When Boca Kitchen Bar Market debuted in South Tampa at the beginning of 2012 there wasn't much like it in these parts. A joint project of Gordon Davis and Kevin Enderle, it sourced veggies from Davis' Lake Hiawatha Farm in Odessa, pork from Nature Delivered in Brooksville, chicken and duck eggs from Lake Meadows Natural in Ocoee and Suncoast Food Alliance traipsed all over Manatee and surrounding counties filling in other farm-fresh produce several times a week, all of this listed on a chalkboard. It was among the first glimmers of real farm-to-table effort in our area.
At the end of December, BE-1 Concepts (parent company of Boca, with Davis no longer involved) rolled out a Boca in Riverview's Winthrop Town Centre. It's hip and energizing with a smart cocktail list, a "living wall" of snip-and-serve lettuces from Uriah's Urban Farms and local gems like Dancing Goat cheese dotting the menu.
Brandonites should be out of their gourds with pleasure. And they are, but it's a testament to how much progress has been made in this part of Hillsborough County that folks have taken it in stride. The shopping center alone has outposts of a number of successful Tampa Bay concepts (Ciccio, Acropolis, Cappy's, Eats! American Grill) and larger chains (Moe's Five Guys, Menchies). In short, savvy restaurateurs realize that Brandon/Riverview have been starved for good places to eat; they have the disposable income but don't relish driving over to Tampa or St. Pete.
This new 5,000-square-foot Boca (with others soon to pop up in Sarasota and St. Petersburg), is glamorous in a Restoration Hardware-ish way, with sustainability nods (tomatoes and peppers planted out front, all-LED lighting) that serve to enhance. They've picked up some of the quirky charms of the South Tampa location (you can buy the kitchen a beer for $3, or you can opt for the staff meal, market price, "just order it, the chef says you'll love it"), and they've added some novel ones. For instance, weeknights there's a dinner for two to-go for $29, with a rotating entrée, side dish, house salad and dessert. A 1,000-square-foot patio seems to rival the bar for best seats in the house, a generous private dining room can seat up to 65, and, as at the flagship Boca, a tiny retail area offers come-hither homey canned goods (some from St. Petersburg's Urban Canning) and prepared foods.
General manager Doug Scagliola is still getting his service staff up to speed, but executive chef Matthew Mangone exhibits a steadiness with what's sent out of the kitchen. These are pretty but unfussy plates, with a reliance on alternative serving vessels: excellent fried green tomatoes, $9, come out on a rough-edged slate, bone marrow with Urban Canning's pear and jalapeno compote, $12, arrives on a chunky butcher block, as does the prime burger, $14, with silly-good truffle Parmesan fries.
At the bar, it's worth investigating the bartender's drink of the day, although it's a hoot to read the fine print on the beer list. Each craft beer is followed by its distance from the restaurant (like to drink mega-local? Coppertail is the winner at 4.1 miles away).
Proteins seem more far flung, with less specific menu attribution. Free-range chickens fly in from Joyce Farms in Winston-Salem, N.C., and there are certified organic chickens from Tecumseh Farms in Nebraska, but beef and pork stay anonymous. Maybe those will be filled in down the pike.
For now, notable dishes include P.E.I. mussels in a creamy-sweet sambuca broth ($12), really a meal if you tack on an order of those fries ($6). Another side I became overly fixated on was a bowl of maple-glazed Brussels sprouts and fingerlings studded through with meaty planks of house-cured bacon ($7). My next visit I might plow through those again alongside the why-didn't-I-think-of-that banh mi pizza ($12), topped with gingery pulled pork, pickled veggies, a flurry of herbs and a soy glaze.
Blistered shishitos ($8) weren't very blistery and were a little overly sauced with pepper coulis, thus less sophisticated than the same dish at the Tampa location, and one night's tuna tartare ($11) brought a disk of gluey diced fish and crackers that were too highly seasoned such that they swamped the tuna's delicate flavor. But these were the only bobbles in two dinner's worth of sampling.
Salads, fueled by Farmer Dave Smiles' super-fresh greens, are especially successful at Boca (head for the Salad No. 9, $10, if you like beets and blue cheese) and the sweet potato gnocchi ($8, $19) with cubes of butternut squash and florets of broccolini has emerged as something locals can't seem to eat enough of. Boca, after all, means mouth, and so far Brandon and Riverview diners seem eager to put their money there.
Contact Laura Reiley at [email protected] or (727) 892-2293. Follow @lreiley on Twitter. She dines anonymously and unannounced; the Times pays all expenses.