Registry Tampa Bay

Well, I’ll be … fried green tomatoes did not originate in the South.

So say most food historians, including Charleston-based Robert F. Moss, who wrote in a well-researched column titled “The Fried Green Tomato Swindle,” “By all accounts, they entered the American culinary scene in the Northeast and Midwest, perhaps with a link to Jewish immigrants.”

The dish became associated with the South in the wake of movie Fried Green Tomatoes, the 1992 film version of Fannie Flagg’s novel Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe, published in ’87 and set in Birmingham, Alabama.

Regardless of their beginnings, fried green tomatoes don’t do much for me —  because where I grew up in the Northeast, tomatoes were ripe red. And never breaded and fried.

In another edition of Tampa Bay vs. The World, I’m featuring FGTs because of a recent trip to Charleston, where the city rewrote its charter to mandate that every restaurant in town have them on the menu. Our contestants are: Noble Crust, one of the few restaurants in Tampa Bay with FGTs on its everyday bill of fare; and 82 Queen, a pillar of “Lowcountry cuisine” in Charleston’s French Quarter since 1982.

A mismatch? Let’s see.

NOBLE CRUST

We arrived at 5:30 on a Thursday and grabbed two seats at the far end of the bar. The St. Pete Noble Crust is nearly always busy, and often generates a serious din. Not so on this visit.

We ordered the F.G.B.L.T. ($13), Noble Crust’s spin that includes tabasco honey-glazed pork belly and pimento cheese. I also got a Big Storm Wavemaker beer ($5, happy hour price).

Appearance

An altogether attractive presentation, although the cubes of pork belly on top showed plenty of fat, causing a tinge of concern.

Texture and Taste

This version certainly benefited from Noble Crust’s customization, owing mostly to that old adage: Everything is better with bacon.

While I would ordinarily be put off by the amount of pure fat in the pork belly, this case was different. The fat melded with the meatier part of the cubes and added a lush savoriness, which was punctuated by the sweetness and gently spicy heat of the glaze.

None of this overshadowed the tomatoes, which provided a sharp tang and plenty of crunch, offset by the creaminess of the mildly flavored pimento.

All told, a panoply of tastes and textures, complex and well balanced.

82 QUEEN

At 7:45 p.m. on a Wednesday, our Lyft driver dropped us off at a black awning with a gold “82” on it, the restaurant’s only sign. My dinner companion, Jim Ripley, has been a friend since elementary school. We walked through an alley with scarred walls into the bar, where I ordered a Muddled Creek ($14), a specialty cocktail built around Knob Creek bourbon. (Jim and I basically split the drink, and both of us found it too heavy.)

After about 15 minutes, we were showed to a table on the far wall of the tastefully appointed upstairs dining room. Only a few tables were occupied. The intimate environment suited us. Our server, a young woman named Gabrielle, was delightful. She played along easily with our stupid jokes.

I ordered the Fried Green Tomatoes ($16) as a starter before my entree of Crispy Roasted Duck.

Appearance

This rendition didn’t have the panache of the competition’s. The tomato was sandwiched between a bed of stone-ground grits and a scoop of pimento cheese on top. The tomato-bacon jam sat off to the side.

Texture and Taste

Way too much pimento. It had a pasty texture that affected the entire dish. The grits were fine, if nondescript. The tomato seemed an afterthought, virtually lost amid the other ingredients.

Everything was squished together, giving my forkfuls a monochromatic, mushy character. The jam, more like a sauce, added a welcome sweetness.

And the Winner of the Tampa Bay vs. Charleston FGT Tussle Is …

Noble Crust.

An easy call, but with a couple of caveats:

82 Queen’s version may well have been more true to the tradition of the dish.

Noble Crust gained an everything-is-better-with-bacon advantage by including pork belly. An unfair advantage? Perhaps. How would the St. Pete restaurant’s version have fared without the fatty meat? My gut tells me that I still would have preferred it over 82 Queen’s.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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