The event celebrates the rolling of the first cigar in Ybor City but the focus of the celebration is food.
A “Tapas Trail,” featuring 18 restaurants, and a lavish Sunday brunch at the iconic Columbia Restaurant are the highlights of the 7th Annual Ybor Aficionado Days on Saturday and Sunday.
There will be cigars at a smoker and after-party event on Saturday night as well as a tapas cooking contest on Sunday.
“We started this event to mark the anniversary of the beginning of the cigar industry here,” says Andrea Gonzmart, chairman of Aficionado Days and daughter of Columbia Restaurant president Richard Gonzmart.
On April 13th, 1886, the Sanchez and Haya Cigar Factory rolled out the first cigars in Ybor. Cigars put Tampa on the map. When the industry was at its peak, the city was home to 200 cigar factories, employing 12,000 tabaqueros (cigar makers) and producing 700-million cigars a year.
“We decided from the beginning that this event would be like a ‘taste of Ybor’ to showcase the restaurants here,” says Gonzmart, who also is chair of the Ybor City Chamber of Commerce.
“The event has grown every year; we have added more restaurants for the Tapas Trail on Saturday,” she says.
The movable feast runs from 4 to 7 p.m. and includes possible stops at 18 restaurants. Some are within walking distance along Sevent Avenue. For others, there will be a free shuttle.
“I don’t encourage people to try to go to all 18 because you would be too rushed,” she says. “It’s best to sample a few, get a taste of the food and enjoy the ambiance.”
There is a wide range of eateries from Al’s Finger Lickin’ BBQ to Bernini. Also participating are longtime Ybor establishments such as Carmine’s and the New World Brewery and newer places such as Hamburger Mary’s and The Bricks. Others include Sunday's Delicatessen, Istanblu Restaurant & Bar (Turkish) and the James Joyce Irish Pub. For a complete list go to www.ybor.org.
At 6:30 p.m. Saturday, the doors open at Latin Club for an after-trail-party that will feature wine, pasteles and door prizes. A smoker in the Club's Cantina includes a complimentary, premium cigar provided by Tampa Sweethearts Cigar Company.
On Sunday, a Spanish Brunch at the Columbia begins at 11:30 a.m. in the Patio Courtyard with the Siboney Room reserved for dining. Guests can watch the amateur Tapas Cooking Challenge and listen to jazz musician Les Sabler on guitar.
The cooking challenge offers a $500 prize to the winner. Four finalists were chosen from dozens that submitted recipes. They will be cooking live on the spot. Veronica Cintron, of Bay News 9, will host. Judges include Jeff Houck food writer for the Tampa Tribune, Andy Huse author of the “Columbia Restaurant: Celebrating a Century of History, Culture and Cuisine” and Michelle Baker co-owner of the Refinery in Seminole Heights.
Gonzmart says that students from the Sickles High School hospitality program have a good track record for winning this competition.
Tickets for the Tapas Trail and After Party/Smoker are $35 in advance; $40 day of the event at the Italian Club and tickets for the Jazz Brunch are $50. A combination ticket that includes all events on both days is $70 in advance. For tickets visit www.ybor.org or call the Ybor City Chamber's Visitor Information Center at 813.241.8838.