"The taste, smell and texture of food can be extraordinarily evocative, bringing back memories not just of eating food itself but also of place and setting," said John Allen, author of The Omnivorous Mind. "Food is an effective trigger of deeper memories of feelings and emotions, internal states of the mind and body."
Take a bite of something and 50 to 100 cells called gustatory receptors get to work on each taste bud, sending signals to the brain's gustatory cortex. And the 12 million smell receptors of 450 different types in your nasal cavity get busy, too, sending electrical signals to your brain's olfactory bulb.
In the past year, the older Tampa Bay residents who have called and left voicemails have not spoken of olfactory bulbs. They just want to find out precisely when Goody Goody will open. The POX burger (pickles, onion and the fabled secret sauce), the butterscotch and coconut cream pies — these are Proust's madeleine, the little French cake that catalyzed the writer's famous musings on involuntary memory, only messier and a little more caloric.
Remembering the patty melts and shakes, readers have left me messages saying, "An exquisite pleasure had invaded my senses, something isolated, detached, with no suggestion of its origin." No, wait, that's Proust. These messages are more like, "When is it opening already?! We're tired of waiting."
Restaurateur Richard Gonzmart (Columbia Restaurant Group, Ulele and about a zillion other projects in the works) announced in 2014 that he had purchased rights to the Goody Goody name from Michael Wheeler of Tampa, who had owned it since 1981. The deal also included the recipe to the restaurant's famous secret sauce, some furniture and the distinctive Goody Goody sign. Gonzmart's aim was to open somewhere close to the second and longest-lasting location, which was on Florida Avenue, opened in 1930 and demolished in 2006.
He chose Hyde Park Village, a decision that has been echoed by a bunch of other businesses to render it (sidewalks still maddeningly under construction) one of the most exciting restaurant destinations in the area these days. I have ceded much of the Goody Goody reporting to Tampa Bay Times book editor Colette Bancroft and photographer Cherie Diez, folks who knew Goody Goody from back in the day, who wax a little Proustian about the pies and POX burgers.
But here's the thing about a well-executed old-timey diner: It can make you nostalgic for a time you never experienced. Stand in the ladies room (okay, those who can) and admire the black and white panorama of historic Tampa. Trace with your finger the whimsical map of historic downtown on the paper place mat.
The decor feels just right, with a color scheme that hints at 1970s kitchen appliances; The swivel stools anchored around the marble-topped U-shaped counter are lush brown leather piped elegantly with gold and green; white mosaic tile floors are inset with green, brown and harvest gold; and a tray ceiling is lined prettily with white painted pressed tin. Constructed by Parkland Builders Group of Tampa, it was designed by architect Morris Nathanson Design of Pawtucket, R.I., who did the rebranding of Johnny Rockets.
From a design perspective, the only problem I see is that there's a logjam where the U opens into the kitchen space, servers with huge platters engaging in subtle games of chicken to get food to its final destination.
Because this place is booming. Goody Goody diehards have been willing to wait 90 minutes for dinner, with a fairly consistent 30-minute wait even at breakfast.
Is it worth it?
Let's start with the POX burger ($4.95, $5.50 with cheese). This is not a shock-and-awe burger for which you unhinge your jaws. It's human-sized, wrapped in waxed paper, its patty juicy all-Florida beef, its bun warm, just slightly wrinkly and a little soft. It gets a confetti of onion and pickle, not too much, and a healthy smear of a sauce that's like ketchup mated with marinara, but a little lighter and more orange, a welcome but barely noticeable swipe of mayo on the bottom bun. Paired with crisp but tender-centered and well seasoned skin-on fries, this burger is going down, 100 percent, and you may have a moment of considering a second one. Squelch that thought.
I'm going to suggest you start with the house wedge salad ($5.95), a fairly traditional crunchy hunk of iceberg and accoutrements were it not for one thing: house-made French dressing. It's impossible not to think, "Oh, yeah, I forgot about French dressing. It's good!" The ranch of the 1950s, it's tangy-sweet and bright orange. Another suggestion: Finish with the butterscotch pie ($3.50). I've heard the kitchen team struggled with this, approximating the original, which had the texture of a pecan pie without the pecans, only to retool and present a smoother, more custardy version that kept its shape in wedge formation and had that burnt caramel edge. It gets topped with a cloud of bruleed meringue, with a crust that splinters just so. I've had it twice. And I'll have it again soon.
With breakfast served all day, Amish farm eggs are put through their paces alongside big-as-your-head indulgences like sweet potato pancakes and French toast. I zipped in one morning and opted for the signature Hangover plate ($7.95), not because it signaled anything about recent intemperance, but because I figured it was a way to try a whole bunch of breakfast options in one fell swoop: a base of biscuit split in half piled high with home fries, grated cheddar and rounds of green onion, all of it swallowed like ancient Pompeii by savory sausage gravy with a peppery kick and big chunks of sausage.
Oh, and bacon on the side. The gentleman next to me at the counter, enjoying his third visit and a light breakfast of English muffins and cafe con leche, seemed alarmed enough at my breakfast mountain that I was tempted to lean in with, "Don't worry, sir, I'm a trained professional."
Instead, I paid up, hopped off my stool and made way for the dozens of other people waiting in line for their madeleine moment. With fundraisers for prostate cancer and things like a cooking school for at-risk youth on the horizon, Gonzmart and team do a lot of good for the local community, but clearly Tampa is more excited that they're finally doing some Goody Goody, too.
Contact Laura Reiley at [email protected] or (727) 892-2293. Follow @lreiley on Twitter. She dines anonymously and unannounced; the Times pays all expenses.