Thursday, December 29, 2016

Merry Listmas 2016: The Food

Before the calendar turns to 2017, let’s reminisce about the finer things that food in 2016 had to offer (click on the picture for recipes and blog posts).

Favorite Sandwiches:

Main Attractions:


Some Other Favorites of the Year:

Favorite Place to Fill a Growler of Kombucha
Jug and Bottle. Not only can you fill their growlers with Mother Kombucha from the tap but you can also buy bottled kombucha, local ice cream, local snack foods, Seminole Heights clothing, nitro brewed coffee (also on tap) and some cheeses and salsas that are slightly harder to find. Oh, did I mention beer and wine? No? You can buy those too.

Best Vegan Lentil Soup in a Bread Bowl:
BJ's Brewhouse. I am enamored with BJ's vegan lentil soup. I've eaten it both as a bread bowl (hold the butter) and regular bowl. The soup is filling, slightly spicy and flavorful. Rare is it to find a chain restaurant in Tampa offering a vegan soup. Even rarer is the restaurant that offers a really good vegan soup. BJ's also does some beautiful Brussels Sprouts (nicely charred and crispy and tossed in oil).

Best "Fancy" Vegan Pizza:
Double Zero. From farro sausage to artisanal vegan cheese plates to sweet potato bruschetta, this place is all vegan all the time. It definitely isn't cheap but if you are in New York and looking for a fancy vegan dinner you can't get in Tampa, check this place out.

Best Artisanal Tofu in Tampa:
Thinh An Kitchen and Tofu.

Best Vegan Hot Dog:
The Holiday Dog from the Vegan Hot Dog Cart. The Holiday Dog includes Florida orange-cran chutney, Carolina BBQ mustard sauce and fried onions. It was ranked back in 2014 by PETA as the number one vegan hot dog in America. I can see why. This dog was amazing. Texture wise, it wasn't as chewy as the prepackaged versions you can get at the store. The dog (and bun) basically melted in your mouth. The orange-cran chutney, bbq mustard and fried onions flowed nicely with the dog. None of the flavors stood out, instead they morphed into one giant swirl of sweet, sour and crispy.

Best Seaweed Salad Served in a Martini Glass:
Samurai Blue Ybor

Best Vegan Cupcake Caught on Camera:
Georgetown Cupcakes. This place does live up to the hype, although I don't recommend checking out the cupcake camera. You don't want to lose too many hours of your life...

Best Veggie Burger:
Chickpea & Olive. A beet burger topped with vegan cheese and avocado and served on thick toasted bread. That's the kind of food porn my wife catches me watching late at night. Sometimes, if I'm lucky, I can even get her to join in. It really keeps the relationship fresh.

But seriously, if you go to Smorgasburg and are a vegan, eat this burger!

Best Vegan Banana Bread (aside from my own, of course):
Buttermilk Provisions

Best Bagels:
Bagel Pub. I rolled around my tiny little high school with the hottest girl on my arm. I thought I was something special. Then I went off to college in the city and I realized that there wasn't anything special about high school me. That girl on my arm, she was small potatoes compared to the city girls. I broke up with her via AOL instant messenger and never looked back.

So what does this have to do with Bagel Pub? Well, in similar fashion, I rolled around Tampa thinking that I knew what a good bagel was. It took me four hours in New York to realize that those "bagels" I was eating were nothing more than tiny little crust rocks. They were small grains of wheat compared to the Bagel Pub bagels.

Vegan Dessert of the Year:
Vegan Donuts. From Buttermilk Provisions to Alevri Marketplace to Valhalla Bakery to Dun-Well Doughnuts, I had my fair share of vegan donuts this year. Moreso than any other vegan dessert. That's why I am proclaiming that the Chinese calendar makers make 2016 forever known as the year of the vegan donut. I know it isn't an animal and all, but if I bite a doughnut in just the right places, I can easily shape it into a squirrel. That's good enough right?

Best Place to Purchase my Vegan Dessert of the Year:
Dun-Well Doughnuts. Dun-Well doesn't play the whole regular donuts with one vegan option game. Everything at Dun-Well is vegan. This includes the lattes, ice cream, milkshakes, sundaes, donuts, horchata and egg type things. Tough choices. During my first visit, I went with the most recommended doughnut according to Yelp, the Peanut Butter and Jelly doughnut. As I mentioned here, the peanutty glaze of the donut was not super sugary, like I feared it would. It had a strong peanut taste. The doughnut was fluffy, sort of like a dough pillow for the rich peanut topping to rest it's weary head. The jelly inside the doughnut was a nice sweet contrast to the rich peanut glaze and doughy doughnut. Later in the year I returned and ordered a doughnut sundae. The ice cream, courtesy of 3 Little Birds, was creamy and amazing. The doughy donut underneath matched nicely.

Best Vegan Ice Cream Not in My Grocer's Freezer:
3 Little Birds

Best Vegan Ice Cream From My Grocer's Freezer:
Ben and Jerry's PB & Cookies. More than twice the calories of my former go to vegan ice cream, probably because it is oh-so-good!

Vegan Restaurant of the Year
Champs Diner. While I ate better dishes this year, Champs takes the cake because it is a completely vegan diner that offers a ton of different options to choose from. While I liked Dun-Well Donuts more, they are limited by being a bakery. And while the burger I ate at Chickpea & Olive was hands down the best thing I ate this year, they suffer from a lack of options. I guess I am defining a restaurant as having multiple options and not just desserts.

I had only one shot at Champs Diner. Because of that, I wanted to eat everything on the menu. I wanted the mozzarella sticks and the buffalo wings and the seitan asada fries and a grinder and reuben and Philly Cheesesteak. Eventually I settled on a buffalo chick'n hero for me. J-Fur ordered an Awesome Bowl and Z-Bot the mac and cheese.

The Buffalo Chick'n Hero, which was made up of spicy buffalo chick'n, greens, tomatoes, sautéed onions and ranch dressing, was slightly salty. I loved the creamy, spicy combo. What made Champs stand out to me was the mac and cheese. This dish was perfection. It was cheesy and creamy without the weird texture that a lot of vegan cheeses seem to suffer from. The Awesome Bowl has quinoa, tofu scramble, bell peppers, garlic sautéed kale, home fries and hollandaise sauce. With that list of ingredients, it sounds like it should be one of the greatest things I've ever tasted. It pretty much was.