Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Mise En Place, Columbia contenders to fill void left when Valencia Garden closed

In pondering who will "fill the void" now that the famed Valencia Garden's 82-year-old run has ended, I chose those three words carefully.

You can't replace an institution, only hope to be a viable alternative. Even if the Valencia owners set up shop somewhere else, it might not be the same. Here's why:

1) The CBS factor: CBS is code for "see and be seen." Valencia's main dining room drew the politicos and power brokers and put them in full view, fueling speculation and innuendo better than a grocery checkout line gossip rag.

2) The straw: Don't underestimate the influence of proprietor David Agliano. He knew all the players by name, even if they had never met the man or dined at his place. He paid attention to detail, and smartly guided the seating in "the room," stirring it nicely.

3) The parking: Influential people want to go where they can get in and out. Valencia's parking made that possible.

4) Proximity to power: It's not simply that Valencia was close to downtown. It was close to County Center, City Hall and the courthouses.

5) Ambience/cuisine: The white linen cloth decor lent class, but the pricing points on the Spanish/Cuban selections didn't scare you away. Plus, it was open to the public, unlike the private clubs, and well established, unlike some newer places.

So given those qualities, here are my frontrunners:

Mise En Place. This is my top pick. Although people can hide in the lower-level seating, it's upper-level dining room already carries a high CBS rating. It's an easy drive from downtown and it has the parking. Plus, proprietor Maryann Ferenc doesn't need a scorecard, and wants it to be the place where deals are done and arguments made.

"We've already had our foot in that door, to some degree," Ferenc said.

But no Spanish cuisine.

My suggestion? Have "Valencia Days" maybe twice a month in the restaurant's Lafayette Room banquet space — a nice open area — and serve up some arroz con pollo and plantains.

Columbia-Ybor City. A close second. Even more of an institution than Valencia, it has the cuisine, the ambience and the parking. But it's multiple dining areas don't offer as many CBS possibilities, even though you can spot notables in the patio area.

220 East. One of the first people to find the padlock on Valencia last week turned to this Davis Islands locale. It doesn't quite have the CBS feel, and parking can be tricky (use the side streets). No Spanish cuisine, but great food and it has some notable regulars like former Mayor Dick Greco.

Spain. It has the cuisine and the bright open room. What it needs is a point person to stir the crowd and greater popularity. Parking also is a challenge, but it is a short walk from City Hall.

Malio's Prime. The new Malio's has a downtown location, but parking is a challenge and pricing points are above the norm. Most important, the linear design doesn't lend itself to the CBS crowd.

Of course, as the community grows, iconic gathering spots give way to varied choices and less tradition.

"We're a big city, and as we become a big city you lose a lot of that atmosphere, that homey feeling," Greco told the Times' Justin George. "Those things, like people, pass away. It is what it is."

Sometimes, I hate progress.

That's all I'm saying.

Mise En Place, Columbia contenders to fill void left when Valencia Garden closed 06/08/09 [Last modified: Monday, June 8, 2009 9:14pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Comedian and activist Dick Gregory dies at 84


    The comedian Dick Gregory rose to national prominence in the early 1960s as a black satirist whose audacious style of humor was biting, subversive and topical, mostly centered on current events, politics and above all, racial tensions. His trademark was the searing punchline.

    Dick Gregory, a comedian, activist and author, died Saturday. [Tribune News Service, 2011]
  2. Winter Haven police investigating armed robbery at Dollar General


    WINTER HAVEN — Police are investigating an armed robbery Friday night of a Dollar General store on W Lake Ruby Drive.

  3. Rowdies settle for draw at home


    ST. PETERSBURG — The good news for the Rowdies is that they still haven't lost a game at Al Lang Stadium since late April. The bad news is they had to settle for a 1-1 tie against Ottawa on Saturday night in front of 6,710 sweaty fans.

  4. Bats come to life, but Rays' freefall continues (w/video)

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG —The six runs seemed like a ton, just the second time the Rays had scored that many in a game during their numbing two-plus-weeks stretch of offensive impotency, and amazingly, the first time at the Trop in nearly two months.

    Lucas Duda connects for a two-run home run in the sixth, getting the Rays within 7-5. A Logan Morrison home run in the ninth made it 7-6, but Tampa Bay couldn’t complete the comeback.
  5. 'Free speech rally' cut short after massive counterprotest


    BOSTON — Thousands of demonstrators chanting anti-Nazi slogans converged Saturday on downtown Boston in a boisterous repudiation of white nationalism, dwarfing a small group of conservatives who cut short their planned "free speech rally" a week after a gathering of hate groups led to bloodshed in Virginia.

    Thousands of people march against a “free speech rally” planned Saturday in Boston. About 40,000 people were in attendance.