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Mullins: Land & Sea offers bounty under new name


Published:   |   Updated: June 30, 2013 at 09:35 AM

With all the buzz about Trader Joe's maybe, probably, possibly, or not, coming to South Tampa, here's something to keep in mind for all the foodie shoppers out there with a few dollars to spare: Trader Joe's isn't the only fun new grocer in South Tampa.

The Land & Sea grocery store at Neptune Street and South Dale Mabry Highway has undergone a transformation in the past few months into Poor Old Weber's butcher shop, essentially making the store completely new. Walk into the petite space and you'll feel like this must be a project designed by Fresh Market or Whole Foods, and before you ask why I'm devoting a whole column to one store, here's your answer.

As you pass the cabinets of meats, seafood and pastas, you'll find yourself taking a kind of grand tour of the best and most interesting Florida food producers. And when a local variety of food isn't available, the store brings in the best items from independent producers across the country.

There are boxes of Tampasta crab and cheese raviolis, made right here in Tampa. There are frozen veggies from local farms. There are smoked turkey legs from a local turkey farm. There's Uncle John's and smoked gator-and-chicken sausage from Chef Penny's. For organic milk buyers, there are gallons of raw milk from Jersey Acres Farms in Myakka City. There are pickles made in Okeechobee by Pirate Pickles, plus Mike's Pies and Wholly Smoke barbecue sauce made near Tampa.

The husband and wife team behind the transformation to Poor Old Weber's is Sean and Shilene Eakins. (Weber's is a nod to Sean's family up North.) The couple moved from California to Tampa a few years ago, and Sean left a nearly two-decade career working for big grocery companies.

That experience included jobs running the fresh grocery sections of Sam's Clubs across the country - doing everything from overseeing the store operations to cutting the meat.

He saw the good, bad and ugly with food producers nationwide, and pledged to pick only the best, organic or all-natural producers he could find.

If Whole Foods had a much larger and friendlier butcher shop section, this would be it.

That means beef comes from Niman Ranch out West, and fish comes from Fresh Fish Fast.

"I don't go to steakhouses anymore," Shilene jokes, "because the beef we sell here is better, and I just cook it at home." Sean makes his ground beef in house, and some boutique hotels like it so much they buy hundreds of pounds a day. He also makes a half-dozen kinds of stuffed chicken breasts, including crabmeat-stuffed and Greek feta stuffed. Some fish filets rival the size of footballs. The couple plan to make sandwiches on site.

It's still a pocket-sized place compared to the Neptune Publix across the street, so this isn't where you pick up paper towels or boxed cereals. But their wine selection is expanding, and they manage to keep Cigar City Brewing's Jai Alai beer in stock, which is no small feat.

For legal reasons that would fascinate trademark lawyers, the couple can't use the Land & Sea name at other locations, so when they do expand, look for them under the brand name Poor Old Weber's.

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In other retail and restaurant news:

Unless you missed the news, the fast-growing Pinkberry frozen yogurt chain that started the national yogurt frenzy has started something of a contraction - at least in the Tampa Bay area. Pinkberry is closing its location in WestShore Plaza mall, plus its Westfield Citrus Park location. It was a difficult decision, the local operator said online. We just hope this isn't the Great Yogurt Bubble popping, because we're fans of several in town, including Yogurtology, the Yogurt Spot and the new Orange Leaf in Carrollwood. We first saw Orange Leaf when traveling through Iowa, and it's a big hit in the House of Mullins.

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In happier news, after three decades operating restaurants at Clearwater Beach, the Frenchy's restaurant group has acquired a location 10 miles north in Dunedin. The new restaurant will take over for the Island Outpost restaurant at 466 Causeway Blvd. Island Outpost will operate for a time under the Frenchy's management, but expect a major renovation and re-opening as a Frenchy's later this year.

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Fitlife Food fans have reason to cheer. The fast-growing healthy meals company is adding more locations. The next is at 504 S. Howard Ave., just north of West Swann Avenue. For those who aren't familiar, Fitlife scratch makes uber-healthy meals in its kitchens and packages a staggering variety handily made with certain fat, calorie and carb contents. Think Nutrisystem, but food you would like to eat: Oatmeal Brulee for breakfast, a chicken Gyro for lunch, and carrot cake with cream cheese frosting for a snack. The Howard Avenue location should open mid-September, and look for more locations in places like West Shore, Brandon and Pinellas County.

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Trend Alert: Vitamin waters exploded into a major category years ago, so it's only a matter of time before producers of other foods start wondering how to infuse some health cachet. So be on the lookout for these new food products: vitamin gum, vitamin chocolate and chocolate with probiotics - because who doesn't want chocolate to, well, improve digestion? Anyone? (Chocolate-infused wine has been popular for some time, so maybe this is just a product extension?) Some niche versions are starting to circulate in other countries, and there are varieties on Amazon, so look for them to start showing up soon on candy aisles near you.

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Doesn't thinking about Prince William and Princess Kate's soon-to-arrive baby just make you want to eat cheese? Well, do I have news for you. Whole Foods is publicizing the launch of the Westminster William and Kate Royal Addition Cheddar cheese, described as an all-natural white cheddar with a "creamy yet savory" flavor, made on farms in England and aged 12 months. By my math, that means the cheese started life before anyone knew Kate was pregnant, but whatever. Whole Foods is selling wheels of the cheese for $9.99 a pound.

rmullins@tampatrib.com

(813) 259-7919

Twitter: @DailyDeadline

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