HYDE PARK NORTH — There's history in Gordon Davis' new restaurant, and not just because the 1926 building housing it was a gas station for its first 35 years.
The old chalkboard menus from Davis' much-loved first venture, Le Bordeaux, line the walls above the bar. The chefs behind the bar, working in the open kitchen, are people Davis has known for nearly as long as he has been in the business.
Then there is the food at Smoke Barbecue & Grill, which opened Monday and is designed to be unlike any other barbecue joint in Tampa.
Davis' idea was to take much of what he has learned and cooked over the years as one of Tampa's premier restaurateurs and throw it into the smoker, on the grill or in the rotisserie oven.
"We wanted to play around with super-quality comfort food," Davis said. "It's sort of a labor of love."
But for Davis, the comfort is not just in the food; it's also with the people he has brought with him to the 40-seat restaurant at 901 W Platt St., about a mile west of downtown.
Davis, also the founder of the former St. Bart's Island House and the booming Ceviche Tapas Bar and Restaurant concept, has partnered with old friends and local fixtures Tony Bruno (formerly of St. Bart's, Mise en Place and others) and Rick Knapik (formerly of Ceviche). Davis' son Gene, a recent college graduate, is also on board.
Davis shelved his plans for retirement to his Colorado cattle ranch to start Smoke. He plans to stick around long enough to get things humming and help his partners expand on the concept.
It has taken 14 months of working with the city to get the restaurant open — a more difficult process, he said, than opening the 22,000-square-foot Orlando Ceviche last year. The menu itself has been years in the making.
He called Smoke a "world barbecue concept," with influences from Asia, Europe, Hawaii, Texas and Canada.
The menu features slow-smoked brisket, pork shoulder and pork ribs, braised beef ribs, Southern fried catfish, sugar glazed corned beef, Hawaiian style chicken, grilled salmon and even duck. The duck, in a nod to Davis' background in French cuisine, is grilled with an orange and bourbon glaze. "We're duck people," Davis quipped.
The meats are from animals fed natural grass and are organic when possible, "the highest quality we can find," Davis said.
Entrees range from about $12 to $20, but it is the lower-priced "flying smokehouse kabobs" that may get a lot of attention. Served on their own upright, oversized racks, the kabobs are priced from about $4 to $8 and feature shrimp, trout, scallops, sausages, chicken or vegetables with a variety of glazes. They are meant to work as appetizers or as a meal when adding sides ($2.95 each).
Sides are plentiful and range from the expected (rough cut fries, grilled corn, macaroni and cheese) to unusual items like Italian grilled grits cakes (polenta in disguise), twice-baked sweet potatoes, and a Jewish lemon kugel made with egg noodles. One of the bread offerings is a cheese roll made with yucca flour.
A good value
Davis said he is relying on his long relationships with various suppliers to keep prices down.
"We really believe in giving a good value," Davis said. "We think the timing is great for this kind of concept."
Smoke's decor is rustic and Southern, with reclaimed cypress lining the walls and new but distressed pine on the floors of the main dining room. The eating areas are divided into a 30-seat dining room with tables, chairs and air conditioning, and a 10-seat open-air bar that overlooks the kitchen. It's designed to mimic an old screened-in Southern porch, Davis said.
"This is going to be a warm place to eat, but fun," he said.
Smoke will be open daily from 11 a.m. to midnight. Beer and wine will be served as soon as the space gets wet-zoning approval. A hearing is scheduled for next month.