Monday, December 18, 2017
Business

Clementine Café via Airstream is coming to Ybor Daily Market

TAMPA

They're still talking about the chicken.

"It was perfect," said Theresa Bloise, a food blogger at She Bites, who was one of about 20 people at a private dinner last weekend catered by the soon-to-debut Ybor City restaurant Clementine Café.

"It was juicy. Well-cooked. The skin was great. Smoky but not too smoky."

To serve chicken as the main event at a party for Tampa foodies when you have a restaurant opening in a few weeks was a bold decision. Chicken isn't flashy. It's often mediocre.

And this chicken, event host Kurt Raschke of Tasting Tampa noted, wasn't even slathered in hip foie gras or pork belly or whatever. It was naked. Naked chicken to impress a room full of people who care about eating, who talk and tweet and blog about eating.

Clementine's buzz could have died right there on an Instagrammed plate of #WhatTheCluck hashtags.

But it didn't.

"Cooked perfectly," was also how Raschke described it. "A beautiful, simple chicken presentation."

This chicken "blows your mind," said Clementine owner Misty Sommers, who plans to open the restaurant with her chef-husband, Brian, by the beginning of February.

• • •

The story of their chicken epitomizes their food philosophy: The Sommerses are all about quality. They care about real food, locally sourced when possible, primarily organic. Good fats. Lots of vegetables. Meat from humanely raised animals. Grass-fed beef.

The chicken itself is of heritage lineage from Joyce Farms; organic, free-range and kept in a low-stress environment. Brian spends three days preparing it with his brine and chicken wizardry. Then he cooks it.

That's it.

"We use the best ingredients, prepared in the best way," he said.

Brian and Misty have been in the restaurant business for more than 20 years, with him as an executive chef and her managing the front of the house. They met in 2001 opening a restaurant in West Palm Beach.

Brian's resume includes names like the Atlanta Fish Market and Horseradish Grill in Atlanta, Vidalia in Washington D.C., DISH and Jasper's in Dallas. He worked for Wolfgang Puck's catering business. Julia Child taught him how to make fried chicken, he said.

• • •

The couple, who have an 8-year-old son, said they were hired and brought to Tampa from Dallas in 2012 for a new restaurant project that ended up fizzling. But they liked Tampa and wanted to stay, so they began searching for a place where they could finally open their own restaurant.

As they searched, they made friends. They had dinner parties at their South Tampa home. Their friends gushed over the food they served, asking if they could order it. Without intending to do so, the Sommerses found themselves in the boutique chef service business, cooking meals and delivering them to homes in Hillsborough and Pinellas.

Their church, Christ Fellowship in Seminole Heights, allowed them to use their kitchen in exchange for a weekly meal. The private chef business evolved to include catering. Brian and Misty found they loved their new ventures, but still longed for their own place.

"All we've ever done are brick and mortar restaurants," Brian said.

• • •

Last spring, on a trip to Key West, they ate at a great food truck called Garbo's Grill.

"We could totally do this," they said to each other.

They bought a 1973 Airstream International Land Yacht from where it sat in a field in Pasco County and had it gutted and transformed into a commercial kitchen.

Though they wanted the food truck concept — quick food with a small menu — they wanted a permanent location. They found it at the new Ybor Daily Market at 1920 E Seventh Ave., a cavernous venue with a stage and rooftop balcony that was Frankie's Patio for years before being the site of several nightclubs, recently Barbarella.

Clementine will be inside the Market, which opened this month and is a collection of local vendors of produce, candles, cookies, tea, coffee and more.

There are plans for a rooftop garden, more food staples such as dairy and eggs, and hosting duties for community events. The Sommerses hope to offer special event dinners on the roof and to sell grab-and-go items at the Market.

• • •

It's all just getting going and, for now, Clementine and the Market will both be open from 11 a.m. till 3 p.m., with Clementine open Tuesday through Saturday and the Market open Monday through Friday. Brian and Misty plan to continue their home delivery and catering businesses.

"Hard work is nothing new to us," Misty said.

They said they've opened about 30 restaurants for other people, working 100-hour weeks, sleeping at the businesses.

So, as they prepare to launch Clementine — so named because Brian's family had citrus groves in South Florida — they have joy because they are doing this together, as a family.

"We are exhausted but this is what we do," Misty said. "We have more energy because this is for us."

Brian called the menu an "ode to patio food." There will be soup, salad, tacos, ribs, burgers and, of course, the famous chicken.

"I'm going to fill people up with fantastic food," Brian said.

Contact Erin Sullivan at [email protected]

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