Sunday, May 27, 2018
Opinion

Ruth: Tampa eatery long on lore, short on taste

This seemed only fair.

It appears the management of one of Tampa's newest eateries, Hogan's Beach, was miffed over a column a few weeks ago that wondered why anyone who hadn't had their head smashed into a turnbuckle 1,000 times would have the remotest interest in supping at an establishment designed to pay homage to a glorified sweat machine.

To me, the thought of combining Hulk Hogan and food had about as much appeal as creating an apparel line inspired by the oeuvre of Dennis Rodman. Alas, the brain trust behind Hogan's Beach was not amused. It must have been something I said.

Thus it was that an email arrived from Michael Bilello, the president and CEO of Centurion Strategies, which runs Hogan's Beach. Bilello argued the joint was aiming to be a first-class operation with a fabulous chef, providing numerous employment opportunities for the region.

And Bilello extended an offer to visit the restaurant, which is located in the old Crabby Bill's at the Best Western Bay Harbor Hotel on the Courtney Campbell Causeway.

Bilello was right. Although I aspire to a life as a closet recluse, it probably did make sense to actually pop into Hogan's Beach unannounced and sample the bill of fare.

We don't go out all that much. When you do what I do for a living well, when it comes to invitations let's put it this way, Manti Te'o has more of a social life.

I'll leave a more detailed evaluation of the menu to my friend, the Tampa Bay Times restaurant critic Laura Reiley, except to note, the food was more or less okay. Nothing spectacular. Nothing to make me yearn for a return visit to indulge in a favorite item.

Not to put too fine a point on this, but would it be possible to have a menu that isn't a few pages stapled together? Look, I realize nobody thinks to put Hulk Hogan and class together in the same sentence, but shouldn't a menu at least pretend to have a hint of professionalism about it?

Still, I suspect not too many of the habitues frequenting Hogan's Beach to bask in the reflected sheen of its namesake probably don't care all that much if the offerings are at best pedestrian, or the menu looks like a term paper.

Hogan's Beach will draw its customers from fans of the big lug and the phony wrestling community. The night we were there, a steady stream of customers flowed in an out, stopping to pause along a hallway leading into the dining room to gaze lovingly on Hulkster lore — the ersatz championship belts, the chintzy T-shirts, the movie posters from their idol's cinematic career, which included such master works as Muppets From Space and perhaps eventually Skum Rocks! coming soon to a DVD near you. Can't wait.

We were told that Mr. Bollea is a frequent presence at Hogan's Beach. This was our lucky night. He didn't show.

Despite the menu's shortcomings, I can reliably recommend the American Whiskey Bread Pudding for dessert. It really was quite good.

But it was time to go. No Hulk Hogan wearing his famous napkin on his head.

Irony abounded.

Hogan's Beach exists to exploit the image of a phony "hero," a man who has spent a lifetime cultivating an alter-ego of the ultimate fighter in the ring and on screen.

As it turned out we did experience a genuine hero that night, our gracious server, who was about to ship out with her National Guard unit to the Persian Gulf.

How about that? You actually can meet a real warrior at Hogan's Beach, after all.

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