Ybor City . Tampa
Most big city loving transit oriented folks like myself don’t think of Tampa as a respected destination. I’ve been there before and the sum of my knowledge is the location of the airport, my hotel, and which causeway is quickest to Clearwater when I need to upgrade my E-Meter. I know where Raymond James Stadium is only because it’s quite difficult to miss.
But within Tampa is Ybor City, a historical walkable neighborhood with a rich past, unexpected architecture and great food – and it’s linked to transit via a streetcar if that counts.
Ybor City is a primarily Cuban influenced neighborhood just east of downtown Tampa. This was the home and cultural hub in the late 1800s for Cuban, Italian and Spanish immigrants. Cigar manufacturers did booming business in huge brick warehouses. Smoke billowed from the stacks, fellas played cards on the wooden porches along 7th Avenue and cars shared the brick streets with the trolleys. Life went swimmingly until the Great Depression when cigar production ceased. And World War II didn’t help either.
Like many near inner-city neighborhoods it went unappreciated and uncared for, especially after the 50s. In the past two decades it’s experienced a revival with new life and business. Now in addition to cigar shops and humidors trading on the community’s past, the neighborhood is everything gentrification is known for: residential lofts, martini bars, night clubs, a large gay community and a weekend farmers market. (Added points for the adjacent co-op art studio.)
Fortunately my brief stay in Florida was over a Saturday, and my Mom and I were able to experience some local flavor at the Ybor City Saturday Market. Florida was having a chillier January than usual, but coming from Colorado and Michigan we found the 50 degree weather perfect. The friendly locals we met at the market were apologetic as they kept their tents and brochures from blowing away. This was one of the better markets I’ve stumbled upon — almost as good as the Ottenheimer in Little Rock. My specific Ybor City Market picks have to be the seasoned cashews from Lutz Nutz and the coffee from the Ybor City Gold Coffee.
The Ybor City Gold Coffee blend I bought was superb. I don’t care for extreme dark and bitter coffee, but this rich roast was sweet without any acidic taste, (for me this stands out in dark coffee.) Myself and co-workers enjoyed the two bags I brought home with me.
My Mom, who enjoys purchasing overpriced t-shirts from various locales, bought a bright yellow “Ybor City Gold” shirt and decided that wearing the extra layer would help against the chilly day. She then found herself explaining to people that she didn’t work for Ybor City Gold, but glad they liked the taste anyway or pointing them towards the tent.
We ate lunch at the La Tropicana Cafe. (photo below.) Here was something new: I have never had a “Handmade Stuffed Potato” before. We ordered this Cuban specialty not having a clue, (just that it was a delicious potato,) and were served a fried mashed potato with ground meat and picadillo on the inside. I had a Cuban Pork Sandwich, which was just fine but this little fried potato was the most memorable part of my day.
While walking around my Mom pointed out the brick streets have a few different companies that made the bricks. Below are some photos.