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Holiday delicacies available in Tampa Bay/Pinellas area?

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For Christmas Eve this year, I'd like to serve a variety of ethnic and/or local specialties available through locally-owned restaurants, markets, bakeries, and/or delis. We're relatively new to the area, so I'm relying on all you Chowhounds to steer me toward your favorites. The greater the ethnic variety, the better. Any suggestions?

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  1. Ok Chowhounds, please don't let me down! Help me out with some suggestions for good local grocers, markets, bakeries, and specialty stores in the area, or even restaurants that offer special take-out holiday treats I can serve. I live in mid-Pinellas, but I'm willing to travel north, south, and across the Bay for the good stuff. I plan to serve buffet-style, so suggestions about everything from appetizers to entrees to side dishes to desserts would be greatly appreciated. I'm really looking for those special ethnic or local treats that are special to the season. Thanks for your help!

    1. If you're in mid-Pinellas, I would suggest that you start by going to A&N Deli on US 19 in Clearwater (it's in the same plaza as Gasoline Alley, just north of Ulmerton) and asking Momma Nunziata for some of her precious, delicious lasagna and any other suggestions she might have, because her food is KILLER!

      Then I would go to BAN Thai, in Safety Harbor, and get a huge order of their thai mussels, because the sauce they come in may be the most delicious thing you ever ate.

      Then I would go to Ted Peters and get some smoked mullet.

      Nothing says Christmas like lasagna, mussels and mullet!

      3 Replies
      1. re: wishbugger

        Wishbugger, what a coincidence--I checked out A&N this afternoon and picked up some of their meat pie (a holiday tradition, according to Nancy's son), and we just enjoyed it for dinner. It seems more like a breakfast food to me--an eggy, cheesy loaf stuffed with chunks of their wonderful handmade sausage--but we enjoyed it immensely! I also brought home one of their stuffed artichokes (also a seasonal specialty) which I plan to enjoy for lunch tomorrow. It's not exactly buffet-style finger food, however. I do plan to go back for their little fried doughballs with sprinklies, which is apparently an Italian holiday tradition. I'll get them closer to the 24th, to ensure freshness. I will also be sure to check out their lasagna. I got their catering menu, which is full of all kinds of goodies!

        I also stopped in the Mediterranean Deli, a little north of A&N (past Bellair Road). They had large, just-cooked platters of spinach pies and meat pies in back of the counter (not yet for sale), but they sold me a few after I inquired. I particularly enjoyed the spinach pies. I also tried their stuffed squash--kind of like stuffed cabbage, but using a slightly brined zucchini instead. I loved it! I'll probably be back for more of their spinach pies, which are in the shape of small turnovers, as that makes good buffet fare.

        I, too, am a big fan of Ted Peters; I'm partial to their smoked salmon. And, on the rare occasions I allow myself a cheeseburger, that's where I go! Yeah, I'll drive over a half-hour for a Ted Peter's cheeseburger, and stop at the ATM across the street to get cash if necessary (they don't take credit cards; the owner once told me that it's because "our waitresses have a hard enough time with math as it is.")

        I have not yet tried Ban Thai, so now I have a new mission! Where is it in Safety Harbor?

        Thanks for the tips, Wishbugger! C'mon, the rest of you Tampa Bay Hounds, don't hold back on me!

        1. re: laurie

          Ban Thai is in the shopping center on the northeast corner of the intersection of Enterprise and McMullen Booth Rd.

          John

          1. re: RibDog

            Thanks. I'm surprised I've never noticed it; it's close to Laziz,, a great Indian restaurant that we've been frequently pretty regularly as of late. It's definitely on my "next new place to try" list.

      2. laurie, give a call to La Casona on Armenia in Tampa. They're puerto rican and have an interesting sort of christmas tamale wrapped in banana leaf, stuffed with corn meal, meat, and spices that is a seasonal specialty, they only make them at christmas time.

        christmas eve chowhound party? can we all come?

        3 Replies
        1. re: Tandoori Girl

          Tandoori Girl, thanks for the La Casona rec. Tamales seem to be the traditional holiday staple in parts of Latin America; I've never tried Puerto Rican tamales, so I must give them a try! I've actually been looking for some good hallacas, which are Venezuelan tamales wrapped in banana leaves and stuffed with pot roast or chicken, olives, and veggies. Any suggestions? My favorite source of Mexican tamales--El Gallo in Clearwater--looked like it had closed down when I passed by recently, so I'm also on the hunt for some good Mexican tamales, especially pork with red sauce and the sweet kind with raisins!

          And hey, c'mon over! The bigger the group of interesting people, the more fun it will be!

          Seriously, we need to have a Chow Hound gathering. How to arrange? I belong to the Dining Out group through meetup.com; more Tampa Chow Hounds should join and share their wealth of knowledge!

          1. re: laurie

            You might want to try Mexico Lindo in Pinellas Park on Park Blvd. I think they only make their tamales on the weekend but they were pretty good the last time I had some there. Also, they do sell out quickly on them. You may want to ask if they would take an advance order.

            John

          2. re: Tandoori Girl

            Hi, I'm new to Chowhound. Tandoori Girl, those interesting tamales you're referring to are called pasteles. They're made out of plaintain and other vegetables and filled mainly with pork.

          3. the puerto rican ones sound more like the hallacas that you describe. it is hard to find good mexican tamales, for sure. they sell them for fund-raisers in new mexico. go door to door and take orders then bring them back later. the best i've had were ones my friends mom made. i never liked the ones in most restaurants, they were dry and tasteless.

            and i guess you've had the cuban tamal? they make a good one at La Ideal on Tampa Bay Blvd. Order yours ala preparado (with lettuce & tomato & pork). that's how i like mine.

            1 Reply
            1. re: Tandoori Girl

              Being a relative newbie to the area, I must regrettably admit that I have not yet tried a Cuban tamal. Add it to my "must do" list. Like you, I've typically ordered tamales for the holidays from friends whose moms or aunts make them for extra holiday cash. I don't have those sources locally, however. Ditto hallacas--we used to special-order them from a Colombian lady in Cleburne, Texas (a two-hour round-trip drive for us). I'm considering ordering my Tex-Mex tamale fix (in a somewhat healthy version) from Hot Damn Tamales in Fort Worth. What's Christmas without tamales, after all? Now where the heck can you find good atole in this town?

              But I digress from the main topic of this thread--ethnic and local holiday specialties available at mom and pop markets and bakeries in the area. I find it hard to believe that all you Tampa Hounds out there can't come up with more suggestions?!

            2. Mozart's bakery on 4th St. N. in St. Pete and Kalupa's on MacDill in Tampa have good holiday goodies. Stollen, cookies, etc.

              John

              4 Replies
              1. re: RibDog

                Thanks, RibDog! They will be on my list of errands this weekend. Anyone familiar with Frida's Bakery in Seminole?

                1. re: laurie

                  Laurie,

                  Frida's is on Ulmerton Rd in Largo, just east of the Largo Mall. I have been there a few times. It kind of reminds me of a non-chain version of Panera. They have some decent coffee drinks. Their cookies and donuts are quite good. They often have some unique theme cookies for specific holidays or events (like for the 2004 presidential election they had Bush and Kerry cookies). The cakes can be hit or miss. My mother stopped by there when she was visiting from out of town about a year ago and picked up the most gorgeous small chocolate cake (I love nothing more than a deep, dark chocolate cake, which this was). It was very dry and actually inedible. We should have returned it but didn't.

                  1. re: Robert R

                    Well, your experience certainly sounds disappointing. I do want a good cookie selection, so maybe I'll check them out for that. Thanks, Robert.

                    1. re: laurie

                      I would try Kalupa's in Tampa for cookies if that is not too far for you. I hate to say it but I get my Christmas cookies from a bakery in Michigan City, IN every year. They are fantastic. My family ships them to me. May lose a few in the shipping process but they are excellent.

                      John

              2. Try the cool, kitschy Florida Winery on Pasadena Blvd. You can choose from lots of different fruit wines, and they let you taste it too! :D (just west of Ted Peters, you could leave your car there and walk a block to the winery)

                1 Reply
                1. re: joan

                  Joan, I'm ahead of ya! I love the place and their wines. In fact, their Category Five Sangria (which they invented during Hurrinane Charley) and Black Gold wine were my gifts of choice this year to out-of-towners. We have several of their varieties in our fridge. And for a Saturday afternoon outing, not much can beat a cheeseburger at Ted Peter's, take-home smoked fish from their smokehouse, then a jaunt down the street to savor several "Wow-that's-really-good-and-I-don't-even-like-sweet-wine" tastings of their amazing fruit wines. I'm serving their grapefruit champagne on New Year's. . . .

                2. It's been a while since I've fallen in to Wright's Gourmet on S. Dale Mabry but my recollection is that they always had some seasonal goodies during the holidays.......don't know how ethnic they might be, but the quality is always top notch.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: tony noriega

                    Thanks, Tony. I have not heard of them; I have to check them out.

                  2. Any of the Latin restaurants -- look especially for noche buena staples -- black beans and rice (moors y cristianos), roast pork (look for someplace that makes their own mojo marinatde) -- tostones, plantanos (last two are the same vegetable prepared in *very* different ways!)

                    Guava pastries will knock your socks off, too --

                    feeling really adventurous? Order a suckling pig and have your own noche buena festivity! The butcher you order it from will be able to tell you all the hows and recipes.

                    1. Go pick up some ceviche from El Taconazo (the taco bus) on Hillsborough by the Interstate. YUM!