Dr. Gary Mormino is a history professor, newspaper columnist, highly regarded author, avid gardener, Italian foodie and venerable expert on anything and everything Florida. He is currently the scholar in residence at the Florida Humanities Council.
An Old Northeast resident, Mormino spent 35 years in the history department at the University of South Florida in Tampa and St. Petersburg. Though he retired in 2012, Mormino, 67, still teaches a class on food and history at the St. Pete campus. The class involves trips to old Cuban bakeries in West Tampa and Mazzaro’s Italian Market in St. Pete, where Mormino regularly shops for bread, wine, sausage and cheese.
Widely regarded as Florida’s leading historian, Mormino has been tapped by The New Yorker
, the New York Times
and NPR to weigh in on Florida-centric stories.
Dubbed “Mister Florida” by close friends and colleagues, Mormino arrived in Tampa in the 1970s. He was raised in the Midwest and got his Ph.D. from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
During his long and storied tenure at USF, Mormino penned four history books, including The Immigrant World of Ybor City
, for which he earned the Theodore Saloutos Prize for Outstanding Book in Ethnic-Immigration History and Land of Sunshine, State of Dreams
, recipient of the Florida Historical Society’s Charlton Tebeau Prize. In 2003, he and colleague Ray Arsenault founded the Florida Studies program at USF St. Pete.
An unabashed technology laggard, Mormino’s reputation for living in the past (he avoids computers and cell phones) and his Mark Twain-ian ability to tell a good story, have endeared him to USF students and faculty. In 2012, Florida Trend
featured him as one of their Florida Icons.
His columns have appeared in the Tampa Bay Times
, Orlando Sentinel
, Miami Herald
and Tampa Tribune
The restaurant where the chef knows his name: Z Grille.
“My wife and I know Zack Gross, the very eccentric, very tattooed, very extraordinary chef and owner. His fish dishes are amazing and we love his famous deviled eggs.”
Best mom and pop chow: Arco-Iris in Tampa.
“The attention to detail they give black beans and rice is amazing. Every grain of rice is perfectly arranged. On the back of the menu is a whole page of Chinese fried rice dishes. At first it’s disconcerting because you think it’s a Cuban restaurant, but Chinese fried rice is not as crazy as it might think considering the history of Tampa. The Chinese and the Cubans arrived in Ybor around the same time.”
The closest you’ll get to Italy in St. Pete: Mazzaro’s Italian Market.
“It’s one of the greatest Italian food emporiums I’ve seen in the U.S. The cheese, bread and wine selection is first rate. I teach a class on the history of food and I like to take the students to Mazzaro’s. It’s always fun to see them react to how mozzarella is made.”