Get ready for dining and politics Tampa-style, even in the rain.
Tampa is home to countless great places to eat, and delegates, members of the media, and others in town for the convention who want to dine where the local politicos go to be seen should consider some of the following hotspots.
Datz deli is one of the trendiest places to go to be seen in Tampa’s political and social circles. Florida Governor Rick Scott held a campaign event at Datz, and countless local politicians visit.
The menu is creative and the ambience is unique with an energetic dining room; the service is always good. The only downside to Datz is parking is limited and it’s a bit pricier than the average restaurant. Still, this is easily one of my personal favorites in Tampa. Datz will be open for lunch and dinner during the convention, with the exception of Monday night – closed for a private VIP party (they wouldn’t say for whom).
The bar has 36 craft beers on tap (my favorite is the locally brewed Cigar City Jai Alai) and Datz’s bar will be open every night after the convention with a limited late night menu.
Location: 2616 South MacDill Ave., outside of the security zone, about 2.5 miles from the Tampa Bay Times Forum.
The Tropicana in Ybor City pulls in a lot of politicos as well as Tampa media types (the publisher of LaGaceta, the nation’s only tri-lingual newspaper has his own reserved table at the Tropicana). The authentic Cuban food is fantastic, but don’t come here if you’re in a hurry, as the service is painfully slow.
Location: 1822 East 7th Avenue, outside of the security zone, about two miles from the Forum.
Mis en Place is located in an old bank building built in the 1920s right across the street from the University of Tampa and its landmark minarets. This is the Tampa power-brokers’ place to be seen. The restaurant has hosted campaign kick-offs for numerous politicos including Tampa’s mayor, Bob Buckhorn.
In addition to being in a great location with tasteful décor, Mise en Place is arguably the best restaurant in Tampa. The establishment serves “modern American” cuisine with a menu that changes weekly. The wine list is noted as being “eclectic” and includes a large selection of “green” wines. The service is impeccable. As you would expect, Mise en Place is pricey. Make your reservations early.
Location: 442 West Kennedy Blvd., just outside the security zone, and only a half-mile from the Forum.
Tampa’s two most famous restaurants are the Columbia in Ybor City (Florida’s oldest restaurant) and Bern’s steakhouse (home to the largest wine list of any restaurant in America). The food is good at both, though I don’t think you can get authentic Cuban food in a place that can seat 1,700 people as the Columbia can.
As for Bern’s the red-velvet décor and tacky statues are a turn-off but the food is good. Actually, for steak in Tampa, I like Charlie’s better than Bern’s, but you’ll be satisfied at either place. Bern’s mouthwatering desert room should not be missed (no reservations needed, but they foolishly are not extending regular hours during the convention – last seating is at 10:30 p.m.). You’re likely to see politicos, power-brokers and assorted wannabes at either place.
Locations: Bern’s is at 1208 South Howard Ave. Columbia is located at 2117 East 7th Ave., both are outside the security zone and are about two miles from the Forum.
Tampa is famous for inventing the Cuban sandwich (sorry Miami) and if you want to try one, go authentic. That means follow two rules: 1) don’t put lettuce and tomato on it and, 2) get one made by a Cuban.
To ensure you’re following rule #2, follow these guidelines: you must be in a restaurant with a name ending with the words “sandwich shop.” Said sandwich shop should be located in a ratty building that looks like it used to be someone’s house, wherein when you enter, you quickly decide you’d rather not see the kitchen.
Also know that if you pay more than $5.00 for a Cuban, you’re getting ripped off, and it isn’t real. Find the real thing at places such as La Ideal Sandwich Shop at 2924 W. Tampa Bay Blvd., West Tampa Sandwich Shop at 3904 North Armenia Avenue, or my personal favorite, Aguila Sandwich Shop at 3200 West Hillsborough Avenue.
With tropical storm Isaac looming in the gulf, there will be countless bars offering a variety of "hurricane" cocktails. Still, the storm is unlikely to disrupt beyond Monday and Tampa's restaurants and bars are ready to serve.
Chris Ingram is a Republican consultant, political analyst for Bay News 9, and writes a weekly political column for the Tampa Tribune. Reach him at Chris@411communications.com