At age 29, my husband and I have become picky eaters. We’re those people you love to hate at restaurants, the ones who ask a million questions and make substitutions. Both SNL and Portlandia have satirized the kind of eaters we have become. While my husband is legitimately allergic to wheat and gluten (if you don’t believe me, you can ask his doctor and debilitating diarrhea), I just don’t eat certain things by choice because I am trying to lose weight. Our restrictions make eating out difficult and sometimes less enjoyable, not only because it’s slightly embarrassing, but because we don’t want to spend our lives ordering grilled lean proteins and steamed vegetables at restaurants where there are no other options. We want flavor and excitement! We want our tastebuds titillated! We want to have our delicious gluten-free, low-carb cake and eat it too!
Luckily, there are some great options for picky eaters in Tampa Bay and you’ll be pleased to know they aren’t all located in South Tampa. One such option is Ciccio Cali with locations in Tampa Palms, Brandon, and St. Pete. The completely manageable (just 2 pages!) Ciccio Cali menu was made for people with allergies (both real and imagined) and other dietary restrictions, but does not lack ingenuity. It is a fusion of southwestern, asian, and tropical flavors and includes bowls, variations on stir fry, wraps, and a small selection of salads, pizzas, and pasta dishes. My husband had plenty of gluten-free options to choose from and I was able to eat low-carb without having to make any substitutions. Not only was the menu sympathetic, the waitress took my husband’s needs into consideration and double checked that our appetizer was gluten free to make sure that he felt “comfortable with the selection.”
We arrived at 6 pm, just in time for happy hour and live music on the patio. The restaurant was bright and airy and the patio was lushly landscaped, creating a relaxed and casual atmosphere. To start, I ordered the $3 house cab (happy hour special) and my husband ordered a Redbridge (they also have Omission and Angry Orchard available). I didn’t care for the cab and will likely try the sangria the next time. We also ordered the Chips and Salsa + Cali Guac (gluten-free, dairy-free) which were delicious. The guacamole was excellent, very fresh with plenty of lime and not over cilantro-ed.
For dinner we both ordered bowls, which can be made with rice (yellow, brown, or sticky), farro, rice noodles, or spaghetti squash. My husband ordered a Fajita bowl with brown rice and steak. The steak was well seasoned and really tender. I ordered the Hot and Crunchy Tuna Bowl with spaghetti squash. My bowl was amazing! It came with ahi tuna, avocado, cucumber, tempura onions, and was dressed with siracha aioli. I was worried that the squash would taste weird with the tuna and aioli, but it was perfectly al dente and could have been mistaken for rice vermicelli. For dessert we split a gluten-free Bourbon Pecan cupcake. The waitress explained that the cupcakes are made every Tuesday and Friday by one of their servers using four kinds of gluten-free flour. She regularly makes chocolate, vanilla, cookies and cream, and a variety of seasonal flavors. During fall, she makes pumpkin chai, apple pie, and the bourbon pecan. Even if you don’t eat a meal at Ciccio Cali, you should swing by to pick up one of these cupcakes. They sell out almost instantly so you will want to visit on Tuesday and Friday when they are fresh out of the oven.
To the adventurous and picky alike, I would recommend Ciccio Cali for a delicious, stress-free dining experience.
Total Cost: $46