TAMPA — Jeannie Pierola is one of the Tampa Bay area's most celebrated chefs, but it's been some time since she parlayed that into a restaurant of her own. That will change next week when she unveils her newest creation: edison: food+drink lab, a lower-case restaurant by an upper-case chef.
Edison opens Aug. 7 in the space occupied briefly by Knife & Co. at 912 W Kennedy Blvd., near Edison Avenue, which partly inspired the name. Many months in the making, edison is not reminiscent of Bern's Steak House, her most recent permanent home, nor of Pierola's early ventures, Cool Beans and Boca. Lunch and dinner diners can expect New American cuisine, including trendy tweaks on familiar comfort foods.
After leaving Bern's and sister restaurant SideBern's in 2007, Pierola spent a couple years traveling, consulting and expanding her considerable repertoire. Returning to Tampa, she began a series of pop-up restaurant events she called KitchenBar in 2010, holding her fourth and most successful one at the short-lived Knife & Co. in December.
After its one-month run of KitchenBar, Knife & Co. never reopened, its windows papered over as if a new project were gestating quietly inside.
"I've wanted so long to do a fun place, a casual joint with no pretense," Pierola said. But although she sees edison as an affordable and relaxed restaurant, she hopes it will benefit from the globe-trotting explorations of KitchenBar. Pierola wasn't specific about menu prices but indicated they would be moderate.
"We're always expanding our repertoire, which is always going to reflect global influences. We're going to be doing foods that are common and everyday, but bringing something new and creative to them. We're going to be doing an egg of the day, a charcuterie/cheese board of the day and a PBJ of the day — things like a pistachio butter and orange marmalade on pistachio brioche. We've assembled such a talented team."
She rattles off a list of key players, all women. Among them, Erin Kelley, whom she describes as "one of the breakout pastry chefs in this community," Donna Fullenwider as bar manager, Melissa Judge in management, and Allison Beasman and Patrice Murphy in the kitchen. Several are longtime associates of Pierola, having worked with her on the pop-ups and at Bern's and SideBern's. Beasman was the executive chef of the short-lived Knife & Co., and both she and Murphy worked with Pierola on several of the pop-ups, which didn't always endear them to the host restaurants.
Owners at Pinky's, Restaurant BT and Chefs on the Loose had conflicts with Pierola over the details of KitchenBar's tenancy, although all agreed that Pierola is a genius in the kitchen.
As the restaurant's namesake, Thomas Edison, so famously said, genius is 1 percent inspiration, 99 percent perspiration. So it's apt that Pierola has spent the past few months at the Kennedy site perspiring.
In the space that was once Algusto, the industrial chic design is inspired by Richard Zingale of Urban Studio Architects and executed by concept branders at s+w design with the help of local artist Ron Francis. The main restaurant seats 104, with an annexed private dining space at 916 W Kennedy Blvd., called Lab 916. Pierola hopes the no-nonsense design is an appropriate setting for "an inventive everyday restaurant with great culinary chops."
Although the launch comes just weeks before the Republican National Convention takes over downtown, Pierola says she has not booked any RNC business at this point. She is still hopeful about convention bookings in the private dining space, and anticipates a lot of downtown walk-in business for lunch and dinner during that time.
A reasonable guess, as Pierola is one of a small handful of local chefs who has name recognition outside the Tampa Bay area. A nod to the famous inventor and longtime Florida resident, Pierola hopes edison will be a showcase for her own brand of invention.
"To me, cuisine is three things. It's the products. There's technique, that's the second part. And then, of course, there's creativity. These are our core values."