Feb 1, 2024 - News

Last meal with Tampa Bay Times food critic Helen Freund

Photo illustration of a place setting shaped like a skull and crossbones containing a photo of Helen Freund.

Photo illustration: Axios Visuals. Photo: Courtesy of Helen Freund

After six months off the beat, Tampa Bay Times food critic Helen Freund is back with some great ideas on how to cover our restaurant scene.

  • "The question of what it costs to dine out right now in Tampa Bay and who can afford to do so is top of mind," Freund wrote in a recent column announcing her return to the beat.

We wanted to know: What would she eat if she only had one meal left? Here's her response, in her own words:

There's no question that my perfect meal would start with oysters.

  • I grew up in the Pacific Northwest and cold-water bivalves from anywhere on the West Coast would always be my first choice.

Yes, but: I can't deny the allure of a dozen raw Gulf Coast oysters, served at a beachside shack alongside a cold beer, cocktail sauce, saltines and hot sauce (Crystal, of course).

Next up, if the season is right, I'm getting stone crab claws, served cold with mustard sauce.

  • My favorite spot to go locally is Star Fish Company in Cortez, where you can grab a seat right on the deck next to a pod of curious pelicans.

For an entree, I'm torn: It's either a plate of carnitas tacos (I'm partial to the ones from the Te Invito food truck) or a really good roast chicken. Bonus points for extra-crispy skin, potatoes and croutons that cook and crisp in the chicken fat.

  • All you really need to round out that meal is a fresh, simple green salad and a good bottle of red wine.
  • My favorite version of this is hands down the roast chicken and bread salad at Zuni Cafe in San Francisco — a legendary dish that's every bit worth the hype.

For dessert, well, I'd probably skip dessert. I'm not a dessert person, sorry!

  • But if I did end up ordering something, it would be either a slice of key lime pie from Mike's Pies or the fantastic pistachio and coconut cake they do at Allelo in St. Petersburg.
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