In a gritty corner of Tampa, a culinary scene takes root

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Fodder & Shine offers up southern food, craft beers and cocktails as well as this testament to community pride.
Fodder & Shine offers up southern food, craft beers and cocktails as well as this testament to community pride. Photo Credit: Robert Silk

Sitting three miles north of downtown, Tampa’s Seminole Heights neighborhood is still a little rough around the edges.

Drive down the neighborhood’s central Florida Avenue and you’ll still encounter unsightly auto body shops and drive-up beer and wine dispensers.

But interspersed into this urban landscape is a mix of locally owned restaurants and pubs that have made Seminole Heights a must-stop for gastro tourists.

“We want the adventurers. We want people who come to the city and say, ‘I am going to eat at a little nook-and-cranny that is mine,” said Ty Rodriguez, co-owner of the modern American restaurant Rooster & the Till, which is among the most innovative in the neighborhood.

Rooster & The Till co-owner Ty Rodirguez, left, stands with an employee in front of the restaurant’s open bar and kitchen.
Rooster & The Till co-owner Ty Rodirguez, left, stands with an employee in front of the restaurant’s open bar and kitchen. Photo Credit: Robert Silk

Menu items on a rainy day in January included chorizo-covered octopus, pork-stuffed squid and a variety of high quality cheeses, but they won’t last long. The Rooster & the Till changes its menu every four to six weeks. “We don’t want to do anything that’s safe,” Rodriguez said. “Even if it’s our best selling item, we take it off.”

The formula has worked so well that the restaurant, which opened in December 2013, doubled in size last summer.

A former auto garage is now the home of the innovative Ichicoro Ramen restaurant, which opened along Florida Avenue in December.
A former auto garage is now the home of the innovative Ichicoro Ramen restaurant, which opened along Florida Avenue in December. Photo Credit: Robert Silk

A similar spirit of culinary experimentation is the hallmark of several Seminole Heights hangouts. Ichicoro Ramen, for example, opened just two months ago in an old auto garage under the guidance of its Japanese chef, Masaru Takaku. But the restaurant’s unusual formula of combining ramen noodles with Tampa’s traditional Cuban inspired- and citrus-laced flavors has already attracted a following.

Also creating buzz on Florida Avenue are two restaurants owned by four-time James Beard Award semifinalist Greg Baker. The Refinery serves up a Southern riff on classic French and Italian cuisine, while Fodder & Shine has positioned itself as a traditional Southern-style public house, serving items such as chicken and biscuits as well as a wide selection of craft beer and cocktails.

Indeed, Tampa’s heralded craft beer scene — in 2014 USA Today readers named it the second-best craft beer town in the U.S. — permeates Seminole Heights, with all the emerging restaurants making sure to offer plenty of locally brewed beverages. Little of this was going on just seven years ago, however, when Veronica Danko, an attorney turned pub owner, decided to open the Independent Bar & Cafe in Seminole Heights.

“I had friends who were beer brewers and they didn’t have businesses to sell to,” she said.

Today the Independent offers a selection of 15 craft beers on tap and 400 beers in bottles or cans. She proudly says that the opening of her place had a snowball effect in Seminole Heights.

“This neighborhood, I would call it eclectic and friendly,” she said. “A lot of small, independently owned restaurants with great chefs. And they’re putting Tampa on the culinary map.”

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