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. 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. 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.”