Thursday, March 22, 2012

Ybor City - Tampa

During my recent trip to Bradenton, Florida for Pirates Spring Training, my 2 friends (John and Steve) decided to take a little trip up I-275 to Tampa for dinner and after-drinks.

John wanted to meet his niece, who recently relocated to Tampa for her job, and recommended a restaurant that he ate at in the Ybor City neighborhood of Tampa 2 years ago. Ybor City (pronounced E-bor...and...City) is the Cuban sector of Tampa. It is home to other ethnic restaurants and bars, as well, such as the restaurant of our choosing last Sunday night, Acropolis Taverna.

Acropolis Taverna is a Greek restaurant that John couldn't recommend highly enough. As soon as we walked in the door, we were greeted by the sounds of a older man playing the Greek guitar known as a Bouzouki. It was fairly busy for a Sunday night at 7:30, especially due to large group of mostly high-school age boys and girls on the main floor. We asked for a table on the mezzanene level so that we could overlook the ongoings below us.

None of my 3 dinner companions had much, if any, exposure to Greek cuisine. John had been here 2 years ago, but doesn't really seek it out. John's niece, a self-described non-adventurous eater, didn't really know much about Greek and Steve didn't have any.

We ordered an appetizer platter that was a good intro to the various dips you typically see -- hummus (chickpeas), baba ganoush (eggplant), tirosalata (a spicy whipped feta and pepper spread), and one that I was not familiar with called tamarosalata (a lemon flavored dip made with fish roe, as I later found out). This was served with some dolmades (stuffed grape leaves) and pita.

All of the dips were fantastic, but I especially liked the tirosalata. I think I'll reverse-engineer that one back home here.

I helped select the dishes for John and Steve. John's heritage is Italian, so I recommended the Chicken Rhodes for him. It had sundried tomatoes, artichokes, spinach, and olives with feta cheese. It was served with grilled vegetables and orzo. John described it as perhaps the best chicken dish he has ever had.

For Steve I thought he might like the Moussaka. In all honesty, since that is my favorite Greek dish, I was just hoping he would share a little of it with me. Moussaka is an eggplant dish intertwined with slices of potato, the layered with finely ground meat. It is topped with a bechamel sauce and then a tomato sauce. This one had some strong hints of cinammon and a little ginger in it. It was absolutely fantastic and Steve loved it too (he did give me a couple of small chunks). For all of great things Steve does, taking food porn quality pictures is not one of them, so I can't post that one.

Jen went simple and ordered chicken kabobs. It also came with grilled vegetables and orzo. She also loved her dish.

I ordered the Drunken Quail dish, which had a lemon wine sauce drizzled over perfectly charred pieces of split quail. I'm a big fan of quail, but you pretty much have to get your hands messy to eat it right. It's like a giant chicken wing, so you need to procure every piece of delicious meat you can glean from them. Not the most elegant meal to eat out in a nice restaurant, but it was totally worth it.

The food made me feel like I was back in Athens, something I can't say about any restaurant back here in Pittsburgh. It made me miss DB~ the most on this trip. But what really elevated this restaurant to one of my all-time favorite were the ancillary touches -- every hour the restaurant staff would link hands and dance through the restaurant. They would throw napkins high in the air and leave them littered on the floor afterwards. And then to add to the Bouzouki, dancing, and general festiveness there was a roaming belly dancer. I never equated that with Greek, more Middle Eastern in my mind, but it was still fun to see.

This was easily a Top 10 restaurant for me. It was great to share it with old friends and a new dinner mate. The two bottles of red wine we split probably helped, too.

After dinner, we went a couple of doors down to a cigar bar. The cigars were hand rolled by an old man named Ernesto Martinez, but the drinks were mixed by a young Cuban girl named Stephanie. When you're in a Cuban bar, it's time to have a Mojito. A Mojito is a drink made with white rum, lime juice, sugar, sparkling water and mint leaves all muddled together. And if you're going to have one, you may as well have two. Plus some Sangria that was even better than the Sangria we had at Mallorca a couple of weeks ago.

My three evening companions all enjoyed the fruits of Ernesto's labor, but I'm an avid non-smoker so I just inhaled copious amounts of second-hand smoke and got nice and buzzed up. They all seemed to enjoy the cigars quite a bit, even Jen, so they must have been good.

If I ever make it back to Tampa with DB~, we will definitely be visiting this great little neighborhood and Acropolis Taverna. From what I've gathered, Ybor can be a little rough on Friday and Saturday nights, but it was fine this night.


  1. So, you expect everyone to believe that you went to Ybor with a couple other dudes, and stag to boot, and did not visit Mons, or go a little further down route to The Vu?

    You, sir, are probably a liar. A filthy, filthy liar.

    (And not for nothin', buuuut....mojitos are possibly the most "homosesuál" drink on the planet. Not that there's anything wrong with that, as they do taste pretty good, but I felt it was something you probably needed to know before you decided to start drinking them directly from the wiener spout of the giant nude ice sculpture at the next party you go to. That could be misconstrued. You're welcome in advance.)


  2. Bond drank a Mojito in Die Another Day, so it can't be too gay-blade.

    There were rumblings of going to Mons, but ultimately it was shot down. Not a fan of strip clubs. Seriously. Why go stare at a bunch of girls, albeit naked, who you have to pay to crank-tease you? Waste of time and money, plus I'm always trying to figure out how the girls ended up being strippers and I get distracted.

  3. Firstly, "Pierce Brosnan Era" Bond is easily the 2nd gayest Bond just cuz he quaffed a mojito once upon a time doesn't "man" that up much. Did he imbibe it directly from the ice wiener, or did he at least put it in a cup first? ;)

    Oh, I've never been to Mons or the Vu either, but not because I find them anethma or anything(though I'm sure the wife would, sooo.....) I'm just giving you a hard time(see what I did there?).

    And I can tell you precisely why 99.99999% of strippers became strippers: money situation(and sometimes for the cheap dope). Was roommates with an ex-dancer once. She had some interesting stories, to say the least.