tampabay.com

No po' boys but Tampa's got tapas

A foodie from New Orleans blogs about his local dining finds.

By ALEXANDRA ZAYAS
Published June 9, 2006


SOHO

When food blogger Kevin Lacassin fled New Orleans a day before Hurricane Katrina hit, he didn't think he'd be gone for too long. Three or four dinners tops.

But days turned into weeks as Lacassin stayed glued to a television in his friend's Chicago apartment, watching a nightmare unfold in his hometown.

Lacassin remembers the relief more than a month later when he saw his apartment building still standing. But as he walked in the door, an eerie feeling hit him.

His laundry was still out, ready to be folded. The last dishes he'd used were still by the sink, ready to be put away. It was as if he'd just left, but everything had changed.

The Columns Hotel bar Lacassin had managed on St. Charles Avenue was closed, and he didn't know if it would reopen. Lacassin couldn't bear to stay.

So he left the bar, his apartment and some of the best food on the planet to live with his friend in Tampa and sell computers in Clearwater. But he didn't leave behind his appetite.

With his stomach as his guide, he found his way around Tampa through its restaurants, documenting every bite on his blog, NolaFoodie.com.

He avoided the many chains and dined with friends at independent spots, where everyone ordered a different appetizer so Lacassin could taste a lot of things. He liked Tampa's tapas.

Lacassin's blog entries were casual anecdotes. He finds traditional food reviews boring.

"People just love reading about stories and experiences," Lacassin said. "Not many people are writing about food in Tampa. There's a void."

When his blog hit the New York Times in a May travel feature, Tampa bloggers discovered Lacassin. Tommy Duncan of SticksOfFire.com asked Lacassin to contribute to his blog.

"The city of New Orleans is certainly noted for the excellent quality and choice of foods and restaurants," Duncan said in an e-mail to City Times. "Kevin considers himself a 'foodie.' So to have a foodie from New Orleans writing about Tampa's restaurant scene is a natural fit."

Lacassin spends most of his spare time working on a new food Web site, TampaBayEats.com, where he will post his food reviews, recipes and dining pointers he has picked up at different restaurants where he has worked.

An example: Lacassin suggests making nice with waiters as a form of "defensive dining."

"Sometimes they know what's been sitting in the kitchen for three days that you shouldn't order," he said.

Lacassin carries a notebook in case ideas hit him when he's away from his computer. He wants to start cooking classes in his SoHo apartment and publish a cookbook.

One day, maybe he'll even own a restaurant, he said.

Lacassin hasn't found the perfect po' boy in a land of grouper sandwiches, but he's found a home in Tampa.

And while grouper sandwiches aren't boldly flavored, he indulges in one once in awhile.

"Since most of the residents around here are transplants, it's just nice to have a food item that's a Tampa native," he writes.

Alexandra Zayas can be reached at 813 226-3354 or azayas@sptimes.com.

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Kevin Lacassin

AGE: 28

DIGS: Madison at SoHo

GIG: Computer sales

TOP LOCAL FOOD SPOTS: Ceviche Tapas Bar and Restaurant in SoHo; Salt Rock Grill in Indian Shores; and El Taconazo in Southeast Seminole Heights

PLACES HE WON'T RETURN TO: Cafe Anna on West Shore Boulevard, which has since closed; Cafe Alma in St. Petersburg; and Sangria's Spanish Tapas Bar and Restaurant in SoHo

FAVORITE MEALS TO COOK: Crawfish pasta and chicken enchiladas

FAVORITE DINE-OUT DISH: New Orleans style seafood and spicy Tex-Mex

DON'T SERVE HIM: Tripe or beets