It wasnít that long ago that Platt Street was a bit of a conundrum for restaurateurs: Not exactly downtown, without the dense auto traffic of Kennedy, and far enough off the South Howard main drag that it didnít entirely qualify as part of SoHo. There have historically been exceptions, the Rack with its come-hither sushi-and-billiards combo leaping to mind. But in recent years, starting with Boca and Smoke in its place before that, Platt is filling up with ambitious and chef-driven restaurants. Noble Rice is killing it, and since the second week in November, Platt Street Borough has been sending out smart and contemporary, but casual, food and drink.
Turns out, itís in the location that for years was the Rack and then more briefly the Hyde Out. Kiel Lombardo and Adam Hyatt are the brains behind it, a duo who worked together for years at Royís. Hyatt was Lombardoís sous chef in Tampa before being promoted to corporate chef in Jacksonville and then leaving Royís to work for the Ciccio Restaurant Group (where he helped out with the development of concepts like Better Byrd and Fresh Kitchen).
Lombardo and Hyatt remained good friends, dreamed of opening a casual restaurant together, one that had fine-dining standards. Lombardo consulted on the Hyde Out project and when that didnít work out, the pair jumped on the large space. They put in slider doors to give it an open feel, added a big main bar, redid all the fixtures and tile work, added custom barn doors to block off private dining space. Oh, and bocce outside.
Itís about 100 seats spread across an open-concept 4,600 square feet. Itís an easy place to sit at the bar and watch a Lightning game, fork fighting over the last bites of poutine with short rib gravy and bouncy clods of cheese curds ($10), or if youíre feeling a little fancier, the last bites of caramelized roasted cauliflower dotted with toasted pumpkin seeds and little bits of dried apricot and pickled red onion, all of that bedded down on a swath of curried yogurt ($9). And itís also an easy spot to drop in on a weeknight with a bunch of buddies, stepping out front for cutthroat pallino (thatís the little ball in bocce) chasing in between drinks and snacks.
I was flying blind my first visit, didnít know who was behind the new restaurant. But almost immediately it was apparent that chefs with pedigrees were involved. The short cocktail list is punchy and interesting (a super mezcal margarita, a cheeky spin on a boulevardier, a variation on a rough rider with Monkey Shoulder whisky, most drinks $9 to $11) and the food menu for dinner and weekend brunch contain a whole raft of fetish foods of the moment.
Most fetish-worthy is the cafe mocha budino, the plush custard underneath a cap of salted caramel and with a flurry of lemon almond shortbread crumbles to add textural contrast, a great and sharable dessert for $8. Of course, thatís not where I started: Ahi tuna tataki ($14) gets lifted out of same-as-the-others by a gloss of fruity olive oil and a roasted peanut romesco sauce, oh, and a few rounds of peppery radish and fluffs of fresh herbs. And the ricotta gnudi (a nonpotato cousin to gnocchi; $19) may not look like a lavish entree in its shallow white bowl, but the richness of the housemade pasta with cubes of roasted butternut and roasted mushrooms, all brought together with a nutty-sweet browned sage butter is pure wintery satisfaction.
Lombardo and Hyatt have hired a service team that is friendly but casual, not always keenly aware of how best to describe or sell the food. In essence, the food sells itself, moderate prices and trigger words all over the menu: A BLT-ish eschews bacon in favor of thick-cut and sumptuous pork belly, with arugula, blistered tomatoes and a smear of lively pesto on ciabatta completing the seduction ($13). Even if your objective is just a little nosh to go alongside a few craft beers, thereís a very laudable guacamole accessorized with warm chips and a smoky-charred pico ($6).
With all the restaurant growth in the past couple years, and still more on the horizon, Platt Street may well function as a Restaurant Row connecting two other dense dining destinations. And the Borough, with its smart formula and careful execution, may be right at the center of things.
Contact Laura Reiley at [email protected] or (727) 892-2293. Follow @lreiley. She dines unannounced and the Times pays all expenses.