Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
April 23, 2014

Locals Dish About Tampa’s Secret Eats

The Republican National Convention has offered up its version of the culinary frontrunners it’s supporting during next month’s nominating soiree. But Tampa food scribes assure HOH there are certain off-menu specials conventioneers won’t want to miss.

Tampa Tribune food writer Jeff Houck eats his way around the local dining scene like it’s his job (it is) for “The Stew” blog. Which makes it all the more impressive that, come quitting time, he’s still inclined to darken Pelagia Trattoria’s door.

“My favorite thing is to go to Pelagia Trattoria and ask the chef to make whatever he wants. That place is amazing,” Houck tells HOH, adding that he demanded just such a spontaneous tasting menu for an anniversary celebration.

A spokesperson for Pelagia Trattoria said executive chef Andrew Basch relishes the opportunity to have his way with adventurous diners. “Some of the local bloggers have made it a practice to drop by Pelagia and just ask chef Andrew to bring them ‘whatever’s good,’” the restaurant aide relates.

The open-ended invitations have spawned all manner of gustatory whimsy, including Kumato tomatoes showered with goat cheese “snow” (frozen and hand grated), tripe fritters partnered with pizzaiola sauce, juniper-marinated squab escorted by pickled white cherries and sweet corn polenta and a “coffee and cigars” closer featuring espresso panna cotta and chocolate tuiles inundated with Bailey’s Irish Cream.

“Tasting Tampa” food blogger Todd Sturtz offered up two under-the-radar gems surreptitiously served at the award-winning Bern’s Steak House: the house-made steak sandwich and burger.

According to Bern’s chef de cuisine, Habteab Hamde, the sandwich weaves together 4.5 ounces of chargrilled tenderloin served plain, fully loaded (cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, apple-smoked bacon, sauteed mushrooms and caramelized onions) or anywhere in between, all on a whole-wheat bun. He described the burger as an 8-ounce patty forged from freshly ground 80/20 USDA Prime flap meat, which is then cooked to order and dressed accordingly.

Hamde confirmed that neither item appears on any menu, while noting that bar patrons have been savoring both for years.

Houck certainly has.

“The Bern’s sandwich tastes like God intended beef to taste,” he raves. “And in a setting where you don’t expect to get a burger, which always makes it fun.”

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