RIVERVIEW — As the sun set Monday, greeters warmly welcomed customers into the hustle and bustle of opening day at Boca Brandon Kitchen Bar & Market. Friendly servers in fresh pressed black uniforms gingerly moved about as light music cascaded through the air, with the sounds of patrons laughing in the background.
"It went fantastic," general manager Doug Scagliola said.
Boca is the latest gem in the Winthrop Town Centre crown. Local foodies looking for authentic, locally grown, farm-to-table cuisine and craft cocktail culture can look no farther than their own back yard. Scagliola said area companies like Urban Canning of St. Petersburg and the Dancing Goat Urban Farm are already benefiting from the restaurant's fresh focus.
"A lot of the people we've been able to hunt down and bring in, we've helped them grow their business," Scagliola said. "It's really about reaching out and finding these people and making these relationships. Everybody wants to know what they're eating."
Added executive chef Matthew Mangone: "People want to eat fresh and healthy. They don't want stuff that's frozen and injected with hormones. That's helping farm to table grow."
The restaurant has the authenticity of an upscale, refurbished farmhouse yet with modern accoutrements such as the urban vertical grow wall of fragrant, fresh herbs. Workers routinely pluck herbs off the wall, like sprigs of lemon basil that tastes like Fruit Loops but without the sugar and gluten.
The 5,000-square-foot dining establishment focuses on a central open rectangular bar with a lovely spillover to a generous 1,000-square-foot patio that lends itself well to dining alfresco. Boca also includes a private dining room that accommodates 65 guests and a charming fresh market featuring homemade jams, dressings and local produce.
Scagliola said greater Brandon drew the interest of the restaurant's parent company, BE-1 Concepts, because the area doesn't have a lot of dining establishments that offer a warm ambience with a focus on farm-to-table ingredients and dishes such as meatloaf, flatbreads, spiced chicken, ahi tuna and braised short rib.
"We do a lot of market research and look at our locations and look at what's going on, and this location had a need for it," Scagliola said. "There's really not much like this here. There are a lot of chains, a lot of big places that have been around a long time, but there's not really that comfortable, cozy, honest, simple kind of feel."
He added that the restaurant offers complimentary first drinks to members of the military with their identification. Happy hour is daily from 4 to 6 p.m. and 9 p.m. until close. On Tuesdays, it's happy hour all evening.
Boca also will have brunch on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
Scagliola and Mangone worked at the original Boca, one of six restaurants operated by BE-1 Concepts.
Winthrop Town Centre developer John Sullivan said a number of restaurants vied to move into the development but Boca won out.
"At the end of the day, Boca had exactly what we were looking for," Sullivan said. "A cool, detailed design aesthetic and quality, fresh local produce in a nonchain setting."
The addition of Boca brings Winthrop's total number of restaurants to nine, to go with a Publix, medical and dental facilities, a charter school and a day care, but Sullivan already has his eyes set on the next step.
"The next project on the horizon is an affordable apartment complex to round out the community and give employees a walkable commute to work," Sullivan said.
Contact Karla Gibson at firstname.lastname@example.org.