Literary City Guide | Tampa, FL
Tour Guide: Cassie Childs
Cassie is a California native now living in South Tampa, FL for almost four years. She attends University of South Florida where she is working towards a PhD in English. Happily, and unsurprisingly, her dissertation focuses on women writing about food and travel, combining both her literary and “real life” interests.
Relationship to Tampa: Student since 2010; official resident since 2013.
Writer you'd like to invite to dinner: Eliza Haywood (eighteenth-century author) and Virgina Woolf
Chef you'd like to prepare the meal: Yotam Ottolenghi
Writing soundtrack: Jane Austen movie soundtracks on Spotify
Pen or Pencil: Pen for note-taking and pencil for writing in the margins of books
Coffee or Tea: Coffee in the morning, but tea throughout the day
Paperback or Hardback: Paperback, except for my vintage hardbacks
Inkwood Books. A local independent bookstore perfect for buying new books and attending author events. The staff is knowledgeable and helpful, and the literary events should not be missed (they recently hosted Tim Federle, author of Tequila Mockingbird: Cocktails with a Literary Twist, with cocktails from the book!).
Old Tampa Book Company. This store is a real gem and one of the best bookstores to spend hours browsing at (and drooling over) the used, rare, and out of print collection. The store buys books if you need to downsize your private collection and also holds events, sales, and book signings.
Mojo Books & Music. If you seek books (used and new), music, and coffee, this is your place. Located near University of South Florida, this store offers something for everyone and is a favorite of local students.
READINGS AND CONFERENCES
University of South Florida. The Creative Writing Program and Humanities Institute abound with literary events, including year-round readings by MFA students and professors, National Poetry Month competitions and readings, local and international author readings, and the English Department’s own literary journal, Saw Palm. The journal focuses on Florida authors and themes, and hosts an annual release party.
Downtown Tampa. Located near Curtis Hixon Park, The Straz Center hosts a variety of performances and has been a venue for such authors as David Sedaris and Alton Brown. If you go to only one place in Tampa, it must be the iconic Tampa Theater; open since 1926, the theater is an incredible landmark that celebrates Tampa’s past, present, and future.
Bookstores. Tampa plays host to many readings, and Inkwood Books and Old Tampa Book Company guarantee interesting events.
“Oh to be a pear tree – any tree in bloom! With kissing bees singing of the beginning of the world!”
―Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God
Café Hey. Strong coffee and tea drinks, pressed sandwiches, and vegan cookies? Yes please! Café Hey provides a comfortable atmosphere, tasty food, and free WIFI, which are only a few reasons why this local coffee shop is a favorite for those who live or work close to downtown. At night they have live music, open mic, and an excellent beer and wine selection.
Oxford Exchange. Tampa offers nothing else like this remarkable coffee shop/tea shop/restaurant/bookstore/home shop in beautifully restored horse stables. The location houses both Buddy Brew Coffee and TeBella Tea Company (both of which have independent shops separate from Oxford Exchange), as well as a restaurant for breakfast, weekend brunch, lunch, and afternoon tea. One entrance takes you through a delightful bookstore, which contains a small, yet thoughtful, collection of new releases, classics, and books with rare and unique covers. They organize the books in untraditional ways, ranging from “American Authors can Write Too” to “Complicated Women.”
Felicitous and Kaleisia Tea. Students frequent two local cafés: Felicitous and Kaleisia Tea. Felicitous, a transformed home, houses an eclectic mix of tables and seating perfect for hosting open mic nights and USF creative writing events. Don’t miss the iced coffee with coffee ice cubes! Kaleisia offers more than 100 types of loose leaf tea, a menu of delicious food, and a true sense of community. Bonus: on Tuesday evenings they host the Twilight Market with a variety of local food and goods vendors.
A PROPER MEAL
Pinky’s Diner. A neighborhood staple. Tampa residents consistently vote this diner as the Best in the Bay for breakfast and brunch—and Pinky’s deserves the accolades. The self-serve coffee, and chef Jacob’s bacon and weekend specials are spot-on. They are known for their benedicts, but the frittatas and huevos rancheros (when they have them!) are delicious. While you wait, check out the stocked bookshelf in the back or go next door to owner Cary’s unique gift shop, Pinky’s Annex. Tip: the counter and outside seats are first-come, first-serve, and the best way to get to know the servers.
Pane Rustica. This bakery and café began as a small bakery that has since grown into a popular restaurant and bar. Some of the best bread and desserts can be found here, but lunch and dinner are delicious. Go for lunch and order the “Shut Up & Eat, don’t ask… You’ll love it!!!” from the specials menu. Other highlights include the hamburgers and wood oven flatbreads. Sit at the bar, talk to the bartenders, and enjoy one of the best martinis in town.
The Refinery. Greg Baker’s weekly rotating menu offers locally sourced food and surprising combinations. Chef Baker and the restaurant have received many awards and recognitions, including James Beard semi finalist for three years, and Best Restaurant and Chef for Best of the Bay. The dinner menu (posted on Thursdays) provides a variety of options for vegans and meat-lovers. Go for Happy Hour, sit on the newly renovated outdoor deck, and try the selected $5 plates with a local craft beer. The seasonal brunch menu is oh-so-good—the Daddy’s Favorite (biscuits and gravy) is exactly how you should begin your Sunday.
Mad Dog and the Englishmen. A popular English pub that knows how to pour a great Guinness and provides outdoor dining for the sunny Tampa weather. The location begs for a leisurely lunch with a pint (or two. . . ). While the menu contains classic pub food and a variety of entrees, the steak sandwich with Stilton fondue and the shepherd’s pie are continual favorites. This pub is a neighborhood institution, celebrating over 20 years in South Tampa.
Saigon Deli. While the location of this Vietnamese restaurant may be a bit out of the way, the drive is worth it. Not only are the pho and báhn mì sandwiches cheap, they are spectacular. Just eat here.
Craft Beer. If a treat for you involves less chocolate and more hops, the craft beer in Tampa satisfies the craving. The craft beer movement continues to thrive in the Tampa Bay area with St. Petersburg, Dunedin, and Tampa all boasting fantastic local breweries and brew makers. After a day of working or writing, visit Southern Brewing & Winemaking and Cigar City Brewing. Southern, “the ultimate playground for homebrewers and winemakers,” delivers a variety of their own beers on tap and a beer garden to enjoy your beverage. Bonus: on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays they host different local food trucks and live music. Cigar City combines Tampa heritage and some of the best beer in Florida. They recently expanded their tasting room, and their canned beers—especially the Jai Alai IPA—barely last on the shelves. Food trucks also park at this brewery on most days.
Bern’s Dessert Room. A classic institution in Tampa. Located on the second floor of Bern’s Steak House, the Harry Waugh Dessert Room provides a decadent and delicious post-dinner treat. The dessert menu (a book-length menu!) contains desserts, wines, and spirits. The room is divided into booths constructed from wine barrels and each booth controls its own stereo system (be sure to call the pianist from the booth’s phone and request a song). Some of the must-try desserts include the Macadamia Nut Ice Cream and Chocolate Peanut Butter Truffle.
Wright’s Gourmet House. The sandwiches at this deli lead to long lines (worth the wait), but for a treat try the desserts: as they claim, “You haven’t lived ‘til you’ve treated yourself to one of our extravagant desserts.” The menu consists of cupcakes, pies, cookies, and cakes. The pecan pie, red velvet cupcakes, and chocolate cake are favorites. Bring a dessert from Wright’s to a party and instantly become the most popular person in the room (in my experience. . .).
Cassie's 5 Favorites
2. Favorite place to write: If possible, at my desk at home; but, when home is too distracting, I love the atmosphere—and a good scone—at Oxford Exchange.
3. Favorite museum: The Tampa Museum of Art has wonderful rotating exhibitions and is perfectly located next to Curtis Hixon.
4. Favorite coffee shop: If I am looking for a great cup of coffee, hands down I crave Buddy Brew. If I want to feel transported to London, I spend time at Oxford Exchange.
5. Favorite thing about your town: It has so much more to offer than I expected. Tampa often defies Florida stereotypes and surprises me with great food, drinks, and things to do.