Category Archives: Features

Gulf Coasting: The Grouper Reuben at Billy’s Stone Crab and Seafood

Grouper Reuben at Billy's

Without my quite realizing it until recently, the grouper reuben has become ubiquitous along Florida’s Gulf Coast — or, at least, the relative sliver of it that I frequent. I’ve seen it on menus in Sarasota, in Naples, in Clearwater, in St. Petersburg, in Tampa and now in Tierra Verde, a long isthmus separating St. Pete Beach from Fort Desoto Park, home to many a sprawling community of condos, a few marine supply stores, and Billy’s Stone Crab and Seafood, a little gem of a place tucked alongside an inlet from the Gulf. Continue reading

Go Watch “Chef,” the Best Sandwich Movie Ever Made

Jon Favreau in Chef

Thanks mostly to the increasingly limited nightlife agenda of my increasingly pregnant wife, I’ve seen more movies in the past year than in any year I can remember. These date nights and the numerous boxes of Good & Plenty I consumed along the way have been two of the more welcomed perks of our imminent parenthood. Furthermore, it had the follow-on effect of heightening my interest in last month’s Oscars, which, though mildly entertaining, was completely lacking in any recognition of outstanding sandwiches in film. Continue reading

Gulf Coasting: Pulled Pork at Snootie’s

Snootie's BBQ

“If you have a picky eater, they haven’t tried our pork yet.”

The folks behind Snootie’s BBQ are living the dream. From a brief conversation with the man who served me a delicious pulled pork sandwich, I gathered the following about their annual calendar: Halloween is their food truck’s final day of business in Sandusky, Ohio. Following that, the crew pulls up stakes and heads south to Tampa, where they set up shop through April at Bearss Groves near Lake Magdalene. I’ve had made many fruit and vegetable purchases at the Groves, a fairly extensive covered farmer’s market. I’ve also eaten many barbecue sandwiches at Snootie’s, and I further knew that they were native Ohioans, like me, from the hip, industrialized, Lake Erie side of the state. But I’d never really heard their “story,” so to speak, preferring for the last few years to grumble to myself how much I’d like to be living in Ohio during those months when Florida becomes a tropical inferno where the air itself exudes sweat, and to be here in Tampa when Ohio enters its annual ice age. Continue reading

Gulf Coasting: The Hawaiian Grouper at Hula Bay

The Hawaiian grouper sandwich at Hula Bay, Tampa.

The Hawaiian grouper sandwich at Hula Bay, Tampa.

Is it a good thing when a side order and dipping sauces overshadow the sandwich you’ve ordered at a restaurant you’re eating at for the first time? The glass-half-full answer is of course, that experiencing any sort of gustatory joy is a worthy achievement, even if it’s the consumption of a pile of petal-cut fries and some spicy sweet and sour sauce. Another point of view (roughly) parallels the old saw that one will often return to an eatery with poor service if the food is outstanding, but superb service will not attract return visits if the food is unremarkable. I can’t imagine saying to myself: “Gee, the fries at that place are really good — let’s go there!”

Because the fries at Hula Bay, located deep in South Tampa off Westshore Boulevard near MacDill Air Force Base, are really superb. As you can tell, the analogy with “service” is imperfect, but I hope you get my point. The place has much besides the fries to recommend it for a return visit (not the least of which is a great rum-runner, that staple of waterfront Florida dining and drinking). And the fried grouper nuggets are dipped in beer and crushed cornflakes before their swim in the oil. Outstanding, and accompanied by more of that delicious deep-red sweet and sour sauce. In hindsight, I probably should’ve used that sauce on my sandwich instead of the lime tartar sauce (house-made, according to our server, for what that’s worth; the cole slaw is also “made to order”). Continue reading

On The Lobster Roll, The World’s Greatest Sandwich

Made from the best stuff on Earth.

Made from the best stuff on Earth, the lobster roll at Thurston’s Lobster Pound

The culinary principle that the best meals start with the best ingredients — garbage in, garbage out, you might call it — applies to a much greater extent to steak tartare or trout amandine than it does to a sandwich. Sandwiches, at least the good ones, are inherently greater than the sum of their parts. They rely on technique, proportion, construction, and contrasts of flavor, texture, and temperature. By and large, getting these things right matters far more than whether a cheesesteak is made with shaved truffles and sliced Kobe beef or grocery store sirloin. Continue reading