Tampa, FL

Albany John and I went to Tampa, Fl for Grandma’s funeral over the weekend and for a bit of this week. The funeral was short and very sweet.

When we first arrived, we were a bit jet lagged. Basically, we both were up all night Friday doing our respective things, and got about 2 or so hours of sleep before heading to the Albany International Airport at Butt O’Clock in the morning. On the plus side, we were able to enjoy beautiful Tampa tropical air when we walked outside.

We also flew Southwest Airlines (which I find funny, being the Northeast and all) and snagged a direct flight and hotel for just under $700. We rented a car and got a coupon from Bjsvacations.com (I don’t think you need to be a member) for renting a car, which ended up being just under $200 for 4 days. Not too shabby for a last minute trip, if you find yourself in similar circumstances.

Now, as Albany John said, “There are worse places to be than Tampa in March”, so we managed to enjoy ourselves on this trip as well. He is quite right – Tampa was so very nice in comparison to the 29F degree weather in Albany. After booking into our hotel, we called up one of our relatives!

You see, I was kind of excited to meet all of Albany John’s extended family I had not already met. We called his younger cousin, and his mum (who is now my new sister in the Cult of Hello Kitty) and they drove over to meet us at our hotel.
Luckily, my awesome new Hello Kitty Sister is also into fooding and took us over to Ybor City to nosh at The Columbia! http://www.columbiarestaurant.com/

I ordered a glass of sangria for $4.95, which ended up tasting oddly soapy. Even the replacement glass.
Buuuut, the rest of the food? Total YUM.

Bread – nearly a loaf, for each person. Crusty on the outside, and warm and soft on the inside. Mmmm

Gazpacho – zesty, light, and yet still creamy in texture. I liked this a lot, and normally gazpacho is something I’d never think of ordering (Albany John got it)

I was a piggy and ordered El Combo de Cuba ($12.95) which was a sample of everything. Boliche, roasted pork, an empanada, black beans and yellow rice, and some very sweet platanos. YUM. This was so, so, so good. My favorite was the boliche, which was meltingly tender and slathered with gravy.

Our cousin, Tampa John, ordered Corvina “Russian Style”, which is a white fish with a lemony sauce. It looked very good, and he enjoyed it!

Hello Kitty Sis ordered a sandwich-salad combo. The cubano sandwich with the 1905 salad (one of the Columbia’s specialties). I got a bite of the salad (which they mix table side), and boy was it good! They accidentally gave her one of the soups instead of the salad, but eventually brought out the salad.

Albany John ordered the boliche main – the boliche is a slice of eye of round (a lean and tough cut) with a chorizo center, and cooked until tender. Then slathered with gravy. What isn’t good slathered with gravy? But seriously – fork-tender, with a seriously deep flavor.

The inside of my empanada. I think the outside could have been more tender, but this was well flavored inside.

We went late in the afternoon on Saturday and had a 20 minute wait. Not sure if they were overstaffed, but the waiter was a bit scattered and slow, but very nice.

To finish up, Hello Kitty Sis and I split a guava cheesecake ($6.50, I think…) which was like a soft, whipped cheesecake filling with a hint of the warm tropical flavor guava brings. It made me go “Oh, cheesecake… oh, wait… OHHHHH.” *drool* There was also a squiggle of guava syrup/sauce on the side, which really emphasized the guava in the cheesecake.
Thanks for the lunch, HK Sis!

And then we hit up the Sanrio Store at one of the malls. I LOVE YOU FOR TAKING ME HERE, Hello Kitty Sis!!

Later that day, Mama and Papa Amherst came in, and the troops were rallied. We went to WhatABurger for dinner (ok, based on my giddiness, and Papa John wanting some food ASAP). I think it was good, but not as good as I remembered it – it was probably nostalgia that made it taste so good before. This time, it was just OK. Sorry bout that one, guys.

Original WhatABurger

Inside of it (no mayo, ketchup, etc)

Papa Amherst got the patty melt.

Menu Board

Papa Amherst also got the chocolate shake. I got the vanilla malt, and woah – chocolate lovers – order this. Even I liked it. It was blastingly full of chocolate flavor.

You know what else I found in Tampa?? Grocery Stores we don’t have up here! Like a Publix! And within that Publix was…

Passion Flavored Smirnoff Ice!!! Can we get some of this up here? SOOOO good. It really tastes like a passion fruit spritzer.

Our hotel was really noisy, so I ended up getting woken up around 2 am every morning from the wannabe frat boys on spring break, and then at 7 am from southerners shouting at each other. So here’s a photo of the hotel pool at 7:30 in the morning. Yep, that’s a waterfall in the back ground.
The next day we went over to First Watch for breakfast.

Here’s what it looked like waiting to be seated. Lots of people!

Albany John and I each got gigantic pancakes ($2.99 for one). He got a cranberry-nut pancake, and I a wheat germ. They were very light and fluffy. The butter wasn’t even necessary!
Mama Amherst and Hello Kitty Sis ordered the fruit filled crepes with strawberry yogurt on top. The fruit was very fresh (Mama Amherst gave me a bite), but the crepes could have been thinner. They came with mondo muffins, and Albany John went on about how they were muffins only in name, because if it’s double-chocolate-chocolate-chip, then it’s a cupcake. Aww, bless. We gals argued that it was a muffin – there was no icing. Ah, we like driving our menfolk crazy.

Papa Amherst ordered, um… that. Some kind of omelet with potatoes and an English muffin. Sorry, can’t remember!

Afterwards, we headed out to the beach. Which beach? Any beach! Mama Amherst and I decided Sunday was so beautiful, we absolutely had to set our northern bones on some sandy, Floridian beaches.

We went to Ft De Soto, led by Albany John’s uncle, Tampa Tom (Tampa John’s papa). Man, what a great place he picked. It wasn’t too busy (free parking) and there were ample beaches to choose from.

Ft De Soto is also a no-booze beach, which I found out after I fell asleep and Albany John put one of my Passion Fruit Smirnoff’s on my back and one of the beach patrol folks came by and asked me what was on my back. Wheeewie, disaster avoided, though! While it might be a no-booze beach, plenty of folks were drinking beers and such (but maybe this was covert) on the beach.

For supper, we headed to Skipper’s Roadhouse Grill.


If you’re in Tampa, this place is worth checking out. It’s got live music (the night we went didn’t have a cover, bless) and indoor and outdoor areas to sit and nosh and drink. The place is huge.

The food was also cheap, tasty, and came out quickly. What more can you ask for?
I orderd a margarita. Woah, this drink had a LOT of tequila in it. Awesome.

Here is a live band playing on their stage. The stage was covered, but the immediate viewing area in front of it was open.

There were: crawfish poppers (with an addictive remoulade)
Gigantic conch fritters, which were a steal at $5.95 per appetizer order. They were soft on the inside – almost pillow-y, and had a good overall flavor. The fritters came with a mustard that was also great. It was curry-ish flavored, and went wonderfully with the conch fritters. Good call, Hello Kitty Sis! (Also, another cajun crawdad on the side – they were good)

Clam chowder – clammy. Pass on it if it’s your first time here – there are many more awesome things to try.

Albany John ordered Gator Ribs!! $12.99. How adventurous! He loved them. I thought they were an interesting texture. Kind of like fish – a fairly similar flavor profile to frog legs, but a bit tougher in a texture that broke apart like fish. Chicago Velvet Smoove took this picture, since I was sitting across from Albany John. It’s also why the picture looks so good.

Crap. I forgot what this was. I think this was the blackened sandwich Catfish Mama Amherst ordered. As you can see, it came with hush puppies and a pickle.

The bar area of Skipper’s (hey, I’m just breaking up the food pictures for you. What’s that? Stop? Ok, here’s more food)

I ordered the Cajun po’ boy, which came with more fried crawdads! Yummy! The toasted bread was lightly coated in some kind of spicy sauce, and the sandwich was huge. I think it was around $8 – what a steal! These crawfish were so fresh tasting. This was fun to eat with the hands!

Both Chicago Velvet Smoove and TN Girl’s mom, TN Auntie, ordered the clam strips. They thought these were kind of a bust – too bready.

Fried grouper sandwich our other cousin TN Girl (girl cousin. Makes I.D.-ing the cousins easy for you – Tampa John = Boy, Other Cousin = Girl) ordered with fries on the side.

I wanted to try some onion rings. Holy crap. We didn’t even come close to finishing these. $3.49 for an order of these puppies is quite a good deal. And did I mention our table of about 10 people couldn’t finish them? Woah.

Tampa Tom ordered a fried fish sandwich as well.

Devil Crab – CVS and I ordered one each, not really knowing what they were. For $2.50, it was worth a miss. They kind of were – I expected a crab flavor for something half-named Crab, but meh.

It was kind of too big – like a gigantic stuffed croquette, and had a fairly generic spiced-brown-soft flavor and texture for the filling. I think they used the same breading/coating as the conch fritters, but it didn’t translate well in this dish (but man, could I go for more of those conch fritters).

Mama Amherst got some Key Lime Pie for dessert – how tangy, smooth, and the crust?! Cookies! This dessert was small (possibly the only thing small they serve), and well worth $2.50.

Ok, that’s it for now. I switched memory cards halfway through the trip, and it’s a 40-60 chance I’ll actually get the other memory card out and upload photos.

If I don’t – more fooding was had. The Taco Bus (El Taconazo) is aaawwwweeeesome, as are Mema’s Alaskan Tacos. Ybor City doesn’t have a lot of touristy souvenir shops, and Albany John and I went into a cigar shop that had drinks, smoking, and playboy magazines inside. Bo’s is tasty for ice cream, but not so much for milk shakes.

Even though we came to Florida for a sad reason, it turned out to be a very wonderful experience to meet new family and meet up with those I had met before. Albany John’s family is so close, even if they might annoy each other, they’re still family. I like that, and I am glad I am part of this family.

  1. llcwine said:

    I have to stop reading your blog before lunch….OMG everything looks fantastic…from the cuban to the crawdads and onion rings…my condolences for your loss, but I am glad you had a good time in the warmer climate

  2. A Tampa tour de force! So sorry about Grandma, but I’m glad it brought the family together.

  3. sorry about yr loss. that cuban sandwich makes me want to lick my moniter!tell the truth, key lime pie tastes different when made w/ actual key limes, right?

  4. cw said:

    great looking food and a beach too! sorry for your loss, but happy for your vacation.

  5. Thanks y’all! You guys are so sweet to me.phairhead – I have no idea. I’ve never had any clearly touted as from fresh key lime juice. I love just about anything key lime!

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