eat tampa bae

OOPS... a long overdue review of marlow's tavern

Stacey OswaldComment

I've never thought of Carrollwood as a hot spot for food in Tampa. The only reason I've ever made the trip is to visit their massive Whole Foods, which by the way, puts the one on Dale Mabry to shame. However, I found myself re-thinking that unfounded notion when I stepped into Marlow's Tavern for the first time several months ago. 

At first, I was a little put off by the chains surrounding it, which range from The Melting Pot to Bonefish. Believe me, I live my best life at Chili's all the time, but I was expecting more than typical chain food from this dinner, and I feared impending disappointment. However, my worries abated when I finally opened the doors to Marlow's Tavern and found, inside, a casual-yet-classy ambiance, much like one would find at Bricktop's in Nashville. Marlow's isn't fussy or pretentious, which I love, and while it is a chain, you don't get that feeling when you're there. 

After being seated, I immediately ordered a drink (duh) while helping myself to the kettle chips in front of me. Covered in gorgonzola and piled high with bacon, I found myself in heaven before even getting a chance to sip my sangria, which only served to keep me in such an elevated state. I tried limiting my consumption of said kettle chips, and luckily, I semi-succeeded, because a delicious (and beautiful) plate of hummus soon arrived at our table. I'm really picky with hummus, mainly because I can make it myself and I ALWAYS think mine is better, but I found the hummus at Marlow's to be creamy and flavorful, just like it should be. 


Shortly thereafter, the head chef appeared at our table to introduce some of the main courses we would be sampling. I was impressed by how down-to-earth he appeared, despite his numerous accolades in the kitchen, and his presence only made me love Marlow's more. However, I would soon watch my love skyrocket, as it was then that he introduced the banh mi chicken wrap. Let me preface this by saying that I do not like banh mis, and I would NEVER in normal conditions order a chicken wrap for dinner. But this delicate, flavorful wrap simply blew my mind, and I found myself stealing my dining companion's serving when she didn't finish it. 


Next came the grilled chicken stack, which was a little too basic for my liking. However, that being said, my friend was obsessed with this dish, and it remained her favorite throughout the evening. So feel free to take my words with a grain of salt. We also got to sample the shrimp and grits, which reminded me of the many renditions of this dish I got to sample in Nashville. I loved that the grits were served in the form of a cheddar grit cake (which takes care of the texture issue most people have with grits), and the buerre blanc sauce elevated the entire ensemble quite a bit. However, I would still pick that stupid chicken wrap every time, and I feel no shame in admitting that. I guess I'm a cheap date? 


Overall, I would recommend Marlow's Tavern ten times over, whether you're looking for a casual family dinner spot or a more romantic date night destination. Take the Uber to Carrollwood. And while you're there... might as well hit up the Whole Foods, am I right? 

how to build the perfect bowl at FK

Stacey OswaldComment

Fresh Kitchen is my go-to spot when I want something quick, semi-healthy, and delicious. I live for their BBQ chicken, sweet potato noodles, creamy white ginger sauce, and of course, the paleo chocolate chip cookies. I go at least once a week, and with that 25% discount (perks of working for Ciccio Restaurant Group), it can't be beat. 

I've heard from FK newbies that creating a bowl can be a little intimidating upon first glance- there are so many options, and while that can be exhilarating for frequent FK-ers, it can also be overwhelming if you don't know what to get. But have no fear- your guide to Fresh Kitchen is here. I'm going to walk you through how to build the perfect bowl, so you'll be ready to order without the anxiety. 

Let's begin with that lovely case of juices and desserts when you first step into line. I typically don't find myself reaching for a juice to accompany my meal, but I do often grab a couple to have for later. Cafe No Moo is a perfect conduit for more cold brew (I recommend 4 oz of Chameleon Cold Brew as an add-in), and Slimberry is my favorite mixer/chaser of the moment. Oh, and please don't move forward in line without grabbing the paleo chocolate chip cookies. Go ahead and skip the zucchini brownies (something about the texture is off to me), but those cookies doe. They are everything. 

Now, it's time to get started on your bowl. If you're just an average level of hungry, go ahead and get the four bowl- it comes with two bases, one veggie, one protein, and a sauce. Only spring for the six if you want leftovers or are starving post-workout, because dat shit is filling. As for bases, I typically recommend either a combination of sweet potato noodles and kale slaw or the new cauliflower mash with summer salad. The summer salad also goes super well with the coconut rice, if you're looking to carb up. I just typically prefer to go heavy on the veggies for bases, because I like to splurge on proteins and sauces. 

Next up: (more) veggies. When the brussels sprouts are in season, they are the obvious choice every time. Alas, I've found myself going for the broccoli a lot lately- it's perfectly roasted with just a little char, and you can't beat that hint of parmesan. Mushrooms are a good choice if you get steak for your protein, but otherwise, I like to go green.  

Protein time! Here is where things can get really exciting, because I've yet to try a protein that I haven't enjoyed. I typically go for the BBQ chicken or the new buffalo chicken, because I rarely eat chicken, and they way they cook it is on point. However, vegetarians should be more than pleased with their tofu, and pescatarians will be obsessed with the poke. If you're in the mood for chicken tenders but are feeling health-conscious, their baked almond chicken is delicious. Just make sure to load up on coconut sriracha if you go that route, because I find the almond chicken to be a bit on the dry side without sauce. 

As for sauces and accoutrements, I keep things consistent. I almost always add avocado, and the creamy white ginger sauce goes well with all of my favorite combinations. But I went through a coconut sriracha phase a while back, so I also recommend that highly. If you chose the mushrooms and the steak, definitely go for the balsamic. Other than that, feel free to move right along to checkout, because you're officially ready to eat! 

Obviously, everyone has their own preferences, so I wouldn't be surprised if your favorite bowl at FK is the polar opposite of mine. But that's the fun of going frequently- you get to try lots of different combinations and find your favorite! There's truly something for everyone at FK, even for the pickiest of eaters, so go ahead and try it if you fall within the 10% of people in Tampa who haven't. Even Gronk went to FK while he was in town. If that isn't a ringing endorsement, I don't know what is. 

getting JUICED @ soho juice company

Stacey OswaldComment

I used to be the kind of person who went on juice cleanses. 

Now, I consider a green juice to be a nice snack in between normal meals... typically accompanied by something else, because let's be real, my snacks are never that small. 

Juice cleansing was always rough for me. I tend to get super hangry if I wait too long to eat, so when I kept myself from eating all day, things got a lil cray. I apologize to my college boyfriend for dealing me during those rough times- I can't imagine it was pleasant. 

But alas, I now refrain from juice cleansing and instead enjoy regular trips to juice bars during meal times. In my opinion, there is nothing quite as sweet as a post-workout acai bowl. It's the perfect amount of food when you're hungry right after a workout but aren't quite ready for a full meal. I typically get mine without granola, so I can save room for solid food a little later on. Also I hate granola. Sue me. 

Soho Juice Company has quickly become my favorite place to go after killing a class at CAMP (where I work- check it out here). You can make your own acai bowl, and for a girl who hates eating the same thing every day, this is KEY. Their smoothies are pretty solid, but they also really shine through their juices. I have yet to try one that I haven't liked. Oh- and it's on South Howard, so it's incredibly convenient for us South Tampa folks. 

Here is a pic of my exact order from Soho Juice the other day. It's probably my best bowl to date, so feel free to copy me! I loved the addition of spirulina to the base- it wasn't overpowering at ALL- and the almond butter actually helped to fill me up. Other recommendations include the pitaya base (you can't beat the pretty pink color) and the cacao drizzle (chocoholics unite). 

My mom got the Berry Buzz smoothie, which she enjoyed. I had a taste of it, and I wasn't a huge fan- it's not quite sweet enough, and I think it could benefit from the addition of more bananas or a dash of honey to counteract the super strong cold brew. However, it's still a good option if you're looking for something caffeinated, frozen, and healthy (AKA not a Starbucks frappuccino). 

On to the juices, which I was able to sample before buying (their customer service here is on point). My favorite, without a date, was Upbeet. It's super fruit-forward without being aggressively sweet, and I still felt healthy with the addition of beets. If you're looking for something a little more green, Tropikale is a great option. Definitely make sure you're a ginger fan if you choose this one, because it's pretty strong, but it helps to mask the bitterness of the kale and spinach. I have a weird thing for alkaline waters with activated charcoal... I lived in LA for a while, and it was HUGE there, so I kind of got used to it. Thus, my choice of the Midnight Mule, which is as delicious as it is nutritious. My mom got the Daily Grind, and I preferred it over the smoothie. It was perfectly sweet, and I'd love to start every day with one. Unfortunately, my bank account would never survive with that habit, so I'm sticking to my Chamelon cold brew. 

I also can't forget to mention their cookies. Totally different from FK's, which are much more cake-y, but equally delicious. They're dense and not overly sugary- more like a protein bar in cookie form. I love having one (or three) in the morning with my coffee! 

So there you have it folks. Proof that a food blogger can be health-conscious... sometimes. Just don't ask me to give up my solid food, okay?


BESITO: actually legit mexican food

Stacey Oswald1 Comment

I'm a big fan of Tex-Mex. My parents lived in Texas back in the day, so I grew up eating guacamole and fajitas on the reg. Plus, my favorite chain restaurant is Chili's, and I pretty much exclusively drink margaritas (and wine- but I'm referring to cocktails here). So yeah, it's safe to say that I consider myself heavily immersed in the Tex-Mex game. This also translates to Mexican food, but I've discovered that it's pretty hard to find authentic Mexican food that isn't sketchy AF. 

Enter Besito, one of the best Mexican restaurants I've been to that just so happens to be next to a mall. Typically, you find a lot of shitty chains and generally sub-par spots by malls, but Besito is the exception to the rule. I was struck by the atmosphere upon walking in- their interior decor is on point, but sitting outside on the patio is equally pleasant, thanks to the greenery, fountain, and hanging lights. I would definitely choose to sit inside if I came to Besito on a hot date, but I went with my mom, so sitting outside was perfect for the vibe we were trying to achieve. 

Their cocktail menu is pretty solid- hello margarita de tamarindo with a chipotle salted rim. I'm also easily won over when a cocktail menu includes a tequila menu. In my opinion, it proves that Besito knows their shit and can actually make a decent margarita. However, when I went most recently, we chose to skip cocktails and go straight for nomz, because it was lunchtime and I was ravenous, per the usual. We started with the tableside guacamole, which is 100% the move. This guacamole is next level, and I'm a sucker for tableside preparation. You can just tell that this place serves fresh, quality food, right off the bat, and I love that (I rhyme). Then, we went ahead and ordered three different entrees, because we wanted variety and didn't want to choose. Obviously, this was way too much food for two people, but do I regret it? Def not. 

All of our entrees were bomb, but I have to start by raving about the Budin de Mariscos, AKA a tortilla pie loaded with cheese and stuffed with seafood. Our waiter described it as Mexican lasagna, and that is a perfect way to imagine this dish. I'm a huge cheese lover (aren't we all?), and after eating this, I was able to discover that I'm obsessed with queso chihuahua. It's salty, a lil sweet, and it lends itself so well to melting. I definitely went a little too hard in the paint when I was eating this dish, because I had very little room left for our other entrees, which were also great. But again, did I regret it? Still nope. 

Also on the table were the Mixtas Enchiladas and the Calabaza quesadillas. Oh, and a bowl of soup that came with one of our entrees, which was very pretty, but just meh in terms of taste. I'm actually not a huge fan of enchiladas- I don't love corn tortillas or enchilada sauce, so I tend to avoid them. But our waiter raved about them, so I decided to branch out. These were stuffed with skirt steak, grilled chicken, chorizo, and plantains, and man, they were great. I blame the guajillo cream salsa (whatever that is) for completely making this dish. The quesadillas are a great vegetarian option, as they're stuffed with squash blossoms (cool, right?), roasted green chiles, and mushrooms. Oh, and guess what? MORE QUESO CHIHUAHUA. I was in cheese heaven. 

The manager actually gave me a tour of their kitchen before I left, which was awesome. I got to see everything being prepared, and I was beyond impressed by the fact that they don't have freezers. Everything is made fresh, and you can tell by the quality of the food. This is not your typical shitty mall restaurant, and it's also not some random, basic-ass Mexican joint. This place is too good to be true for its location and its cuisine, and I will definitely be back. See ya real soon, Besito! PS- how cute are the complimentary churros? 

review of SPROUTS

Stacey OswaldComment

Sprouts just opened up in South Tampa (on Dale Mabry, ironically right next to the Publix), and it's a game-changer. Think of all the best things about Whole Foods and Trader Joe's, add in a dash of Publix, and then put all of that under one roof: now you have Sprouts. I was shocked to find so many of my favorite items, from Rebbl drinks to Perfect bars, all in one place. Typically, I have to hop around from grocery store to grocery store, hoping to find a majority of the items I like and ALWAYS over-spending. I can already tell that Sprouts is going to be my new go-to grocery store, though TJ's will always have a special place in my heart. Mainly for their wine selection. 

I spent $100 on a cart load of groceries, which included some high-priced items (think Slow Press Chardonnay and 5 different flavors of Rebbl). I was overall very pleased with their prices, and I was happy to see a great many deals being offered around the store- note the major savings on fish in the pic below. I'm not sure how many of these were related to their grand opening, but either way, it made for a pleasant shopping experience. 

I was most excited to see some high-quality produce, including CHERRIES (my fave) and peaches! Most grocery stores around Tampa aren't able to offer good produce on the cheap, so I was beyond excited to find cherries at a reasonable price. I'm used to spending $10 for a bag, though, so it might not have been alllllll that great. However, their produce is a huge step up from TJ's, and probably on par quality-wise with Whole Foods. 

They have tons of fun, healthy-ish items around the store, and I plan to sample a ton of them when I have more time (and money). This time around, I sampled the Cookie Dough Enlightened ice cream, and it blew my mind. A big improvement from Halo Top, which I also love dearly. And while I wanted to try to preservative-free versions of my favorite cookies, I decided to refrain. I'm planning on baking my world famous chocolate chip cookies tomorrow, and I didn't need to have two delicious sources of sugar sitting around. 

In addition, their cold meat selection is on point. Bacon Lover's Turkey Breast anyone??? I've tried this brand's Buffalo Chicken as well, and it's fantastic. The flavor is truly off-the-charts, and it's made similarly to Boar's Head, so you can't even feel guilty about it. I was also impressed by their case of prepared food, as well as their salad bar. I plan to utilize both in the near future, because ain't nobody got time for cooking every night. 

Overall, I give Sprouts an A+, and I can't wait to go back soon. Like probably tomorrow. No shame in my game.