Porter Donation Brings Porter Family Indoor Performance Facility To Life

Local dignitaries and members of the Porter family were on hand on Jan. 10 for the unveiling of the new Porter Family Indoor Performance Facility on the USF Tampa Campus.

Wiregrass Ranch developer JD Porter says that athletics have always been important to his family, so when the chance came to play a significant role in helping the University of South Florida add a state-of-the-art training facility, Porter said it was impossible for him to resist.

On Jan. 10, Porter and his family were on hand to celebrate the opening of the Porter Family Indoor Performance Facility on USF’s Tampa campus. The 88,000-sq.-ft. facility features a 100-yard turf field, an observation deck, scoreboards, locker rooms, a reception lobby and more.

“We think it’s going to be a difference maker,” said Porter, echoing the sentiment of everyone involved.

For decades, the lack of quality on-campus facilities has been a detriment to recruiting, particularly for football, which also has been saddled by the lack of an on-campus stadium.

But, the Porter family’s $5.1-million donation is the first step towards correcting those deficiencies, and a new on-campus football stadium is right around the corner, perhaps as soon as fall 2026.

At the event on Jan. 10, new USF football coach Alex Golesh said that not having this type of training facility is a huge disadvantage, “but I think a facility like this puts you on a level playing field.”

The Porter family has steadfastly supported USF. The James H. and Martha M. Porter Endowment for Alzheimer’s Research was established to benefit the USF Health Morsani College of Medicine’s pursuit of collaborative Alzheimer’s research with the USF Health Byrd Alzheimer’s Institute. In addition, the Porter family started the James H. & Martha M. Porter Alzheimer’s Research Equipment Operating Fund to support equipment purchases for use in that collaborative research.

Porter said his family, which founded a branch campus of Pasco-Hernando State College in Wiregrass Ranch and donated the land for the Wiregrass Ranch Sports Campus, was happy to help, and applauded the team that helped make it happen, which included Wesley Chapel resident (and former Speaker of the Florida House) Will Weatherford, who currently is the chairman of the USF Board of Trustees.

“It was a natural fit,” Porter said. “Athletics and education have always been important to our family, and this was just a great opportunity. Knowing that the right team was at the helm to actually execute the plan made it a fairly easy decision for us.”

Busy Month! AHWC’s 10-Year Event Feb. 5; BayCare WC’s Preview Feb. 18! 

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AdventHealth Wesley Chapel (AHWC) marked its 10th anniversary late last year, but due to bad weather that canceled its big party, the hospital’s administration and staff, and the Wesley Chapel community, never got to celebrate the big event.

On Sunday, February 5, the official ten-year celebration will finally be held. The hospital, Wesley Chapel’s first, promises a “free, fun-filled day of family-friendly activities and health & wellness for every age” from 1 p.m.-4 p.m.

The celebration will be held in the parking lot behind the hospital, which is located at 2600 Bruce B. Downs Blvd.

AHWC has been a well-known and active fixture in Wesley Chapel, since opening in 2012 as Florida Hospital Wesley Chapel, coming along at a time when there was not nearly as much in the area.

“I think we were really the catalyst for the growth here in Wesley Chapel,” Connie Bladon, the director of community outreach for AHWC, told us last October when the hospital turned 10. “You always want a good hospital, (as well as) good schools, safety and security, things like that….Everything (else has) sprung up around us.”

Since opening in 2013, the hospital’s popular 100,000-sq.-ft. health & wellness center building, which is now called the AdventHealth Wellness Plaza Wesley Chapel, also opened, and a major expansion in 2016 saw the number of beds double (from 83 to 169) and the hospital went from having just four operating rooms to its current 12, and from 20 emergency room beds to 35.

There is still room for AHWC to expand to 300 total beds. Since it opened, the hospital’s doctors have performed more than 56,000 surgeries and delivered more than 5,000 babies.

In 2021, AHWC teamed up with the Moffitt Cancer Center on a new three-story, 100,000-sq.-ft. medical office building, a new oncology unit with 24 in-patient rooms and two new operating rooms.

To register to attend, visit AHWesleyChapel.com/Events. — JCC

BayCare Preview Feb. 18!

Meanwhile, BayCare Hospital Wesley Chapel, an 86-bed, state-of-the-art hospital that will open in March is hosting a Community Event preview of the new hospital on Saturday, February 18, 10 a.m.-3 p.m.

BayCare Hospital Wesley Chapel will contain comprehensive medical services and health care resources including: Breast health, diabetes and endocrinology, diagnostic services (including imaging and lab), ear, nose and throat, emergency room, gastroenterology, heart and vascular, intensive care unit with virtual-monitoring beds, interventional radiology, orthopedics, primary care, pulmonology and respiratory, rehabilitation, surgery (including robotic surgery), urology, wound care and more.

The family-friendly event will include hospital tours, cuisine from local restaurants, wellness screenings, a local market, live music and entertainment and a kids village with games, activities, puppets and more.

For more information, and to register to attend, visit baycare.org/baycare-is-growing-in-wesley-chapel. — GN

Gary’s Favorite KRATE, Asian, Latin, Pizza, Frozen Dessert and Bar.

Bruschetta

KRATE: Blush Wine Room
Although some of the locals I’ve talked to about the KRATE at The Grove Container Park complain that most of the restaurants are too expensive for what you get, Jannah and I absolutely love so many of them, I had to make a top-10 (actually, top-11) Favorite KRATE list, instead of just a top-5.

That being said, while there may be a dish or two at other KRATEs that we like as much as, say, the chicken parmigiana meatballs (photo) or the penne ala vodka pasta or chicken ala vodka flatbread at the Blush Wine Room, there is no other KRATE that has a better vibe or better food overall than Blush. We wish they were able to serve hard liquor there, but the rotating frozen wine-based cocktails are delish and you won’t find most of the available wines at Blush anywhere else.

Pisco Express, which too many locals tell me they haven’t tried yet, offers authentic Peruvian Chinese fusion cuisine and lives up to the billing of Peruvian food being the best of the Latin cuisines. Try the ceviche!

In addition to the top-10 shown here, we also enjoy Tacos El Patron, Rhythm Pon de Grille, Shake-A-Salad, El Prince, La Creacion Xpress, Cafe 365, Tasty Ramen, The Fry Room and SubZero ice cream, so in my opinion, the KRATEs are doing just fine, thank you!
2. Pisco Express
3. Ato
4. Bacon Boss
5. Café Zorba
6. Bakery X
7. Chamo Bites
8. Urban Sweets
9. TJ’s Hot Dogs
10. Mojo Grill

Salmon

FAVORITE ASIAN: Zukku-San Sushi Bar & Grill
Even without a great, true New York-style Chinese place in either of our two markets, and even with Kobe Japanese Steakhouse not yet reopened, I believe we still have a tremendous variety of truly delicious Asian places in Wesley Chapel and New Tampa. 

Whether you prefer tasty Japanese, Thai, Indian, Korean or even Vietnamese cuisine, there is something for literally almost everyone to enjoy on the list below. 

In fact, there are so many Asian eateries I love in our two markets, I had to expand my list to a Sweet 16 in this category. Yes, the incredible appetizers, fresh sushi and unique entrées at Zukku-San make it my #1 favorite, the sushi, chicken teriyaki and not-tableside hibachi offerings at Bluefin make it a strong #2. And, while Yamato isn’t quite as good, in my opinion, as Kobe was when it was open, its tableside hibachi options are still excellent and plentiful. Newcomers Ha Long Bay, Tessa’s Sweet Café and the Nepalese Gorkhali Kitchen, as well as Liang’s Bistro, Sushi Café, Thai Lanna, Michi Ramen, Thai Ruby, Oishi Express and Sake House, are quality options in New Tampa, as are Umu, Arroy Thai and Ato here in the Chap. Try ‘em all! 
2. Bluefin Sushi
3. Yamato
4. Ha Long Bay
5. Liang’s Bistro 
6. Umu
7. Sushi Café
8. Arroy Thai
9. Ato
10. Thai Lanna
11. Tessa’s Sweet Kafé
12. Michi Ramen
13. Thai Ruby
14. Oishi Express
15. Gorkhali Kitchen
16. Sake House

Jalea De Mariscos

FAVORITE LATIN (NON-MEXICAN): Pisco Express
This choice even surprised me, but the more Jannah and I eat at (or take out from) Pisco Express Peruvian Chinese Fusion, the more we love it.  

The ceviche de pescado (fish), whether it’s snapper, basa or whatever fresh fish they have each day, is as good as you’ll find anywhere, and the tallarin saltado (shown above with chicken) is amazing. And, there are still at least a dozen other options on Pisco Express’ extensive menu I plan to try. Pisco has, in my opinion, surpassed Lima in New Tampa for the best Peruvian cuisine, but Lima still came in as my #4 on this list.

My #2 favorite Latin restaurant could ascend to #1 if Las Palmas Latin Grill ever reopens its brick-and-mortar location just south of County Line Rd. Even with the Las Palmas food truck’s reduced number of menu options, what is available is top-quality, from award-winning Cuban sandwiches to the roast pork and grilled chicken entrées.

Rice-n-Beans, our readers’ favorite this year, comes in at #3 on my list for its delicious Puerto Rican options (my favorites are the chicken or pork chicharrons) and great bar vibe. Other KRATEs on this list include Chamo Bites, Mojo Grill and La Creacion Xpress. Latin Twist Café, a favorite with our readers since it opened, Arepa Mia and the new Macondo round out a very strong Latin top-10.
2. Las Palmas
3. Rice-n-Beans
4. Lima
5. Chamo Bites
6. Mojo Grill
7. Latin Twist Café
8. La Creacion Xpress
9. Arepa Mia
10. Macondo 

NY NY’s Sicilian pizza

FAVORITE PIZZA: New York New York Pizza
For those who have never heard this story before, I performed at a stand-up comedy show at The Improv in Ybor City at least ten years ago and all of the comics who performed met after the show at this little pizza place around the corner called New York New York Pizza. As a native New Yawka and avowed NY-style pizza fanatic, I was shocked at how good it was. I was even more surprised to find out that NY NY was in the process of opening on BBD Blvd. in Wesley Chapel! It instantly became one of my favorite pizza places in either of our distribution areas and has continued to be at or near #1 ever since — despite the fact there are several other really good NY pizza places in our area — and on the list below. 

In fact, there are so many good ones that it’s really hard for anything other than a true NY-style place to finish very high on my list and there are even a few that didn’t make the list again this year. In addition to the ten places shown below, if I was expanding the list, I could include Best NY Pizza, Capri Pizza-n-More, Caprese House, Pomodoro, Cappy’s, Cali, Bubba’s 33, Rock & Brews, Main Event, Bosco’s and even places that serve flatbread-style pizza on my list, I just felt that this is a really yummy top-10. 
2. Amici’s
3. 900º Woodfired
4. 900º New York
5. Fratelli’s
6. Taste of NY
7. PizzaMania
8. Via Italia 
9. Woodfired (Bearss)
10. Noble Crust 

FAVORITE FROZEN DESSERT: Ice Dreammm Shop
Those of you who love the Ice Dreammm Shop as much as I do were probably stunned that this favorite, with locations at The Grove and off S.R. 54 in Lutz, didn’t dominate this category with our readers again this year, as it did in 2021.

There’s no doubt in my mind, however, that owner Joe Schembri’s Ice Dreammm Shops serve the best ice cream in New Tampa or Wesley Chapel, whether you’re looking for alcohol-infused cones, cups or sundaes served on homemade cookies, brownies and bars or the most delicious array of toppings — although I love a lot of other local places, too.

Before I get into my other favorites, I also want it known up front that I prefer hard-packed ice cream to gelato, frozen yogurt or soft-serve. That’s just me. It doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy or ever indulge in any of the others, it just means that when I’m not dieting and want a delicious frozen treat, I’ll almost always choose real ice cream.

I’ve always loved the different peanut butter and banana flavors at Bruster’s and Ice Screammmin is another New Tampa favorite of mine for those options. I also crave the decadent brownies from Mike’s Pies with the locally made ice cream at the new Astro, but a cone or cup from any of the places shown below also will make me smile. 
2. Bruster’s
3. Ice Screammmin’
4. Astro Ice Cream
5. Twistee Treat
6. Subzero
7. Coldstone
8. Culver’s
9. Hello Sweetness
10. 35 Below

FAVORITE BAR & TAVERN: Treble Makers
Jannah and I have very different reasons why we love one bar or another — she wants her cosmopolitans light pink (not red) and wants a place with a list of other sweet cocktail options made with premium vodka. As the guy who pays, on the other hand, I just want my Jameson and other Irish, Scotch and bourbon whiskeys to be reasonably priced, full rocks pours with lots of ice instead of that hoity-toity single ice cube. 

Treble Makers isn’t the only place we both love to enjoy a cocktail or two, but it is the place we both prefer, especially for dinner on a Friday night, when most of the places near either of our local malls are total zoos. As a New Yawka, I refuse to wait 45 minutes to an hour to get to sit down (or to find parking), so places like Treble Makers, The Grill at Morris Bridge and Bayscape Bistro (at Heritage Isles Golf Club off Cross Creek Blvd.) will get the nod from us every time on busy nights. 

We also appreciate friendly bartenders who make Jannah’s drinks properly and can find me on crowded nights, so Joe Whiskey’s, Brass Tap, Fat Rabbit, Bubba’s 33, the Top Shelf Sports Lounge and Noble Crust also make my list. Neither of us are drink beer, so beer-only bars will never be among our faves, but karaoke & live music places often will.
2. Grill at MB
3. Bayscape Bistro
4. Joe Whiskey’s
5. Brass Tap
6. Fat Rabbit
7. Noble Crust
8. Bubba’s 33
9. Via Italia
10. Living Room
11. Top Shelf
12. Florida Ave.

Despite What The Local Trolls May Say, These Were My 2022 Restaurant Faves!

Despite what some online trolls say, the results of our 2022 Reader Dining Survey & Contest that we posted in our last issue of 2022 were an absolutely accurate accounting of the 400 or so total votes we received on our website and from mail-in ballots of our readers in Wesley Chapel and New Tampa.

And, despite what some of those people may think — and claimed on our Facebook page — those results were not “fudged” in any way by yours truly. There actually were fewer than a dozen disqualified ballots this year for those who didn’t put their names on their surveys and few other reasons, so virtually every vote we received was counted and accurately tabulated.

What I won’t claim, however, is that the Reader Survey results are an accurate depiction of what the majority of Wesley Chapel and New Tampa residents truly think are the best restaurants in our two distribution areas. There’s no doubt that 400 votes out of more than 60,000 households that we reach by mail (plus 14,000 people who follow us on Facebook) doesn’t tell the full story, even though it does tell a story.

In part because I’ve never been happy with the number of chain restaurants that usually dominate the results with our readers, I will guarantee, however, that the places to eat in drink in and adjacent to our two distribution areas that I’ve named on this page and the nine pages that follow absolutely are my favorites in Wesley Chapel and New Tampa, no matter what those trolls will try to convince you of otherwise. Here are the two most common complaints:

1) “Gary only writes about & votes for the restaurants that advertise with him.” — Whether anyone believes it or not, part of the reason I try to sell certain restaurant owners on advertising in these pages is because I already like their restaurants. My wife will tell you that I make pretty good fish at home, but love it when a restaurant has truly fresh fish prepared in delicious ways. And, I’ve loved the fresh fish at both Treble Makers and The Grill at Morris Bridge since the day both opened. The only place in Wesley Chapel that, in my opinion, comes close to Treble Makers’ coconut curry grouper or wahoo (which, sadly, has been taken off the menu) is Grillsmith, and I don’t like the rest of Grillsmith’s menu as much as I do the options at our area’s only dueling piano bar.

But, if you’re not someone who eats or cares about fresh fish, while you may disagree with my choices — especially if you don’t like your favorite dishes at any of my favorite places — I still stand behind my selections with not only my words on these pages but also with my money when I go out to eat.

And, while I do promise every dining advertiser that I will write a full-length Dining Feature story about them when they become advertisers, I do also write about every new restaurant that opens in either of our distribution areas, whether they ever spend a dollar with us or not. The reason I save the full-length features for our advertisers is because we have more than 70 ads in every issue and almost every advertiser wants a story — because it gets so many of them the best results of any local advertising they do, including online. With only 26 issues per year and 3-4 Business & Dining Feature stories in each issue, that doesn’t leave much room for full-length non-advertiser stories, so a Nibbles column item is all I can offer those other eateries.   

  2) “Gary only writes about & votes for the restaurants that agree to give him free food.” — This is the claim that actually makes me angry. Yes, some restaurant owners buy dinner for me and Jannah from time to time, especially after my reviews hit print, but I have never insisted that they — nor have I ever even asked them to — do so. In fact, I always have told any place that has bought more than one meal for us (or even just me) that they shouldn’t do that and I always leave an even more substantial tip than I normally do when they insist on doing so.

Anyone who is making either of these claims (yes, especially you, Troll Jeffrey Brown) is not only lying, they’ve never seen the amount of money I spend locally to go out to eat. I guarantee that there is no one who lives in New Tampa or Wesley Chapel who spends more to dine out for two in our two distribution areas than I do — especially as a percentage of their annual income — and I will be happy to share an accounting of all the meals I didn’t get for free from last year if any of my accuser(s) are willing to do the same. If they’re within even $500 of what I spent, I’ll be shocked. So, bring it, Mr. Brown (as in, rhymes with “clown”).

I love to cook, but my skills are extremely limited, and there’s nothing Jannah and I love to do more than go out, sit at the bar and have a cocktail and a delicious meal at our favorite places — especially when there are a number of items on the menu we enjoy.

But, the one thing I can assure  everyone of is that whether or not a place has ever spent a dollar on advertising in these pages or ever bought me even a single breakfast, lunch or dinner, neither of these two claims is accurate.

With trolls always hiding behind their anonymity, I can’t control what they say, think or write, nor would I even try. What I can assure all of you is that none of those (Jack Zhort, Rick Carroll, etc.) who claim they know for fact what we, and especially I, do with regards to our content have never met me, had a meal or a beverage with me or actually ever discussed with me why they feel the way they do. I may be a “pompous a–” (right, Mr. Carroll?), but at least I’m not afraid to stand behind my words, in print or online.

Anyway, as for my the lists on these pages, with all of the new places to eat in our areas, especially Wesley Chapel, it is getting much harder for me to pick not just a top-10 list of favorites, but even a top-25 or top-50, or to feel confident that every one of my selections is in its perfect place on each list.

For those who voted for Noble Crust to repeat as #1 in this year’s survey, I assure you that Jannah and I also love the place, or it wouldn’t make my top-10. But, despite its changing-by-season menu, the only fish that stays on the menu is salmon, and neither of us likes salmon. We also usually only take out pizza, no matter how good it may be. But, you’ll still find us at Noble Crust from time to time, enjoying the meatball appetizer and a delicious cocktail at the bar. If you do find us there, feel free to say hi, as so many people do year after year — many of whom tell us the only reason they tried a place was because of this publication. — GN   

The coconut curry grouper at TrebleMakers.

GARY’S FAVORITE WESLEY CHAPEL RESTAURANTS OVERALL IN 2022
With all of the new restaurants that opened in Wesley Chapel in 2022, this was the hardest year ever for me to compile this list. I know some people disagree, but if you haven’t had the always-fresh coconut curry grouper or seared tuna at Treble Makers, haven’t tried the filet at Dempsey’s Too since the new ownership at Saddlebrook revamped the menu a couple of months ago, haven’t sampled the chicken, spinach & riccotta cannelloni at Falabella Bistro or any of the amazing appetizers at Zukku-San, try ‘em and tell me you still don’t think this is a legitimate top-10 list. Oh, and I am also partial to the always-fresh Short-Trip fish at Grillsmith, too.   
1. TrebleMakers
2. Falabella Family Bistro
3. Dempsey’s Too
4. Zukku-San Sushi 
5. Grillsmith
6. The Living Room
7. Noble Crust
8. Top Shelf Sports Lounge
9. Longhorn Steakhouse
10. Bluefin Japanese Restaurant

GARY’S FAVORITE NEW TAMPA RESTAURANTS OVERALL IN 2022
Not as many new restaurants opened in New Tampa as in Wesley Chapel in 2022, but many of the existing restaurants upgraded their offerings — including The Grill at Morris Bridge. If you haven’t sampled the new tomahawk ribeye for two (photo) or bacon & parmesan-crusted mahi-mahi at The Grill, I urge you to give them both a try.

The Mahi Mahi at The Grill at Morris Bridge

If The Grill is my #1A this year, our perennial reader favorite Stonewood Grill & Tavern could be #1B (instead of #2), especially after adding its unique & tasty Manhattan Strip steak we showed you last issue to its regular menu.

Frammi & Via Italia also are neck-and-neck for me for Italian food (both have great pasta!), but I give Frammi the slight edge overall for its larger non-pizza variety, including an entire American food menu. Fat Rabbit, which brought back its own fresh fish option to go along with the best wings in town, rounds out my top-5.

The only new restaurant to make my top-10 this year is Ha Long Bay, the mostly Vietnamese Asian fusion place which opened after the Reader Survey voting ended. Also in my top-10 in New Tampa for the first time is Cantina, which also ascended to the top spot as my new Favorite Mexican Restaurant in New Tampa or Wesley Chapel.
1. The Grill at Morris Bridge
2. Stonewood Grill & Tavern
3. Frammi
4. Via Italia
5. Fat Rabbit
6. Acropolis Greek Taverna
7. Ha Long Bay
8. Bayscape Bistro
9. Cantina (CC Blvd.)
10. Liang’s Bistro

 Check back for more of Gary’s favorites by category this week!