Tampa, Florida, May Have One of the Country’s Most Creative Food Scenes
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Tampa, Florida, May Have One of the Country’s Most Creative Food Scenes

shrimp and minorcan pilau
Chris Kelly

Tampa has a unique culinary culture, poised between the food of Florida’s past and the future of cutting-edge cuisine. In the trendy-as-all-get-out Seminole Heights neighborhood, The Refinery—helmed by the four-time James Beard Foundation-nominated Greg Baker—has set the local farm-to-table standard. Now, Baker and his wife Michelle have opened Fodder & Shine (pictured), also in Seminole Heights, paying tribute to Florida’s original cracker culture.

Settlers in the early 1900s were called crackers, after the sounds their whips made while herding cattle. The old-school menu pays homage to these historic cowboys. There are frog legs, rabbit, and pot likker-poached shrimp. Fried chicken and biscuits, as well as house-made spreads like pimento cheese and deviled ham, are early favorites. The drinks are also classic, counting a gimlet, sazerac and a dark & stormy among them.

Over-looking Ulele Spring, where manatees swim year-around, Ulele, owned by the Gonzmart family of the 110-year-old Columbia Restaurant in Tampa, boasts a time-travel experience that goes back 500 years to the era of Spanish explorers and Tocabaga Indian princess Ulele. Fare includes Ulele includes Florida native chili, made with alligator and wild boar and deconstructed seafood pot pie.

In Hyde Park, Tampa’s foodie scene—past, present, and future—comes together at the Epicurean Hotel, with a collection of cookbooks, culinary-history texts, and vintage cooking equipment. The hotel also has a high-tech kitchen theater for chef demonstrations and seminars on wine. At the Epicurean’s forward-looking Elevage restaurant, chefs pick salad ingredients from a living green wall in the bar area. In Tampa, the march of time is all about good food.

Tom Austin is based in Miami and covers the Florida beat for Travel + Leisure. Follow him on Twitter at @TomAustin.

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