By Gary Nager

I heard a rumor that the economy isn’t very good these days. If that’s true, then how come every time a business in New Tampa or Wesley Chapel closes, new places keep popping up in their place? This appears to be particularly true about local eateries, as you’ll be able to tell when you see all of the new places opening in both of our distribution areas!

Check Out Cigar Castle!

We’ll start with one that isn’t new, however. I’m only sorry I didn’t get this info to you for our last issue, because I know a lot of you are yourselves — or at least know — cigar smokers who would really appreciate the truly huge selection of the finest cigars at the Cigar Castle, located on N. 56th St. in Temple Terrace (between Fletcher and Fowler Aves.), only five minutes from the southern portion of Tampa Palms. Owner Atul Solanki is a long-time New Tampa resident who started his business as Beverage Castle (which is still adjacent to Cigar Castle in the same plaza), but took over the sizable space next door a few years ago.

I’m not a cigar smoker myself, but I know one thing for certain about Cigar Castle — you can’t beat Atul’s selection of Ultra-Premium liquors in the Cigar Castle’s exclusive Montecristo Lounge (photo), including more top-shelf single-malt Scotches and single-barrel bourbons than any place in New Tampa. So, if you’re a smoker who also enjoys top-shelf adult beverages — and a variety of entertainment, from karaoke to dominoes — you really need to stop in at Cigar Castle! And, please tell Atul I sent you!

The Cigar Castle is located at 11724 N. 56th St. For more info, call 985-1300 or visit


New Eateries In Highwoods

We’ve recently reported a lot of news about the area we call Highwoods Preserve, especially being the only local media source to report the correct information about Lee Roy Selmon’s closing its doors for good (although the reports now say Selmon’s will open a new location in Wesley Chapel; we’ll update you about when and where when we have more details) and about BB&T Bank opening a new branch shortly in the former Krispy Kreme Doughnuts location adjacent to the old Selmon’s.

Well now, we’re happy to report about two new eateries joining the serpentine shopping plazas located on the same (west) side of Bruce B. Downs (BBD) Blvd. as Selmon’s and BB&T that wind their way around Highwoods Preserve — from the Verizon/Amscot building, past Linkster’s Tap Room, FedEx Office and Boston Market all the way to Starbucks.

Behind FedEx, right next to You Say When Yogurt (our area’s fifth favorite dessert place in our exclusive 2012 Reader Dining Survey [see page 47]; we’ll tell you more about You Say When, which is under new ownership and management, in a future issue), the Taste of New York Pizzeria has been open for a month. And, I can assure you — as a true, transplanted New Yawka — that the place lives up to its name. I don’t want to give away yet how far up my 2013 Favorite Pizza Place list Taste of New York will debut at in my own annual survey of my 2012 dining favorites (and it did open while I was still compiling that list), but I can assure you it already is in my Top 10 favorites pizza joints in New Tampa and Wesley Chapel.

Tell Sam, the owner, that I sent you to Taste of New York (17503-C Preserve Walk Lane) or call 971-7000. And, look for my complete dining survey results in our next Wesley Chapel and New Tampa issues, and online by Jan. 15 at!

Right next to Taste of New York, the Greek Villa Mediterranean Cuisine restaurant also has opened, although it was only open a day or two when I had to finalize this column, so I haven’t gotten to sample it…yet. All I can tell you is that the place looks immaculate and the aroma of both the chicken and regular lamb gyro sandwiches was already off the chain. If Greek Villa also has a killer Greek salad, we’re going to be seeing a few mentions of them in both my survey and our Reader Survey in 2013!

Stop in at Greek Villa Mediterranean Cuisine (also 17503 Preserve Walk Lane) or call 898-8991.


Takara Sushi & Sake Opens

Meanwhile, just south of Tampa Palms, in the Acropolis-anchored Oak Ramble Plaza on BBD, Takara Sushi & Sake Lounge has opened at the extreme south end of that plaza in the same location that originally was home to the Louis Pappas Market Café. Sadly, neither of the restaurant concepts that came after Pappas left the space has panned out, but Takara isn’t “just another” sushi place.

Takara literally looks more like an elegant place to hang out than a restaurant, with the sushi bar set in from the entrance, where instead cool lounge-style tables and upholstered chairs literally invite you to sit down and enjoy hot or cold sake, those awesome Japanese and other imported beers and even some nice wines. The sushi is wonderfully fresh and presented beautifully and the couple of hot dishes I’ve tried so far haven’t disappointed, but I’ll get back to you with a full review on Takara in a future issue.

Stop in at Takara Sushi & Sake Lounge (14913 BBD) or call 977-1062 for more info…and please tell the owner Eugenia that I sent you!


Halftime Sports Lounge Opens Next To Pizza Hut

A little further north on BBD, in the Publix-anchored New Tampa Center plaza across from Hunter’s Green, the new Halftime Sports Lounge (19012 BBD) has opened in the space previously occupied by the Excalibur Lounge in the plaza.

But, while Halftime also is a smoking bar that stocks a nice selection of premium liquors and micro-brewed beers, the similarities between it and Excalibur pretty much end there. Halftime, which was open only a couple of weeks as we went to press with this issue, offers everything from live jazz to karaoke to spoken word nights and also is one of the more elegant hookah lounges I’ve seen in the Bay area.

For more info about the Halftime Sports Lounge, call 910-4102.

Also opening in the same section of the same plaza is The Little Greek Restaurant, which will move into the space previously occupied by Firehouse Subs. We’ll tell you more about The Little Greek ( in a future issue.


North Pole Ices Closes, La Fuente Opens In CC Center

Meanwhile, there’s been a lot of changes in the Cross Creek Center plaza at the corner of Cross Creek Blvd. and Kinnan St., where North Pole Ices closed at the end of November and La Fuente Real Mexican Restaurant opened the day before we went to press.

We’re sad to see North Pole Ices go, but La Fuente has a great menu of authentic Mexican favorites and owner Roger (no relation to Sen. Marco Rubio) promise that his fajitas are the real deal, but we shall see!

For more information, stop in at La Fuente (10032 Cross Creek Blvd.) or call 907-0592.


Shops At Wiregrass Update

There’s also lots of new news to report about the ever-evolving Shops at Wiregrass mall in Wesley Chapel.

For example, right across a now-decked-out-with tables-and-umbrellas alleyway from Blue Lagoon (thanks to our friends at the adjacent 900º Woodfired Pizza & Cafe 365), a new Charley’s Philly Steaks & Grilled Subs shop is set to open in the space previously occupied by The Teriyaki Experience, which closed a couple of months ago. The owners of 900º and Cafe 365 also are involved in opening the new sub shop, which has hundreds of locations from Hawaii to Alaska and even Japan and beyond.

The company’s website says Charley was taking a family vacation when a missed exit brought him to South Philly. His first encounter with a local delicacy, a Philly Cheesesteak, was love at first bite, so he brought his findings back home to Columbus, Ohio and began testing recipes on his college buddies.He opened the first Charleys on the Ohio State University campus and not long thereafter, to keep up with customer demand, Charley began franchising his award-winning taste in 1991. Locations began popping up all over the world, including mall food courts, strip centers, airports and even Army & Air Force Bases.

Also now open in the mall, finally, is Blue Lagoon Island Grill Authentic Caribbean Cuisine. Located next to 900º Woodfired Pizza and featuring everything from authentic Jamaican jerk dishes to fresh fish entrées with mango and other fresh fruit sauces, Blue Lagoon’s menu is unique and the couple of things I’ve sampled so far have been pretty delicious.

Look for an update on Blue Lagoon (994-1526, in a future issue.


Gerry’s Back At Winners!

Congratulations to Gerry Malynovsky, the original owner of all of the Winners Sports Grills in the Tampa Bay area (including the once-very-popular location in the City Plaza at Tampa Palms shopping center), who recently took back over the Winners location in at 5429 Village Market, at the corner of Bruce B. Downs (BBD) Blvd. and S.R. 54 in Wesley Chapel.

Gerry, who has been primarily in the catering business since selling his three Winners locations (Odessa, in addition to Tampa Palms and Wesley Chapel), including handling the in-house catering kitchen at the Pepin Distributing Hospitality Center on N. 50th St. in Tampa, has been busy upgrading the Wesley Chapel Winners’ menu and promises to roll out an entirely new, upgraded menu soon.

“We’re going to be adding some great fresh fish options, additional steaks, pastas and daily specials,” he says. “We’re not going to forget that this is still a ‘sports grill,’ we just want to give our customers more choices.”

For more info, call 973-7474.


FHWC Thanks Volunteers

I also am pretty sure I was the only member of the local media who attended a special thank-you meal for the 85 current volunteers who helped not only get the new Florida Hospital Wesley Chapel (FHWC) open, but have played such a vital role in helping operate Wesley Chapel’s newest and most impressive economic engine.

Connie Bladon, the executive director of the FHWC Foundation, says that in addition to the 85 current volunteers, another 19 are in the process of completing their orientation and needed certifications.

“Our volunteers are a wonderful, diverse group of people,” Bladon says.

For more info, visit

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