The Southern Sojourn
Aside from the general desire to share my wanderings, the flavors and the general feel of the South inspired me in ways that will be evident and bear a background story. Accordingly, I present the city-by-city recap of my Southern Sojourn.
Now for Tampa…
On the shuttle bus from the plane to the terminal at DCA:
[Obese woman, red t-shirt, jean shorts, supportive shoes and a chauvinistic, “I’m always right” husband. Overly eager to talk and mingle.]
Lady: Do you have any idea where they are taking us?
Moi: [thinking she meant to a specific gate number] No.
Lady: I feel like I’m in Nazi Germany being taken to a concentration camp.
Moi: [quickly averting eyes and guiding my disbelieving grin toward the window whilst reflecting on the “wonder” of America sometimes] …
Landing early leaves time for airport observations:
A young Jay Z
Bright red, red hair
A natural ginger- how does she survive outside these doors?
A reunion poster in waiting
Hands up! He’s here! Heeeeeeeeeeeey!
A bucket sized mug barely big enough to contain the bicep ego
(Click on the image above to see the full set of my Tampa photos.)
To Do: Join a wine-of-the-month club!
I arrived in Tampa a tad on the later side of the evening with no ambitions for craziness. I wanted the reality of visiting Sandra to sink in, and we did that with bottles, yes bottles plural, of red wine! To be fair, Adam was there too. It was wonderful!
The next day there was talk of a local brunch spot, which is Sandra and Adam’s breath of fresh air against the sprawl of chain restaurants. When I hear “brunch,” I gravitate to the sweeter side of my sensibilities, and my cravings develop more heavily on the “br” part of “brunch,” ie: pancakes, french toast (it should be pretty evident I have an affinity for French Toast based on this, this, this and that), waffles, pastries, etc. We walked by the beautiful bungalows, chipping paint, shade trees and porches of the neighborhood and arrived at The Front Porch only to discover that brunch is only a Sunday thing. Sandra and Adam had no time attacking the ideas of a steak and a fish sandwich. I slowly settled on sashimi and tried to stifle thoughts of French toast. In the meantime, we started the day with Sangria!
I recently made a goal to be more assertive when it comes to my satisfaction with my food and drink. This came after a few failed caipirinha orders in Pittsburgh (yeah, I know… Pittsburgh …, but still! You should, theoretically, be able to get a decent caipirinha…or so I thought), and by “fail,” I mean EPIC, undrinkable FAILURES. Yet, I just accepted the failures. I blame my internalized complaints on the empathy formed from my years in the service industry, but the times they are a changing! If a bartender slacks, I have the right to complain to the waitress in a fair and polite way. Well, The Front Porch surely gave me the opportunity to put this goal into action.
As with the idea of brunch, my expectations worked against me. I heard sangria, and I imagined a refreshing wine beverage with fresh fruit. What we received was a sickeningly sweet wine with a few lemons and limes and the obvious trail of maraschino cherries. I feel sick writing about it. I’m not sure whether I was pursuing my goal or if the sangria was so overwhelmingly bad I couldn’t lie about it, but somehow, I complained quite honestly (yet respectfully) when the waitress asked how it was.
Shortly thereafter, the woman I presume was the bartender brought us a new pitcher and proposed we try the new solution. Sandra stuffed her face with fish sandwich, intentionally shifting the responsibility of our drinking satisfaction to me, trusting at that point, I wouldn’t lie or accept more saccharine sangria.
My face stalled on exhibiting emotional expression while I tried to find the right words. “It’s…”
“You must not like it,” the waitress said, in disbelief, “People usually really like it.”
I left it at that. I must not like sangria. You’re right. I must really hate refreshing wine beverages with fresh fruit soaking up the booze and delivering a kick with every bite. I muuuuust hate that!
Untrue. Completely untrue.
What I actually don’t like is maraschino cherry juice under the guise of “sangria.” However, there was no need for malice.
“I guess you’re right. I just don’t like it [probably a shoulder shrug…that seems the right thing to insert at a moment like that]. I’ll just stick to this water,” I said and accordingly decided for the entire table. I felt a hint of guilt, but Sandra quickly confirmed my decision, and Adam adjourned contentedly to a beer.
I say all this not to flaunt how I really worked the system or to condescend the establishment and most definitely not to be an unappreciative guest, especially because I actually enjoyed the sashimi plate quite a bit. I emphasize the disappointment of the porch dining because it made our dinner, which was already unarguably delectable, even more of a delicious reward in comparison!
However, before I get to that memorable Tampa dinner, there were a few mini adventures in the afternoon that bear repeating.
The Aloe Man
Have you ever tried to drink three large cups of aloe juice in a very short period of time? If not, there is a time and place for the experience: Cephas Hot Shop in Ybor City, Tampa. The zealot behind the aloe evangelism is a Jamaican expat who has created a corner of Tampa that exists somewhere between Tampa and an abandoned paradise. There are plants and paintings everywhere, and though it’s difficult to imagine choosing that corner after traveling the world, it’s easy to see why he stays.
What is the deal with the aloe drink? The Aloe Man is quick to tell you, even if it means cutting off the current conversation for the sake of playing a video featuring his story (presumably the interviewer has some status somewhere which adds extra “validity” to the video). To recap…
You feel better.
You have an exit plan for your food.
It clears out the mucus in your body.
Aloe vera reduces inflammation.
It’s soap for your intestines.
You get more energy drinking aloe.
Aloe smooths out your skin.
Aloe vera juice fills you up [interjection: I find three large cups of anything to be quite filling]
It improves circulation and digestion.
Apparently for all the above to be true, you can’t just sip on some aloe throughout the day. You have to dooooown the three servings of aloe juice. The consolation is the conversation, the chicken scouting, trying tamarind for the first time ever, talking to a muralist and finding inspiration in the paintings. The only downside? All the Bob Marley paintings made me miss my dreadlocks … a little… but only just a little.
Did aloe change my life? Too early to say. Did I enjoy an afternoon at the aloe man’s compound? Of course! Did I have to use a bathroom shortly thereafter? Yessss (but first I was busy buying Toms)!!!
The Beach, At Last
The goal in going to the beach was not baking, but the view was, a little sun couldn’t hurt. The plan was to go a tad later in the afternoon, but between the “brunch,” Ybor wanderings, aloe downing and shopping, “later in the afternoon” became dusk, but it also became the perfect beach opportunity.
The sky filled with pinks and purples, the clear blue water shimmered, the remaining silhouettes on the beach began to clear, and we floated in perfectly warm water. While floating in the ocean with one of my best friends in the world, my life felt just right. I must have been on the right path if previous decisions had led me to that ocean moment, and those pleasantly warm waves were only the beginning! There was so much ahead of us, but first we were hungry for dinner, and thank the pizza gods that the place in mind was open late.
As we walked into the restaurant, one of the pizza makers breaking on the front sidewalk took notice of our wine bottle and immediately started making recommendations for pizza pairings. It was a genuine interest and a genuine love of pizza, and that was only the enthusiasm of the front door. The sentiment continued through the door, and the first bites confirmed all the purported passion of the establishment.
Here’s the story, copied and pasted, while my mind wanders to Tampa and fancies eating another slice of this pizza labor of love.
To delight our guests with the finest expression of pizza available.
Peter Taylor [the founder] is a nationally recognized pizza expert, researcher, author, teacher, and pizza consultant [pizza consultant!?!? Amazing!]. He has dedicated his life to exploring his true passion: pizza.
Wood Fired pizza is faithfully crafted the way authentic pizza was originally made; in a blisteringly hot wood fired oven for about 90 seconds, natural leavened dough, with a long room temperature fermentation to bring out the full flavor and aroma of the crust.
Peter Taylor, grew up on elite New York style pizza and traced it back to its natal epicenter – Naples Italy. With great reverence and respect for the old ways of Naples and New York, he crafted a new standard of naturally leavened wood fired pizza making flavors and textures relevant to contemporary diners. Which is why Wood Fired’s tag line is “Old-World Tradition. Modern Tastes.”
We do not want to be distracted from making the best pizza possible. Want pasta? Not on our menu. Kindly go to the countless restaurants which all serve the same thing. The truth is, selling pasta would interfere with our pursuit of the finest expression of pizza.
We embrace the concept of absolute freshness. The entire Wood Fired menu is prepared fresh daily without the help of freezers. No microwaves. No corners cut anywhere.
The only heat source we have is our venerable Raquel Wood-Fired Oven which was hand-built by our founder. We also prepare our dough without refrigeration of any kind adhering to the ancient tradition of a long, room-temperature fermentation with a natural yeast our executive chef caught off the coast of Florida. It’s unique microflora produces a naturally leavened crust just like ancient civilizations did six thousand years ago.
We chose to share two pizzas as verification of all of the above:
MICHAELANGELO – Masterpiece of Flavor
House Made Fresh Mozzarella, Pepperoni, San Marzano Tomatoes, Caramelized Mushrooms, Caramelized Onions, Organic Herbs
PESTO PIE – Lilly’s Original
Lilly’s House Made Pesto, Thinly Sliced Fresh Tomato, Dollops of Ricotta, Raw Red Onions Onions, Pecorino Romano, Organic Herbs
Dear Peter the Pizza Man,
Tampa is very lucky to have you! You could easily slip into more metropolitan restaurant scenes, but you give your passion to this southern tip of the country. Your pizza left me so pleasantly full, in a food coma that confirmed all of your pizza making goals. The ingredients burst with flavor. The crust was flavorful with the pull-apart texture of the best of breads. The menu was creative with so many appealing pizza offerings it was difficult to choose just two. The people clearly care about the food. As a person who may have an excessive interest in pie, I dug the “Got Pie?” t-shirts. If I ponder a future trip to Tampa, your pizza will be a factor for the yes vote.
What do you do after a day of little adventures, quality friend time, a grand finale meal and more journeys slated for the following morning?