Author Archive for Chris

Oxford Exchange Short Review- Coffee, Dining, Shopping and More in Downtown Tampa

Oxford Exchange

420 W Kennedy Blvd
Tampa, FL 33602

(813) 253-0222

4 / 5 Stars

The place to see and be seen in Tampa. This is where the movers and shakers come to hang out. One of my favorite memories actually took place here. I was working in the cavetnous, beautiful central area on a weekday afternoon, when a friendly voice pulled me away from my laptop, “Excuse me, but your tie is askew.” It was the mayor, Bob Buckhorn!

Anyway, it’s a beautiful space, housing 5 or 6 different upscale services specializing in their respective crafts: Buddy Brew Coffee, a tea shop, a home goods store, a book store, an eyeglass shop and the eponymous restaurant.

I love coming here to work or hang out with friends or just to see what’s going on.

The Toasted Monkey – Surprisingly Great Food on St Pete Beach

The Toasted Monkey

6110 Gulf Blvd
St Pete Beach, FL 33706

(727) 360-5800

4 / 5 Stars

I took the day off for my best friend’s birthday to go jet skiing and to eat at really good restaurants. We spent an hour on the water courtesy of Woody’s Watersports and had worked up a pretty huge appetite. We asked the attendant who helped us bring in our jet skis for a good place to get a fishbowl cocktail – he pointed us to The Toasted Monkey a few miles away. A short trip later, we found ourselves at the St. Pete Beach Howard Johnson Resort Hotel, directly on the water. The restaurant itself is a sports bar at the front of the hotel and a beach bar in the back, literally between the hotel’s pool and the Gulf of Mexico.

We walked to the back of the hotel, past the pool, towards the beach bar/restaurant area. In case you don’t know, the weather in Florida in October is perfect: 70’s, sunny, warm enough to still wear shorts and/or a bikini, yet cool enough to not be miserable. We walked through a sand volleyball court, up onto the wooden patio, and picked a table half in the sun and half in the shade of a colorful parasol. The restaurant was just filling up and the seating was first come, first serve. We waited a few minutes before I had to go to the bar and ask for menus. Once I flagged someone down, the waitress was attentive and friendly!

Its a drink in a bucket!

We ordered a round of drinks: a light refreshing grapefruit shandy, some fruity cocktails, and the requisite birthday bucket of tropical alcohol. I honestly liked these better than the hand-crafted cocktails we had later that evening, but their drink menus aren’t online and I don’t remember what we ordered. But seriously, the drinks were good, strong, and refreshing – definitely worth checking out.

I ordered a Bacon Jam Burger, the one with a happy monkey picture next to it denoting a house specialty, and my girlfriend got the Fresh Gulf Grouper, another monkey specialty. The food came, after a bit of a wait, from the kitchen at the front of the hotel and I was honestly shocked at the quality! I’d been expecting beach bar food and I got a foodie experience! My burger was perfectly medium-rare and the bacon jam was spicy and delicious; it paired perfectly with the burger, provolone cheese, and high quality bun. The grouper was flaky and moist, served with tartar sauce on a bun.

Grouper Sandwich

After we finished and paid, we took a few steps to the Gulf to finish off our afternoon, pleasantly surprised by The Toasted Monkey. I’d definitely recommend it for a laid back afternoon with high quality food on the beach.

Anise Global Gastrobar Review – International Bites in Downtown Tampa

Anise Global Gastrobar

777 N Ashley Dr
Tampa, FL 33602

(813) 225-4272

4 / 5 Stars

I had been to Anise Gastrobar in Downtown Tampa a few times for cocktails, but had never actually been there for dinner. I ended up going for my best friend’s birthday last week and I really enjoyed it. It isn’t exactly inexpensive, but I was pleasantly surprised that the quality of the food was definitely above the prices we paid.

The restaurant is in the corner of a residential tower across the street from Curtis Hixon park in easy walking distance from street parking or one of the many garages downtown. The space is cavernous, with 18 to 20-foot ceilings, flowing drapes, indoor/outdoor seating and a beautiful bar area along the far wall. The music that night was contemporary pop and a DJ came in as we were eating and started spinning shortly after 9PM.

Old Fashioned and Blackbird Sangree

We were with a large party and it took a while to get our orders in. Eventually, we started with hand crafted cocktails, an old fashioned and a “blackbird sangree”, their house sangria. Both were well executed and satisfying.

Their seasonal menu skewed Asian last week, with plenty of bao steamed buns and noodle dishes seasoned through the menu with the charcuterie/cheese, tacos, vegetarian options and dolled up sandwiches. They specialize in small plates, and we ended up ordering three types of bao (chili beef, red curried chicken and Chinese BBQ pork), duck confit tacos and the braised pork belly bowl.

They do bao as folded in half clamshells of white steamed bread filled with meat and veggies and condiments as opposed to the Filipino-style siopao (large white buns with filling) that I grew up with. They were all delicious, but the red curried crispy chicken with cucumber and yogurt was the standout. I would’ve been perfectly happy eating three of those alone as my entire meal! They came on one plate, perfectly sized for sharing and my friends and I enjoyed passing them around.

Braised Pork Belly Bowl

We finished with duck confit tacos and the pork belly rice bowl. The tacos were good and flavorful, but the meat was a little tough and dry. I did enjoy the pork belly bowl served on sweet coconut rice with a generous portion of kimchi. The combination of salty fatty pork, the sweet rice and spicy kimchi made every bite an explosion of flavors.

At the end of the meal, we were too full for dessert, but some members of our party got the s’mores with house made marshmallow that looked out of this world.

We ended up over-tipping – there’s an automatic tip for parties over 10 that we missed. Overall, I enjoyed the experience and I look forward to going again.

Bizou Brasserie Review – French Inspired Dining in Downtown Tampa

Bizou Brasserie

601 N Florida Ave
Tampa, FL 33602

(813) 227-9555

4 / 5 Stars

My girlfriend brought me here to kick off my birthday weekend and we had a fantastic time. The restaurant is located inside Le Méridien Tampa, a beautiful hotel that used to be a federal courthouse in downtown Tampa.

Vieux Carre & Bizou Bramble

Vieux Carre & Bizou Bramble

We started with cocktails, I had a Vieux Carre, smooth, mellow, and perfectly crafted. She had a Bizou Bramble which was sweet (which she likes) tangy and balanced. We continued with escargot and puff pastry. The snails were tender, flavorful, and so delicious. The sauce was garlicky and robust, and the puff pastry complemented everything perfectly.

For dinner, we split the Dijon Herb Grilled Pork Tenderloin, and our server, Ryan, presented it to us on two different plates without us having to ask. The pork was well seasoned and moist, the fries, cooked in truffle oil, were crisp and delicious. It was served with a small salad on the side. I really liked the vinaigrette dressing.

Then, after we mentioned it was my birthday, I received a free creme brulee cheesecake. The pricing is exactly what you’d expect for a high-end, classy restaurant. Not at all unreasonable! I plan to go again.

Tampa Bay Local Guide, What’s That?

Welcome to Tampa Bay Local Guide! Here’s the drill: my name is Chris and I’m a web developer with a focus on local search and SEO. I’ve had my own business since 2011 and I currently work for a corporation with a huge online shopping presence. A month or so ago I received an email from Google saying that I’ve been tagged as a “Google Local Guide” and that I was already a “Local Guide – Level 3” based on the reviews and pictures that I had already shared online over the years.

What first followed was a month of intermittent reviewing and sharing of pictures to get me to Level 4; next was this website. I’ve found my passion for food, local businesses, web development and SEO have all come together into this perfect storm to get me excited about websites again!

So what’s the plan? I’m going to review things. This is something I naturally do with my friends anyway! I’ve lived in Tampa my entire life and I have an opinion or a story, that I’m excited to share, on just about any place that I drive by in town.  Just ask anyone who’s ridden in a car with me!  However, some places deserve more attention than others – there’s quite a difference between a random gas station and Bern’s Steak House!  Here are the types of reviews I’ll be doing.

Short Reviews

One paragraph reviews of places like the aforementioned gas station. Google Maps has been encouraging me to rate and review EVERYWHERE that I’ve ever been and I have little reviews on way too many places. I’m not Google, but I am a bit of a completist. I’m not going to be able to “catch them all” but I’ll put some work towards it!

Detailed Reviews

When I write a review of Bern’s I’ll definitely have a lot to say about them, so I’ll go on at length. I’ll be playing around with review styles a bit until I settle on something I like.

Review The Search

This one came to me in the shower this morning and I’m super excited about it! I’ll do a Google Search for say, “Cuban Food Tampa”, then do detailed reviews of each! This one scratches multiple itches for me and I can’t wait to get started on them!

I plan on writing my first “Review the Search” blog this weekend – stay tuned!