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Tuesday, January 4th, 2005
6:05 pm
[sanchopanza13]
Deli Plus and El Molino
And now, without further adieu, it's time for
Sancho's Culinary Expedition:
Episode 2: Of Gyros and Coffee

The first place I will talk about is Deli Plus.

http://www.deliplusybor.com/

1605 E. 7th Avenue, Ybor City, Tampa, FL 33605
Tel: (813) 241-9526 E-mail: info@deliplusybor.com

Now, I will tell you, if you are looking for Tourist-trap Glamour, this is not your place. It is your traditional family owned Deli. Just as in the old days, the mom and pops were run by Cubans, again, immigrants take up the slack, in this case, Middle Eastern and East European. However, I will say that quality is not only what makes this place good, it makes it something truly special in Ybor. Yes, this is going to be another History Lesson/Foodie rant, but Food has History as a main ingredient.

As Argentee can tell you, there used to be a lot of Mom and Pop shops in Ybor City. These were not gourmet places, nor did they need to be. They were places you could get yourself a Cuban Sandwich, Black Beans and Rice, and a bit of Cuban Coffee. They were good, honest lunch counters, which did not have the need to be pretentious, and were loved by genuine gourmets in the town. Silver Ring, Jd's Sandwiches, Rough Riders, Don Quixotes, all were places you could come, be casual, and enjoy an honest meal. Silver Ring has moved to Downtown Tampa, JDS got pushed out by the failed Cha Cha Coconuts venture, and both Don Q's and Rough Riders got pushed out by development. Part of this, I blame on the Tampa Latin Community, despite having parents that provided for them, they were very eager to abandon being "Latin" and tossed aside Ybor City like so much ballast.

Now, there are few places like this left..they are there, and Deli Plus is one of them. They serve a good, cheap sandwich called a Cuban, which is foreign from what is often served as a Cuban in the modern day. Your traditional Cuban sandwich: Thin slices of Roast Pork, Thin slices of Ham, Swiss Cheese, Pickles, some mustard and mayo (optional, and never in high quantity), and then PRESS the thing like an Italian Pannini.
There are some good variations, such as adding Salami (which the Silicians in Tampa did because to them, this was a Pannini), and then, there are people who insist it should NOT be pressed (otherwise known as savages). A Cuban Sandwich should NOT be expensive, it was a cheap delicacy made by poor people who at times could not afford smoked Ham. It should be made on CUBAN BREAD, not Italian or French. I confess, there are many restaraunts in this town who have no clue how to make this sandwich, and even fewer that do not try to charge an outrageous amount for one.

It is refreshing to know that, in Ybor A) you can still get a good sandwich, and B) not have to blow ten dollars. It also helps that this place is right by Centro Ybor, so even if you are going to Gameworks, you dont have to blow a load to eat good. When you eat here, you are getting a taste of what Ybor used to be: when you would walk on a city street and be treated well at a family owned place. They have a good variety of sandwiches, including the Gyro platter, but all the sandwich platters are filling, made of good ingredients. They seem to have a knack for getting the right balance between meat, cheese, oils and bread; anybody can make a sandwich, but it is harder to make a GOOD sandwich. They use REAL Cuban Bread whose flavor stands up to the press, and meats that are substantial, not fattened with filler. As far as the Deli itself, it is a little small, but that also works to be cozy too, if you want to be romantic, you can eat in the table that used to be a storefront window. If nothing else...they serve Working Cow homemade Ice Cream..now..tell Ben and jerry's to go hang, this is butterfat-rich, real fruit, cream and chocolate richness, the type that focres you to slow your sense of time to savor it. Having this as a dessert after a Gyro platter or Cuban Sandwich is some of the best eating you will do in Tampa...period. All of this is done without pretense, by a family that seems to chatter about in a manner reminiscent of the old "cheeseburger cheeseburger" style from Saturday Night Live, in short, they way real Deli people do, as opposed to so many efforts that you can tell were financed by Retiring Yuppies whose idea of the restaurant buisness was gained from Food Network.

Do yourself a favor, you want the real Ybor experience, eat here for Lunch. The old Cubans who ran the orginal joints have been abandoned by their ungrateful offspring in the suburbs, but when you sit in this place, watching the real locals come in and out from the din of 7th Ave, you will touch something that is much more akin to the Spirit of Ybor than anything Centro Ybor can offer.

Now, going from food over into Coffee:

El Molino Coffee shop:
2012 East 7th Avenue · Post Office Box 5036 · Tampa, Florida 33675 · Phone: 1(800) 531-9587
http://www.elmolinocoffee.com

Now, speaking of Old Ybor, this place is a holdout. It is really the old shop that begat a local Coffee dynasty: Naviera Coffee. Just to inform you of Bias, I did used to work with these people back when i had my Coffee stand. However, I can tell you why this place is special. This is a coffee shop located IN THE ACTUAL FACTORY. Furthermore, it is a factory that purposefully keeps older methods and machinery intact, because the family wisely realizes that it is better to compete with the Starbucks of the world than the Folgers. The Old craft is alive here, and you see and smell it. You have not experienced Coffee until you have sat in this shop, where everything is wood paneled, full of cabinets containing old blends and exotic ones. You have not smelled Coffee until you sip a cafe con Leche here, while the nearby roaster assaults the senses...the odor is powerful, the way incense fills a church. If you want to take the love of Coffee to the next level, look at the pictures which are paintied in Coffee...that's right, painted in Cuban Coffee, which odd enough, has the look of an old photograph. The price is cheaper than Starbyucks, and the quality, hmmm, well, there is a difference between Champagne and Dom Periginon, and you can taste it here. You can also buy fresh ground coffee here, from a dizzying variety of blends, to good ol Jamaican Blue.

Come to this place before they decide to close it, this is a truly unique only in Ybor experience.

That's it for now...next week, I will ponder doing somewhere NOT ybor related...buttt :) we'll see.
Friday, December 24th, 2004
12:20 pm
[sanchopanza13]
The Tampa Bay Brewing Co & the Laughing Cat
Reposted from Sancho's Journal:

Allow me to introduce:

Sancho Panza's Culinary Expeditions!

This week: Enchanted by El Encanto

In Ybor City, there is a HUGE red brick building called "El Encanto" Back in the days when Ybor City had it's Latino enclave, this was the home of a very much revered small buisness, a laundry where everybody and their mother went to. Of course, the buisness is gone, with whatever desendents decided to move to somewhere less Latin, but the fact the sign still stands is a testament to the spirit that once resided here.

So, what does this have to do with food, you ask? Well, unlike a lot of other grand Ybor Buildings left to Rot, this building still supports several fiesty small buisnesses, two of which happen to be among the best places to eat in all of Ybor: The Tampa Bay Brewing Company and the Laughing Cat.

First, let me start off with the Cat. This is a little corner restaurant right by a Trolley stop. It is not a dump, but if you are the sort that NEEDS elaborate decor, this is not the place. The atmosphere is VERY relaxed, very much true to the ORIGINAL spirit of Ybor, as opposed to the sort of mad dashes and neon noise you get in the more modern parts. This is the sort of place you can much your Bruschetta, sip your drink, and let time bleed out into the air, carried off by the trolley. However, whatever do may not get in the decor, you WILL get in the food. First off, I must stress that this is Italian cuisine, as opposed to Italian-American cuisine. Yes, they do have Spaghetti, but if you go there, the fare will be a bit more exotic than the sort of "Italian" you may be used to getting at your chain restaurants or Pizzerias. Those of you who are fans of Mario Batagli or Giatta De Laurentis will know what I am talking about. However, I would say this thiat same "real italian" quality is the reason you SHOULD try this place, because you will experience the sort of subtlety and craftsmanship that all too often gets ignored by most places.

The Chef was born in Naples, but he made his fame in Long Island. The window is covered with accodlades received in very finicky foodie mags like The New Yorker. True to form, he thought he was going to retire here, and well, could not :) Because this is really more of a labor of love, the chef feels free to experiment, and lavish artistic touches onto the dishes. Any seafood dish you get there will be DECADENT. I don't mean Ybor Nightclub decadent, I mean European Aristocrat decadent, I am talking Fellini flick decadent. The Chef uses many complex touches, many hues of flavour ranging from Natural Mozzarella (the soft kind, not the stuff they use at the Pizza parlor), to myriads of spice combinations. However, despite going all out on the aristic touches, he does not forget the fundamentals, a lot of Italian restaurants have no clue how to prepare a simple Marinara sauce, they make it too bitter or too sweet. The Laughing Cat makes a sauce that is perfect, that does not overpower the dish, but yet does not fail to pull it's weight. A lot of Italian cuisine tries to overpower you, this one seduces you.

For a much more professionally done review (complete with address and numer, read this:
http://www.weeklyplanet.com/2002-07-24/food_feature.html

However, I do hope that my humble screed gets you to try this place. One thing the articles does not note is that now the Laughing Cat does have a Sunday Brunch. Considering how they handle Lunch, I am willing to bet the Bruch is a Grand Slam.

The Tampa Bay Brewing Company is in the same building, closer to the place many of you remember as the former Tracks. In it's orginal function, it was a horse stable. The walls are Thick Red Brick, with very small windows. The windows are covered in Dark Stained Glass, which gives the place a very dark, cavernous feel. All throughout, there are catwalks and huge beer Tankers, as well as racks of Beer Steins, each of which is owned by a Customer. In short, this place looks and feels like a Tavern some mad Prussian scientist decided to open to fund his experiments. Ah, but what fine results for the experiments.. The places has several dozen varieties of Home-Brewed Beer. Now, I know what some of you are thinking (Isn't it just like that popular Tampa Brewey chain whose name rhymes with "SLOPS?" No, for one, this place is run by certified Master Brewers, true Craftsmen, not by people trying to perpuatate a chain. Second, that chain has nowhere near the variety this place has: Want to try a very thick English style stout?, a german Heifeweizen?, India Pale Ale?, a dark Bock?, they have them all here, as well as more exotic varieties like Barley Wine. For those of you who really want to be beer snobs, ask for the Cask conditioned ale, which are aged in their cellar in Barrels.

Now, those of you who know me will go..."Scott, we know you can't drink anymore, how do you know this is any good?", ah, allow me to unviel a trick. Unlike the places that Ryhmes with "slops", this place knows that you have to have good cuisine to back up the gimmick, so their menu adds a very clever twist: they feature the home-brewed beers in many of the dishes they make. Of course, the cooking kills the alchohol, but none of the taste. A perfect example is my favorite dish, their Seafood Gumbo. As someone who goes to New Orleans as a form of religious pilgrimage on an annual basis, let me say this, this Gumbo is as thick and rich as any Gumbo served in the Vieux Carre. They use a lager to accent the Andouille Sausage, and give the dish a bit of what Emeril would call "BAM!" They also serve a Shepherd's pie made with Iron Rat Stout, which is the sort of Thick Chocolate-colored Hand-Brewed English Stout in the tradition of Guiness. For those not wanting to see Beer and cuisine mix, they also do offer some genuinely tasty sandwiches, and personal pizzas.

Again, this place is worth the trip. It is a pleasure to actually see some old favorites revived with a twist thanks to the mixing of Brews with the cuisine. It could have been such a SLOPS, a failure, but it is not, thanks to the sheer hard-nose craftsmanship of the place. For a better review (as well as pesky address and phone info, check out:

http://www.sallys-place.com/beverages/beer/tampa_bay.htm

Both these places are near Centro Ybor, and while some places in Centro are genuinely good, I really recommend these two, not just because they maintain the old, casual spirit of Ybor, but because both places seek to innovate, to grow. You dont have to flush tradition down the commode to stay hip, nor should you enshrine tradition until it becomes a dried out mummy.

Thanks for reading, the next article will also be focused on Ybor.
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