Just this past Saturday, Tampa’s premier foodie company, Tasting Tampa hosted an exciting event unlike any I’ve been to before. A group of privileged “party animals” came together on a mission. A mojito mission, that is. Traveling to five fabulous Tampa Bay eateries, sipping (and slurping) on the finest mojitos the bay area has to offer, there would be one…and only one mojito ranked supreme. Imagine a pub-crawl from your glory days…but restaurants replaced the grungy bars, mojitos substituted the crappy beer and the only drinking contest at hand was the ranking of a spectacular Spanish libation. Thank you Tasting Tampa for organizing and hosting this day of Siesta Key rum, muddled mint and lime; “Mojito Madness” was a real treat for everyone who came.
With five restaurants positioned all over Tampa to conquer, Tampa Bay Brew Bus supported our drinking cause, offering friendly and safe driving assistance with their luxury limo bus. We traveled near and far…to Carmines, Samba Room, Datz Delicatessen, Hula Bay Club and Mojitos Restaurant and Lounge, with smiles and laughter escalating every hour of the fun-filled day. Aiding the jubilant judges in our beverage consumption were delicious food offerings at each and every stop. Ranking the restaurants on their classic mojito, creative mojito and grub, there would be only one champion.
First Stop: Carmine’s in Historic Ybor City
Carmine’s was the first stop on the chopping block but they had no fear. Standing the test of time, this old Ybor City Cuban spot is especially known for their famed Deviled Crabs and cuban sandwiches.
Ahhh…the first mojito of the day was officially upon us. I was feeling like a giddy little school girl- anxious for my very first sip. Their classic mojito was simple and sweet, staying true to traditional mojito concocting.
Appropriately named “Thin Mint,” the creative mojitio was a creamy dream of mint and chocolate flavors. A bit rich, it’d be an awesome post dinner drink to share. My friend and fellow blogger, Megan (I run for wine) suggested it was similar to a “Grasshopper” as it was surely shaken with crème de menthe and crème de cacao.
Carmines delivered crispy calamari and a classic Spanish plate of pork, yellow rice and plantains.
Second Stop: Samba Room in South Tampa’s Soho district
Samba Room opened this summer from the same foodie genius who created Boca Kitchen Bar and Market and Ciro's Speakeasy. The Latin American themed restaurant took the place of the old Ceviche location and has been getting rave reviews for their tapas and excellent cocktails ever since.
Walking into Samba Room, we were immediately given our very own demonstration on constructing the proper mojito. These guys knew their stuff. No muddling necessary; for muddling can actually bring out the mint’s chlorophyll and leave an icky taste as a result. Simply shaking the ingredients with ice, the mint releases all of its fresh and tasty flavor. With one sip, we were infatuated.
Just when Samba Room hadn’t impressed us enough, they served their imaginative version of the cocktail. With cucumber and a Spanish fruit called Guanabana (say that three times fast) this mojito cleverly charmed my taste buds.
Patatas Bravas were served in a supremely spicy aioli. Crisp and full of flavor, I could’ve eaten a mound of the classic Spanish prepared potatoes. Also served was a spoonful of their ever so luscious lump crab and mango ceviche. I had ordered this before and almost screamed with delight when I saw it sitting before me. The crab, the mango…it’s all so splendid. (Check out my full review for Samba Room here).
Third Stop: Datz Delicatessan on South MacDill in Palma Ceia
Oh Datz. It’s always such a pleasure drinking your inventive martinis and eating your trendy and tasty chow. Thank you for popping into Tampa’s culinary scene just 4 years ago. With an always-changing menu, wining and dining here truly never gets old.
Datz treated us to their lovely front porch on this beautiful autumn day. With the sunlight hitting my shoulders and the breeze catching my hair, another yummy mojito was the only missing piece of this picture perfect fête. It didn’t take long before Datz delivered their very own version of the cocktail. Unfussy and strong, they proved even a gastropub can compose an exotic muddled drink.
Ohh, la-la…next up was their creative twist- a cranberry muddled mojito looking so festive and cute with the little berries catching some sun as they floated on the surface. With just a couple of sips, I was in premature holiday spirit.
To support our stomachs, Datz brought out a smorgasbord of Spanish inspired goods. Mini arepas with a delectable cilantro aioli and sweet fruit jam as well as black bean hummus served with plantain chips were both absolutely divine.
Fourth Stop: Hula Bay Club- Waterfront/Marina South of Gandy
At its least, Hula Bay Club is a two-hour long relaxing vacation with cold drinks and fresh seafood galore. At its height, this place is an all day party on the water and under the sun where guests, young and old “wash” all of their worries away. With a pool for dipping, comfy cabanas, outdoor water-view seating and an attached casual Tiki bar, this place has it all.
Hula Bay welcomed us with leis around our necks and cold mojitos in our hands. Their classic mojito was pleasant, no complaints at all. Plenty of fresh mint and lime, this day was getting closer and closer to coloring me green.
Willy Wonka admiring bartenders perhaps? Blueberries brightened up the next mojito into a delightful little number. Mint and blueberry were quite the playful duo, making this mojito one to remember.
For a satisfying snack, Hula Bay presented us with a crispy deep fried pot sticker as well as their Island shrimp- succulent shrimp rolled in crushed macadamias, almonds, and coconut, served with pineapple sweet and sour. True Aloha style.
Fifth stop: Mojitos Restaurant and Lounge in the Westshore Business district
Wow. I can’t believe I’ve been missing out on this hidden Tampa jewel. Located in the Crowne Plaza hotel, this Spanish restaurant is gorgeous in its elaborate ambiance and has a menu that must catch a lot of drool.
Mojitos, knowing they were our last stop, were treating us like kings and queens. A full-size mojito they so generously served was executed with care. A perfect final classic mojito for a perfect day’s end.
Looking and listening to those sitting around me, I heard “Ohhs and Ahhhs” with the next batch of refreshments. It was no wonder why. An Apple Cinnamon Mojito just in time for Fall warmed my heart and pleased my tongue. I am still dreaming about that little beauty.
Mojito’s cuisine continued the success when they served us chunky guacamole with plantain chips that almost reached the ceiling. It didn’t stop there; for a plate of crispy, cheesy and meaty yums had just appeared. Tortitas de Plantano- smashed plantains, chicken thimble, red onion and cilantro “cups” of goodness tasted even more heavenly than they looked. Paired with the tortitas were Tostones de pollo- little tortilla bowls filled with shredded chicken and topped with sharp and crumbly, Cojita cheese.
Can you guess who won the Mojito Madness Battle???
3) Hula Bay Club
2) Mojitos Restaurant and Lounge
And the winner is…..SAMBA ROOM!!!!
Thank you to all of the participating restaurants who so generously invited us to taste their mojitos and devour their Spanish nibbles. Big Thanks to Tampa Bay Brew Bus for getting us around town safe and sound. If this drinking tour sounded like a blast and you want “in” for the next Tasting Tampaevent (there are many to come) be sure to follow their Facebook fan page for news and ticket info on their upcoming drink tours, lavish 13th step dinners and more.