Make us your home page

Restaurant review: At Black Rock Bar and Grill, you could cook most of your own food, to mixed results


Kramer says to Jerry and Elaine, "It's a pizza place where you make your own pie! We give you the dough, the sauce, the cheese ... you pound it, slap it, you flip it up into the air ... you put your toppings on and you slide it into the oven! Sounds good, huh?"

And every Seinfeld viewer in the land thinks, "Remind me why I'm going out for dinner again? If I wanted to make the pizza, I'd stay home."

Still, experiential dining is huge. There are reasons for this. At a conference some years back, ex-Gourmet editor Ruth Reichl talked about how Americans used to go out on date night when it was dinner and a show, or dinner and a movie. Now we eat out all the time and we often ditch the theater (Who has time? And it's so expensive!) Dinner is the show. It's the evening's entertainment. Think of the shrimp-in-the-hat razzle-dazzle of a Japanese hibachi place, the romantic swirling of fondue at the Melting Pot, or really even the point-and-choose customizability of Chipotle. We don't mind participating a little as long as we're not doing any dishes and there's not too much heavy lifting.

Enter Australian rock cooking. Often it is some kind of lava rock, heated in the kitchen to more than 750 degrees, then whisked into the dining room (the blistering hot rock inset in a tray for safety) with some kind of protein sizzling mightily atop it.

The advertised boon for diners is that every bite is as hot as the first. The unadvertised boon for the restaurant is that it reduces kitchen costs if diners are doing a fair bit of their own cooking. After two visits to Carrollwood's new Black Rock Bar & Grill, the reality is this: It's anxiety-producing to be monitoring the cooking of your own food all evening (and despite the restaurant's protestations, it is possible to overcook your steak or seafood by leaving it on too long). And because of all the sizzling in the dining room it gets unreasonably smoky and your clothes smell.

Others apparently don't agree with me, because it was packed on both of my visits (no reservations, but call ahead to get on the waiting list and you get a buzzer upon arrival). The small chain was started in Hartland, Mich., a suburb northwest of Detroit, by Lonny Morganroth in 2010. There are now four locations in Michigan (three more on the way) and two in Florida (with a Brandon location opening soon).

With a big bar outfitted with televisions, the Carrollwood location is casual enough for watching the game, but with sufficient upscale glamor in the dining room for date night. (It is utterly unrecognizable as the old Mimi's outpost it once was.) It has a decent craft cocktail list, with an interesting fig margarita ($9) and smoked old fashioned ($11), and a decent craft beer list with national and local offerings.

Now on to the sizzling. Bubbling shrimp on a stone ($10.99) seems to be a hit, but the crustaceans literally come in a tureen of Cajun butter. I'm going to say more than five tablespoons, which people seem to sop up with garlic bread. This "nothing succeeds like excess" vibe continues with soft pretzels paired with nacho cheese fondue kept heated by the stone ($9.99) and a spinach artichoke dip with pita chips ($9.99) that also comes on the lava rock with a big divot in it to hold the goo. None of these three dishes was marred by being kept so hot, but I didn't really see the point.

For the steaks (I had a ribeye, $31.99, and a filet, $27.99), there was more wiggle room to wreck your dinner. Steak bites can be sliced off and rested against the sizzling stone to cook to your taste. But you've got to stay focused. Conversation gets too good and you're looking at some well-done bites.

There were plenty of laudable dishes at Black Rock: a nice grilled romaine wedge-style salad ($11.99, but they should be more sparing with the blue cheese dressing), a salt-crusted baked potato with the perfect crunchy exterior and fluffy insides, expertly grilled asparagus (the potato and asparagus are among the long list of included sides from which you choose), and the compound butter that accompanies the steaks is a pleasant lily-gilder. (The horseradish option seemed straight-up jarred, but mixed with the compound butter it added a bit of drama.)

If Black Rock can work out the ventilation issues, especially in the side room, it's not a bad addition to Tampa Bay's "experiential dining" options. But for my money, if I'm in the mood to cook a steak, I'll do it in my own back yard.

Contact Laura Reiley at or (727) 892-2293. Follow @lreiley on Twitter. She dines anonymously and unannounced; the Times pays all expenses.


Black Rock Bar & Grill

11702 N Dale Mabry Highway, Tampa

(813) 321-3577;

Cuisine: Hot rock cooking

Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday to Thursday, until 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday

Details: AmEx, V, MC, Disc.; call ahead to put your name on the list; full bar

Prices: Appetizers $9.99-$13.99; sandwiches $9.99-$14.99; sizzling entrees $18.99-$35.99

Rating, out of four stars:

Food: ★★ Service: ★★★

Atmosphere: ★★

Overall: ★★

Restaurant review: At Black Rock Bar and Grill, you could cook most of your own food, to mixed results 10/24/16 [Last modified: Monday, October 24, 2016 5:28pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Bar review: The Landing at Jannus in St. Petersburg

    Bars & Spirits

    I've spent many evenings in St. Pete's Jannus Live courtyard, enjoying one of the best open-air venues in the Tampa Bay area. It's where I saw my first concert in Florida: Toadies, on the Rubberneck tour sometime in the mid '90s.

    The drinks at the Landing at Jannus in St. Petersburg are about as cheap as you’ll find at any other regular downtown bar, a nice surprise.
  2. Local craft beer of the week: Two Henrys Belleview-Biltmore Blueberry Vanilla Wheat

    Bars & Spirits

    Two Henrys Brewing Company is a unique entity in the Tampa Bay brewing scene, due to both its status as the only brewery in Plant City, as well as its location on a 27-acre working farm, which also includes a winery.

    Photo by Justin Grant
  3. Top things to do in Tampa Bay for May 26


    Train: One of the most engaging frontmen in rock, Pat Monahan, brings along O.A.R. and Natasha Bedingfield for their annual trip through Tampa. 7 p.m., MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre at the Florida State Fairgrounds, 4802 U.S. 301 N, Tampa. $21.50-$191. (813) 740-2446.

    LAS VEGAS, NV - MAY 12:  Singer Pat Monahan of Train performs as the band kicks off the Play That Song Tour in support of the album "A Girl, a Bottle, a Boat" at MGM Grand Garden Arena on May 12, 2017 in Las Vegas, Nevada.  (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images) 700034174
  4. Interview: Todd Rundgren comes to St. Petersburg looking to reach a new generation

    Music & Concerts

    They're teaching Todd Rundgren in college now.

    Todd Rundgren will perform at the Mahaffey Theater on May 27. Credit: Lynn Goldsmith
  5. Volcano Bay, with waterproof wristbands that eliminate lines, now open at Universal Orlando


    ORLANDO — Universal Orlando opened its third park on Thursday, this one a resort-style water attraction called Volcano Bay that features a waterproof wristband that promises to eliminates lines.

    Universal Orlando opened its third park, on May 25, 2017, this one a resort-style water attraction called Volcano Bay that features the first waterproof wristband that promises to eliminates lines. [Willie J. Allen Jr. | for Universal Studios]