Tampa Bay Food Monster

…eating food since 1985.

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Posts Tagged ‘the Monster’s Favorites’

Firehouse Subs

Posted by Tampa Bay Food Monster on October 26, 2012

DID YOU KNOW?? the submarine sandwich, originally known as the “filled zeppelin roll”, traces its origins back to the widely publicized and oft-lampooned hindenburg disaster. on the day of the disaster, the dining staff had run out of bread for sandwiches, and instead substituted long dinner rolls. after the hindenburg was destroyed, a plucky team of firefighters were called to the scene, and, once the fires were put out, the firefighters noticed a hauntingly delicious aroma – some of the uneaten sandwiches had been toasted during the accident, and the meat within steamed to perfection. the firefighters took the sandwiches back to the station and enjoyed them amongst themselves; thus, the intrinsic tie between firefighters and subs was made.

inside the house

i was recently invited to come out to the most respectable firehouse subs and meet their co-founder robin sorensen (inventor of the occasionally useful sorensen squeeze), while sampling some of their finest sandwiches. firehouse subs is a national chain, originating in jacksonville, florida, known for their meat and cheese steaming technology. this was not my first visit to firehouse subs, nor would it be the last.

this particular location was in largo (a part of the giant largo mall plaza/village, on ulmerton), and only just opened recently. it is set up as most locations are, with a counter from which to order (and behind which your food is prepared), a large dining section, and this:

soda maker

this monstrosity, “coke freestyle”, looking like a refrigerator capable of surviving a nuclear blast, is actually just a soda dispenser. (i’m probably a little late on this one, but let’s all imagine that no one has ever seen such a thing, and just humor me here.) “SODA? OUT OF THAT THING?? BUT HOW??!” yes, i hear you, desperately struggling to figure this out. so it’s a one-at-a-time, select-a-soda soda distribution system, through which you can select one of about 20 or so soda bases, and then are prompted to add a flavored syrup if you so desire. why, you could try raspberry coke zero! vanilla sprite! even standard orange soda! wakkie nu-nu.

it results in over 120 different options, including firehouse subs’ cherry limeade, which actually just kind of dispenses a super-sweet cherry syrup type liquid that you’re supposed to squeeze limes into. i can’t really recommend that, unless you cut it with a bunch of sprite or something.

the spicy

firehouse subs restaurants also feature a nice wall of hot sauces, from which you are free to select whatever looks good to you, douse your sandwich in it, and promptly toss it in the garbage because you ruined it with waaay too much hot sauce. use in moderation. OR don’t use it at all, because your other option is this:

datil pepper hot sauce

firehouse subs also has their very own sauce, a datil hot pepper sauce named for the founders’ father. this stuff is pretty remarkable, with a brown sugar sweetness perfectly balancing a light warm burn born from the datil pepper (similar to the habanero but much more playful, largely produced in st. augustine). the sauce is a must for pretty much any sandwich they serve, and blows all the other hot sauces they have out of the water.

fireman robin sorensen

the fireman himself, robin sorensen, spoke with us at length as we ate, about he and his brother founding their own restaurant rather than picking up a franchise (in order to “kick the butt” of said franchise), their focus on the customers and full flavored sandwiches (rather than pansy-ass health food), and their public safety foundation, providing funding and equipment to fire departments, disaster relief, and educational opportunities. he’s very involved with the restaurant on a lot of levels, and his passion comes through quite clearly.

we were subjected to sandwich after sandwich, in almost a rapid-fire succession. honestly, i barely survived the night, largely because i felt obligated to eat each sandwich in its entirety, because they were so damn good.

hook & ladder

Smoked turkey breast, Virginia honey ham, and melted Monterey Jack, served Fully Involved.

(for those not in the know, “fully involved” means with lettuce, tomato, onion, mustard, mayonnaise, and a pickle served on the side)

this is the standard, their best seller, with its delicious steamed meats playing perfectly against the crispy toasted bread. the quality of the meat is great, the combo is classic, and adding the datil hot pepper sauce makes it perfect.

italian

Genoa salami, pepperoni, ham, melted provolone, Italian dressing, and seasonings, served Fully Involved.

the italian, another classic. though it’s always a great combination of meats, i feel like the italian kind of pales in comparison to the other sandwiches here. it’s solid, but it’s not something special. perhaps these meats were never meant to be steamed? it is unclear.

new york steamer

Corned beef brisket, pastrami, melted provolone, mustard, mayo, and Italian dressing.

this is my order at firehouse subs. i love corned beef. i love pastrami. the combination is divine. and these meats feel like they were made to be steamed. throw in mild melted provolone that melds perfectly with the mayo and mustard, add a light seasoning from the italian dressing, and you have something quiet and beautiful that will just melt in your mouth. slather it with cap’n datil’s patented spicy sauce, and you have yourself the sandwich god would eat if it could understand our “pathetic human reliance on food”.

smokehouse beef & cheddar brisket

USDA Choice beef brisket smoked for 10+ hours, melted cheddar, and special sauces.

and i would have been happy with my standard order of the new york steamer every time i came to firehouse subs, if they hadn’t forced me to eat this thing. this… this sandwich. awesome, smoked, beautiful brisket. it’s hickory smoked for 16 to 18 hours, made to order for firehouse, and tastes like the most incredible barbecue you’ll ever taste. something in the steaming process really brings this meat to life, and it combines with the messy union of sweet baby ray’s barbecue sauce, the cheddar cheese, and the mayonnaise, to give you one of the best sandwiches i’ve ever had at a chain in my entire life. it seriously blew the others out of the water, and will likely be the only thing i ever order from firehouse again.

do yourself a favor, and try the beef and cheddar brisket.

pickle

each other their sandwiches was served with a quartered dill pickle, perfectly seasoned crisp pickles shipped from the bronx in little pickle buckets that they sell to raise money for their foundation. the pickles are fantastic, made by the same people who supply carnegie deli with theirs. so i mean it’s ferrealz. ferrealz, guys.

we were also treated to some delicious cookies, as a nice little dessert and send off. as i said before, i was a fool and stuffed myself full to the point of bursting with those sandwiches, so it was all i could do to waddle out appreciatively, shake the founder’s hand, don a children’s plastic firefighter hat, and drive off into the the night. i have since returned for more of their delicious beef and cheddar brisket, and purchased some of their sauce for my own personal use.

firehouse subs would never have to have invited me to the restaurant for me to recommend them, and now that i’ve had the beef brisket, i have even more reason to do so. so visit, eat, enjoy. i now leave you with this mural, as displayed in one of the many firehouse subs locations across the country. may it haunt your dreams as it does mine.

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Twinz Big City Hotdogs

Posted by Tampa Bay Food Monster on June 21, 2012

UPDATE: TWINZ is re-opening at a MUCH better location, on fletcher and dale mabry. check it out!

* * *

so every week we have a movie night. it’s a group of friends who all come together, go to the theater, see a shitty movie, and then grab some food and discuss why we still go and see all these shitty movies. normally we end up going out somewhere dumb after the movie ends, because our options are limited to whatever is open. but occasionally, we’ll go out to someplace interesting before the movie, so that we can have decent food unspoiled by the awful movie of the week. this week we decided to go ahead and check out someplace new to eat, and afterwards subject ourselves to two hours of painfully slow build up to a climax that at least one of us slept through.

twinz

we were to meet at someplace i’d never been before, twinz big city hotdogs on waters near the veterans expressway. i personally chose the place based on 1.) the fact that they have hot dogs and 2.) the fact that “twinz” was spelled with a z, which meant the owners were TOTALLY EXTREME. which i liked. my girlfriend and i got there first, about fifteen minutes early. we noticed that the place was completely empty, besides the employees. hmm. rather than going into the restaurant and being awkward, we instead decided to stay in the car and have pleasant conversation. while we sat out there, we kept getting looks from the employees inside. they wanted us. they wanted us bad. but we were waiting for friends!!! surely they could understand that! …they did not appear to. after another moment, one of owners came out and excitedly asked us if we were actually planning to come in. i told him we were waiting for friends. i was scared.

eventually, my friends arrived. i warned them all that the people inside… they were really looking forward to this. everyone understood. we all went in, and then we were treated to an entire presentation.

the presentation

he told us everything. EVERYTHING. everything we could want to know about their menu. he mentioned the many different types of hot dogs they serve, hailing from different cities around the country (“big” cities, if you will…), he mentioned the tampa dog, a creation of their very own, he mentioned their different flavored wings, he mentioned their “sweet pot” (which i initially assumed was marijuana, but soon discovered was sweet potato fries), and he spoke of their mighty “twinz bacon burger dog”, and warned us not to order it because it was too damn big. we were overwhelmed. and some of us were aroused.

they basically said we could do whatever the hell we wanted with the place as far as seating was concerned, so my friend and i went straight to work on constructing a giant square table from the smaller square tables they had in the restaurant, in order to intimidate other possible guests at the restaurant. and then we ordered.

it was difficult for me to decide what to get. at first i was torn between hamburgers and hot dogs, tempted by the owner’s ominous warning, but i decided the hot dogs were their main dish, so i went with that. but then what kind? they offer, amongst others, new york style, chili cheese, bacon cheddar, west virginia style(??), their signature tampa, and chicago. chicago. yeah. i had to do chicago. it’s simply the king of hot dogs, the most opulent and impressive. the god. hot god. and then of course i wanted some wings.

they were out of wings.

devastated as i was by this, i jumped on what i saw as an opportunity, and replaced my side order of wings with a side order of hamburger. awww yeah. but there is much food to discuss, and my order only represents a sliver of what was had. here. let me show you.

tampa dog and garlic parmesan fries

my friend ordered their signature tampa dog, along with their garlic fries. now, being a tampa food blog, you’d expect me to have ordered the tampa dog. i know, right? but i did not. and let me explain why, in one word: mayonnaise. yeah. there’s mayo on this hot dog. and that grossed me out. additionally, it also includes spicy brown mustard, bbq sauce, coleslaw, onions, BACON, and potato sticks. and it’s not a hot dog, it’s a sausage. so it does sound awesome… but i was too afraid of the mayo. and the potato sticks kinda weirded me out too. so no tampa dog for me (not this time).

i did, however, help myself to some of the garlic fries. and my god, they were amazing. everything here is made fresh, so all of the fries were perfectly crisp and warm. and then to top it off, they use real garlic. it was like eating garlic bread. except fryier. another friend ordered the garlic parmesan fries, which were even more amazing. the perfect balance of garlic and parmesan, fresh and delicious, and not too much of either flavor. there was never a point when i felt grossed out by garlic/parmesan nasty mouth. which is totally a thing.

sweet potato fries

my girlfriend and i split an order of the sweet potato fries, and even though they had previously been described to us, we had no idea what we were in for. this may have been the best side dish in a fast food setting that i’ve ever had. they are incredible. crisp sweet potato waffles, coated in a sweet honey cinnamon glaze. again, it was not overpowering to the point of being disgusting, which is just insane to me because i mean look at those guys!! it looks like it would be way too much to handle. but it was not.

baby bacon burger dog

now begins my order. part one was the baby twinz bacon burger dog, which, frustratingly, has no description on the menu (none of the items do, save the four special types of hot dogs listed on the bottom). what is it? some kind of mad hot dog/hamburger hybrid, an abomination unto the lord?!? no. no, the name is a bit misleading, in that it is entirely misleading. it has nothing to do with hot dogs. ): yeah. sorry kids. anyway, it is a badass one pound burger (i got half of that), with bacon, cheese, chipotle mayonnaise, and other toppings on an onion roll. you get your choice of cheese type, and i went with buffalo cheddar. oh yes. and it was pretty fucking delicious. i don’t know whether it was the cheese or the mayo, but something gave it a really nice kick. the toppings were excellent, as was the bun. and the meat was pretty damn good.

now, i’m not going to lie, the meat was not as good as burger monger’s, but it was definitely superior to most places you’ll find a burger around here. on the whole, the burger reminded me of something you’d get at a backyard barbecue, hand formed and with a delicious grilled flavor. i was impressed by it; they are better than five guys, which says a lot. oh, and they are cooked to order if you specify. which i didn’t realize.

chicago dog

and here she is: my beautiful chicago dog. to be quite honest, i did not expect much. every place i’ve had hot dogs from recently has been a huge disappointment (burger monger especially). but these guys got it right. 100%. not only did they hit all the marks technically speaking (mustard, tomatoes, pickles, wacky neon relish, onions, sport peppers, celery salt, on a poppy seed bun), but they did what you HAVE to do to have a good chicago dog – they got a chicago style hot dog. i mean the meat. the tube of meat that is the “dog” itself, is a chicago style dog. and it makes all the difference. outside of mel’s, you don’t get that here. but they even do mel’s one better: for each style of dog, they use the hot dog from that place. so the new york dog uses the classic sabrett brand hot dog. the coney dog uses a kosher beef frank. it’s attention to detail, and a passion to do justice, i’ve never seen anywhere else. this alone had me won over.

for the record, my hot dog itself was excellent. the toppings were top notch, and the meat was exactly what it should be. it’s that perfect blend of flavors unique to a chicago dog. mel’s chicago dog may be a bit better, but the variety offered here blows mel’s out of the water.

oh, and because no one ordered the onion rings, one of the employees brought some out on the house, because he insisted we had to try them.

onion rings

they, too, were above and beyond any expectation i might have had. they were completely unique; fluffy, soft, and pillowy on the inside, with a light, crisp exterior. i was reminded of donuts my mom used to fry for me, lighter than any donut you’d buy. there was a good batter to onion ratio, so i didn’t feel like all i was eating was onion. the flavor was similar to that of a hush puppy.

all in all, i was overwhelmed by this place. there is so much variety to the menu (even though it’s basically hamburgers and hot dogs), and every single item we had was delicious. by the end of my meal, i had completely forgotten i even wanted wings. they make just about everything themselves. they plan on expanding the menu to include vegan options. they have an entire breakfast menu. amazing. and i haven’t even touched on the customer service! they were beyond attentive. they joked with us, checked in on us, made everything to order, brought out free food (somebody got a free milk shake!!). and they deliver. it’s excruciatingly clear that these people care deeply about their food and their restaurant. true passion, that i’ve not seen anywhere else. the twins themselves come from new york, but they’ve lived in tampa since they were fourteen, and they care about the city as much as they do the food.

it was a great dining experience, and exactly my kind of place. highly recommended.

UPDATE: i returned to twinz! after they had closed down for a period of time, they’ve reopened, and upon my return visit, i was able to sample a whole bunch of awesome food items! including the wings. oh, yes.

tampa bay dog

i went ahead and got the tampa bay dog. i know, i know, mayo on a dog is gross. but you know what? it was actually really good. the coleslaw and mayonnaise were creamy and sweet, which played well against the savory sausage. the mustard and barbecue sauce all kind of blended into the coleslaw mess, but it was all a good combination. the bacon was a good touch, as were the onions, both providing a bit of crunch and flavor. the potato sticks… i just didn’t feel like they did anything here, but eh. good dog.

chili cheese fries

the chili cheese fries were delicious, forming into a giant mess i was unable to finish but loved every second of. i imagine this would mirror the chili cheese dog in flavor; if so, i would recommend the chili cheese dog.

traditional wings

and the wings. all the wings here are fried to a crispy perfection, which i enjoy. i began with the traditional wings. for some reason, i always equate “traditional” with buffalo, so i was a bit surprised to be greeted with these. but they were good, despite not fulfilling my initial fantasy. simply fried, they let the wings speak for themselves, which was a nice way to start. they also had a bit of garlic flavor, which was a nice touch.

georgia peach wings

georgia peach wings. so good. a sweet peach barbecue sauce, with actual grilled peaches on top. really, really good.

rob & rich wings

and the best of all, the rob & rich. holy crap these are good. spicy/sweet, making use of a hot sauce and the georgia peach sauce, then with blue cheese melted on top. it… it is genius. the strong blue cheese flavor is cut in the melting process, and everything melds together into the perfect balance of sweet and savory.

so their wings are awesome. all the food is awesome. go check them out.

Twinz Big City Hotdogs Burgers Fries & Shakes on Urbanspoon

Posted in Food, Humor, Tampa Restaurants | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 14 Comments »

USF Taco Bus

Posted by Tampa Bay Food Monster on June 19, 2012

the taco bus thinks he’s so cool, doesn’t he? well, he’s not. he is a SELL OUT! i mean come on, a little taste of national recognition, and it all goes to his head. now, there are FOUR LOCATIONS, the most recent of which cannibalized its own sister store, taqueria monterrey. now everybody can enjoy delicious tacos, prepared the same way in four different places across tampa. and what does that say about me??! the place is popular!! that means it’s no longer cool to go there. THIS IS THE HIPSTER CODE.

god dammit.

extra parking

so, of course i went to stop by the new store for lunch the other day. it only opened the other week, so i felt the need to check it out and see if it was up to par. now, let me be clear, the original taco bus is pretty much my favorite restaurant. ever. when i am asked, that is my answer. so there’s a lot of love. but i also really enjoyed taqueria monterrey! they had special items unique to their menu. not that there were huge differences between it and the taco bus, but they were clearly separate restaurants. they even had their own salsa bar, which was really great. but now?

the bus

nope. the salsa bar was replaced by some bald guy. and now there’s a fake bus stuck in the wall, looking like something out of an elementary school play. the place was packed, and they had a dude taking our orders while we waited in line, which was nice. but it was then revealed to me that their menu no longer featured their unique items, including the al pastor, and the chuza taco. those meats were the reason i’d choose the go to taqueria monterrey over taco bus (when i did). and now they’re gone. gone. forever! nooooooooooooooooooooooooooo-

seating

-oooooooooooooooooo. the seating area is similar to before, but slightly different. the little dining area has a couple long benches, and a bunch of booths. the entry area now features very few tables, which is unfortunate, as that was the very location at which we were able to first establish the “giant square”, a combination of four smaller square tables suitable for seating up to twelve people comfortably. ah memories.

i ordered what basically amounted to my usual, two tacos and a tostada, with assorted meats. my friend ordered some other meat styles, so you’re in for a visual tour-de-force of animal remains. also, i picked up an horchata, which i really enjoy, but was disappointed to find that the new taco bus’ offering was a watered down version of what i’d come to know and love, from either the taqueria or original taco bus. no telling on whether it was a result of being busy and having to stretch their reserves, or if this is how they’re serving it now, but it was noticeably less good.

tacos

my tacos were this time prepared with barbacoa and carne de res desebrada, and i added cheese to them. the meat served here is precisely as delicious as the meat at the original taco bus, so no complaints there. it is the same food, and it is great.

barbacoa

barbacoa… beautiful braised beefs.

carne de res desebrada

this is the carne de res desebrada, which i have never had before. it is a mexican shredded beef, which is prepared with chiles. it’s very good, though not really spicy at all.

tostada

the tostada uses a crunchy tortilla, and has refried beans on it. it is delicious, but i always look like an asshole when i eat it because i attack it like a pizza and end up with all the ingredients in my beard instead of in my belly. i am truly a wonder to behold.

cochinita pibil

i got the cochinita pibil on the tostada, which is the taco bus’ famous ancient shredded pork, prepared through a series of voodoo rituals. always good. but it’s not al pastor.

and my friend enjoyed the following meats:

carne asada

carne asada

pollo

pollo

so the new taco bus. it’s the same as the old taco bus. and they raped the corpse of taqueria monterrey, and by extension raped me. rape for everyone! i will be going back to the new bus, of course, but i do prefer the old one. and damn them if their horchatas remain the same watery ghost of a proper horchata that i experienced on this visit. DAMN THEM STRAIGHT TO TACO HELL!

Taco Bus USF on Urbanspoon

Posted in Food, Humor, Tampa Restaurants | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 8 Comments »

the Columbia Restaurant

Posted by Tampa Bay Food Monster on November 9, 2011

sure, everyone’s been to the columbia restaurant. i’m sure you’ve been. yeah, you. just look at that smug look on your ugly face. think you’re special? well you’re not. you ain’t shit. that is, until you’ve been given an exclusive private tour of the columbia by a fourth generation columbia family member, after being driven there in a tight-azz limousine.

our limo bus mobile

…and by ‘tight-azz limousine’, i mean limo/bus hybrid, and by ‘exclusive’, i mean anyone can pay 45 bucks and get it yourself. so it really only excludes the poor. or the uninterested. or any combination of the two parties, either expressible in a graph upon which the axes are labeled “expendable income” and “interest in tampa history”, or a venn diagram. but i’d still like to imagine that we, myself and my group of social media friends (including danielle from metromix, cara from healthy tampa bay living, collin from yelp, and local badass tender branson from write.click.cook.listen) are all special anyway. so very special and impressive.

SO. we were all instructed to meet in the parking lot of a restaurant outside westshore plaza, where we would be picked up by a limousine furnished by ambassador limousine, who apparently was responsible for this whole tour. the connection between the the two parties? unclear. possibly illegal. nevertheless, we all chose to take our lives into our own hands, and get in a giant van with a stranger driving. i guess that’s kinda how limos are all the time. classy.

inside the limo beast

while in the limo, we all did body shots and snorted cocaine off a dead raccoon we found in the road and insisted the driver pick up for us. what service! and we were offered complimentary bottles of water. score. there were wacky led and fiber optic lights everywhere, which was pretty cool. and the radio was on. and there was that mirror on the ceiling so we could all look at ourselves. yes, for the first time in my life, i finally felt like i was somebody.

the beautiful columbia

at last we had arrived at our destination! and it had only taken us like… 15 minutes or something. at this point, it occurred to me that perhaps there was no real point to the limo ride… i mean, we all had to meet up at one specific location, so why didn’t we just meet at the restaurant we were going to? but rather than continue pondering this, i spent my time taking pictures of the outside of the restaurant, so that by the time we actually went in on the tour, my camera would have little to no battery power left.

we entered the hallowed halls of the columbia, and informed the hosts who we were, and why we were there. it seemed they did not have any idea what we were talking about. they said they’d try to get everything worked out for us. we didn’t have a contact to meet there, so we politely waited.

we waited.

and waited.

…and waited.

waiting

by this point, everyone was pretty much sobered up from the limo ride over, and things got real serious real fast. there was yelling and arguing. physical fighting. talk of an uprising against the management of the columbia. things started to turn ugly, and just as i had grabbed a shield and sword that had been hanging on the wall, somebody had a great idea – call our contact! of course! it was so easy. and so they did. and then we waited. and waited some more.

i don’t know how much time passed as we waited. at least half an hour. maybe it was days. clearly, not all the kinks had been worked out of the tour system. but, eventually, we were approached by our tour guide, and everything began.

on tour

and so began out delightful tour of the fine establishment that is the columbia. we learned much of the history behind the restaurant, from its humble beginnings as a bar with delicious alcohol, to a cafe with delicious coffee due to the buzz-kill that was prohibition, then back to serving delicious alcohol. oh and there was some food. and some expansion. from a small room with a bar, to a giant mansion with (i’m assuming) secret passageways, and probably a dungeon, the columbia has grown up into quite the young lady.

the original bar

here’s the original bar where it all began! this small corner of the building was the original entirety of the columbia. since its opening, many drunken bar fights, heated coffee debates, and various gasparilla-induced riots have left this bar plagued by countless ghouls and ghosts, thus necessitating the columbia’s annual tradition of spirit cleansing on new year’s day. just another example of their rich history.

the cult room

as the columbia aged, more and more rooms were added on to accommodate their numerous and famous guests (including aerosmith’s steven tyler, whose ghost is rumored to haunt the halls of the columbia to this day). each room has its own personality and stories behind it, including one room in which the famous historical, non-fictional figure don quixote is buried. pictured above is a room dedicated to the “krewe” of the sant’yago, a local cult. many secret ceremonies and rituals are performed in this room; bizarre rituals intended to bring about the end of the world. note the attractive lanterns.

spanish wine closet

the columbia houses approximately one billion gallons of *real wine*, according to our informative tour guide. pictured here is their special spanish wine collection, featuring wines from all regions of spain. in the center of the display rack is a gigantic bottle of wine, originally designed to satisfy the giants indigenous to the pyrenees mountain range near the northern border of spain. superstition dictates one always keep a bottle such as this on hand, to satisfy any nearby wandering giants and avoid total destruction at their hands.

the kitchen

we were shown the kitchen, one giant room in which they prepare all the meals for the entirety of the restaurant. it is divided up into several different sections, and is quite impressive in person. a large staff work and live in the kitchen, converting the hot grills into warm beds each evening for their daily 4 hours allotted rest. they functioned together much like the oompa loompas of willy wanka’s chocolate factory, often breaking out in song whenever one of my fellow tourmates would get stuck in a chocolate pipe or turn into a blueberry.

more kitchen

and this is where they make the soup!

soon our tour ended. our guide, caesar gonzmart jr., was incredibly knowledgeable, accommodating, and extremely nice. he had lots of little tidbits of information about every room we were shown (which, i believe, was every room there), and entertained any questions we had for him. honestly, it was very impressive, and a really great experience. gaining a sense of the history of the restaurant really helps you appreciate not only the restaurant itself, but the whole of ybor and tampa. i would never have thought to go on a tour of a restaurant myself, but it was an excellent time.

the menu

we were sat down at our own special table in one of the more interesting rooms in the restaurant, and were treated to salad, our choice of entree, and dessert. whatever it was i had just been told about the restaurant’s history immediately slipped away from me (as you may tell from this review), and all that mattered was food. and really, when it comes down to it, that is the true face of the columbia.

1905 salad

the columbia’s best food item just so happens to be its salad. and that means a lot, coming from someone like me. the columbia’s famous 1905 salad. the 1905, made in the 1940s, is pretty much the greatest salad of all time, featuring tomato, ham, green olives, swiss cheese, romano cheese, and a garlic dressing so good you’ll want to kill yourself. AND NOW IT CAN BE YOURS! go here and steal the official recipe for yourself! it’s quite garlicky, and combined with the worcestershire sauce they add to the salads, it becomes the most amazing combination of flavors one can imagine.

cuban and caldo gallego

we were given the choice of either a half a cuban sandwich and soup, or yellow rice and chicken. i, loving cubans, went with the sandwich. i had a choice of soups, and i went with the caldo gallego (over their spanish bean soup, which is quite delicious itself). the soup is similar to the spanish bean, but uses white beans rather than garbanzo beans, and has greens. it’s made with ham hock, pork, and chorizo. its basically soul food. which is basically comfort food. the soup was warm and savory, meaty, and just generally comforting.

the cuban sandwich is the classic ybor meal, and something that i have enjoyed a near-sexual relationship with since puberty. the columbia has been selling cubans since 1915, and still use the same recipe that they used then. which is nice, because there are so many places that just don’t get it right! ham, roast pork, salami, swiss cheese, mustard, pickles, cuban bread. that’s it. so they make it properly, immediately beating 95% of the cubans out there. their cuban bread is perfectly crunchy and flaky, and their meats are of superior quality to many restaurants in the area. their swiss cheese is perfect. that being said, this is not my favorite cuban available in tampa(!!!). i know, i know. my favorite is still ruben’s cubans, who stupidly sell it with lettuce, tomato, and mayo. idiots. but they beat out the columbia, in my opinion, because of their meats. again, this is shocking, i know. but their delicious roast pork is much juicier and melds together better with the other meats than the columbia’s. i’m not saying i disliked this at all, of course. i’m just saying… i’ve had better. sorry, columbia.

chicken and yellow rice

my friend margeaux, who accompanied me on this journey, got the chicken and yellow rice, which she allowed me to try. the chicken was tender and juicy, and the rice was very good. still, for the soup alone, i’m glad i chose the soup/sandwich combo.

flan happy ending

we were also served a delightfully strong café con leche, and flan for dessert. i can say to you, without a doubt in my mind, this was the best flan i’ve ever had. it was amazingly creamy and sweet, tasting like it was made entirely of love. physical love. take that as you will. recommended 100%… it will convert any non-believer to flan.

all in all, this was a good time. after our meal and good conversation with our new blogger-type friends, we were whisked back to reality by the same limo which had brought us to the columbia in the first place. but this time there was no drinking, no more lines of coke off of roadkill; all we had left was to reminisce on what had transpired, and plan our reviews which we all had pledged to have posted by the end of that month (october).

i enjoyed the tour quite thoroughly, and the restaurant itself is one of the best in tampa bay, if not florida, so eating there is always a pleasure. our tour guide was a wealth of information about the restaurant, and a great guy. the limo ride was fun, but i still feel it was completely unnecessary, and provided an odd bookend to an otherwise wonderful experience. would i pay to do it again? no, i’ve already done it. would i have paid to do it in the first place? eh, probably not. it’s honestly just not something i would ever consider spending 45 bucks on for myself, or however much it would cost to put together a full group of people to do. fun, informative, and delicious. but not something i would have gone out of my way to do. and i’m a food blogger.

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Mel’s Hot Dogs

Posted by Tampa Bay Food Monster on October 26, 2011

hot dogs, dude. hot dogs. nature’s perfect food? probably. tube o’ meat, stuck in bread. phallic. hilarious. hot dogs always mean a good time. but, dear god, WHY do they have to be relegated to sporting events, backyard barbecues, and street vendors?? why can’t i go to a classy establishment, three piece suit and top hat, and order myself a nice chili dog? who makes these damn rules?? well, in order to spite snobs and fight the man, i make it common practice to carry on me at least two hot dogs, lukewarm and ready to eat, in my special hip flask. TAKE THAT, HIGH SOCIETY. but, on that rare occasion when i’ve exhausted my wiener supply, i may be forced to stop by a local hot dog vendory and do business there. and what better place to do that hot dog business than mel’s hot dogs?

mel's hot dogs

hot dog fact: did you know that hot dogs were originally called “hot dongs”, in reference to their dong-esque shape? however, the roman catholic church took issue with this, and had the ‘n’ dropped by act of god.

mel lohn is the abe froman of tampa. complete with chicago style hot dogs. CHICAGO STYLE. originally, he was a show band musician from chicago, but then he got sick of spending all his money on sexy sixties style clothes, and decided to give tampa what it needed most: a hot dog stand.

mel's inner sanctum

hot dog fact: did you know that modern day natural casing hot dogs make use of intestinal lining culled from cloned sheep? in an effort to save money, oscar meyer hired the roslin institute to research ways of artificially creating life for food processing purposes. eventually, this became the industry standard, and now every time you feel the snap of a natural casing hot dog, you’re enjoying the fruits of many year’s scientific labor.

mel’s has the distinction of being the only hot dog place in tampa that i care about. it’s a simple, somewhat funky restaurant, on busch near its infamous gardens. it looks like a little house thing, and it was stolen from the air force after mel himself ended wwii with the sweet sound of whatever show band music is. so the structure has a pre-existing history. also: ghosts. probably. inside is a bunch of mel-morabilia, which is either exciting or annoying to the customer. you order at a counter, get your food, then seat yourself. and they have an “arcade” featuring some golf game!! so much to love.

mel’s is a popular destination, so be prepared to wait for a bit. lunch time there gets crazy, and people get pretty serious about hot dogs. imagine black friday at a toys r us.

mel's special dog

hot dog fact: did you know hot dogs exist as a fifth state of matter, known as a wiener-schnitzel condensate?

mel’s offers a variety of hot dog types, including a slaw dog, a spicy fire dog, veggie dogs, and mel’s special hot dog, as seen here. the majority of mel’s dogs are vienna beef natural casing all beef hot dogs. this is how you want your hot dog. the quality is about as high as you can get when dealing with hot dogs; the natural casing provides a perfect snap to every bite, giving a visceral thrill to your meal similar to what i imagine early cavemen might have felt. and the meat is extremely satisfying. mel’s special comes with mustard, onions, neon green relish, sauerkraut, and a pickle. special, right? it’s a good combination, and mel’s toppings are all precisely what you’re looking for in hot dog dressings – good, solid pieces of the puzzle.

you are given the option of getting the hot dog with a basket, which includes fries and either baked beans of coleslaw, and affords you a 39¢ savings!! amazing.

chicago style hot dog

hot dog fact: did you know that hot dogs were invented in chicago, and the events that followed its creation were chronicled in the paper lace hit, “the night chicago died”?

this. this is the money dog. this is why you go to mel’s. the chicago style hot dog. it’s pretty much the most perfect piece of hot doggery known to man. it’s basically the works – mustard, relish, onions, tomatoes, pickle, celery salt, and a couple hot sport peppers. sport peppers, dude. all served on one of their poppy seed buns. if you haven’t had a chicago dog, you… you just wouldn’t understand. typical hot dogs are good. they’re fine. whatever. but this combination… it’s what hot dogs were made for. how to best consume a hot dog. and mel does it perfectly.

it’s a kaleidoscope of flavors and textures; hot and spicy, sweet and cool, crunchy, soft, and delicious. if jesus could have had a baby, it would have been a chicago style hot dog.

chili dog

hot dog fact: did you know that hot dogs are people? it’s people. hot dogs are made out of people. they’re making our food out of people. you’ve gotta tell them. you’ve gotta tell them! hot dogs are people!

my lovely assistant/girlfriend purchased the chili dog. it comes standard with just some chili, but they “recommend” adding mustard, onions, and cheese (for an extra 75 cents, putting this dog at $5.19 before tax vs. the $4.25 for the chicago or $3.75 for the special). the prices… we’ll get to that. but their chili is good, and adding cheese is a must. the mustard and onions are good addition too. it’s a solid hot dog, but not what you to go mel’s for.

basically, mel’s is the mecca for delicious hot dogs in the tampa bay area. they have the best. they are the best. mel is my idol. the staff is quite pleasant, and the place is a friggin icon. so it is worth stopping by. that being said, you will drop more than you should be for hot dogs. recently i purchased a chicago dog, a chili dog, and a drink, and i spent 12 bucks. for hot dogs. so it’s a bit sucky. but it’s so delicious. and if you’re in the mood for chicago style dogs, this is the place you’re gonna have to go to satisfy your craving.

it’s no pinks, but it’s the best hot dogs in tampa, a local legend, and one of my favorites.

the melmobile

oh and there’s a hot dog car.

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