By Gary Nager

For those of you who are long-time New Tampa residents, you probably remember the old Winners Sports Grill locations in Wesley Chapel and in the same space as Ciccio’s Lodge in the City Plaza at Tampa Palms shopping center. You may even have tried the Winners in the Wesley Chapel Village Market, on S.R. 54 near the intersection of Bruce B. Downs (BBD) Blvd., since the Tampa Palms location closed.

But, if it’s been a while since you visited the Wesley Chapel Winners — even if it’s only been a couple of months — you owe it to yourself to try it again.

About 17 years ago, owner Gerry Malynowsky actually opened all of the original Winners restaurants — in Tampa Palms, Oldsmar and this same Wesley Chapel location — but sold them all to pursue other endeavors, including, most recently, as the executive chef at the T. Pepin Hospitality Center on N. 50th St. in Tampa, and executive chef for Puff n’ Stuff Catering, where he was provided 5,000 meals each day of last year’s Republican National Convention.

During his three-year tenure at Pepin, Gerry, a classically trained chef himself who received his formal training at the Culinary Institute in Montreal, Canada, hired fellow chef Kasia Lavigne. who also has had years of outstanding professional experience after earning her prestigious Cordon Bleu culinary degree from the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco. The two eventually began dating and when Gerry had to repossess the Wesley Chapel Winners in November, he brought Kasia in to not only cook the food — so he could focus on marketing and running the business — he also had her redesign Winners’ “boring” (Gerry’s words) sports bar menu.

“I have so much experience purchasing food for Pepin and the catering company that I knew I could provide much higher quality food at Winners and still sell it at a very fair price,” he says. “I told Kasia to get creative and we both think the new Winners menu will appeal to a much larger number of people, but without turning off or scaring away the location’s existing customer base.”


Starting Fresh!

The new menu, which was just unveiled to Winners’ customers three weeks ago, still has many of the same appetizers — including fried mozzarella sticks, “dirty” chicken fingers, quesadillas, Buffalo shrimp and, of course, big, plump chicken wings — but Gerry and Kasia have added some new items too delicious to ignore.

Although I’m allergic to mussels (sigh), I have to say that the zesty garlic sauce that Winners’ new wine mussels appetizer is literally swimming in — which combines white wine, shallots, Pernod liqueur, fresh basil and diced tomatoes — is as good or better than what you can get at most Italian restaurants. I also recently gobbled down an order of the new conch fritters, which are loaded with fresh conch, and assistant editor/photographer Matt Wiley raved about Winners’ new peel-&-eat shrimp. My favorite new dish is the savory herb-crusted half baked chicken, served with your choice of sides.

Also new to start are a made-fresh-daily hummus appetizer, which combines garbanzo beans, fresh lemon zest, cumin, garlic, olive oils, Kalamata olives and grilled flatbread for dipping, as well as parmesan garlic breadsticks served with a homemade marinara dipping sauce.


Fresh Fish? Really?

Because both Gerry and Kasia love their fresh fish, they have added not only a fresh catch of the day prepared grilled, blackened or fried, as well as delicious grouper tacos, made with blackened fresh black Gulf grouper and served on soft flour tortillas with a savory Baja slaw, spicy chipotle mayo and fresh lime. If you doubt that the fish could possibly be fresh, Gerry will be happy to tote out one of the beautiful 7-9-lb. black grouper filets he brings in fresh every week to prove you wrong.

Other items we’ve sampled are the “Just like Grandma’s” shepherd’s pie (layered with creamy corn mashed potatoes, cheddar cheese and gravy), the awesome Cowboy burger (topped with American cheddar cheese, bacon, onion rings and BBQ sauce), Lou’s Buffalo Birdie sandwich, the new wine mussel pasta, new chicken Marsala, herb-crusted baked chicken (my new favorite dish), homemade soups, fresh salads, fajitas and even a new grilled flank steak topped with a homemade chimichurri salsa.

In other words, if you love great food at a fair price (only the catch of the day can cost more than $12.99), Gerry and Kasia have your taste buds covered.

And of course, Winners is still a great place to watch a Lightning, Rays or Bucs game, grab a quick lunch and Happy Hour is actually served all day, with 2-for-1 well cocktails, domestic drafts and house wines. Large party platters also are available for takeout.

So, to satisfy your craving for great food and great service at always fair prices, visit Winners Sports Grill (5429 Village Market), call 973-7474 or visit And, please tell Gerry I sent you!

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