Tampa Bay Food Monster

…eating food since 1985.

Posts Tagged ‘USF area’

Arby’s Grand Turkey Club

Posted by Tampa Bay Food Monster on November 5, 2012

TYPICALLY, change is a good thing. like, changing a poopy diaper, for example. where once there was poopy, now there is none. and this works! because there was a problem before. but then there are times when changes are made to things that don’t necessarily need change. this may be one of those times.

…prepare yourself.

this is where we’ve come. this is the brave, new world you were looking for.

yes, arby’s has changed their logo. and no, this is not my poorly photoshopped guess at what it may be like; this is the actual logo. let’s take a quick trip down memory lane and glance at arby’s former majesty:

yes, now that’s more like it. much is the same, yet much has changed. the font has lost its fun time western style and moved to a simple, clean piece of modern mundanity. the apostrophe has morphed into what i think is supposed to be a meat slicer, ruthlessly cutting into the ‘s’. and the hat itself (it’s supposed to be a hat) has undergone a 3D makeover, in keeping with the recent surge in popularity of three-dimensional media. this effect can be achieved in photoshop elements, or its nearest competitor, MS PAINT. the decision to leave the font two-dimensional is both baffling and distressing, causing my mind to bend in a similar fashion to when i look at an m.c. escher image.

…and i mourn what we’ve lost. the new logo is not great. what was once vaguely recognizable as a hat (from its own all-but-lost origins) is now some floating abstraction. the new font comes at the cost of its old identity. it’s no wendy’s train wreck, but it’s not an improvement.

arby's new thang

it’s not just a logo – it’s a whole rebranding. they are pushing the freshness/sliceness angle, which works for them what with all the slicing they do. and to increase that amount of slicing, they are throwing in a whole new chunk of meat to cut at: turkey bird.

arby’s has introduced three turkey-blasted sandwiches – turkey classic, turkey ‘n cheddar classic, and the grand turkey club. basically, it’s as though this turkey meat is floating alongside the beef meat as just another option. which is a pretty decent idea. in a real-life deli, you get a whole assortment of different kinds of meats, all of which are sliced up right in front of your face. this is the same as that! fresh! variety! etc!

turkey club box

arby’s offered to buy me one of their new sandwiches. to check out dat new meat. i opted for the grand turkey club, assuming “grand” meant that it was the best. the other sandwiches are pretty much identical to their beef analogues, with the addition of mayonnaise, honey mustard, or ranch dressing to the classic. the grand turkey club is along the lines of a non-grand turkey club, with turkey, lettuce tomato and mayo, swiss cheese, and bacon all on a harvest wheat bun rather than toast.

the box claims this is the greatest thing since sliced roast beef. there is also lettuce escaping through the bottom, and a dab of mayonnaise has gotten out as well. these are indicators of things to come.

arby's grand turkey club

open the box up, and we find with a giant turkey sandwich just waiting to burst out. it’s all packed in there, with good amounts of everything. a solid amount of turkey, enough to satisfy my hunger. nice, crisp lettuce, and fresh tomato, playing a big part in the overall feel of the sandwich. decent slices of bacon. probably some swiss cheese. and a full bucket of mayo.

mayonnaise everywhere

oh god. yeah. there’s a lot of mayonnaise here. now, i’ve gone to great lengths to make it known that i do not care for mayonnaise, but i can tolerate it. i believe there was too much mayonnaise on here even for a lover of mayonnaise. it was the first taste you noticed. it was almost the only taste you noticed. and it really took away from my enjoyment of this sandwich.

but let’s assume, for the sake of a fair review, that this sandwich was never intended to have so much mayonnaise on it. taking it for what it is, the sandwich is not bad. their toppings are decent (good lettuce and tomato, decent pepper bacon). the swiss cheese was all but lost behind the mayo, which is disappointing. the bun was actually a very solid choice, playing a bit sweet against the turkey.

and the turkey itself? it was good. it was not great. it was not bad by any means. good turkey. tender, with good flavor. a bit salty, not overwhelmingly so. but nothing special. i did not detect any exciting seasoning, nothing mind blowing. it was just turkey.


they politely request you try the turkey. you would not be worse off for it. but what this boils down to, for me, is that the turkey is not good enough by itself to convince me to go to arby’s. it does not change what arby’s is to me. for me, it is just another menu item. and, speaking as someone who loves arby’s roast beef sandwiches (RIP big montana!!), the presence of turkey as an option is not going to change my order from whichever sandwich they can pack the most roast beef onto. all i want from arby’s is a pile of roast beef on a warm, pillowy bun, doused in a packet of arby’s sauce.

as with the old logo, all i want from arby’s is simplicity, and what i’ve grown to love them for. aaaaaaaand maybe a talking oven mitt.


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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.


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.


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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Taco Bell’s Cantina Bell Burrito

Posted by Tampa Bay Food Monster on July 12, 2012

OHHH TACO BELL YOU’VE DONE IT AGAIN! bouncing straight off the wild popularity of your wildly mediocre doritos locos tacos, you’ve done a complete 180 and gone for the jugular of gourmet food. it works perfectly, because whenever i think “taco bell”, i immediately think “gourmet violent explosive diarrhea”. let’s see if they can expand that special flavor of gourmet directly into their food!

this is the cantina bell menu. no, not the ill-fated “cantina tacos” that attempted to recreate mexican street tacos from 2010… no, this is a different ill-fated product. they just recycled the name. the NEW menu consists of a burrito, a salad, and some guacamole.

all this stuff was designed by lorena garcia, who has her own website, which is often a good indicator of how high quality a chef is. but let’s not be fooled; these recipes could have been written by the iron chef himself, and it still has to be reproduced in taco bell restaurants. by taco bell employees. so don’t imagine lorena is sitting back there in every taco bell, churning out burrito after burrito for you, prepared with free range organic chicken humanely slaughtered in-house. it’s still fast food.

cantina burrito

i went with the chicken cantina burrito, which is the same price as the vegetarian version (prompting me to ask the well-thought-out question, why would anyone go with the vegetarian option??). the steak is like a hundred dollars or so more. i ordered chips and guacamole on the side, along with various other “traditional” taco bell items to ensure my collapse from gastrointestinal distress later on. the burrito looks similar to their grilled stuft variety, appearing to be both grilled and stuft. it is the inside that is different.

cantina burrito innards

the burrito comes with chicken, cilantro rice, black beans, guacamole, pico de gallo, corn and pepper salsa, and a cilantro dressing. there is also romaine lettuce, which just seems odd to find in a taco bell burrito (IT LOOKS LIKE REAL LETTUCE). as you can see, something is oozing out from inside the thing, but it was unclear as to whether this is guacamole or dressing.

most of the ingredients seemed to be largely overshadowed by the rice and black beans, which is unfortunate. i have basically grown to hate black beans for some reason unknown to myself, and the rice was fine but had little cilantro flavor, and is kind of just filler in my opinion. occasionally you would get a burst of something that would taste “fresh” (piece of corn, pico de gallo, or the guac), and the dressing played into the overall flavor, but it was mostly just black bean. i was excited to try this new “citrus herb marinated chicken” that lorena keeps telling me about, but was devastated to find that my burrito, as far as i could tell, lacked it entirely. I DEMAND MY $0.00 BACK!

citrus herb marinated chicken

luckily for me, i had also purchased a chicken quesadilla, which made use of the same chicken. i don’t know if they are completely replacing their chicken with this new version, or if our branch just didn’t follow directions, but it reminds me of when the same thing happened with the quad steak burrito. and that didn’t last.

anyway, the chicken kind of weirds me out. it is noticeably more chickeny, both in flavor and texture. it actually tasted like real chicken, which is not something i’m used to at taco bell, and it behaved as though it were pulled from a larger piece of meat rather than whole chickens ground up live, mixed with newspaper, and formed into chicken-type chunks, as i imagine taco bell’s ordinary chicken is. there is a hint of citrus to it, which is nice.

cantina guacamole

the real winner here is the guacamole. whatever they did to it, it is actually quite good. they use hass avocados, tomatoes, onions, cilantro, and “a little kick of lime”. the flavor is pretty solid, dominated almost entirely by the avocado, with just hints of onion lime and cilantro. the texture, on the other hand, is kinda… eh. it’s a bit slimy. i don’t know how they do the guacamole, whether they actually make it there or it comes in a bag (it comes in a bag), but its slimy nature is likely to be a result of bagging convenience. and i’m sure there are crazy preservatives in there. but, again, the flavor is solid.

my final ruling on the cantina bell menu: skip it. what’s the point? you’re getting a half-assed attempt at gourmet, which, honestly, is not something you are going to a fast food restaurant for in the first place. and you are certainly not going to get it there, even if you want it. the burrito was about five bucks, which you could be spending anywhere else; if you want gourmet, put your fiver towards something at a real restaurant. i wasn’t disgusted by any of this food, and the guacamole is not bad, but i enjoyed my chicken quesadilla and mexican pizza far more than the cantina burrito and chips. and that’s because when i go to taco bell, i want to eat taco bell.

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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-


-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.


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… 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.


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



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

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Savvy Jack’s

Posted by Tampa Bay Food Monster on May 23, 2012

savvy jack… now that’s a good name. obviously it refers to someone in the know, probably a pretty cool guy. and there’s something vaguely familiar about it. but apparently this particular jack is of the omelette-savvy variety (the best variety??).

savvy jack's

savvy jack lives in beautiful, sunny temple terrace, in that same plaza with the hookah place. i’ve seen it many times, but for some reason never really noticed it. that all changed when my friend dragged me there, wholly against my will. upon entering, we were met with this:

savvy jack's crap

terrifying. what kind of a place is this? what’s with all this junk? why is there a tiny c-3po? and… is that… IS THAT-

ho-ly shit. that bird dude. from my childhood. what’s he doing here? what kind of dream land is this?? all of a sudden, as if spawned from the darkest depths of my nightmares, a gentle old lady with a french accent approached us, and began cleaning up a table for us to sit at. my god… was i in hell?

savvy dining

clearly i was in some sort of alternate universe. not pictured is the chef, who would emerge from the kitchen every now and then wearing a real life chef’s hat. you know, like in the cartoons. this place was born of my childhood mind, and sat quietly in this plaza just waiting for me to stop by. we were seated, handed menus, and our drink orders were taken.

the menu was split in twain, with breakfast items on the left and lunch items on the right. the breakfast side is composed of omelettes, crepes, and platters, while lunch involves sandwiches, burgers, daily specials, and quiche! aww yeah quiche. i was a bit overwhelmed, and asked our host, who grew more and more delightful by the moment, for recommendations. she did a good job of pointing out pretty much every item on the menu, which did me little good. i was still torn between breakfast and lunch!!

i finally had settled on the beef chardonnay, a beefy-type sandwich with sauteed mushroom and served with au jus (i love a good french dip, so this sounded great). then she noticed the crepes (“oh! i forgot the about the crepes!”), and everyone else was getting breakfast and peer pressure and all so BAM:

ham crepe

HAM CREPE. done. and it was a beast of a crepe. this is basically a fancy french burrito, stuffed with cheese and ALL THE HAM, then coated with more cheese and tomatoes and shallots and one olive(?), and with a couple ham wings thrown on the plate for good measure. to the side, you can see a tiny bucket of home fries.

the crepe

the crepe was great, tasting strongly of LOVE. the outer “crepe” itself was perfectly prepared, soft yet crisp, warm and filling. the ham was good, not earth shattering, but quite what you expect, and coupled with the cheese well. it was a really simple meal, but it was very satisfying.

home fries

home fries were similarly well prepared, with no physical evidence of love, but the flavor was present nonetheless.

i know, i should have ordered the omelette, as they are described as “first-class”, but i somehow missed the giant printing of those words on the window when i first arrived, and the waitress was not pushing them, even when prompted for recommendations. on my next visit, i will try the omelettes.

chocolate mousse

and we finished our meal with a chocolate mousse, split between the four of us. we were all mostly stuffed by this point, but the temptation was too much to resist (as was our waitress, who was insistent that we get something). it was delicious and smooth, creamy, lightly chocolatey, and whipped to hell and back. it was pretty damn amazing.

the result of the entire meal was a good, hearty breakfast/brunch/lunch, featuring a few dishes you won’t typically find at chains or other diners, all delivered to you by two hard working people; the owners, roger and nicole, come from france, and this is their second restaurant in the country. this place is the classic family owned and operated diner, fully realized. there is a french flair to the food, the people are warm and lovely, and it feels like home.

Savvy Jack's Southern Gourmet on Urbanspoon

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