TAMPA — The Refinery, a Seminole Heights restaurant that changes its menu every week, has been nominated as one of the best new restaurants in the country by the James Beard Foundation.
The Refinery was the only Tampa Bay restaurant honored. It is among 33 restaurants named as semifinalists in the best new restaurant category. The list will be narrowed to five finalists and eventually a top pick. The James Beard Awards have often been called the food world's Academy Awards, honoring chefs and restaurants around the country.
Owners Greg and Michelle Baker have gotten rave reviews locally for their focus on fresh, local ingredients and an ever-changing menu. The Refinery is at 5137 N Florida Ave.
When she first heard the news, Michelle immediately called her husband. "Are you sitting down?'' she asked. "And he said no. And I said can you? And he said no.'' Then she told him. His response is not entirely printable here, but he was stunned.
"Eventually I got to sit down,'' he said.
And eventually she looked at the list of other nominees. "I was very humbled and I started to shake a little bit,'' she said. "And it kind of became real at that moment.''
Though they have extensive restaurant experience, the Refinery is the first place they have owned. It will celebrate its first anniversary in March.
The foundation last honored local restaurants in 2009. Zach Gross, the owner and chef of Z Grille, was a semifinalist for best chef in the Southeast, and Bern's Steak House was nominated for outstanding restaurant.
The only other Florida nominees for best new restaurant are Sugarcane Raw Bar Grill in Miami and Elise Coastal Dining in Pensacola.
Other Florida nominees are Myles Chefetz of Miami (Big Pink, Prime Italian, Prime One Twelve, Shoji Sushi, and Nemo) for outstanding restaurateur; Yvonne Roberts of the Biltmore in Coral Gables for outstanding wine service; Sam Gorenstein of BLT Steak at the Betsy Hotel in Miami Beach for rising star chef; James and Julie Petrakis of the Ravenous Pig in Winter Park and Philippe Ruiz at the Palme d'Or at the Biltmore in Coral Gables, for best chef in the South.
A national panel of more than 550 judges — restaurant critics, food and wine editors, culinary educators and previous award winners — determine the five finalists in each category and choose the winners, who will be announced in May.