BRANDON — When people need to cut expenses, chef Gaston Merideth said, gourmet catering is a pretty easy budget item to eliminate.
The slow economy had been hurting Merideth's catering company, the Brandon-based Hors d'Oeuvres Chef. So he closed up shop and started a new restaurant called Panko in early May.
Already, Panko's concept is catching on with local diners, from serious foodies to youngsters who like burgers and fries.
"We have a lot of adults who find out about us because their kids ask to come here," Merideth said.
Panko offers a cross between gourmet dining and a fast-food experience. There's no table service — customers order at a counter — and many of the menu choices are similar to the fare you'd see at a fast-food chain.
But there are differences. When someone orders french fries, the Panko staff doesn't scoop up some soggy fries that have been sitting under a heat lamp. They pull out an actual potato, slice it and fry it right there.
"The potato isn't sliced until you order it," Merideth said.
Customers can order burgers with bleu cheese or avocado. Chicken sandwiches can be grilled, blackened or fried with panko, a flaky Japanese bread crumb that has a crisp, light texture. The coleslaw is made with Napa cabbage and an Asian dressing.
It takes a little longer than the fast food a lot of people are used to, but customers who don't want to wait can call in or fax their order before they leave their homes or offices.
Panko is at 528 Oakfield Drive, near Lifestyle Fitness in the space formerly occupied by Oakfield Café. It's open from 10:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday and closed Sunday. For more information, call (813) 655-4400 or visit pankoonline.com.
Restaurant opens inside Harley motorcycle dealership
BRANDON — A Harley-Davidson dealership is not where most people would expect to find food.
But for the past three months, Mike and Simone Tolley have been serving ribs, pork, chicken and Angus steaks at Uncle Mike's Smokehouse Grill.
Uncle Mike's is inside Old Town Brandon Harley-Davidson at 9847 Adamo Drive, between U.S. 301 and I-75. Old Town has a large piece of land, and Uncle Mike's is on a pond stocked with koi and catfish. Ducks and longhorn steer also roam the land.
The location has made the smokehouse a hit with Harley enthusiasts, but it's just as popular with families. Kids love feeding the fish and ducks, Mike Tolley said.
The Tolleys also own Cowboy's Steakhouse in Plant City.
Besides food — a smoked pork dish called hog wings is a specialty — Uncle Mike's offers beer and wine, and entertainment on weekends. There's a country DJ on Fridays (Simone Tolley offers line dancing lessons), a live rock band on Saturdays and acoustic rock on Sundays.
Uncle Mike's is open from 11 a.m. until 7 p.m. Sunday through Tuesday, 11 a.m. until 9 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday, and 1 a.m. until midnight Friday and Saturday. For more information, call (813) 644-6888 or visit unclemikesgrill.com.
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