TAMPA — The Brocato's Sandwich Shop menu boasts award-winning devil crabs, thick sandwiches and party platters.
But on Wednesday, it wasn't the food making it famous.
State records show the restaurant at 5021 E Columbus Drive has been cited for nearly 230 health and safety violations over the past year.
Among the issues that caught the inspectors' attention: black and green mold growing inside the ice machine; chunks of food in "clean" silverware; and chicken, crab meat, butter and cheese left at temperatures that could make customers sick.
The news was trending on social media.
Owner Michael Brocato said many of the problems had been already addressed. He insisted the 68-year-old family-owned restaurant is clean.
"We're not a dirty business and we don't do dirty dining," Brocato said. "I know health inspectors are doing their jobs and I applaud that. But a lot of these are administrative complaints."
State health inspectors visited the Tampa restaurant at least nine times in 2015, records show. During one visit in October, they documented nearly 40 violations.
Although some violations were minor — a cracked floor tile, a dusty fan cover — others were more serious. On a few occasions, the inspectors wrote, employees didn't wash their hands before preparing food, or they touched dirty surfaces and didn't immediately wash their hands.
The violations continued: No soap in the bathroom. No employee hand-washing signs. Can openers encrusted with food.
Brocato said his restaurant is a small mom-and-pop outfit that has had to make improvements to keep up with changing state codes.
On Wednesday, a few of his catering jobs were canceled, he said. But he reached out to longtime customers with the following message: "Come see me and I'll walk you through the kitchen and the freezer and everything hand in hand."
He added: "I've been doing this for too many years to be anything but open. It's not a dirty restaurant and I have nothing to hide."
Contact Hanna Marcus at [email protected] or (727) 893-8603. Follow @hannaemarcus.