By Laura Reiley
Times Food Critic
TAMPA — In older American cities restaurants sprout up in repurposed houses — little cottages, stately mansions, shacks and townhouses get makeovers and an infusion of industrial kitchen equipment. Perhaps Tampa's relative youth explains why this doesn't happen quite as much here. There are some — Bailey's in Old Hyde Park Village, Front Porch Grill & Bar and Bungalow Bistro in Seminole Heights — but it's a cozy treat to settle in at a table in what used to be someone's living room or den.
Hyde Park has a new one. The Bungalow opened Aug. 29 in a charming Craftsman bungalow that dates to 1919. It's around the corner from the mayhem of MacDinton's, drawing a much broader spectrum of customers, from Hyde Park families and older couples to posses of young adults relishing the opportunity to watch the game en masse, peppered with just the right amount of catcalling and cheering. The space was most recently the Imperial Book Lodge used bookstore, but all the bone structure is there from when it was a single-family home: a mosaic-rimmed fireplace, original brick and pretty wood floors.
The kitchen is not breaking any new ground, offering mid-priced casual American classics, from burgers to wings, many with just a fillip of Floribbean accent. There are jerk flavors and mojos, but essentially it's the kind of food that is dispatched happily with a beer and the TV on. On a couple of recent visits, we worked our way through a very solid burger and fries ($8.95), a plate of small, crispy crabcakes ($9.95) with pleasantly spicy remoulade, and a bowl of real-tasting but slightly bland guacamole ($7.95; served, as many things are here, in a superfluous radicchio leaf cup. As a garnish, it's about as edible as packing peanuts and pretty costly. Maybe rethink.)
A Cuban sandwich ($7.95) and club sandwich ($8.95), each served slathered with something mysteriously called a "whole grain mayonnaise," won't win any "best in show" competitions, but both plates ended up picked clean. Out of the two visits, the only actively yucky thing we tried was an overly wet chocolate cake ($7) drizzled with way too much low-quality chocolate sauce.
Service is efficient even in the face of eager hoards; cocktails are well concocted and fairly priced. While the dining room, due to a preponderance of hard surfaces, can be untenably loud, the front porch seating is lovely on a coolish night, and a new larger patio seating area will be unveiled soon. In all, a welcome new life for an old Hyde Park neighbor.
Laura Reiley can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 892-2293. Her blog, the Mouth of Tampa Bay, can be found at www.blogs.tampabay.com/dining. Reiley dines anonymously and unannounced. The Times pays all expenses. Advertising has nothing to do with selection for review or the assessment.