Seminole Heights

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Seminole Heights’ seal, which depicts a two-headed alligator“The Thirsty Thursday Throng” is Seminole Heights’ regular weekly gathering at a local bar to conversation, camaraderie, and craft beer. We were regulars at this event, at least until staying at home became the smart play.

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Our usual venue is Ella’s Americana Folk Art Café, but we occasionally shake things up by getting together at some other place in the neighborhood. That was the case the last time we got together in person (Thursday, March 12th), when we decided to gather at New World Brewery’s  new location. They used to be in Ybor City, but had to relocate when the spot they were on got turned into condos. Ybor’s loss is Seminole Heights’ gain, and in the process, they got a nice large space, and it’s a quick Lyft or bike ride away from our place.

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We’re looking forward to getting back together with all the local (ir)regulars, and if you’re in the area once things get closer to what passes for normal, we’d love to see you there!

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Produce Wagon: A new gem in Seminole Heights

by Joey deVilla on May 16, 2020

Wide-angle photo of the Produce Wagon from its left side, with Fabiola in a lawn chair behind the wagon, a large oak tree and house in the background, and Joey’s light blue bicycle on the right.

Produce Wagon. Photo by Joey deVilla.
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Seminole Heights’ seal, which depicts a two-headed alligator

“Is that new?” I wondered when I first biked past Produce Wagon at the corner of E. Crawford and N. 13th Avenue a couple of weeks ago. The red wooden wagon with the cheerful sign is only a few blocks from our house, and I’d been biking right by it for a few days. Yesterday, I went there when they were open (at that location, they’re open on Tuesdays and Fridays from 9:00 to 11:00 a.m.).

Wide-angle photo of the Produce Wagon from its right side, with Joey’s light blue bicycle in the foreground, and their whiteboard price list to the right.

Produce Wagon. Photo by Joey deVilla.
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I was greeted warmly by Patti Mars and Fabiola Garcia, the proprietors. I asked them if they’d just started because I hadn’t seem them before (we’ve been in our new house for a year now), and since their wagon and sign looked pretty new. Patti told me that they’d only been running Produce Wagon for a couple of weeks, but that Fabiola comes from a family with three generations’ experience in selling produce.

Closer-up photo of the Produce Wagon, showing its basket of apples, strawberries, eggs, mangoes, oranges, mushrooms, and bananas.

Produce Wagon. Photo by Joey deVilla.
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According to this Patch.com article, Patti and Fabiola had been thinking about opening a produce stand for months, but couldn’t find the right location at the right price. They shelved the idea until they heard an NPR report about how people aren’t eating as much fresh produce because they’ve been going to the grocery less often due to the pandemic. That’s when they decided to resurrect the produce stand idea and provide a way for people in the neighborhood to get fresh fruits and vegetables. Their produce comes from the wholesale markets east of here, which they pick up twice a week, very early in the morning.

I picked up some dinner fixings from them: zucchini, mushrooms, a vidalia onion, and a can of coconut milk. They also have cans of red, green, and Massaman curry paste, which I’ll keep in mind, as the nearest Asian grocery store is a couple of miles away. They’re understandably a little pricier than my usual produce market, Bearss Groves, but they can’t be beat for convenience and the opportunity to get to know another neighbor. I think I’m going to be a regular!

Produce Wagon’s whiteboard price list.

Produce Wagon’s price list. Photo by Joey deVilla.
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Produce Wagon is currently open at these locations and times:

To find out where they’ll be and what they’re selling, check out their Facebook page.

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Case in point: Corey Jurgensen, who’s often seen running about in her inflatable unicorn suit.

Seminole Heights’ seal, which depicts a two-headed alligatorFrom the Tampa Bay Times:

For nearly a month, Jurgensen has worn a 7-foot tall inflatable unicorn costume — white with rainbow hooves, tail and mane — and gone out into the streets to spread joy.

She walks. She runs. She prances. She dances. She pretends to graze on bushes and trees.

“People literally slow down as they drive by to take videos and pictures,” Jurgensen said. “I do it more for the adults than the kids. The adults are so stressed, worried about potentially losing their jobs and their kids being home. They need a laugh.”

I love this neighborhood.

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Seminole Heights’ seal, which depicts a two-headed alligator

It happened last night — a social distancing sing-along in the spirit of the ones they’ve been doing in Italy!

Yesterday afternoon, while taking a break from work (I’ve been working from home on my front porch as part of the COVID-19 measures that a lot of people are taking), I decided to get in a little accordion practice. As I wrote yesterday, got the attention Susan, of our neighbor across the street, who suggested an impromptu performance/sing-along for our corner. In about a couple of minutes, she managed to get the word out to a number of neighbors, and I was scheduled for a 7 p.m. performance! A number of our neighbors set up lawnchairs to catch the performance from a safe social distance.

Anitra took my phone and live-streamed the show to Facebook Live. I took those Facebook Live videos and stitched them together into a single YouTube video — enjoy!

There’s another one scheduled for tomorrow at 7 p.m.. I may have to play The Gambler in Kenny’s honor.

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Seminole Heights’ seal, which depicts a two-headed alligator

In these times of social distancing and a possible shelter-in-place order coming soon, it’s important to remember that your local small business needs you more than ever. Support them, and if you’re on social media, share your support with the hashtag #SmallBusinessStrong.

I’m subscribed to a number of Facebook pages for my neighborhood of Seminole Heights, and a number of people have talked about which stores are still stocked with which items. They’ve only talked about more “basic” places: Publix, Winn-Dixie, Walmart, and the like.

I have a suggestion: Check out the bodegas!

There are a number of them in or near Seminole Heights, a couple of which are House of Meats and Huracan, both of which are on Sligh between Florida and Nebraska, just west of 275.

House of Meats, as its name implies, has a lot of meat, some of which has been packaged up, and some you can order straight from the butcher’s counter. You can get your standard beef, chicken, and pork cuts, as well as stuff like goat, rabbit, chitterlings, hooves, and other stuff that might send your more basic friends screaming to run to the comfort of a Pumpkin Spice Latte or a White Claw.

House of Meats. Tap the photo to see it at full size.

Five bucks will get you pretty far here — that got me a pack of eight hefty bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs, and another fiver got me a pound and a half of pork rib meat.

In addition to all that meat, House of Meats has a great selection of vegetables, especially frozen ones, as well as a lot of canned goods and Latino bread.

House of Meats. Tap the photo to see it at full size.

Across Central Avenue from House of Meats is Huracan, which also has a butcher shop, and a lot of fruit and veg. I get my yellow plantains here.

I read that some of you were looking for eggs and that Publix has been running out with all the COVID-19 panic buying. There are huevos aplenty at Huracan, as well as cheese, some tasty flan, and tres leches cake, too!

Huracan. Tap the photo to see it at full size.

And when it comes to shelf-stable protein, you can’t beat beans, which take up an entire aisle at Huracan. White beans, pink beans, butterbeans, pinto beans, garbanzo beans (a.k.a. chickpeas), pigeon peas — they have these and more, in both canned and dry form:

Huracan. Tap the photo to see it at full size.

So if you’re still stocking up your fridge, freezer, and pantry, give your local small business some love. And if you’re near a bodega but never go, don’t be so basic — break out of your comfort zone and check them out!

And while I’m on the topic of being basic…

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Getting the job done at the porch office

by Joey deVilla on March 16, 2020


Seminole Heights’ seal, which depicts a two-headed alligator

I’m doing my part to fight COVID-19 by practicing social distancing, as recommended by the public health specialist I trust the most. That means working from home, which isn’t so bad, especially with the current weather in Tampa (mostly sunny, with the temperature at 10:00 a.m. at 74°F / 23° C) and the view from my Seminole Heights porch.

Wash your hands, don’t touch your face or 401(k), and stay safe!

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Part of the patio at the progressive dinner’s first house.
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Seminole Heights’ seal, which depicts a two-headed alligator

Last Friday, our neighborhood — Northeast Seminole Heights, an area with trees, bungalows, and hip restaurants and bars galore — held its annual progressive dinner (or, as it’s called in the UK, a “safari supper”). It was a multiple-destination dinner party, where four different courses were served in four different houses within walking distance of each other. While we’ve gotten to know some of the people in our neighborhood thanks to the weekly happy hour at Ella’s Americana Folk Art Cafe, Anitra and I are still new to the area. We figured that this would be a chance to get to know more of people who live nearby.

Our house is a five minute walk from the Hillsborough River, on whose banks you’ll find the pricier houses. The progressive dinner’s first stop was at one of these houses, which had a large patio complete with a huge outdoor tiki bar.

One view of the bar at the progressive dinner’s first house.
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We were among the first to arrive, but we weren’t lonely for long. There were easily eighty or more people on the patio in short order.

Another view of the bar at the progressive dinner’s first house.
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This was the appetizer course, and people came hungry! Luckily, the place was prepared.

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The patio was built right up to the edge of the river, which provided a great view. I had to get a photo:

A view of the Hillsborough River from the first house.
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After about an hour, it was time to mosey on over to the next place. I took one last photo before leaving:

One last photo before leaving the first house!
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I was so engaged in meeting new people at the next house that I didn’t take any pictures there. The soup and salad course was served there, and there were several to choose from. The stand-out dish was a cold spliced pear soup, which was fantastic. I got a couple of servings of that one.

The main course was served at the third house, which had a nice large kitchen island and buffet counter:

The third house’s nice large kitchen, as seen from the living room.
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As the place where the mains would be served, they were expecting the biggest crowd. Luckily, they had a back yard big enough to accommodate everyone and had even set up rows of tables, a fire pit, live entertainment, and a couple of off-duty police officers:

The back yard at the third house.
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There was a break in the entertainment so that the dinner’s organizer, Christie Hess, could address the crowd. She’s been putting the event together for the past 12 years, and it’s a key part of the neighborhood’s character. I’m glad that we’ve got people like her here.

Christie Hess addresses the crowd.
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Here’s another look at the crowd. It was a cool night by Florida standards (52°F / 11° C), so Anitra wore her festive zebra-strip fun fur coat:

Another look at the crowd.
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Finally, we made our way to the dessert house, which was also on the river. As with the other courses and houses, the food was a group effort. Our contribution to the dessert table was an assortment of brownies.

The dessert house.
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Some folks stayed closer to the house (and desserts), while others chose to get a better look at the river:

The view near the river.
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Another view near the river.
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While we were done with the houses, we weren’t yet done with the party! The final stop of the evening was London Heights pub with a handful of drink tickets…

Some of the taps at London Heights that evening.
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…and an invitation from Willie, one of the owners, to perform some numbers to close out the evening.

The accordion comes in handy once again!
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It’s been a while since I’ve lived in a place with this much of a sense of community. I’ve talked more with my neighbors here in the past five months than with the neighbors in the old place in the last five years, and I’m a schmoozy guy. The progressive dinner was a great excuse to walk around the neighborhood and get a better look at a couple of places, as well as to catch up with the people we already knew, and get to know dozens of other folks in the area. I look forward to greeting more people on the streets here by name, and hope to be at more of these local get-togethers!

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