Fasten your seat belts and ready the MasterCard. The Tampa Bay area is poised for a serious avalanche of notable new restaurants this spring. Already 2016 is heating up with fresh concepts that bring novelty to area tables (in St. Petersburg, the Lure on Central Avenue is making grasshopper tacos, and I'm hearing Joli Pizzeria and Market on Roosevelt Boulevard serves pizza pops and has a cannoli bar with toppings). Given the vicissitudes of construction, permitting and staffing, opening dates are as accurate as possible.
St. Petersburg, downtown
Wooden Rooster: It opened in December, but it was such a quiet opening that I'm calling your attention to it here. Jeremy Duclut, the executive chef at Beach Drive's Cassis, stayed on as exec of Cassis, but with wife Liset debuted this little charmer at 104 Second Ave. NE on the ground floor of the Ovation condo tower. The 1,400-square-foot space focuses on crepes: The savory menu consists of signature combinations tucked into a choice of buckwheat, gluten-free or regular crepes (those same combos are available as sandwiches on baguette, multigrain or gluten-free bread). And creative types can concoct their own savory or sweet crepes from a list of ingredients.
Central Melt: Yes, an artisanal grilled cheese restaurant. Located at 685 Central on the east side of the State Theatre where Schoolyard Skateshop was, it is another project from Ed Allen, manager of the thriving Bodega further west on Central. Original opening target was for summer, but buildout is creeping slowly as things downtown are wont to do (Allen cites permitting and contractor woes, but he's aiming for the third week in March). It better hustle, because the past several months have seen an impressive bit of grilled cheese dynamism (Kings Street Food Counter, Tom+Chee). Look for local beers, soups and salads as well.
Urban Creamery: Andy Salyards (Urban Brew & BBQ, Urban Comfort and the just-opened Urban Provisions) has taken on the space at 689 Central Ave. as a fourth concept. It's looking like the 750-square-foot old-time ice cream parlor will be opened in February or March. Anchored by a rotating list of six housemade ice cream flavors (sea salt chocolate chip, honey thyme lavender), it will offer Belgian dessert waffles, sundaes, milkshakes, floats and such.
Bavaro's Pizza Napoletana & Pastaria: Dan Bavaro debuted his first Bavaro's in downtown Tampa early in 2009. The tiny Neapolitan pizza and pasta spot flourished, then he debuted his line of sauces. A huge hit, they are now in more than 2,000 stores nationally. In June he opened a second Bavaro's location in Winter Springs, and he nailed a contract for a spot in Tampa International Airport's upcoming expansion. The next Bavaro's will bloom at 945 Central Ave. in what was once a barbershop. His target opening is in February, but that could slide into March. Look for tender-centered, blistery-edged sophisticated personal-sized pies and a range of salads and homey pastas.
St. Petersburg, Westside/Grand Central/EDGE
Hawkers St. Pete: Co-owner Kaleb Harrell says the Asian street food emporium aims to be open for business March 1 at 1235 Central Ave. So what's a Hawker? The first Hawkers opened in Orlando in 2011, aiming to re-create the street foods found all over Asia, usually sold via exuberant call or chant by sidewalk peddlers (you know, hawkers). A second location opened in Jacksonville in February 2014. The vibe is fun and young, with concrete floors, corrugated aluminum wainscoting and a bold color scheme. High and low tables are kitted out with stacks of white plates, signaling that this will be a sharing-type place. Local diners can look forward to roasted duck tacos, Korean bulgogi beef and exotic curry laksa and roti prata.
St. Petersburg, Uptown/Fourth Street Corridor
The Fourth Street corridor is swarmed with construction equipment these days, much of which will yield some fun chain outposts in the next couple of months. Near Marion's Gifts and Clothing at around 14th Avenue N, a new strip center will welcome Pei Wei, the sixth location in our area for the Asian-fusion quick-serve little sibling of P.F. Chang's, as well as Burger Monger, a Tampa Bay-based high-end burger concept that specializes in burgers of grain-fed Akaushi Kobe beef raised in Texas on buttery challah buns.
Further north, Fresh Kitchen and Daily Eats, two concepts from the Ciccio Restaurant Group, will open shop at 4447 Fourth St. N in the site of the former Lee Garden Chinese Restaurant: Fresh Kitchen (also called FK) on Feb. 15 and Daily Eats targeted for March 1. Fresh Kitchen is a boon to the health-conscious or those with dietary restrictions, allowing customers to custom-build a meal with vegetables, proteins (from steak to tofu) sauces and a base, such as salad, rice or noodles. And while Ciccio restaurants tend to hew close to a healthy-dining model, Daily Eats is their comfort food concept: There's mac and cheese with broccoli and bacon, French toast topped with Oreos, a buttermilk fried chicken sandwich and a tuna taco over quinoa.
Backfin Blue: As any Gulfporter will tell you, this is not a new restaurant — Harold Russell's 1920s-era cottage at 2913 Beach Blvd. has been a restaurant since 1997, but it closed after Labor Day for a complete remodel and reopens this week. Russell always managed to maintain a sterling reputation for his crab cakes and prime rib despite a kitchen that had no hood and thus no fryer, no grill, no open flame. The renovation will allow for a broader menu, as well as providing diners with a glamorous new bar, updated bathrooms and a pretty landscaped area outside in the event that you have to wait a bit for a table.
Extreme Pizza: A California-based franchise, it is entering the Florida market, having just opened its first location at Coral Landings at 33135 U.S. 19 N. With the tagline "Extreme. Not Mainstream," this is for pizza enthusiasts who want to push their daredevil taste buds to the limit, mixing flavors from North and South America, Europe, Asia and the Middle East. Franchisee Sean Parkinson and partner Richard Blanc have recruited George Yudell, the original Extreme Pizza director of operations, who brings two decades of pizza experience to the table. A second, larger location opens Feb. 4 on Mandalay Avenue in Clearwater Beach. At either location, look for a week of grand opening events and special deals. extremepizza.com.
Marina Cantina: Frank Chivas (Bay Star Restaurant Group: Island Way Grill, Salt Rock Grill, etc.) has been promising us this newcomer in the Clearwater Marina for quite some time. The holdup? The state of the city-owned marina itself. Foundation, electrical, plumbing — it all needed extensive work. Word is, the 11,000-square-foot seafood-heavy Mexican restaurant is currently hiring and thus we're honing in on an opening date (Chivas says March 1) and diners will soon be able to check out what the restaurateur purportedly spent north of $2.5 million on.
Proino's Breakfast Club: George Soulellis is doing something right. He opened his first U.S. breakfast spot (proino means breakfast in Greek) in 2013 on Bay Drive in Largo; the second one followed on Walsingham Road; and the third location is anticipated to open at the end of February at 770 S Gulfview Blvd., not far from Cesare's and the Reef. These breakfast/lunch spots read like chains, which they should because Soulellis owns a number of such breakfast places in Montreal called l'Eggsoeufs. Pinpointing what Proino does best is hard because it does so many things well. Look around the dining rooms and you'll see people tucking into waffles, French toasts and crepes topped with berries and custard and whipped cream.
Miguelitos Taqueria y Tequilas: The next project from Miguel Rodriguez, owner of Miguel's Mexican Seafood and Grill, is poised to open any day at 2702 W Kennedy Blvd. Just three blocks from the flagship, the 2,200-square-foot shop will traffic in tacos, guacamole and elote, as well as burritos, tortas (Mexican sandwiches) and breakfast items. There will also be cocktails and tequila on tap, served at an illuminated Avonite bar. Perhaps the best part: a mini tortilla factory, with tortillas made to order for customers.
Drama Burger: Opening up this month in a defunct Chinese restaurant spot at 2420 W Kennedy Blvd. in Tampa, Lithuania-based Drama Burger opens its first U.S. location. Drama Burger CEO Simas Slabaciauskas introduced the idea of house-made signature burgers to Lithuania. We've got plenty of those in Tampa, but maybe not this: the pastrami burger. And fancy burgers served with wine and craft beer isn't a run-of-the-mill occurrence, either.
O Cocina and Flights: The opening has been delayed a bit, but look for this upscale Mexican newcomer to open its doors any day at 4110 Henderson Blvd. at the site that used to be Anaar (what was the area's only Afghan restaurant). Owner Bear Galavis has hired chef Pedro Arreaza (a heavy-hitter who was formerly a sous chef at Locale Market and at Marc Vetri's Osteria in Philadelphia before that) to focus on this sophisticated farm-to-table concept with an eye toward replicating it in other markets such as Sarasota and Winter Park.
Hyde Park Village
Goody Goody: This spring (March-ish) will be huge for the village. Rising at 1601 W Swann Ave. at the corner of Swann and South Dakota avenues on the same block as CinéBistro, this is the brainchild of Richard Gonzmart, a resurrection of an iconic Tampa restaurant known for its pies and bags of hamburgers "POX" — that's pickles, onions and the fabled secret sauce. Sidewalk construction at the outdoor shopping center has delayed the opening somewhat, but the overall look aims to capture "that old flavor," with wooden school desks, vintage metal chairs and the rehabbed historic Goody Goody sign (for which they had to get a variance because it was larger than what is permitted in Hyde Park). Expect crowds eager to get those legendary burgers, pies (old-timers swoon about the butterscotch and the coconut cream) and homemade ice cream. And just after the Hyde Park location opens its doors, it's time for Goody Goody No. 2, which debuts in June at Tampa International Airport along with a new coffee concept Gonzmart is working on and a Ulele Bar and Grill.
On Swann: Chris Ponte's long-awaited second venture takes over the Wells Fargo space on the corner of West Swann and South Oregon avenues, with a target opening in March or so. Ponte has partnered with his wife Michelle Ponte and friends John and Trudy Cooper for a project that won't be as fancy as Cafe Ponte, with a more American regional bent and a focus on locally sourced veggies and made-in-house charcuterie. Meanwhile, Buddy Brew coffee will slide in between the Wine Exchange and Bartaco. The Boston-based company WS Development, which recently acquired the open-air mall, also aims to open Meat Market in 2017, a contemporary, high-end steak house with locations in Miami Beach, Palm Beach and San Juan, Puerto Rico.
American Social: Paul Greenberg, Rick Mijares and Mijares' parents debuted their first high-profile upscale sports bar and "farm-to-table" 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. It won't be until summertime, but 601 S Harbour Island Blvd. will be the third sprawling, indoor-outdoor outpost. While "farm to table" is a term bandied about loosely these days, Mijares said 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.
Lucky Dill/LBC: Jason Mitow's original Lucky Dill deli turns 25 this month, and to celebrate he's gearing up to open another one in the Boizao Steakhouse space at 4606 W Boy Scout Blvd. (the independent Brazilian churrascaria may have been vanquished by the better-known Texas de Brazil that opened nearby). Mitow, who also owns LBC in Palm Harbor and Surfside in Clearwater Beach, will combine the new Lucky Dill with a second location of LBC (which stands for Local Brewing Company) in the 15,000-square-foot space, which will also contain their bakery and catering business. Lucky Dill has made a name for itself with oversized deli sandwiches and Jewish comfort foods like matzo ball soup and latkes, while LBC boasts nearly 100 beers on tap.
Thai Prime: MetWest International is adding Thai Prime to its already stacked lineup (Cooper's Hawk, Kona Grill, Texas de Brazil, Del Frisco's Grille) at its retail center at 4142 W Boy Scout Blvd. across from International Plaza and Tampa International Airport. Thai Prime will open its doors in February. Owner David Chong has proved his chops at Thai Samurai in New Port Richey over the past six years and comes from a multigenerational restaurant family. Also involved in the project is his son, Michael, a culinary school graduate who has most recently worked with Hyatt. His daughter, Krista, has been the sushi chef at Thai Samurai. The 2,613-square-foot space will have 176 seats indoors and out, as well as a full liquor bar, and will service a dense area of office workers.
Irish 31 Westshore: The good-times Hyde Park Village pub will debut in the next couple of months (folks at the flagship were unable to give a more specific date) in a capacious 2,700-square-foot space at Westshore Plaza that used to house Le Macaron pastry shop and a Kay Jewelers. Founder Jay Mize (31 is a reference to Jay's jersey number as a safety for the USF Bulls) has already opened a Westchase location and aims to open other outposts (he's also involved in the Ferg's Live project near the Amalie Arena). The largely Irish restaurant will join national players like Maggiano's, Besito and P.F. Chang's, with a menu that covers new ground for the mall: Irish potato pancake called boxty, shepherd's pie and Irish pot pie.
Portillo's: Known for its Chicago-style hot dogs and Italian beef sandwiches, it announced its intention to enter the Florida market with a full-page ad in the sports section of the Times after the Lightning lost the battle for the Stanley Cup to the Chicago Blackhawks. It has been a slow rampup, but the first location on the northwest corner of State Road 60 and Lakewood Drive gets off the ground in March. It has a 1930s Prohibition theme and a double drive-through lane. Already the cult Chicago hot dog chain has made plans for a second location in the Firestone site at University Mall in Tampa.
Contact Laura Reiley at [email protected] or (727) 892-2293. Follow @lreiley on Twitter.