Tampa Bay Food Monster

...eating food since 1985.


i am healthy. let’s just face it – i’m a healthy guy! i eat well, as evidenced by my instagram feed. i meditate/sleep in upwards of 7 hours per day. i drink plenty of water in the form of dr. pepper. i have multiple semi-healthy stools every day. and i play ddr to keep in shape. it is not an exaggeration for me to say that i am the paragon of perfect health. hell, i used to kick for the bulldogs!! so yeah, you could say i’m pretty healthy.

that’s why i wasn’t surprised when i was contacted by our local saladworks and invited to have a meal and review their restaurant.

saladworks exterior

it is called saladworks. it is a chain. and apparently it’s huge in philadelphia. and other assorted new englandy type places. it is similar to subway in setup, but nicer and “eat fresh”er. you go in, you ask for a salad, they make it, and you eat it. well, you are not required to eat it. it’s recommended.

this iteration of saladworks is the only one currently present in florida, and it is located in brandon, east of the mall in the same plaza as outback steakhouse. it just popped up recently, and is set back a little bit, so you have to KEEP YOUR EYES OPEN for it when driving by. …you should probably always keep your eyes open when driving.

saladworks interior

the store is owned and run by an extremely friendly, pleasant, and accommodating couple, who have had a good amount of experience in operating other chain restaurants. and one of their children is a carrot, which really worked out for them. the store is deceptively large, reaching much further back than one might expect. in the front, there is a little “lounge” area, in which… lounging occurs, i suppose. there’s free wifi, so you can lounge and poke an ipad. or something.

saladworks salad bar

this is how it works: you get in the queue, you grab a drink (all bottled beverages), and then you are able to either pick one of the pre-invented salads they have displayed along the bottom of the case, or do a choose-your-own-adventure and make the salad yourself, selecting all the toppings you enjoy and none of the crap you don’t. start with a base of different types of greens, choose your toppings (veggies, cheeses, meats, and a few dry options), then choose your dressing. the worker behind the case puts it all together for you, and even mixes it up with the dressing so you’re not left with a giant puddle in the middle of your plate. you are then presented with your new salad baby. salad, baby.

the genius is in the variety of options. the restaurant concept is basically a salad bar, but you are given so many choices that you will probably end up getting overwhelmed and picking a pre-built salad. they have four different types of chicken. eight cheeses. croutons, chow mein noodles, tortilla strips. sun-dried tomatoes, mandarin oranges, nicoise olives, corn, apple slices, edamame! they’ve separated out eggs and just egg whites, if you’re into that sort of thing! seventeen different dressings!! AUUGH!

[check out the salad creator on their website to devise your own salad, and see its nutrition information updated in real time.]

so yeah, you can make any salad. any salad imaginable.


i got overwhelmed and picked a pre-built salad. /: i went with the bently, a pretty standard, AMERICAN salad with turkey, ham, swiss cheese, tomatoes, and chopped eggs. i went with the dressing that caught my eye, known as the “green goddess“. this is basically a ranch, but garlicky. and amazing. also, it’s green, so that’s a lot of fun. i also got a cup of loaded baked potato soup.

the bently

the salad was a badass. the first thing i noticed was how fresh the ingredients were. having been dicked over by open salad bars in the past (i’m looking at YOU, shoney), the freshness of the ingredients really stuck out to me. the “secret” is actually just preparing the ingredients fresh every day, in house. the lettuce was crisp, the tomatoes were sweet and juicy, the eggs tasted like real eggs(!), the cheese was a perfect swiss for salads, not dominating the taste, but playing well with others. the meats, turkey and ham, were delicious; the ham was sweet and salty, and the turkey had a nice seasoned flavor. and, again, the dressing was incredible.

loaded baked potato soup

the soup i was less impressed by. the flavor was good, but its texture seemed a bit off by comparison with the potato soup that i’m used to… not as thick or “grainy”. and for a loaded baked potato soup, i was expecting chunks of bacon, and melted cheese on top. i guess there was bacon in there, but i didn’t see it or really notice it at all.

i was able to sample all the other soups they had, though, and of the five, their tomato bisque and butternut squash soups stood out as the best. the tomato bisque was creamy and well seasoned, with a bit of a spice. the butternut squash was my favorite, with a beautifully sweet, cinnamon/nutmeggy flavor, warm and buttery, and with the texture more like what i expected from the potato soup. i would order this again.

saladmeals 2

my friend got the “make yer own” salad, on which you are able to pick five toppings. she chose egg whites (and was ecstatic that they had them without the yolks), marinated artichoke, avocado, feta cheese, and bacon. she also went with the green goddess, after i ranted about its greatness. again, all the toppings were fresh and delicious, including the avocado (which is surprising, because that shit turns quick!). and somehow the avocado and artichoke make a beautiful combination, leading me to believe that my friend is some sort of salad wizard.

she chose the maryland crab stew, which had a great spice and nice whole ingredients, but uhhh crab stew is gross.

oh and the meals came with little rolls, which were good. my girlfriend sampled one of their wheat rolls, about which she said, and i quote, “i will eat only this bread for the remainder of my life.”

so… thumbs up! the place was great, the atmosphere was surprisingly relaxing (the tables in the back are near a window which overlooks a large lake, and apparently peacocks live out there and entertain the guests for money), and the food was really quickly prepared and well executed. the salads run between 7 and 9 bucks each, and you have the option of making any of theirs salads into a wrap. they also have sandwiches and pan-inis, which i believe is a sort of cocktail. i do wish they brewed their own sweet tea (because, come on, sweet tea), and the store is kind of hard to find, but those are my only problems here. oh, and that crab stew is gross. otherwise, A++ WILL EAT AGAIN.

Saladworks on Urbanspoon

Tampa Food Challenge 2: Big Belly Burger Challenge

my friend corey and i foolishly take on the big belly burger challenge at big belly burgers. this consists of one pound of beef, one pound of toppings, and one pound of fries. that’s THREE POUNDS OF FOOD.

watch us struggle.

my review of big belly burgers can be read here.

thanks goes out to scott lindsey for helping make this possible.

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Big Belly Burgers on Urbanspoon

Big Belly Burgers

UPDATE: big belly burger is now permanently closed, its owners having all died of heart attacks.

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big belly

BIG BELLY. a name that inspires confidence. that delights the senses. thrills the imagination! big. belly. kind of… kind of sexy, yeah?

…okay no. it’s a terrible name. but clearly big belly burger is not concerned with appearances! APPEARANCES ARE DUMB. i can understand that. for example, i have a giant beard, and sometimes when i eat ‘violently’ (which is more often than not), i get stuff in my beard. “stuff” includes, but is not limited to: barbecue sauce, salad dressing, brunswick stew, chip crumbs, cereal, honey, marshmallow fluff, and beans. but appearances be damned! that just means i have a meal for later! score. so i can understand the simplicities of a place called fat belly’s. or whatever this place is called.

big belly interior

belly’s, in brandon, is your average sports bar/grill type joint. the walls and ceilings are plastered with television after television, encouraging interest in SPORTS and other such ENTERTAINMENTS. which i do not care for. but it’s that kinda place. it would probably feel very awkward without them, actually. imagine sitting at the bar, lodged between two anonymous ‘bellies’, with nothing in front of you but a bartender and your beer. what would you do then? talk to those dudes?? nuh-uh. no. i refuse. quasi-erotic shake weight commercial it is.

in addition to televisions, there are a few arcade machines (including nicktoons racing!) strewn about the premises. the service here is friendly and welcoming. while we were there, we were treated to the sweet symphony of power tool drilling, as construction or repairs of some sort were taking place. the server seemed pretty apologetic about that. but it’s not like it was peak dining hours (tuesday before lunch), so i guess it was as good a time as any to do that sort of thing.

fried pickle chips

we doubled up on appetizers, due to gluttony. first up was the fried pickles. i pretty much have to order this wherever it’s offered, because they are all that and a bag of chimps. these were no exception. not over battered, but just enough to mostly cover the chips. the batter itself was nice, akin to something you’d find on a good onion ring. they were served with ranch, the perfect accompaniment. if you’ve never had these, do yourself a favor and try them out.

big belly wings

and wings, of course. wings! these particular wings, ordered medium, were nothing special. they offer a few other sauces/styles, including lemon pepper (my favorite wingstop wings are lemon pepper), but we had to go with the standard for this first meeting. as i said, they were pretty standard wings. average size. pretty good sauce. fried the same way you’ll find at bars across the country. not bad by any means, but ordinary.

and of course we had to have burgers. they do have other dishes at smelly belly, like chicken sandwiches, hot dogs, and pulled pork sandwiches, but the burger is in the name! what else would you go with?

big belly burger

okay, so i went a little crazy with the burger. after warding off the temptation of the “hot & spicy” burger (which features a spicy chipotle sauce), i went ahead and got the classic big belly burger, and then added on: 1. cheese. 2. bacon. 3. sauteed mushrooms. 4. chili. yes. YES. YES!

the standard burger comes with lettuce, tomato, pickles, and onions. also mayo. i took off the mayo and added my toppings (specifying monterey jack as my cheese of choice), in a sad, desperate attempt to recreate the mythic ghetto burger. my friend and i had gone up to atlanta last year, and were lucky enough to try that delicious monstrosity, and ever since i’ve been jonesing (yeah, jonesing. problem?) for another chili burger with anywhere near its greatness. now, that’s setting the bar very high, so it doesn’t mean much to say that i did not reach that goal here. but i did enjoy this mess that i had brought upon myself.

the major player in big bella’s burgers is the meat. i don’t know if it’s the meat they use, or the love they put into it, but it’s damn fine beef. not the best beef i’ve ever had, but damn fine. i got mine medium rare, and maybe should have gone with rare, but the beef was still tender and juicy. the standard toppings were all pretty good. the bacon was kind of lost among the other toppings, which was a bit sad, but it still was present. the cheese was awesome, and the mushrooms were quite good too. the chili, however, the crux of my creation, was where i felt let down. it didn’t have a very strong flavor at all; in fact, what i got from it mostly was saltiness. but it was satisfyingly messy, and i am still able to taste its light flavor in my beard and moustache.

something interesting to note: i had a few bites left after the meal, so i took that bit of burger with me (along with the fries (which were pretty average) and some wings). after letting it sit around for about seven hours, unrefrigerated, i dug right back into it. somehow, over the course of cooling and congealing, the flavor became much more cohesive, and the cold burger/chili/cheese amalgam was much tastier than i remember it being for lunch. FIGURE THAT ONE OUT, SCIENCE!

all in all, it was a very pleasant visit, and pretty good food for a sports grill. the atmosphere was typical for that sort of place, although they do cater to families (kids eat free on tuesdays?). good meat. get the burgers.

they also appear to have a bad bellies™ breggar challenge, which i may end up taking on. only time will tell.


UPDATE: i took the challenge. or maybe… the challenge took me? view it here.

Big Belly Burgers on Urbanspoon

Buffalo Wild Wings

yes. another wing place. I WILL NEVER GET TIRED OF WINGS. so once again i desired wings. and once again it was late night on a weekday. my friend and i were starving, but we knew we needed quality wings, and were willing to go to great lengths to obtain these wings. after consulting the intarwebz, and making a quick phone call, we found out that buffalo wild wings, located waaaaaaay out in oldsmar, was open until 1 am. it looked like we had found our destination.

buffalo wild wings!

after twelve hours of driving, we finally got there. by this time, i had passed out a couple times due to huger fatigue. the parking lot was jam packed, as it always seems to be when i drive past here, so we parked in the back. we went in and had to wait at the host/hostess station for a while before we were sat. it was a rather large place, with two big sections, and a whole crap load of televisions (and two huge projectors). they were all playing different sports… things. now i am not a sports fan of any sort, but i imagine that if i were, this is the place i’d want to be. there was a lightning game going on at the time, and everybody in the restaurant was totally into it. they got crazy. i got hungry.

we went ahead and ordered appetizers, because (in addition to the starvation) they were TWO FOR ONE. now, i don’t know if this is something that happens often there, but just knowing that it’s a possibility makes me want to go back. i am all for two for one or half price or wacky wednesday appetizers. i enjoy anything that can get me to eat more and feel like i’m paying less. so we asked for mozzarella cheese sticks and fried pickles.

fried pickles! YES

if you’ve never had fried pickles, you need to correct that mistake. you can get them here, you can get them at square one burgers, you can probably get them at a state fair. or just make them! it’s so simple, yet so divine. serve hot, with ranch dressing. buffalo wild wings had some good ones (though i prefer square one burgers’), with a thick cornmeal batter. they were delicious, as they always are.

perfect cheese sticks

and the cheese sticks were perfect. they came out piping hot (but not so much as to scald you), and when you bit into them, they produced a long string of stretchy cheese. this is surprisingly rare, i’ve come to find. these were the best cheese sticks i’ve had in many years. i don’t know it this was a fluke, or maybe the gods were just smiling on us that night, but i was blown away by those damn cheese sticks. [edit: this was not a fluke. best cheese sticks in tampa.]

my wings: buffalo dry rub left, medium middle, hot right

and then, of course, came the meal: an order of 18 wings. they allowed you to choose a different sauce for every four wings, so i could have chosen four different sauces, but instead i went with three, so i could get a whole bunch of the standard medium wings (in the middle). to the right of the mediums were four hot wings, and to the left you will see four wings served with a buffalo dry rub.

they were decent sized wings… just about where i like them. they were well cooked; fried and still tender on the inside. but the best thing about buffalo wild wings is their sauces. they feature no less than 14 different flavors of sauces, and in addition they had four dry rubs available. the sauces are all listed on their website, but a few highlights include teriyaki, parmesan garlic, ‘asian zing’, and mango habanero. on top of those, they have five levels of heat for the standard wing sauce: mild, medium, hot, wild, and blazin’. their new dry rubs are desert heat, chipotle bbq, salt and vinegar, and buffalo. so yeah… these guys have got some choices for you to make.

close up on wings. left to right: buffalo dry rub, medium, hot

alright, so let’s take a look at these from left to right. on the left is the dry rub wing. i have never had a wing with a dry rub, although i love ribs prepared with them. so i had to try it out. unfortunately, the buffalo dry rub didn’t taste much like buffalo seasoning. in fact, it just tastes like salt. a good salt, like Lawry’s classic Seasoned Salt™ (a family favorite for decades!), but still just salty. the only thing i really liked about these wings is that it tasted like naked wing, which is something you rarely get to taste (but then again, that’s because why would you want to if you could have buffalo wings??).

the medium were pretty damn decent wings. i would have liked them to be a little saucier, but it wasn’t a real issue. the sauce itself was a pretty standard buffalo sauce, with a solid spiced flavor. however, they were hardly hot at all; they almost came off like a mild wing to me. that was the biggest disappointment. but they were a really good casual snacking wing.

last but most certainly not least are the hot wings. the hot was by far the best; the flavor was not just a bolder version of the medium, but seemed to have its own recipe of spices. the flavor was much more powerful in these, a much more rounded and traditional taste. and the spiciness was definitely present in these wings. it was not too much, but it was enough to get your mouth burning. if i could only choose one flavor, this is was i would get.

i also got to try two different flavors that my friend got: teriyaki and caribbean jerk [neither picture]. the teriyaki was a very standard flavor; the sauce was rich and salty. there was really no sweetness to them at all. it was pretty good, although i enjoy wing stop’s teriyaki sauce more. their jerk sauce was unlike any i’d ever had before. it was very strong and upfront with its flavor; it was a bit sweet and it had an intense after-burn, but the most exciting part of it were the earthy clove notes. it was really nice. i doubt i could get through a big order of these wings, but having just a few would be a good change of pace. both the jerk and the teriyaki sauces were nice and thick on the wings; they were heavier sauces than the buffalo sauces, and they tasted like a lot of care was put into the recipes.

honestly, i was completely blown away by buffalo wild wings. the wide variety of wing sauces, the two for one appetizers, the surprise of finding fried pickles on the menu… everything about this visit was perfect. despite it being located in oldsmar (though there are new port richey and brandon locations that may be closer to you), i will definitely make the trip out there again.

PS: they have a food challenge. LEMME HIT DAT UP!

UPDATE: since my first visit, i’ve tried the parmesan garlic, the spicy garlic, the asian zing, the hot barbecue, the honey barbecue, and the mango habanero. the best of these was definitely the honey barbecue sauce, molasses thick and deliciously sweet. next best is either the asian zing (great sweet/spicy asian chili flavor) or the parmesan garlic (wet and intense… reminiscent of an italian dish). the mango habanero was decent. it had sweet, vaguely fruity upfront flavor with a nice after burn to it, but i would have liked a stronger mango presence. the hot barbecue was meh… it was pretty tame for as far up as they placed it on the hot-o-meter. and the spicy garlic was just an unpleasant combination of traditional buffalo with garlic. no thanks.

UPDATE 2: i did hit that challenge up. watch it here.

Buffalo Wild Wings on Urbanspoon