Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Tasty Tour: Tampa (Ybor City, actually)

By Jeff Burns

One hundred fifty years ago, there wasn’t much to Tampa Florida.  It consisted of a few hundred people looking to scratch out a living the best way they could.  However, in the late 1800s, things started coming together.  Henry Plant, an eastern railroad magnate saw the potential Tampa had:  a natural harbor and nice climate, so he built railroads connecting the region to the north.  Then, a visionary named Vincente Martinez-Ybor saw the potential and built the city on cigars.  That’s the story I learned from taking a history and food walking tour of Ybor City, the core of historic Tampa.  The tour is one of several tours offered by Ybor City Food Tours .

Vincente Martinez-Ybor was a Cuban cigar maker, born in Spain, who purchased swamp land and transformed it into the world’s largest cigar company  and a thriving community that may well have been the greatest example ever of an American melting pot.  Workers and came from around the world and lived, worked, and socialized in Ybor City. Many think of Ybor City as a Cuban enclave, but there were not only Cubans, but also Spaniards, Italians, Sicilians, Germans, Romanians, and Americans, black and white, among others who built the city.

Our tour was the Original Ybor City Food Tour, billed as a two-hour tour that lasted closer to three.  Along with learning the history of Ybor City, we enjoyed special treats in various restaurants along the route.  It’s kind of like a progressive dinner.  We started with chicken wings at the Tampa Bay Brewing Company, then a huge slice of cheese pizza at New York, New York Pizzeria, a Cuban sandwich (voted best Cuban from Miami to Tampa multiple times – and it has my vote), black beans and rice at Gaspar’s Grotto, and key lime pie from Green Iguana and Cuban coffee at Nicahabana Cigars, one of a dozen or so traditional hand-rolled cigar shops still operating in Ybor City.  Like most of the cigar shops, Nicahabana offers Cuban coffee and espressos.  (Unfortunately, their machine was out of order when we were there, so no coffee.) The food was fantastic at every stop, and we were all more than satisfied.