On the Road: More Than a Taste in Tampa

This season, my “On the Road” blog posts from each ballpark I visit will be split up into several installments. To see all of my posts from this visit to the Tampa Yankees (this is Part Three) click HERE. To see all of the posts from my April 2015 Florida trip, click HERE. To see all of my “On the Road” posts (going back to 2010), click HERE.

Before visiting the Tampa Yankees, the advanced intelligence I received regarding their concessions was that they didn’t go too far beyond the basics. And, okay, that’s fine. As the late Bill Valentine would have told you, the basics are what most people want. The basics have the highest profit margins, the basics are what teams should focus on.

But from my perspective, that’s kind of boring. When I recruit a designated eater — you know, the individual who consumes the ballpark food that my gluten-free diet prohibits — I want, whenever possible, to focus on the regional specialties. Be it spiedies in Binghamton or BBQ in Birmingham, I want to highlight the food in a way that illuminates what’s popular in the surrounding community.

And, as it turned out, that’s just what I got in Tampa. April 12’s ballgame was originally scheduled as an early afternoon tilt, but pushed back three hours so that the team could host the annual “Taste of South Tampa.” 2015 marked the 10th time that this event had been held, but the first time in which it was staged at the Tampa Yankee’s home of Steinbrenner Field.

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Taste of South Tampa, held on the concourse, ran from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Tickets to the event also included admission to that evening’s 5 p.m. Tampa Yankees game. Dozens of food and beverage vendors were on hand, distributing their signature items to all comers. Also on hand was Brian Cochrane, my designated eater for the day.

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Brian hails from Patchouge, New York, a town on the south shore of Long Island. He moved to Tampa two years ago, and now works at Hillsborough Community College (which is more or less located next door to Steinbrenner Field). He’s a “clinical supervisor for the diatetic technician program,” which, translated, means that he “works with students who do internships, coordinates who goes where, and offers academic guidance.” In his down time he’s become a huge fan of the Florida State League in general and the Tampa Yankees specifically.

Brian said that he wanted to be the designated eater because “if it’s free, it’s for me.” Also, it meant that he got to “have fun, and showcased on a blog and website I enjoy looking at. It’s great to be involved with something you only usually read about.”

“But, Brian,” I asked him. “Won’t gorging yourself on food run counter to the creed of the dietetic technician?”

“Let’s just say that this is my cheat day,” he replied. “Balance and moderation, but not today.”

Brian was ready to donuts, in other words.

Things started off relatively healthily, actually, with the literal and figurative mouthful that was “Scottish smoked salmon with lemon dill sauce on quinoa salad and a fresh Louisiana kale salad” courtesy of the Rollin’ Oats market and cafe.

(Also, this was gluten-free! So that meant I could — and did — indulge as well.)

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“The salmon, you can tell that it’s fresh,” said Brian. “Great nutrition.”

Next up was “Cheesy Crab Nachos” from Pincher’s seafood shack.

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“I think that there should be more crab,” said Brian. “These are very clam chowdery.”

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From then it was on to crab cakes, lollipop chicken and beef wellington from The Fox “cool” jazz club.

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“The chicken was good,” said Brian. “The others tasted like microwavable frozen food.”

By the time I glanced up from my notebook, Brian was lost in the crowd.

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After momentarily mistaking him for a guy advertising his preference for nearby females…

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…I found him chowing down on a pulled pork sandwich from the Doubletree Hilton Player’s Club.

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Brian, who was turning out to be a tough-but-fair food critic, said that the “pork-to-bun ratio” was lacking and that it was also “kind of dry.”

Things turned around after visiting the Carmel Kitchen and Wine Bar, which offered a veggie crisp (gluten-free!) dipped in chickpea hummus and served with gazpacho.

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“This is homemade, crisp and the soup is pleasing,” said Brian. I concurred — while my options were obviosuly more limited than his, this was the best thing I tasted at the event.

But there was no time to reflect. Brian wanted more and Brian would not be denied. Here we have pita bread with potato salad from Louis Pappas Market and Cafe. 014

“The pita bread is a little rough, a little chewy,” said Brian. “But this has good flavor and texture.”

From Louis Pappas, it was a proverbial hop, skip and a jump to the Cuban sandwiches offered by The Press Box. This had ham, pork, salami, mayo, mustard, pickle and Swiss cheese.

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“They used good ingredients, and the meat is cooked well,” said Brian.

In the first photo of Brian I used in this post, you’ll note that he was carrying donuts. These, for the record, were from Perks Donut Bar and Brian gave them a muscular endorsement. He then moved on to the items seen briefly in the above Vine video — a pulled pork hamburger from American Eats and some chili and chips (the origin of which I cannot ascertain). The whole thing was a whirlwind, really. We had been at the event for an hour at this point and, as it was nearing 4 p.m., it was beginning to wind down.

When Brian stopped by Beef O’Brady’s to get some wings, the servers there ended up giving him 15 or so. Everything must go!

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And that was it for the Taste of South Tampa.

Thanks to Brian for being such a good sport, and to the Tampa Yankees for granting us both full access to the event. Now that Brian’s finally done eating, the next series of posts on the blog will focus on Dunedin. That, my friends, is a joke that never gets old.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

instagram.com/thebensbiz

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