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May 7, 2000 02:46 PM

A Century of Dining in Tampa

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great newsgroup, guys. i'm definitely a chowhound, and have just graduated from U of S. Fla with an MA in History. I've been working on a book about the history of Tampa--- through its restaurants. I've been doing serious research (written and oral) since last summer, and hope to finish it by the end of the year.

i've been doing interviews with many people in Tampa: Chowhounds, restaurant owners, cigar workers, restaurant workers, etc.

I'm covering the entire 20th century in Tampa, including the Spanish, Cuban, Italian, and African-American influences to the city's cuisine. I also cover segregation, the Depression, WW2, the changing roles of women, fast food, fine dining, city planning, urban renewal, race riots, labor militancy (cigar worker and waiter's strikes), industrialization (hence the restaurant INDUSTRY), suburbanization, food courts, prohibition, etc... in other words, just about any angle you could think of!

I was hoping some of you Chowhounds out there would be familiar with some of Tampa'ds old restaurants--- but my inquiry doesn't stop there. Any new or contemporary restaurants of interest (food, culture, history)would be included as well, like Betty's Corner (bad neighborhood, great sould food), Tampa Bay Brewing co (good food, GREAT beer) La Teresita (old fashioned Spanish diner), the old Meeting House (diner, soda fountain), Palios (old school cracker fry shack), Trang Viet Cuisine (my fave) and on and on. how about places where foreigners and immigrants eat out together, like the ill-fated Yangtze River. I'd even like to hear more feedback on Bern's as i still have to eat there. Unfortunatley, i don't have much of a choice, as i should cover it on its reputation alone.

Anyway, i've already made an appeal for feedback in the Tampa Trib (an article in early March by Leland Hawes), and have gotten a great response--- interviews, antecdotes, suggestions.

So now i appeal the elite corps of diners in this great country: Chowhounds! Hope to hear from you all, and i will post any suggestions as i come across them.

Once again, a great site. I'll be sure to mention it.

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  1. d
    Dave Feldman


    I've never stepped foot in Tampa, I'm afraid, but I'm very interested in your work. Are you writing this book as an academic work (if so, is it under the auspices of the history department?)?

    I don't think there are enough cultural studies that examine communities based on their food and dining procilivities. Best of luck on what seems like a very exciting project.

    And welcome to!

    1 Reply
    1. re: Dave Feldman

      Thanks for the reply--- the book is not exclusively academic, although it does analyze pertinent issues. The research i've done has been quite thorough, from old newspapers (lots of em, including the tri-lingual La Gaceta and the Fla Sentinel-bulletin, Tampa's black newspaper), autobiographies, City Directories (lists of the restaurants, owners, location), interviews, menu collections, Depression-era WPA documents, old commercial photography, and so on.

      The most important thing i want to convey is the intangible things that draw us to the social space of the restaurant, and not just the food. That's where interviews and dialogues come in. People have hundreds of great stories, memories distant and recent, and details that the best written sources rarely provide--- and not just sentimentality.

      The reason i've decided to concentrate all of my energies on food and history, besides that i love to cook and eat out, is that there is a yawning gap in quality written sources on the subject. Food is the ultimate cultural barometer that embraces all classes and cultures.

      I'm in the process of filling out my manuscript to submit for publication (statewide, i hope). Although professors are lending their advice, leads and support, i am not directly affiliated with USF's history dept, just a recent graduate. I developed my ideas in grad school there.

      Too bad y'all won't have a chance to try out Yangtze River Chinese Restaurant. It was quite an experience. It closed late last year. It was tiny and smelled like the musty black mushrooms they served. For the most part, only a subdued Chinese clientele was there, and they ate real Chinese food.

      Their menu was a sight to behold. Serving up exotic items like spicy pork stomach and braised beef tendons, it also offered a lot of greasy (and tasty) dim sum. Their hot and sour soup was gelatinous and offensive-smelling. Biting into a spring roll could even send grease dripping down your chin: i liked them, my girlfriend didn't. It was a Chinese greasy spoon. No, this was no high-cultured dainty palace. It was Chinese working man's food, plain and simple, and nothing like the blue-collar Chinese-American Shanghai Express. It was hit or miss--- who was i to say he was making the stuff wrong? I never even HAD Chinese food before!

    2. No history of the Tampa restaurant scene would be complete without a few pages dedicated to Las Novedades in Ybor, the great competitor to the Columbia in the 40s, 50s and 60s. Its pompano papillot set the standard, as did a special dish named after the chef, Chicken Acosta. I ate there many times since my dad was maitr'd for 20 years and his first cousin was the owner. It was on the corner of 7th Ave. and 15th St. caddy corner from the Ritz. In its heydey, Las Novedades was the preferred big-night-out for Spanish cuisine by many of the knowledgeable locals who preferred fine food to glitzy floor shows.

      2 Replies
      1. re: skip

        Not to worry--- LN is firmly planted in Tampa's history and my research. Interesting stories abound about this place, about the ghosts in the building and the suspected arson that burned down the old building when a gay nite club inhabited the place. without a doubt, one of the classdiest places in Tampa. I plan on interviewing Manuel Garcia, owner of the place after his father. After selling out to the columbia in the early 70s, the Garcias ran Burger King's large central florida franchise, HQd in orlando. a perfect sign of the times...

        1. re: skip

          Hi, I two remember going to Las Novedades in ybor city very
          often . my dad was the chef there in the 50's.I remember working their during summer time. my father's name was Arnaldo Gonzalez, I remember Freddie Carreno was one of the maitr'ds and another by the name of Lewis can't remeber his last name at this time. Also the man that use to make the salids ( Cubano ), Ralph Vajeho ( he ran the stock room ). I have great memories from their. Great Article.

        2. Bern's Steak House, I don't know what it is like now that the original owner passed away, but it was really superior. My first job at 18 yrs. old was working in the kitchen as a floater. That was in 1970. "Bern" as we called him, though that was not his real name, was a perfectionist about everything. The baked potatoes had to be timed so that we would have enough for the night, but they weren't overcooked. He was always in the kitchen, cooking the steaks himself on the busy weekends, or weekdays if the grill cook (Esie if I remember right) needed him. He was always looking over our shoulders. He fed us free all the salad, French onion soup, garlic toast, and potatoes we wanted. He would periodically have fresh steak ground up for burgers for us. My mouth is watering right now wanting some of everything. Everything was made fresh from scratch, vegetables when he had enough, from his organic garden that he was just getting going back then. Coffee made from fresh roasted and ground beans. New York cheese cake, no need for toppings, it was perfect by itself. In the back preparation kitchen where they made the onion soup, were the big freezers with the barrels of olives soaking in their brine. Nothing was out of a jar or can. I can taste it all. And those were just the sides for the gem which are the aged steaks, tender, grilled on coals. Those of us working near the grill would burn up from the heat, but the steaks really were a work of art., Bern's pride and joy, seconded only by his wine cellar. Oh, and in case there are others like me who also want a clean kitchen, Bern was also picky about everything being clean. His kitchen was always open to customers to view. Even though he was exacting, he was a good boss. I think he really liked everyone who worked for him. We worked hard, but it felt more like a home to me, then a job. He didn't discriminate because of age, race, religion, or gender. He nicked named me Peanut. For Bern it was his home, his love. He took a pride in it. Bern was very down to earth, working harder than any of us. He was progressive. He was into organic food before organic was available. Good man. Great restaurant. I hope that they've kept it up to his standards. Let me know when you eat there, and if you can still get a tour of the kitchen. Peanut (I have no idea why this posted twice. ?how do I fix it?)

          Bern's Steakhouse
          1208 S Howard Ave, Tampa, FL 33606

          1 Reply
          1. re: mixedduck

            I am happy to report mixedduck that the kitchen tours (as well as the wine cellar tours) are still offered. The food and moreover the experience are wonderful and in some ways delightfully over the top. Hope you get a chance to return...

          2. wow is this seriously a 10 year old thread?? how cool is that??

            4 Replies
            1. re: Manderley

              What is cool is what Andy has accomplished in his writing and research since he started the thread. I did not even realize it was 10 years old!

              1. re: rhnault

                it doesn't seem like much all told. but i'm working on it! starting a new column in creative loafing very soon devoted to Florida food culture.

                1. re: rhnault

                  what caught my eye was the fact that he was "andrew" way back then; that's what made me check the date. i feel like i'm watching the history channel :)

              2. and i'd like to add that the cappuccino i had in the dessert room just might have been the single most delicious thing i have ever put in my mouth in my entire life. i actually yelled out loud after my first mouthful. i thought i had died and gone to heaven. seriously.

                3 Replies
                1. re: Manderley

                  Hi - I am looking for information on an old Tampa restaurant -1960ish to 1980ish maybe. It was actually called the "Rocky Point" and was advertised as a 'Restaurant-Coffee Shop-Cocktail Lounge'. The advert features a Pirate. Wether it was located on Rocky Point I do not know. I cannot find any info on this restaurant. Any help is appreciated. Thx.

                  1. re: CARLYNB

                    I think it was a hotel and restaurant where Landry's is located now. It also had a "ski school".

                    1. re: CARLYNB

                      rings a bell, i can check some sources when i get back to work next week. a search through the google news archives would turn something up, too, I'm sure.