Times Food Critic
When Tony Bellanca was growing up, holiday dinners were confusing affairs. There might be west Tampa devil crab alongside turkey and Deep South smothered pork chops and Italian meatballs — the kind of generous groaning board possible only in a multi-ethnic clan, a gastronomic poly-glut.
After graduating from Florida Culinary in West Palm Beach and spending 10 itinerant years doing corporate chef training for Roy's, it was time to come home to Tampa. He wanted to replicate that ethnic stew of his youth, drawing on dishes from Spain, Italy, Cuba and the South. Bric is the upshot, a small and spare restaurant that opened in April at the edge of SoHo's party madness.
For years his grandfather owned a barbershop kitty-corner across the street, the wee Bellanca regularly hopping up into the chair to get his ears lowered. That barbershop space is now Drynk, a hangout for 20-somethings in which skirts are short and loud music renders conversations even shorter.
It's an interesting choice of spaces for Bellanca, a "disaster cafe" location that has cycled through a bunch of identities, landlord Tommy Ortiz most recently trying a concept called Strings N Rings. It's unfussy, with brick floors (thus the name, an homage to old Tampa's preferred paving) and no tablecloths. A pretty bar on one side seems mostly where staff congregates these days, but as business picks up it will be an appealing place to settle in for several cuisines' visions of comfort food.
The menu is quirky. Spicy-tomatoey blue crab with Romano on toasts ($8) — it's a bruschettalike spin on the old Tampa cigar factory workers' blue crab enchilado, a melding of Cuban, Sicilian and Spanish moxie. A handful of skinny grilled fennel-flecked sausages ($6) sit on a Romano cream and are paired with sweet roasted plum tomato halves. It's hearty, it's heavy. A Cuban sandwich salad ($6) gets a dense, mustardy vinaigrette, a flurry of roast pork and lengths of ham, salami and Swiss, a couple of dill pickle spears and crunchy crostini for good measure. Yes, it's a salad, but its jovial excess may not be diet-friendly.
The house shrimp ceviche ($8) is a more restrained dish (although a couple of lengths of what amounts to chorizo jerky bring out the inner caveman). The shrimp themselves are sweet and fresh-tasting, their lime, onion and cilantro bath not overly assertive. For entrees, that same crab enchilado is offered atop capellini, but I found with a couple of pasta dishes that the noodles were woefully overcooked (a meatball and angelhair dish especially, $12, its tomato sauce strange-tasting). The single best entree is "not your regular beef stew" ($19), an accurate name because it's really slow-braised short ribs in a rich red wine jus with tiny carrots and other veggies. Super nurturing.
"Comfort" is what Bellanca aims for at dessert, but his trio of cobbler ($4) offerings, while hot and housemade, lacks sufficient sweetness or flavor. I'd go back to the drawing board on those.
He has assembled some personable young servers and a short wine list that is a mix of the familiar and less so, with a number of bottlings that marry nicely with Italian-Cuban-Spanish flavors. Bellanca, 30, has a lot on his plate (a 2-year-old and another baby any day), and the location has proved a challenge in the past. Still, who better to celebrate Tampa's ethnic culinary stew than a third-generation Tampa native?
Laura Reiley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 892-2293. Read her blog at tampabay.com/blogs/dining. Reiley dines anonymously and unannounced. The Times pays all expenses. Advertising has nothing to do with selection for review or the assessment.