Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Gasparilla Music Fest serves eats as good as the beats

Top local restaurants provide original tastes to enhance the GMF experience.

Posted By on Wed, Mar 12, 2014 at 10:37 AM

click to enlarge Prime rib sandwich from Malio's. - PHIL BARDI
  • Phil Bardi
  • Prime rib sandwich from Malio's.

Music festivals have always lacked one very crucial element: good food. But thanks to the hardworking folks at Gasparilla Music Festival, that’s changing. In lieu of pre-breaded chicken tenders, funnel cakes, and Bud Light, Gasparilla Music Festival once again offered festivalgoers the crème de la crème of local foodie treasures.

Sipping a George Dickel whiskey and black tea made by Fly Bar’s Danny Guess, I surveyed the plethora, and I mean plethora, of really good options.

Three little ones, two boys and a little girl, came hurtling through the festival gates toward the Alessi booth. Pressing their faces and hands against the glass case filled with cake pops and homemade eclairs, they pointed out their chosen confection. Eclairs in hand, joy spread across their faces with the first (and very messy) bite into the cream-filled and chocolate-covered dessert.
click to enlarge Crispy chicken and waffle cone from Ella's Americana Folk Art Cafe. - PHIL BARDI
  • Phil Bardi
  • Crispy chicken and waffle cone from Ella's Americana Folk Art Cafe.

My festival-going cohorts and I split the prime rib sandwich from Malio’s. At $12, it was one of the pricier options, but worth it after just one bite of the soft and toasty hoagie roll filled with juicy, tender prime rib. The cohorts agreed, and the only audible communications for the duration of the sandwich were “mmm”s and “uh-huh”s.

The fact that Seabreeze Trolley Cafe’s deviled crabs were on-site just further proved how hip the team at GMF is to Tampa Bay’s truly unique local flavor.

Last year, it was Ella’s Folk Art Cafe’s crispy waffle cone filled with fried chicken bites, bacon apple jam, bacon, and ranch dressing that whisked away my little foodie heart. It didn't disappoint this year, either.

The Independent Bar and Cafe debuted a new festival item: a grilled cheese on toasted whole wheat with feta, roasted red peppers and basil. It was buttery, tasty, and a lighter alternative to their beloved Indie grilled cheese with gruyere and pears.

Anise Global Gastrobar offered three kinds of Stinky Bunz, including a barbecue pulled pork. It was soft, tender, light and flavorful — especially when paired with their fresh papaya salad with homemade shrimp chips. My love for shrimp chips runs quite deep; finding them made hot and fresh is nearly impossible, and these were done just right.
click to enlarge Stinky Bunz and shrimp chips from Anise Global Gastrobar. - PHIL BARDI
  • Phil Bardi
  • Stinky Bunz and shrimp chips from Anise Global Gastrobar.

For me, this year’s festival foodie highlight had to be the Refinery’s smoked pork and gator sausage with Southern slaw. Watch out, chicken and waffle cone, this meaty delight in a bun is giving you a run for your money. There is nothing better than homemade sausage topped with fresh slaw. Top that off with perfectly concocted whiskey cocktails and good music, and you’ve got a recipe for one tasty music festival.

But no Gasparilla Music Festival foodie’s experience is complete without a visit to the Hot Donut Cart. This is a strictly night-time treat in my opinion, and it’s become somewhat of a tradition among the CL GMF coverage team. I ordered a black coffee and plain donut, plain because that’s how good these donuts are. As I bit into this crispy donut, still warm, The Flaming Lips’ Wayne Coyne mounted a pile of glittering rope lights with UT's glowing minarets as backdrop, and I was certain (even in my limited life experience) that this was as good as it gets. 

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