The admonishment not to judge a book by its cover has always confused me somewhat. Isn't that why publishers spend gobs of money on cover art and agonize over fonts, because they want readers to snap it up for the sheer deliciousness of the cover? The issue is more that, if the cover features happy unicorns leaping over rainbows and the book's content reads like Schindler's List, then the incongruity can be disorienting.
The new Grille One Sixteen on Dale Mabry Highway is a little like that. Terence Terenzi and partner Tom Schelldorf did the same very smart thing they did with their flagship restaurant of the same name in Carrollwood: They hired Angel del Monte of Alfonso Architects to do the design. It is drop-dead hip, super Miami-glammy. It is so cool looking that I couldn't find the front door, chock-full of white leather and sleek lighting (but beware: it's dark as a crypt, with lighted menus because so few people read Braille these days). Bathroom fixtures will make you dissatisfied with your john at home, and the bar seating manages to make everyone look like a celeb in training.
Tampa's professional athletes and the beautiful people that flit around them haven't found the new Grille One Sixteen yet (opened in April). But the concept is essentially the same. Schelldorf was the cofounder of Hop's and Terenzi was Hop's CFO, so they are restaurant veterans who understand the vicissitudes of the business. They started the first Grille One Sixteen in 2007 with dramatic food and fairly steep prices.
Since then, the menu has been rethought, pared back, given a makeover with value in mind. The upshot in both locations is a restaurant that looks like a million bucks but dinner comes with a house or Caesar salad, portions are big and prices won't give most people palpitations.
Despite the setting, dishes aren't edgy or high-concept. Bryan Gallagher, brought from the original location where he was co-chef, oversees a menu that seems mostly familiar: a few steaks, a fancy burger, glazed wild salmon, diver sea scallops. That's not to say that there isn't good food on offer, just that its value-oriented, rib-sticking sensibility is a little incongruous with the decor. But maybe that's a sign of the times.
The best dishes are as follows: Four hot, house-made doughnuts served with several sauces — caramel, raspberry, chocolate — ($8) are a great shared treat, as is a starter of Nueske bacon ($8). Really, it's just bacon, thick-cut, hot, crisp, served in a white napkin. In this time of cultish bacon goofiness, there's something refreshing about the straightforwardness of this. Go on, eat some bacon, it's not just for breakfast. The Walker's Wood shrimp (a nod to a Hop's dish; $12.50 small, $17 large) brings excellent crustaceans, simply grilled and served with a kicky lemon butter.
More Nueske bacon creeps into a dish of fat, pan-seared scallops ($28) set atop house grits and a sweet corn puree — simple but sophisticated. And the warm pretzel loaf, as at the Carrollwood location, is a major crowd pleaser ($4; served with a spinach and artichoke spread that doesn't quite measure up to the loaf itself). And Kobe sliders, a trio that comes with well-made fries ($15) kick it up with a wasabi mustard, a tangle of caramelized shallot and horseradish pickle.
There's something kind of funny about snarfing sliders surrounded by all this sumptuous white leather. Still, Grille One Sixteen's cocktail list and attractive mixologists keep things snazzy enough that a burger and fries look nice and haute.
Laura Reiley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 892-2293. Reiley dines anonymously and unannounced. The Times pays all expenses.