RIVERVIEW — The search for the restaurant replacing the Green Iguana at Winthrop Town Centre is over.
EATS! American Grill, currently at 4502 S Dale Mabry Highway in Tampa, will expand to a second location, bringing ribs, wings and other American classics to the pedestrian-friendly development this spring.
"We are American traditional," owner and founder Chris Rose said. "Our goal is to present foods from different cities and regions of the U.S. and prepare it the way it was prepared or invented in that city or region."
That dedication adds an extra layer of research and authenticity to the food that Winthrop Town Center founder John Sullivan appreciated.
"He actually has a story behind a lot of the menu items where he's researched it and got it as right as he can," Sullivan said of Rose. "It's not just all-American food, it's actually tracing the roots of those signature dishes as far back as he can."
When Green Iguana announced in December it was closing its doors and moving to Brandon, Winthrop Town Center founder John Sullivan began looking for the restaurant to take its place.
"I gained seven or eight pounds during the process," Sullivan said. "We had some great meals at different places."
Sullivan said he was drawn to EATS! over some other large players not just because of the quality of food, but also because of Rose's passion for the restaurant business. Sullivan described EATS! as an up-and-coming property run by close-knit family who operate well together.
EATS! has been featured on the Food Network and also won best burger in Tampa Bay in 2013 and best ribs in Tampa in 2010.
While some of the other restaurants vying for the location were too expensive or too generic, Sullivan said he appreciated the vibe of EATS! and the dedication Rose puts into finding the best recipes. For example, he tracked the Philly Cheesesteak back to the specific taverns in Philadelphia where it made its name. Unlike many Floridian restaurants, EATS! serves up its Philly Cheesesteak with Cheez Whiz and on Amoroso rolls instead of hoagies.
"We offer it both ways, but we always encourage people to try it with the Cheez Whiz and go authentic," Rose said.
The restaurant also is one of the few left that offers a welcome appetizer — but instead of a bread basket, it's traditional Saratoga Potato Chips.
"I think it's important as a restaurant that we stick to what the American society is used to, and that is the welcome app," Rose said. "A lot of others have done away with it, but I think it's important. It's part of the experience."
Though no opening day is set, the restaurant aims for sometime this spring, between mid-April and mid-May. It will be joined by another expanding restaurant, Ciccio's Cali, which is preparing for a grand opening in Winthrop on March 22.
"We really like what John Sullivan created there," said Ciccio's partner Matthew Lanza. "He has retail and residential. It gives you an independent feel with some of the restaurants there, and it's just a beautiful setting with the landscaping and attention to detail."
Ciccio's Cali touts healthier selections, such as vegan, gluten-free and high-protein options, in addition to its more indulgent desserts and flavorful entrees.
The grand opening will feature face painting, a bounce house, a magician and a stilt walker, along with live music at the 3,000-square-foot restaurant.
Caitlin Johnston can be reached at [email protected]tampabay.com or (813) 661-2443.