Day of the Week: Sunday, 10/7
Tickets: $35 general admission, $50 VIP ($10 more at the door)
Summary: 33 participating restaurants; beer from Cigar City Brewing, Florida Beer Company, and Saint Somewhere, plus a few “mainstream” beers; two wine distributors
Verdict: Fun and a fantastic value.
I learned about Taste of Westshore through LocalWineEvents.com. The participating restaurants looked good, it was close (at the HCC campus on Tampa Bay Blvd. at Dale Mabry), and the price was right, so Hubby, Mom, and I decided to go. Taste of Westshore is put on by law firm Shutts & Bowen; the proceeds benefit HCC’s scholarship foundation, specifically for students in the culinary and hospitality management areas.
We had an absolute blast. This is one of the best family friendly events in the area. There were people there of all ages. Some couples had brought their small children. There was face-painting and cookie-decorating for the little ones. There were local artists there displaying their work. Live bands. And my favorite thing: not super crowded. It was very impressive.
Hubby and I went to some kind of food and wine festival at the Trop a couple of years ago with friends who had gotten free tickets. (General admission tickets were about $100.) What a fiasco. The lines for food were insane (like, 30-people-deep insane). The wine selection was mediocre. The venue was not very nice (sorry, Rays fans). We left early and went to Applebee’s because we were hungry and tired of standing around (not enough seating). That was not a problem at Taste of Westshore; we all waddled back to the car. (Side note: Whatever event it was we went to does not seem to occur anymore. Wonder why.)
The lines at Taste of Westshore were never more than 10 people and the restaurants that participated really stepped it up. The event was held in a courtyard area on campus between several buildings. It’s a very nice, open space with some shade and plenty of built-in seating (benches and the like), plus the event organizers brought in lots of tables and chairs. Finding a place to sit was not hard.
The VIP area itself, housed in the (air-conditioned) student union, was very well-done, with some sheer white curtains to cover up the more institutional aspects. There was ample seating in the VIP area, as well as servers to bus your table as you ate. Cigar City was serving beer in the VIP area, and a beer-versus-wine tasting was held there as well, with beer from CCB and wine from Lobetia Wines. (The same presentation was done in another space for general admission ticket holders.) A special parking area was set aside for VIPs. Well worth the extra $15 per person.
Roy’s and Shula’s stations were both housed in the VIP area, which especially made sense for Roy’s. One of the absolute highlights of the day for me was meeting Ryan Leto, their chef partner. I was so excited to meet him I couldn’t even say anything intelligent. His menu and food are so perfect that it was like talking to a celebrity.
Food I tried:
Pelagia Trattoria – house-made sweet corn polenta with braised short rib ragu finished with micro horseradish (delicious)
Coast – ahi tuna ceviche, passion fruit cream with seasonal fruit and shortbread crumb (also delicious, and they had the best presentation of any station, hands down)
Shula’s – strip loin with crab mac & cheese (both were very good)
Roy’s – lobster California roll and tuna poke (excellent, as always)
JusThai – Thai iced tea (major points for using red tea), General Thai chicken with jasmine rice (tasty)
Rollin’ Oats – homemade hummus trio with hand stretched pita chips (one of the trio was made from lima beans – why has no one thought of that sooner?!)
Smoothie King – strawberry, banana, and mango smoothie (I needed something non-alcoholic!)
Seasons 52 – pumpkin & gingersnap mini dessert indulgence (excellent, as always)
And there were 26 other stations I didn’t visit because I was so full!!!
My only real complaint was the wine selection. The featured wines ranged from so-so to bad (the tempranillo from Lobetia Wines smelled like vinegar and tasted like slightly turned grape juice). This was only the second year of the event, so as word spreads I hope more distributors get involved.
I highly recommend this event. It’s fun, laid back, delicious, and a spectacular value, plus you do something good for the community.