Story by: Erika Vidal Holmes
Cracker Jack Harris likes his bacon burnt and his toast extra-toasty.
Wearing jeans and a sky blue shirt, the local TV and radio icon sits inside Pach’s Place on Bayshore Boulevard sipping decaf coffee.
“We have sort of a thing for breakfast places,” Harris says of he and his wife, Joy.
Pach’s is one of their favorites.
Harris has lived in Tampa for the last 40 years (minus a brief stint in Washington D.C.), and has worked for Channels 8, 13, 28, 44 and Bay News 9 in television, in addition to WFLA-AM, WRBQ-FM and WFLZ-FM on radio.
Though he admits he doesn’t “cook a lick,” he was a restaurant reviewer for Bay News 9 for three years and he and Joy recently co-authored a cookbook, Easy Breezy Florida Cooking.
On a sweltering Friday afternoon in May, South Tampa Magazine sat down with Harris and asked him to reminisce on his 40 years of Tampa Bay dining.
STM: Do you remember the first restaurant you reviewed?
JH: We had to do two reviews the first day. Talk about breakfast places—Skyway Jack’s in St. Pete and City Tavern in Ybor City.
STM: What other breakfast places do you like?
JH: Nuevo Café, Pink Flamingo Cafe, Daily Eats, The Brunchery, First Watch, Munch’s (Sundries & Restaurant) in St. Pete.
STM: You were here when Outback Steakhouse and Bonefish Grill started, right?
JH: Outback used to be Mr. G’s. My wife and I liked it, so we would go from time to time. This was right after the popularity of the movie Crocodile Dundee. We went in and it had become Outback Steakhouse, and we said, well, we’ll give it a try. I remember telling my wife—and this was also at a time when the government was really going after red meat—so I’m telling my wife, ‘You know, this is good, and inexpensive for a steakhouse, but it’s never gonna make it because this Australian thing is all over, and this location (on Henderson Boulevard) is jinxed.’ I tell that story whenever I’m giving the (Outback guys) awards. I love to talk about how great I am at pickin’ em.
STM: If you have a friend in from out of town, where do you take them?
JH: I love Iavarone’s and Splash on N. Dale Mabry Highway. I’d probably take them to Bern’s. That’s kind of a combination of a restaurant and Disney World. Of course everyone knows The Columbia. Bailey’s in Hyde Park.
STM: Do you remember the first restaurant you ate at when you first moved to Tampa?
JH: Boy, that was 40 years ago. I do remember one funny thing. I was looking for a place like Ponderosa—I wasn’t making much money. One day I saw a billboard that said, “Art in Steaks, Bern’s Steakhouse.” I pulled in there—and you know from the outside, it doesn’t look like much—and all of a sudden I’m in valet parking and I’m like, oh my, this is not good.
STM: What did you order?
JH: I’m sure I got the cheapest steak they had. But I remember that French Onion soup. I fell in love with that right off the bat. I probably sat around and thought, ‘someday I hope I make enough money that I can come in here whenever I want.’