~ Notes from a New Orleans Foodie... in exile ~
Who is Kevin?
Louisiana Foods
Recipes & Cooking Articles
Cocktails, Beer & Wine
NOLA in Tampa
Tampa Catering
Books & Downloads

by Kevin Lacassin


A New Orleans foodie and a product of hurricane Katrina, I've landed on both feet and have started a new life in the Tampa Bay area. A natural disaster changed my state of residence and you can take me out of New Orleans, but you can't take the New Orleans out of me.
This is my resource for all things New Orleans: food recipes, culture and history.  In addition, you can find my original recipes and a log of my cooking adventures.  My writing here is unedited and uncut... I don't outline or plan what I type on the page.... consider it a diary of dining and cooking.
If you are a Louisiana native who's landed in the Tampa Bay area, you may be feeling a bit homesick.  Check out my NOLA in Tampa page to guide you to the places and foods that will help you feel more at home.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Grouper Sandwich - The Hamburger of Tampa
In the midst of the hurricane aftermath, I decided to drive around the country seeking a new place to live; one of those stops was Tampa.  On a Thursday morning, I woke up early and drove straight from Hammond, LA (my parents house) to Tampa, and I was exhausted.  So only minutes after I arrived, my friend Jason took me to have dinner and a few drinks on the beach at Caddy's (Treasure Island).
While enjoying a couple ice cold beers and looking over the menu, I came across something totally foreign to my South Louisiana heritage: the grouper sandwich.  Fortunately I had a "local" with me to explain that it was a common menu item in the area, and one which he dubbed the "hamburger of Tampa."  After only a couple weeks in Tampa, I realized it was the de facto menu item for any seafood joint, beach bar or sandwich shop (neither Outback nor Bonefish grill serve a grouper sandwich, yet). 
Grouper wasn't something very common to me in New Orleans, but it is definitely plentiful in Tampa.  Many years ago, grouper from the Gulf of Mexico was plentiful, but the uses for the fish were few.  An enterprising fisherman saw an opportunity and decided to make a sandwich out of the fish, and the rest is history.  Frenchy's in Clearwater has the claim that they are the inventor of the grouper sandwich.  Once plentiful though, the grouper was overfished, and now a bit more controlled than in the past.  I would bet many of the grouper sandwiches in town are made with farmed fish. 
This past weekend I had the opportunity to try the grouper sandwich at Frenchy's Rockaway Grill, right on the beach in Clearwater.  Since I was there with others, I was able to try the grouper sandwich in two varieties, grilled and fried.  We also split a bowl of their popular "She Crab Soup," a thick creamy soup loaded with lump crabmeat and bursting with flavor.  However, at $4.95 for the bowl of soup, I suspect they used imitation (k)rab meat.  Nonetheless, it was excellent, and compared nicely to the crab soup that my mother makes on occasion (recipe coming soon).
If you are reading from afar and still wondering about the grouper sandwich, I'll explain.  It's basically a piece of cooked fish on a hamburger bun, topped with lettuce, tomato, sometimes a piece of cheese and maybe some mayo or tarter sauce.  While the grilled and fried grouper sandwiches are the most common, there other varieities such as blackened or Cajun style (just means it is seasoned with Cajun seasoning).  Yep, eat it just like a fish-burger; but take note, this is no fast-food square fish sandwich.  The sandwich usually is lacking in a strong flavor, as the grouper is a mild fish, but it's a staple nonetheless.  And though I am not blown away by the flavor, I've been known to indulge from time to time.  Since most of the residents around here are transplants, it's just nice to have a food item that's a Tampa native.
7:07 am | link

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Quiznos Subs Wants to Be My Friend!
Last week I was a bit surprised to open up my email and find a MySpace "friend" request from a local Quiznos Subs shop.  Before we go any further, let's get a couple of things out of the way.  For those not int the know, MySpace.com is an internet "networking" site that allows users to put up a profile and add virtual "friends" to their network; similar to real life, but not.  Get it?  It was originally started by a guy in California as a way to help musicians network with each other and to showcase their music to listeners over the internet.  Since then, it's expanded into one of the most heavily trafficked sites on the 'net.  Granted, I am a bit old to have a MySpace account, but it does help me keep in touch with friends and family across the country that I wouldn't otherwise correspond with.  It's a great tool, and occasionally you can meet some really good people.
Back to my friend request.  Among the profiles of my sister, my friends, and my sister's friends, I could have the local Quiznos on my list of "friends," complete with a picture of the talking baby "mascot."  Not sure if I'll bite; I mean, how much do I really need to know about the place?  Quiznos must be popular though, as they are up to 2,390 "friends," and I only have 36.  Although it is a chain, it is likely a locally owned franchise and I must admit that I'm intrigued by the marketing ploy.  After all, how many other local restaurants have been this inventive?
Many of you have read about my disdain for chain restaurants and their role in dumb-ing down the palates of diners.  What you may have not heard is my complete respect for a chain restaurant's ability to market a concept and run it efficiently and consistently.  For this, they are beating the pants off of the locally owned restaurants.  If the local restaurant wants to compete with a chain (more on this later), it's time they step it up and look at the business perspective of actually "running a restaurant."  This is where most of them fail miserably.  So while Quiznos may be a franchised restaurant, I have to give them props for inventive advertising.  One day I'll actually have to try the place...
7:53 am | link

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

A SoHo Dining Weekend
One of the benefits of living in the SoHo district of Tampa is an extended stretch of Howard Avenue that is commonly dubbed "restaurant row."  This area, spanning Kennedy to the bay has a wide variety of dining and drinking options, from tapas to sushi to pizza.  Though I lived in a great part of Uptown in New Orleans, my neighborhood in Tampa rivals any area in NOLA for the density of restaurants.  I already have several favorites in the neighborhood, including SoHo Sushi for sushi and pizza at The Deck, but this weekend I was able to try a few new places that will likely become favorites.
Friday night I met a few friends for drinks at 42nd Street Bistro (516 S. Howard).  It was the first time I had set foot in the place, and I wondered why it took me so long to visit a restaurant located only two blocks from my house.  The atmosphere was a retro-cosmopolitan, noisy and decorated with 40's era garb that gave me the feeling that I was part of the rat pack (though I didn't wear a suit or a fedora).  The drinks were reasonably priced, the bartender was good and the food smelled and looked great.  To boot, there is live music on Thursdays thru Saturdays; it's been placed on my must-do list, especially for a fun date night.
After a full day of sun, sand volleyball and ice cold Corona's at St. Pete Beach, we relaxed with a couple of margaritas by the pool before getting dressed and going to dinner.  We started off by meeting my friend Brett and his three guests visiting from Washington D.C., who will now be referred to as the "DC Girls."  The first order of business was cocktails at the hip but confused 717 South (take a guess at the address), whose cuisine touts a fusion of Asian and Italian.  They seem to pull it off well, as there is constantly a crowd of diners, but my only experience was with some bland appetizers and pizza at the bar.  I will give it another chance.  For dinner, we walked down a block to Royal Palace Thai (811 S. Howard), as the DC Girls must have asked for Thai earlier in the day.  There, we tried some dumplings as an appetizer, shrimp and chicken Pad Thai, and a dish called "Amazing Chicken;" boneless fried chicken, sliced up and topped with a peanut sauce.  It was pretty good, but that evening I had more amazing things than the chicken.  The meal went well with a bottle of Pinot Grigio and a Singha beer.  Last, we finished with one last drink across the street at Whiskey Park.
Because Mother's Day is probably one of the worst days of the year to dine out (2nd only to Valentine's day) I decided to avoid any mainstream restaurants.  I spent the morning doing some research of Tampa restaurants for my new website and in the process realized I was craving fish tacos (I can't explain).  What I didn't realize was that a great fish taco was waiting for me in my own backyard at Taqueria Cantina, formerly known as Taqueria Quetzalcoatl (402 S. Howard).  I ordered one fried fish taco with a side order of chips and salsa and my lunch total was less than six bucks!  Instead of dining in, I walked back to my place and enjoyed my lunch al fresco by the pool with a couple of ice cold Coronas.  The chips were light, crispy and had just the right amount of salt, the salsa was obviously homemade and had the right amount of heat for the flavor, and the fish taco was outstanding.  Taqueria Cantina knows how to do a proper Baja Fish Taco, and I'll be back soon to test out the rest of the Cali-Mex cuisine.
My last meal of the weekend was from Gourmet Pizza Company (610 S. Armenia Ave.).  I was tempted to have a steak for dinner, but since I wasn't in the mood to cook, I settled on a "Steak Gorgonzola" pizza.  The crispy caramelized red onions, creamy Gorgonzola cheese and bold flavors of rib-eye steak on the pizza paired well with a glass of California cab; this was one pizza that was not made for beer.  My only complaint was that the crust in the center of the pizza had a tough time holding up to the weight of the toppings.  However, I had a better experience with the leftovers for dinner last night; I heated the pizza until the crust was crispy and it solved all of the problems.  Though I am not an expert, this particular pizza probably falls in the top ten that I've ever had.
Keep a lookout for two things, more cooking and recipes on NolaFoodie.com, and a new web-page devoted solely to Tampa eating - "TampaBayEats.com."   I've got a couple more interviews lined up in the near future, and the positive press has given me a renewed interest and a lot of help in finding the best food in Tampa.  I hope you'll join me on my journey.
7:45 am | link

Tuesday, May 9, 2006

Looking for Good Food in Tampa?
Yes, I AM looking for good food in Tampa and Saturday night I had one of the best meals since I moved here.  A couple of Tampa locals have taken some shots at me on a food message board because they couldn't find any great writeups about Tampa restaurants. Fear no more, my friends (you know who you are, though I doubt you are reading this), I've got some good stuff coming for you.  I actually have a plethora of food writing about Tampa, but it all resides on my hard drive, where it will stay until I can launch my Tampa Bay Area food site.  
Why haven't I been blogging about Tampa on THIS website?  Since I moved to a new city and brought my old web page with me, I didn't want to change the tone of the writing or bore people with reviews of restaurants they would likely never visit.  Rather, I chose to focus on cooking, friends and the perspective of a foodie moving into a non-food city.  Say what you'd like, Tampa is not a food city, yet....
If you are wondering about that great meal I had Saturday evening, the restaurant in question is Ceviche Tapas Bar and Restaurant in Tampa.  I'll save the details for the thorough writeup, but we arrived at around 9:30 to a packed dining room, elegant but romantic, dimly lit but relaxed and fit for a group of friends or an intimate dinner.  The hostess took my name and we waited at the bar over a half-pitcher of their red sangria.  It was well balanced and made to order, full of chopped apples, oranges, lemons and limes.  During dinner, we sampled an assortment of tapas including the house ceviche, perfectly cooked scallops, mussels in a creamy white wine sauce and medium-rare sliced filet of beef, paired with a creamy mushroom and brandy sauce.  Everything was wonderful and we had planned to skip dessert, but we couldn't resist.  We decided to have the flan while at Ceviche, then another dessert at home after dinner.  Overall, I couldn't have asked for a better day - my picture in the paper, wonderful company and a great meal at a locally owned restaurant.  So what did you have for dinner on Saturday?
7:52 am | link

Saturday, May 6, 2006

I made the New York Times!
If you are reading this site for the first time, there is a good chance you read about it in the New York Times.  This week's been a whirlwind and I don't even know where to start;  it's the first time I've been interviewed and written about in a major newspaper.  As a whole, the experience was great, but I've been a bit nervous all week.
On Monday evening, I met Jennifer Steinhauer of the New York Times for dinner at a local Tampa restaurant.  She had contacted me after coming across this site in a search for Tampa restaurants.  I wasn't sure how the article would look, but how much can she really have learned about me in three hours over dinner?  On Wednesday evening, I gathered some of my best friends where we drank wine, talked and I cooked Shrimp and Andouille pasta.  A photographer from the New York Times photographed the whole event and even sampled the food.  It was quite an experience and I felt like a celebrity, even if for only an evening.
So what about the article?  Most of it is pretty accurate, but there are a few points that may have been taken out of context.  It is true that I've never set foot in Herbsaint; but I hardly believe it is "one of New Orleans' most celebrated restaurants."  There are so many restaurants in New Orleans, many of which I have never dined.  I guess it is a mistake of non-locals to succumb to the belief that good food in New Orleans comes with a hefty price tag. 
Although I have dined at Galatoire's, Antoine's, Commander's Palace and  Delmonico, I have yet to experience Emeril's, NOLA, Cuvee, and Restaurant August (though I did have drinks with John Besh at his bar at August).  Too many choices, too little time.  Some of my favorites in New Orleans that I frequented were One Restaurant, Upperline, Tommy's, Bon Ton Cafe, Clancy's and Vega Tapas Cafe, as well as many others.  Great food can include a roast beef poor boy from Parasol's, a fried oyster poor boy from Mandina's, or a dozen raw oysters at Pascal's Manale.
As far as my disdain for chain restaurants, it all comes from frustration.  Tampa Bay has been infested with a plague, and it is called the chain restaurant.  However, not every chain restaurant is evil or has bad food.   I have enjoyed meals at Bonefish Grill and Outback Steakhouse and will continue to do so.  In fact, each of the restaurants began with one location each in the Tampa Bay area.  Irony prevails in this story though, as I'll be at Bonefish Grill Wednesday evening for a business dinner, and last night I had the pleasure to meet and have drinks with the CEO of Outback Steakhouse.  My biggest complaint is that the residents of Tampa are settling for mediocre food, and they shouldn't.  There are a plethora of fresh ingredients in the area and there are many good restaurants, they are just tough to find.  So be adventurous this evening, and go to a local restaurant.
Oh, and if you are wondering about the "Key West diet," it's just a name I gave to several weeks of healthy eating before my trip to Key West.  It's nothing concrete and there is no gimmick, but I believe that by using fresh ingredients, sensible cooking methods, and  the right herbs and seasonings, healthy eating doesn't have to be boring.  Sorry, no secrets here.
Last, my food writing in Tampa has only begun.  I will soon be launching TampaBayEats.com to chronicle eating, drinking, and food experiences in the Tampa Bay area.  Not many people are doing it, so I'm taking it upon myself to help the diners and restaurants find each other.  A mission?  Maybe, but I just consider it education.  Look out for it soon.
Oh, and if you haven't seen the article, check it out via the link - "An Exile on Lean Street, Dreaming of Fat Tuesday" - you have to register for the NYTimes online, but it is free and only takes a minute.
12:00 pm | link

2010.01.01 | 2008.09.01 | 2008.08.01 | 2008.02.01 | 2007.11.01 | 2007.08.01 | 2007.07.01 | 2007.04.01 | 2006.11.01 | 2006.10.01 | 2006.09.01 | 2006.08.01 | 2006.07.01 | 2006.06.01 | 2006.05.01 | 2006.04.01 | 2006.03.01 | 2006.02.01 | 2006.01.01 | 2005.12.01 | 2005.10.01 | 2005.09.01 | 2005.08.01 | 2005.07.01 | 2005.06.01 | 2005.05.01 | 2005.04.01 | 2005.03.01 | 2005.02.01 | 2005.01.01 | 2004.12.01 | 2004.11.01 | 2004.10.01 | 2004.09.01 | 2004.08.01 | 2004.07.01 | 2004.06.01 | 2004.05.01 | 2004.04.01 | 2004.03.01


Search This Site


by Jennifer Steinhauer
New York Times
published 5/7/2006

by Alexandra Zayas
St. Petersburg Times
published 6/9/2006

by Todd A. Price
Gambit Weekly
published 11/30/2004

New Orleans Blogs

Appetites (food)

A Frolic of My Own (mixed)

Metroblogging New Orleans (mixed)

NOLACuisine (food)

Food Blogs

Alton Brown

The Accidental Hedonist

The Amateur Gourmet

Amuse Bouche

An Obsession with Food

chez pim

Chocolate and Zucchini

confessions of a foodie

Cooking with Amy

The Food Section

KIPlog's Food Blog

Knife's Edge - Restaurant Rants and Raves

Lex Culinaria

Mise En Place


Out of the Frying Pan

The Passionate Cook

Simply Recipes


Selected Affiliates

Tampa Bay Catering

Copyright 2004-2009 Kevin Lacassin

Individuals are permitted to download and/or print recipes for their own personal use

"Notes from a New Orleans Foodie" Copyright Kevin Lacassin 
All Rights Reserved