what? it wasn’t that crazy. because they basically lied to you. it’s not bubbled gum at all! it’s a marshmallow, dipped in a pink bubblegum-flavoured goo. then fried. so it’s pretty much just the man fucking you over once again.

in theory, a fried marshmallow should be good! it’s got all the makings of a perfect fair treat. their misstep was the bubblegum sauce itself. oh, the hubris! the slime they used coated the marshmallow, making it look kinda cool, but melted in such a way upon frying that it combined with the marshmallow’s exterior and became a frothy cream. which STILL wouldn’t have been such a problem, had a.) it not tasted disgusting (worst approximation of an artificial flavor ever), and b.) my friend not mentioned its similarity to pepto-bismol (whose website is actually pretty awesome). the texture was dead on, and even the taste was almost similar once i had it in my mind. oh god why.

it was not a pleasant experience. avoid this one.

chocolate dipped bacon

right next door to the pepto-balls was a bacon hut, serving up bacon with chocolate dipping sauce. somehow, despite my constant food monstering, i’ve never properly had chocolate-covered bacon. this christmas, a sexy sexy lady exposed me to the wonders of bacon peanut brittle, but the chocolate connection had yet to occur. and, officially, i’m gonna say the connection is still unmade. the choco-paste they provided with the well fried bacon was more like a chocolate body paint than a real chocolate dip. it was low quality. and honestly, the right form should be a fully hardened chocolate bar rather than a dip, to encapsulate the bacon. the slathering did not work for me.

suicidal bear

by this point, i was beginning to feel like this suicidal bear, who apparently had been experiencing the fair full on until he collapsed and started contemplating his life. what a mess! but unlike my bear friend, i had to power through. there was yet more food to be had.

fried mashed potatoes

fried mashed potatoes. we missed it last year, but swung by to pick it up this time around. and we were probably better off last year. these things sucked. i can’t speak to the quality of the mashed potato itself (not good), but the overall experience here was just disappointing, a half-assed attempt at finding the perfect fair food. the ball was fried using the same batter they use for the fried bubblegum, the fried oreos, the etc. now, i may have been wrong to go in expecting this, but i was really hoping for something more along the lines of a potato ball. this was presented like a sweet treat, containing shitty quasi-potatoes, and coated in a gross canned gravy. bluh.

italian sausage

but things soon were looking up! i got the italian sausage that i always love so dearly, as always cooked to disgusting and served with awful onions and peppers. god help me i love shitty food. the onions were so slimy and old that i ended up dumping them, but the sausage was awesome and i regret nothing.

lemonade

i again had the magic lemonade you can only find at the fair, with so much delicious sugar and fresh squeezed lemons. what a beautiful treat.

fried poptart

and finally, for dessert this year, and WINNER OF THE FAIR, i present: the fried pop-tart. it came out looking like a flat, rectangular hot pocket with nothing to lose. after a short struggle to rip a chunk off, i popped this bad boy into my mouth and experienced pure fair food bliss – sweet, deep-fried goodness, lightly dusted with powdered sugar. the pop-tart is the perfect thing to fry, being designed to be heated, already sweet, and offering a fruity center. it’s got layers of fun. coat it with a satisfying batter, and you’re golden. the strawberry “jelly” insides oozed out temptingly and mixed with the fried batter and sugar, becoming something greater than any kellog’s exec could ever have dreamed. just a delight. this is what wacky experimental fair food is all about.

so all in all, it was once again a great experience. i did pretty well, sampling a good amount of food. and we all had a good amount of fun, thanks in no small part to our determination to be the very best like no one ever was (regarding food conquests). food truly is the entire purpose of the fair. oh and stupid animals. stupid, angry, sarcastic fucking animals.

sarcastic goat face

RIP SARCASTIC GOAT
1984-1987

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Burger 21 VIB Tasting Event

Posted by Tampa Bay Food Monster on September 14, 2011

every once in a great while there will occur an event that blurs the line between the safe, warm glow of the internet, and the harsh cold that is “real life”. this is the all-too-true story of one such event.

tasting sign

it was the burger 21 “very important blogger” event, in westchase on linebaugh. and they were all there… all the important bloggers: carlos eats, my other city by the bay, write.click.cook.listen, STRATEGIC ONLINE NETWORKING. and of course, chewbacca.

VIB area REAL

yes, it was a motley crew indeed. and we were ready for food. the idea was simple: get a whole bunch of bloggers to come to a burger joint that already has a good online buzz going for it, feed them all burgers and milkshakes until they want to die, give them some swag, and let them all blog about it. pretty straight forward marketing plan. i guess they hadn’t planned on chewbacca actually showing up, or maybe he wasn’t invited at all and they were just too afraid to ask him to leave, but everyone was acting pretty funny around him. they still gave him food and everything, but they didn’t ever say anything to him or treat him warmly like they would with the other bloggers. they would kind of just set the stuff down and run.

later on, some of us would begin to suspect that it was that careless treatment of chewie that proved to be the impetus of event’s downfall. but we’ll never really know the truth. we’re just lucky to have survived at all.

now, you’ll have to forgive me; only in these recent weeks have i been able to even fathom the idea of revisiting this fateful event. this actually occurred a couple months ago, on july 18th. since then, many details of our time was either lost or repressed. but, unlike the other bloggers who seem to have completely avoided the tragedy accompanying our time at burger 21, i will attempt to recount the events as accurately as possible.

bacon cheddar slider

through the course of the event, we were offered three different sliders (burger 21’s new tiny burger offerings), sides of both the regular and sweet potato french fries, a hot dog, and samples of about a billion milkshakes. first up was the bacon cheddar slider. it was a pretty standard burger, the perfect introduction to their burgers. the meat was quite good. they boast fresh, never frozen, “all-american mid-western choice steer”. i can’t say that it compares to the meat at burger monger (still my favorite tampa burger), or even square one burgers, but it held its own. the buns were very nice too, soft and slightly sweet. good bacon. nice veggies. decent cheese.

black & bleu slider

their black & bleu slider was immaculate; the bleu cheese sauce played perfectly against the blackened burger, and the applewood-smoked bacon was the perfect assist. easily the best of the sliders.

french fries

their fries were pretty standard fare, a bit salty, a bit fried. nothing special. mostly a means of conveyance for the many sauces, which i’ll touch on later.

blt turkey slider

then there was the blt turkey slider, featuring a turkey burger patty that was surprisingly good. i am not into wacky meat burgers typically, but this did quite well! it was reminiscent of a tuna patty more than a turkey patty, which really worked well for it. not dry at all. it held together and tasted great. not to say that it compared with a real burger, but it was good.

sweet potato fries

the sweet potato fries were better than the regular ones, with a good balance of sweetness and slight saltiness, though they are not as good as good as the sweet potato fries from daily eats.

around this point was the first sign that there would be trouble. chewbacca seemed a bit upset about the turkey burger, having expected to be served more beef from a burger place. carlos tried to explain to him the concept of a turkey burger, and tender branson told chewie that he wasn’t going to be eating any of the meat burgers at all, instead opting to sample their veggies burgers. this only served to anger chewbacca further, and he let out one of his trademark bellows, presumably to silence his fellow bloggers. everyone tried to calm him. he responded by shoving french fries up his nose.

the staff, ever the professionals, continued bringing out food items and shakes. to calm the beast, they delivered hot dogs to all the bloggers. you were given the option to choose one of four types of hot dogs: the 101 dog (standard ketchup mustard onions relish), the reuben dog (sauerkraut, cheese & ale sauce, and a remoulade sauce), the danish dog (pickled cucumbers, tomatoes, onion strings, and the remoulade), and the chili cheese dog (chili sauce, salsa, jalapeños, cheddar cheese). one guess at which i chose.

chili cheese dog

the chili cheese dog was easily the most impressive item i had at burger 21. decent dog, topped with badass crap that will make you feel awful. the chili sauce was great, and the salsa was an inspired addition. add jalapeños, and i’m in heaven. it may have been too much, overshadowing the chili and making this more of a mexican dog, but dammit it worked for me. my only complaint was the texas toast bun, which was just way too much to deal with and an overall bad choice.

the rueben dog

my trustworthy assistant ordered herself the reuben dog which i got to try, and almost immediately regretted. it was far too much creamy, especially at this point in the game. we had already been packed full of burgers, fries, and shakes, so this was just going too far. so maybe that made this thing seem more gross than it really is, but damn… just looking at it is kinda nasty. i believe my assistant was far less passionately against it.

chewbacca demanded one of each type of hot dog. at this point, i believe the staff was just trying to keep him under control until the event was over, so they acquiesced. this gave chewie what i will refer to as a “meat high”, during which he become extremely loud and somewhat rambunctious, shaking and screaming and laughing all at once. other bloggers wisely backed away from him.

throughout the event, we were exposed to an insane number of milkshakes. it was far too much, and near the end i was getting sick. they were all very good, most of which coming surprisingly close to a precise recreation of whatever they were intended to mimic. here they are, in no particular order:

strawberry short cake shake
the strawberry shortcake shake

ybor city double espresso shake
the ybor city double espresso shake

chocolate peanut butter shake
the chocolate peanut butter shake

tiramisu shake
the tiramisu shake

bananas foster shake
the bananas foster shake

chocolate malted milk ball shake
the chocolate malted milk ball shake

key lime pie shake
the key lime pie shake

chewbacca wound up with the majority of his shakes in his matted fur. he occasionally complained of brain freeze. and when they neglected to bring out the touted chocolate cherry bomb shake, chewie flew into a frenzied false sense of entitlement, hitting the people around him, and striking one of the staff members dead. this seemed to really piss off one of the managers, who soon emerged from the kitchen with a cattle prod. most of the bloggers had backed away from the angry wookiee, though a couple had already been felled by his blows. it was difficult to concentrate of the flavor of the latest milkshake through the deafening screams, but i knew i had to try before the whole mood of the event would be spoiled by terror-induced vomiting.

a few shocks of the cattle prod in, and the mighty chewbacca showed no signs of calming. he picked up the table in front of him and flattened the manager wielding the weapon. chewbacca then deftly removed the head from one of the lesser known (and then unconscious) bloggers at the event, and proceeded to sate his hunger by drinking its warm blood. i sampled burger 21’s sauces.

sauces!

there were all variety of sauces, clearly created by a mad scientist of some sort, including a thai ketchup, chipotle mayo, honey mustard, mango scotch bonnet, apple cider(!), and toasted marshmallow(!!). they were all quite good, with the toasted marshmallow being surprisingly delicious (as in not sickening), working well with the sweet potato fries.

in the end, the death count totaled twelve, the number mostly padded by young passengers in a school bus that chewie destroyed as he fled the area. the restaurant was devastated by his rampage. the staff was left mentally broken, traumatized from seeing things only common to a battlefield. and the (surviving) bloggers were left with one hell of a story to write about. but it seems like some of them (read: all of them) left out a few minor details. WELL THOSE BLOGGERS BE DAMNED. i offer only the truth! the truth, and an impeccable sense of taste.

long live chewbacca, slayer of the service and destroyer of dreams!

Burger 21 on Urbanspoon

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