Friday, September 21, 2018
Dining

Review: At charming C House in Tampa, all food starts with the letter C

TAMPA

Remember that game? "My father owns a grocery store and in it he sells something that starts with C?" All sexism aside (my mom could have owned a grocery store, no sweat), I killed at that game. Yes, it was because my family was cheap and did a whole lot of cross-country driving vacations so I got to practice, but also because I seemed to know a lot of grocery store items.

So when I heard that Danna Haydar was opening a new restaurant in Seminole Heights that served only foods that start with C, my engines got revved. Coconut cream, Camembert, carambola. (Also, it was hard to stop humming the Cookie Monster classic C Is for Cookie.)

Funny thing: Haydar, who for seven years has been the in-house counsel for the Tampa Bay Lightning, came up with the idea on a long drive back from visiting her mother-in-law. Sheís always dreamed of having a restaurant, and in enumerating menu items to her husband, realized the first big handful started with C. Whether you think itís gimmicky or charming, the C House was born.

Opened at the end of March in what was a transmission shop, itís a big indoor-outdoor restaurant with a covered outdoor bar, perfectly suited to family dining but seemingly a big draw for small groups of women. This may be because of the menuís reliance on the "Big Three": Champagne, charcuterie and cheesecake. Not three things that I frequently think of in the same breath, but having Hoovered up a whole bunch of all three at the C House last week, itís not a bad emphasis at all.

Iím going to say right up front that there are some cheats. Poutine is slyly described as Canadian fries ($11; Haydar is from Toronto), mac and cheese becomes Cheesy Mac ($10), and all the cocktails are renamed with Cís abounding so that an old fashioned becomes Circumstantial Evidence ($12, quite good, nice big ice cube). But otherwise, donít expect any major C change: cobb and caesar salads, cioppino, ceviche, cheeseburger, chicken wings ó it all hangs together in a loose but contemporary American idiom.

As is increasingly the case in Seminole Heights, parking can be an issue. The C House lot is not quite big enough, so folks are parking in the plaza across Paris Street and engendering the ire of Seminole Heights residents who canít zip into the longtime businesses in that strip. Something is going to have to give in Seminole Heights parking wise, especially with a whole raft of new restaurants and other businesses poised to come online, but itís certainly not the C Houseís fault.

In a couple of visits, service was stuttery ó sometimes attentive, sometimes overly laissez-faire, but always friendly. Itís a pleasant place to order a drink and a couple of noshes, then a couple more. The cheese and charcuterie options are a good place to start (pick three for $16, five for $25, seven for $33), with a punchy chorizo, slow-smolder and spreadable nduja (a lush-with-fat pork salumi), straightforward fresh goat cheese, nutty and crystalline manchego, etc., served with a pleasant but not epic set of accompaniments (grainy mustard, a good preserve, olives and nuts, but veggies like cuke and carrot that, while starting with C, were not pickled as advertised). C House has heavy lifting ahead if it aims to compete with cheese-and-charcuterie titans like Annata or Haven, but I thought it was presented and priced appropriately.

The house white gulf shrimp ceviche ($13) was perhaps my favorite dish, vivacious and balanced, with great acid, heat and veggie crunch. Chipotle honey chicken biscuit sliders (three for $14) are quite good and a little messy ó youíll end up chasing some of it around with a fork, scooping up those last crunchy bits of chicken with radicchio-cabbage slaw. Buffalo cauliflower ($10) and the poutine are both guilty pleasures ó salty, fatty finger foods ó but well executed in both cases, the fries having a rustic, housemade crunch and a greaseless but moist interior (youíll see them again as truffle fries on the chimichurri steak frites, a generous flat iron, rosy centered and flavorful, for $22).

Dessert seems to be a passion for Haydar, with cheesecake taking center stage. Iím still thinking about the deeply chocolatey version (velvety and not too sweet, $7), which we doubled down on with a passel of chocolate truffles ($2 each).

Seminole Heights breeds quirky, and the C House is no exception. For a new restaurant, though, it has polish and a rakish charm (thereís a digital fireplace inside, check it out). Oh, and if Haydar is looking for suggestions, how about chowder? Or crepes? Or clafoutis? I could do this all day.

Contact Laura Reiley at [email protected] or (727) 892-2293. Follow @lreiley. She dines unannounced and the Times pays all expenses.

     
         
Comments
New restaurants: Olivia from Chris Ponte, Crabby Billís Off the Hook

New restaurants: Olivia from Chris Ponte, Crabby Billís Off the Hook

COMING SOON: OLIVIAChris Ponte, right, has been a steady and notable culinary leader in our area for more than a decade with his flagship restaurant Cafe Ponte in Clearwater. A couple of years ago he mixed things up a bit by debuting On Swann in Hyde...
Published: 09/19/18
Restaurant review: The Local doesn't stand out enough above its Tampa neighbors to make an impact

Restaurant review: The Local doesn't stand out enough above its Tampa neighbors to make an impact

TAMPA Do you have this debate? "Florida is not in the South." "Um, look at a map." I guess I am in the former camp: It seems Florida gets more Southern the more north and west you go, accents only creeping in as reliably as boiled peanuts up on the ...
Published: 09/17/18
Updated: 09/18/18
Chefs offer up a taste of whatís coming to Sparkman Wharf

Chefs offer up a taste of whatís coming to Sparkman Wharf

TAMPA ó On Wednesday night, about 60 people got a sneak preview of what Tampa diners soon will experience at Sparkman Wharf, part of the $3 billion Water Street Tampa neighborhood that Jeff Vinik and Strategic Property Partners are developing in what...
Published: 09/14/18
Whatís new in food: Clearwater Beach Restaurant Week, National Cheeseburger Day

Whatís new in food: Clearwater Beach Restaurant Week, National Cheeseburger Day

DINE AROUND: CLEARWATER BEACH RESTAURANT WEEKPromoted by the Clearwater Beach Chamber of Commerce, Clearwater Beach Restaurant Week is celebrating its ninth year Friday through Sept. 23. The culinary celebration offers foodies an opportunity to exper...
Published: 09/12/18
Restaurant review: Part fish shack, part high-end cocktail bar, Trophy Fish in St. Petersburg thrives on a fresh approach

Restaurant review: Part fish shack, part high-end cocktail bar, Trophy Fish in St. Petersburg thrives on a fresh approach

ST. PETERSBURGI value restaurants and people the same way, I suppose. I like those with a take. They donít have to be the smartest or the prettiest, but the ones I like have a unique perspective, something that differentiates them from everybody else...
Published: 09/10/18
Updated: 09/11/18
Tampaís Fly Bar and Restaurant will move locations

Tampaís Fly Bar and Restaurant will move locations

TAMPA ó Restaurant announcements for Sparkman Wharf and Strategic Property Partnersí 50-acre Water Street Tampa project have come fast and furious the past couple weeks. With a price tag of more than $3 billion and reading like a whoís who of Tampa B...
Published: 09/07/18
James Beard winner Anne Kearney to open Oak & Ola in Armature Works

James Beard winner Anne Kearney to open Oak & Ola in Armature Works

TAMPA ó It was always part of the plan for the 22,000-square-foot Heights Public Market at Armature Works to have two anchor restaurants in addition to the fourteen quick-serve vendors. The developers debuted Steelbach, a sprawling steaks and chops b...
Published: 09/06/18
Whatís new in food: The Artisan, Big Rayís Fish Camp, Joe and Sonís Olive Oils

Whatís new in food: The Artisan, Big Rayís Fish Camp, Joe and Sonís Olive Oils

COMING SOON: THE ARTISANGulfport is heating up. Iíve been hearing raves about Golden Dinosaurs vegan deli, and now it seems that seasoned restaurateurs Michael Stewart, left, and Tom Golden will open an art and food collective called the Artisan in G...
Published: 09/05/18
Updated: 09/06/18
Are tacos the new burgers? A slew of new taco-centric places in Tampa Bay make the case

Are tacos the new burgers? A slew of new taco-centric places in Tampa Bay make the case

One thing has remained constant. Ketchup may give way to salsa as the dominant condiment, with sriracha nipping at its heels, but for decades the hamburger has been the No. 1 most-purchased menu item in food service. There it is, the hallowed beef pa...
Updated one month ago
Tampaís Columbia Restaurant will be tented for termites

Tampaís Columbia Restaurant will be tented for termites

Ringling Brothers may have been put to bed, but thereís another serious big top soon to be erected in Tampa.Tampaís Columbia Restaurant is said to be the oldest restaurant in the state, as well as the largest ó a whole city block in historic Ybor Cit...
Updated one month ago