Inside scoop: Comings and goings
Cigar City Brewpub ceased operation on Jan. 1, leaving Northdale and Carrollwood customers addled. While their Facebook page says they are "currently scouting new locations and plan to reappear in 2017," one wonders if the sale of Cigar City Brewing to Colorado's Oskar Blues Brewery last March impacted locals' enthusiasm for the gastropub and beer that helped put Tampa Bay on the craft beer map. Additionally, the debut of Sacred Pepper last year in the space across the parking lot may have poached some of the customer base Cigar City Brewpub had built since its 2013 debut. Time will tell if this closure presages a diminution in Tampa Bay's craft beer fever.
Fuzzy's Taco Shop opened its second Tampa Bay location Jan. 26 in Temple Terrace at 5621 E Fowler Ave., Unit 201-207, near the University of South Florida. The 4,100-square-foot fast-casual restaurant is owned and operated by brothers and Tampa natives Adam and Ian Lieberman along with Adam's wife, J-Ray Lieberman. The first location, in Brandon, launched in February 2016. Started in 2003 on Berry Street in Fort Worth, Texas, there are now more than 100 locations nationwide.
This new location features a large garden patio with "truck-bed seating," large communal-style tables, a stage for live music and DJs, and a full-liquor bar with six barrels of signature frozen cocktails and 16 beers on tap. Signature Baja-style tacos are served on a choice of soft or crispy shell, with a choice of protein (chicken, brisket, ground beef, pork, veggies, grilled or tempura fish, grilled or tempura shrimp, fajita chicken or fajita beef) and then topped with garlic sauce, lettuce, tomatoes, shredded cheese, cilantro and feta.
MOVIES AND A MEAL: FEATURES GASTROPUB
And get ready for an ambitious new "eatertainment complex" in Riverview. In February the Riverview 14 GDX debuts, an 80,000-square-foot, 14-screen state-of-the-art multiplex. Two auditoriums will feature wall-to-wall Giant Digital Experience 70-foot-wide screens with Dolby Atmos and 4K projection. All auditoriums will offer plush electric recliners and reserved seating. Dovetailing with the ambition of this project, the 5,900-square-foot Features Gastropub will open in an adjacent space.
This element of the project is the brainchild of Philadelphia chef Brian Duffy, right, who appears frequently on NBC's The Today Show and Spike TV's Bar Rescue. With a series of restaurants in Philly, Duffy's introduction to cooking was a bit by happenstance.
"As a young adult I worked for Ralph Lauren as a salesman. I became the salesman to the drug dealers — they loved Polo. I started cooking for friends and realized it got results with women," he said. "It was better than playing acoustic guitar. So I went to culinary school."
Duffy has worked with Jean-Marie LaCroix at the Four Seasons in Philadelphia, partnered in opening the acclaimed Kristopher's, spent time refining his idea of "New Celtic" cuisine as corporate executive chef for the Dave Magrogan Group, and then worked with concepts such as Flying Fish Crafthouse in the historic Brewerytown section of Philadelphia as well as other consulting projects.
"Features is a project that's been in the works for about two and a half years," he said. "They flew me out to have a conversation and I wrote a proposal. They loved what I had to say. The food itself will be gastropub-y, great burgers and flatbreads, fun, healthy options for salads, cheese and charcuterie boards, and with a local flair to it."
The target opening date at 10550 E Bay Road in Gibsonton is the last week of February.
Pearls of wisdom: Oyster Club
Sea Salt in St. Petersburg has debuted what they're calling their Oyster Club as an incentive to branch out and slurp down more of these briny delectables and learn a little something in the process. There's a $20 annual fee and here are the rules: You must taste 32 types of oysters. The minimum purchase is three oysters of each kind. You fill out a passport. Each page allows you to identify an oyster's size, texture and flavor profile (there's a "flavor wheel" for oysters nearly as complex as that for wine). When you've completed your passport, you earn a $50 gift card to Sea Salt St. Pete. This, of course, you could give as a gift, or plow back into the purchase of more oysters.
This is an opportunity to understand the terroir of oyster beds from Atlantic, Pacific, Gulf and prime waters abroad. Sea Salt regularly stocks 30 varieties of oysters and other bivalves, arrayed along a 20-foot display and overseen by the restaurant's "oyster sommelier," Kenny Tufo (who also teaches an Oysters 101 class from time to time). A portion of the proceeds are earmarked as a donation to Tampa Bay Watch, which has an oyster restoration initiative. 183 Second Ave. N, St. Petersburg. (727) 873-7964.