Just as the Florida growing season is winding down, a new crop of Tampa Bay restaurants has sprouted. Makes sense. Summer tends to be a little slow for our dining scene, so it yields an ideal time to throw open the doors and work out the kinks before fall's hubbub. From much anticipated high-profile restaurants in Tampa's Hyde Park Village to second outposts of successful independents to reinvented mom-and-pops, the dog days are a perfect time to engineer a dine-around.
MetWest International has added to its already stacked lineup at its retail center across from International Plaza and Tampa International Airport. Joining Cooper's Hawk Winery and Restaurant, Kona Grill, Texas de Brazil and Del Frisco's Grille, Thai Prime opened its doors May 11, according to co-owner Jeff Fordham. His fourth restaurant but first in Tampa, Fordham has partnered with David and Vong Chong and their three kids. The stylish 2,613-square-foot space has 176 seats indoors and out, as well as a full liquor bar, and serves a dense area of office workers for lunch and dinner. There's more on the horizon: The three MetWest office buildings will at some point be joined by a fourth, and the pedestrian-friendly, urban-oriented development will eventually include an apartment community and hotel. 4142 W Boy Scout Blvd., Tampa. (813) 302-9168.
Chris Ponte's long-awaited second venture On Swann, which took over the Wells Fargo space on the corner of W Swann and S Oregon avenues, opened its doors to the public May 29, according to co-owner Trudy Cooper. Cooper and her husband, John, both returned from corporate lives three years ago (big guns at Bonefish and Outback), got nervous about their retirement phase and started envisioning what an independent restaurant might look like. A mutual friend said they should talk to Chris and Michelle Ponte, and a plan began to hatch. This is less fine-dining than Ponte's flagship in Clearwater, with a more American regional bent and a focus on veggies and made-in-house charcuterie. 1501 W Swann Ave., Tampa. (813) 251-0110. Next up for Hyde Park Village is Goody Goody (end of summer) and high-end steakhouse Meat Market (2017).
First we got the Lithuanian-based Drama Burger, and now fellow Lithuanian Nidas Kiuberis has set up shop as Caffeine, an offshoot of his Lithuania coffee shop, Coffee Inn. He sources beans from the great coffee-growing regions of the world, with artfully made espresso drinks, cold-brewed coffee infused with hints of orange and brown sugar, signature iced coffees and great looking fresh morning pastries. The dog-friendly downtowner opened May 13. 212 E Cass St., Tampa. (813) 374-0783.
Paul Greenberg, Rick Mijares and Mijares' parents debuted their first high-profile American Social, an upscale sports bar and restaurant, in 2012 on Las Olas Boulevard in Fort Lauderdale and expanded with a second location last year in the tony Brickell area of downtown Miami. The third sprawling, indoor-outdoor outpost will debut in the fourth quarter of this year, just in time to capitalize on all the upcoming and nearby development by Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik. Mijares claims the first two American Social locations work hard to source produce, beer and other products locally, and that they refer to their kitchens as "scratch kitchens" where no prepared foods are purchased. Craft beer enthusiasts will be interested in this touch: The space will feature two four-tap private booths for self-serve beer and a self-serve communal beer wall with six taps. 601 S Harbour Island Blvd., Tampa. americansocialbar.com.
Opened in May, Ox & Field comes to a neighborhood already brimming with "farm-to-table" enthusiasm (and ampersands). Executive chef Viet Vo, who was the sushi chef at the Sandpearl and executive chef at Boca, is preparing what he says is Floridian cuisine made with local ingredients and global flavors. He cites cast-iron Florida shrimp, pan-seared snapper and desserts with subtle Asian inflections. Set in the space that briefly housed the Bourgeois Pig, it features a 20-seat lounge with a 16-seat bar and outdoor dining on the wraparound porch surrounding one of Seminole Heights' charming 1920s-era bungalows. 7701 N Nebraska Ave., Tampa. (813) 443-6125.
Known for its Chicago-style hot dogs and Italian beef sandwiches, Portillo's has been one of the most anticipated debuts of the year. It tested Chicago transplants' patience, but in April finally opened on the northwest corner of State Road 60 and Lakewood Drive. It has a 1930s Prohibition theme and a double drive-through lane. The cult Chicago hot dog chain has made plans for a second location in the Firestone site at University Mall in Tampa. 1748 W Brandon Blvd., Brandon. (813) 210-8190.
Bavaro's Pizza Napoletana & Pastaria is scheduled to open its third Florida location in St. Petersburg this week at 945 Central Ave. in the EDGE District. "We feel this is a great location for Bavaro's," said owner Dan Bavaro. "St. Petersburg is a booming community. The time is right to introduce our 'Napoletana' style of food to residents and visitors." The focal point of the restaurant is Bavaro's signature Italian wood burning oven, which was imported from Italy from Stefano Ferrara, the big name in brick ovens. And what emanates from it is authentic, thin-crust, blistery Neapolitan pizza zapped at 900 degrees. Bavaro's has additional locations in Tampa at 514 N Franklin St. and in the Orlando suburb of Winter Park at 1468 Tuskawilla Road. Bavaro is scheduled to open a location at Tampa International Airport (Airside C) in August. Bavaro also has plans to open additional locations in Florida. bavarospizza.com.
After 18 years, Sue Cello and Ellen Young decided to hang it up at their adorable Cello's Charhouse. But they passed the torch. New owners Andy and Lori Holynskyj reopened May 18. They are keeping the name, but have done some gussying (building a wall, painting the ceiling) and have hired chef Jay Yilgic. Lori grew up in the restaurant business and her husband retired from Wrigley chewing gum, both deciding they needed a new project. Some of the longtime favorites (the apple cranberry chutney) stay in place, but new options like tiramisu short rib brisket on a pita bread give Safety Harbor residents fresh enticements at the muraled bungalow. 143 Seventh Ave. N, Safety Harbor. (727) 723-0909.
Frank Chivas (Salt Rock, Island Way, Rumba, etc.) didn't precisely want to say his long-time-coming Marina Cantina was open: "We're now doing a little business. We haven't let anyone know the official date. I don't even tell my friends." But it's open. For now, the gargantuan restaurant at the Clearwater Beach Marina is serving about 125 seats, but at full capacity that will jump to 600. There's a big upstairs patio, cabanas and loads of outdoor space. Chivas is calling the cuisine "Gulf rim," listing off ceviches, crudos and other seafood that relies on his fishing fleet. ("I manage about 22 different boats and own seven or eight," he said.) Chivas decided to restore the Clearwater Beach Marina, doing a renovation on the whole building. The finished product, he says, will include the Salt Cracker and another place called the Roundabout, a pizza spot open by Labor Day. 25 Causeway Blvd., Clearwater Beach. (727) 443-1750.