Over the last few years, Tampa’s dining scene underwent a significant transformation. Once dominated by fast food and chain restaurants, a growing appreciation for local, organically-grown fare gave rise to a new generation of eateries. This list explores six such restaurants and the chefs responsible for Tampa’s gastronomic evolution.
2616 S MacDill Ave
Tampa, FL 33629
Director of Fun as an official job title? For Datz’s Heather Stalker, an alumna of New York’s Culinary Institute of America, this has become a reality. Since Roger and Suzanne Perry opened Datz in 2009 as a quaint deli, loyal customer support accelerated the restaurant through quite the transformation. Stalker said the popularity has allowed the market and restaurant to feature more refined offerings, such as locally-prepared gelato, in addition to its classic choices. The restaurant hopes to serve as a catalyst for a greater sense of place in South Tampa, a neighborhood hub where people can connect over fine food and wine without having to break the bank.
The term “Gastropub” for Datz symbolizes a variety of creative dishes, which include duck and bacon sliders, pulled-pork arepas, chicken and waffles, shrimp tacos and salads topped with a delicious blackberry peppercorn vinaigrette dressing. Of course, some of the above combinations sound out of the ordinary, but that’s because the talented kitchen staff (headed by Stalker) knows how to combine comfort food favorites and original flavors into melanges of perfection.
The Bricks of Ybor
1327 E 7th Ave
Tampa, FL 33605
“After nearly two decades of sending business to the bars and restaurants of Ybor City,” Brian Schaefer, owner of the Skatepark of Tampa, decided to open his own ideal bar, cafe and coffee shop. After months of preparation and remodeling, often with the help of friends, Bricks came to fruition with the goal of providing a skater-friendly aesthetic and industrial-lounge feeling. In the two years since opening, the restaurant built up a steady following with its relaxed atmosphere and delicious-yet-affordable sandwiches.
Vegetarians will adore the Deluxe Grilled Cheese, imaginative remixes of the classic peanut butter and jelly sandwich and the wonderful Portobelly Burger, which features a patty-sized portobello mushroom sautéed to perfection. Omnivores won’t go hungry with a choice of pulled pork and chicken wraps, the BBQ Pig Quesadilla and the famous Bird & Pig Sandwich. A delightful lemon balsamic vinaigrette dressing drizzled on side salads and delicious potato salad rounds out every meal. Weekly movie screenings, a full bar and a variety of beer choices bring guests back, wanting more. In Brian’s own words, “We’re sophisticated but rough around the edges; fun and hospitable.”
(Bricks Wrap / Credit: Aaron Phillips)
(Brick’s Portobelly Burger / Credit: Aaron Phillips)
Ted Dorsey and Chad McColgin
Boca Hyde Park (formerly known as Smoke BBQ)
901 W Platt St
Tampa, FL 33604
Local, organic and fresh: what else could you want out of a restaurant? Formerly known as Smoke BBQ, the latest incarnation of Gordon Davis’ (also creator of Ceviche) once-famed restaurant focuses on excellent quality ingredients and a refined wine selection. Davis left Ted Dorsey and Chad McColgin in charge as executive chef and chef de cuisine, respectively. He must not regret this choice given the astounding amount of buzz this dynamic duo attracted in the few months since Boca’s opening. Specials change with the seasons and produce availability, easy to decipher via the handy blackboard perched above the dining room.
The attention comes deserved in this case, as both the restaurant and the chefs adhere strictly to the mantra, “local, simple and honest.” This means a warm, unpretentious atmosphere where casual meets decadent. Sourcing produce and dairy from the nearby Dakin Farms in Myakka, Winter Park Dairy, Capriole Farms and the King Family Farm gives Boca a freshness you can taste with each bite. Notable dinner choices include Champagne and Honey Braised Pork Belly, the mysterious “Staff Meal” (only revealed after it’s ordered), and the OMG Prime House Burger. However, with the trendiness comes two important warnings: make a reservation well in advance to avoid the wait for a table and know that meals prepared with quality ingredients result in smaller portions and higher prices than those typical of chain restaurants.
Love’s Artifacts Bar & Grill
4914 S MacDill Ave
Tampa, FL 33611
Another new, yet already celebrated institution of Tampa’s culinary world, Love’s lends a unique spin on classic comfort food. The individuality matches his unique path into the profession. Originally a car salesman, after 22 years he saw his business decelerate. To supplement his income, Love began to sell food from inside a truck parked on his lot. Snowballing demand for his grilled dishes convinced Love to give up the car business and focus his efforts full time on creating some of the Bay area’s most original flavor combinations. In fact, when the Food Network’s Guy Fieri came through town to shoot an episode of “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives,” he chose to highlight Love’s.
We’ve all seen fried jalapeño poppers on menus, but have you tried them stuffed with peanut butter? You can at Love’s. He also serves what many claim to be the best fried chicken available in Tampa, the South MacDill Fried Chicken Platter, battered and seasoned to crispy perfection. Other favorites include the Grilled Salmon and Wasabi Cream Sauce, Crab-Stuffed Portobello Mushrooms and the Pork Conquistador Feast, which combines Cuban flavors with garlic and white wine. In addition to nightly mixed drink deals and a large beer selection, Love’s Artifacts offers live music from Thursdays until Sundays. What’s not to love about Love’s?
L’Eden Restaurant & Bar
500 N Tampa St
Tampa, FL 33602
A native of Marseille, France, Gerard Jamgotchian brings a fresh take on French cuisine to Tampa Bay. His restaurant, L’Eden, both accentuates the best of France and draws inspiration from a few dozen countries around the world. The emphasis “la cuisine du monde,” as Jamgotchian calls it, stems from his extensive cooking and baking experience in places as far flung as New York, the Caribbean, California and around Europe. Diners will frequently see him behind the bar or walking out to their tables to serve meals, always with a pleasant smile on his face.
The delicious Lobster Bisque, the decadent Steak Diane, the Atlantic Salmon oven-steamed over Champagne, and the perfectly-conceived Duck and Brie Crepe count among L’Eden’s most celebrated dishes. A diversity of offerings and low prices relative to quality make L’Eden ideal for those who like to share plates and try new things. Pastry lovers relish in the wide variety of authentic French patisseries baked daily, including croissants, pains au chocolat, brioches and chaussons aux pommes. L’Eden also hosts a monthly Supper Club for those who enjoy live music and wines custom paired for their meal. It’s clear that Jamgotchian derives as much pleasure from his work as his patrons receive when they sample his chef d’œuvres.
The Courtyard Kitchen Food Truck (formerly Sunday’s Fine Dining)
Corner of 7th Ave and 20th St
Tampa, FL 33605
[Author’s note: Pictures come from Sunday’s Fine Dining shortly before its closure]
As true for many residents of Tampa Bay, Chef David Sunday moved here from “up north” — in his case, Long Island. Simply a winter home for Sunday when he served as chef in residence of the Straz Performing Arts Center, he decided to take make his stay in the area more permanent. Thanks to a diverse background that includes a stint in the army, a culinary education at The New York Institute of Technology and experience serving discerning clientele in the Hamptons, Sunday’s kitchen offers a wide variety of original dishes and flavors. Inspired by the cultures of New Orleans, New England and Europe, he combines fresh ingredients with a savoir-faire unrivaled in the Ybor City neighborhood.
While his first venture, Sunday’s Fine Dining closed in June, Sunday plans to open a new Italian-themed market and restaurant in September at 1930 East 7th Avenue, across the street from the first restaurant’s location. While we wait with baited breath, Sunday resurfaced in the intermediary time to appease palates with a condensed version of Sunday’s Fine Dining, this time in the form of a food truck called The Courtyard Kitchen. In addition to an ever-changing menu and daily specials, Sunday fortunately still features some favorites from the restaurant such as Cuban sandwiches, Muffalettas, Jerked Chicken Na’anwich, BBQ Pulled Pork Sandwiches, Mesquite Angus Burgers, Fried Catfish, Mesquite Pork Tacos and more. When Frankie Valli came to Tampa to perform at the Straz Center and tried Sunday’s famous meatloaf, he demanded Ruth Eckerd Hall serve the same meal the night of his performance in St. Petersburg. Talk about a celebrity endorsement.
(Mussels from Sunday’s Fine Dining / Credit: Aaron Phillips)
(Grilled romaine from Sunday’s Fine Dining / Credit: Aaron Phillips)
Aaron Phillips has experience in marketing and journalism. Recently back to his hometown, he’s excited to discover and share what Tampa has to offer. His work can be found at Examiner.com.