THE REZ GRILL
The Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Tampa debuted its newest venture on Friday. Presided over by newly appointed creative culinary director Frank Anderson, the Rez Grill is a 120-seat American grill concept, the name a nod to an American Indian reservation. The restaurant is part of a multi-million-dollar, multi-phased expansion and renovation that began at the start of the year. A grand opening celebration is planned for the weekend of Jan. 5.
Anderson’s pedigree includes running kitchens at James Beard-awarded, Los Angeles-based restaurants Animal and Son of a Gun. He and his team have curated a menu of elevated comfort food favorites including items straight from the kitchen’s Jade wood burning grill, handmade pastas and dishes meant for sharing, playfully categorized as "table participation."
The 5,000-square-foot interior, in the former location of Rise Bakery, showcases bentwood and cane chairs, Pullman-style banquettes and long communal dining tables to encourage mingling. And long glass windows surround the walls of the restaurant, allowing passersby to catch a glimpse. 5223 North Orient Road Tampa, with access from the Orient Road, Lucky Street and Winner’s Way garages. Open for dinner only to start.
Blue Harbour officially opened last week in Tampa at the newly renovated Westin Tampa Waterside. The 64-seat newcomer features 13-foot-high vaulted ceilings and a wood trellis detail, with a seafood-forward menu presided over by executive chef Tony Van Hang. Dishes include Florida bouillabaisse with seafood, fennel, saffron broth and rouille and Gulf black grouper served with sweet pea risotto and roasted mushrooms. The lunch menu offers soups, salads and sandwiches including grilled Gulf shrimp and grapefruit salad made with frisée, baby arugula, avocado, fennel, goat cheese and candied pecans. There’s a Maine lobster roll topped with cole slaw and shredded lettuce on a griddled brioche bun, and an oyster po boy served with smoked jalapeno aioli, avocado, shredded lettuce and tomato. With a full bar, Blue Harbour offers a nightly happy hour from 4 to 7 p.m. with small bites and classic cocktails such as an old fashioned ($7), Moscow mule ($5) or aperol spritz ($5). 725 South Harbour Island Blvd.
Also in Tampa, a second outpost of the Lure opened on Nov. 27. The first debuted in downtown St. Petersburg in January 2016, one of a raft of new casual, mid-price restaurants to come to town. Fifteen months later, partners Michael Stewart (Ava, 717 South) and Joe Maddon (yes, baseball Joe Maddon) set their sights on a second iteration of the Lure in Tampa at the site of Catrinas Tacos and Tequila Bar. The Lure in St. Pete is known as a good-times place for playing some pool and tucking into sushi rolls or a mess of tacos (including jerk seasoned and sauteed "chapulines," or grasshoppers, which some say is the food of the future). Grasshoppers have hopped the bay over to the Tampa side not far from Datz, in a freestanding building that has housed Marrakech, Bistro Bleu and others over the years. Initially it was dinner only, with lunch added in recent weeks and brunch on the horizon. 2402 S MacDill Ave.
ST. PETERSBURG: REOPENING
David and Erica Benstock’s Il Ritorno, consistently on the Tampa Bay Times’ annual list of Top 50 Restaurant, took advantage of the slow time of year to close for renovation and expansion. It will reopen to the public on Dec. 27. The contemporary Italian restaurant offers updated interior decor throughout, with two new private dining rooms (one that seats up to 34, and a second that seats up to 14 at one long, custom-built table). The main dining room features regular dining tables, a full-liquor bar and a new quiet, more intimate section of tables just off the main dining room. The open kitchen also features a chef’s bar, which allows guests to interact with the kitchen while enjoying their meals. Those seated at the chef’s bar will be treated to multiple courses of smaller portions to sample, and tickets for these seats will be available online at Eventbrite. This is for guests who want a front-row seat to the action in the kitchen as well as samples of new dishes. 449 Central Ave.
GONZMART: NEW LONGBOAT PROJECT
On Monday, the Gonzmart Family of Restaurants announced it will open The Buccaneer in 2019 on the site of the former PattiGeorge’s on Longboat Key. It’s a new concept for the 113-year-old restaurant group that owns and operates 13 Florida restaurants (Columbia Restaurants, Ulele, Goody Goody Burgers, Cha Cha Coconuts and Café Con Leche), its name a nod to Longboat Key’s culinary past.
"My parents’ favorite restaurant, besides the Columbia, was Herb Field’s The Buccaneer Inn on Longboat Key," said Richard Gonzmart. "My goal and my dream is to make this new restaurant an architectural gem and to pay homage to some of that restaurant’s beloved menu items, such as oysters and prime rib, as well as to add distinctive touches."
Field opened The Buccaneer Inn on March 17, 1957, and sold it in 1992. It closed in 2001 and was razed in 2005 to make room for the Grand Mariner condominium. In its prime, this fine dining restaurant was a fixture on Holiday Magazine’s national list of the best U.S. and international restaurants, a list that also included the Columbia, Brennan’s, Maxim’s de Paris and Joe’s Stone Crab as well as New York’s famed Four Seasons and the 21 Club.
The new restaurant site at 4120 Gulf of Mexico Drive spent the last many years as PattiGeorge’s, which Gonzmart purchased in June 2016. The building will be torn down and a new one erected, boat slips to be maintained. Hired for the project is executive chef Mark Boor, with experience including working at the Trio Bistro in Cincinnati when it was named a top 20 restaurant, and at Fulton’s Crab House in Disney Springs. A specific target opening date has not been named.