Takeout parking spots in front are for 7.5 minutes only. The restaurant closes at 9:35 p.m. What gives? They are memorable. But those 30 seconds and that five minutes are not the only things that separate the new Fresh Kitchen from so many other South Tampa restaurants.
The latest project from Ciccio Restaurant Group, it builds on a preoccupation the guys have had for a while: healthy food, which in some years has meant crisp stir-fries or leafy green vegetables, in other years a low-carb "paleo" approach and in still others "superfoods" and cold-pressed juices. From their flagship Ciccio and Tony's to Green Lemon, Water and the rest, this group has often eschewed deep-fried appetizers and heavy sauces, choosing instead a customizable approach whereby diners select proteins, starches, some veggies and a sauce to suit their own tastes and dietary issues.
Fresh Kitchen, called FK for short (not quite sure how to pronounce that without running into trouble), is the culmination of many of these ideas. Jeff Gigante and Steven, James and Matthew Lanza, executive chef Luis Flores and consulting chef Erin Guggino (Oxford Exchange) have put their heads together for an exciting, healthy grab-and-go concept. Located just a quick sprint from Bayshore, it has already been discovered by SoHo's Spandex set.
At the former site of Chavez at Home, parking can be a little hairy, but once you've landed, you stroll by a rainbow-hued array of house-pressed juices (amazing, every one, but not cheap at $10 for 16 ounces — yet they go half-price the day before they expire, still totally tasty) and then hop into a short line. You can choose from a list of "chef's specials" bowls or go it on your own, pointing to the sweet potato noodles, then maybe the baked chicken and slow-roasted mushrooms, or roasted Brussels sprouts or cauliflower, then a sauce like holy kale vinaigrette or cucumber mint jalapeno. A basic bowl is $9.50, with steak, tuna poke, or grilled and chilled shrimp an upcharge of $2. Add-ins are 50 cents; cheeses are $1; chopped avocado is $2; and salads like black bean and corn are 50 cents.
Yes, it's like Chipotle. Or Subway. Only the ingredients are pristine, perfectly cooked and healthful, and the flavor combinations are lively and innovative. Many of the sauces begin with cold-pressed juices whizzed up in the back room in a big industrial Norwalk juicer. In a couple of visits, I sampled nearly all of the ingredients in various combinations, the best outcomes being the preset "chef's specials" like the Pokey ($11), a bed of citrus sticky rice on which kale slaw, a sesame-soy tuna poke, broccolini, something called "omega mix" (chia, pumpkin and hemp seed), chopped avo and a ladle of coconut sriracha, not too hot, are combined. Or the Carne ($11) plate that pairs roasted spaghetti squash strands with sweet potato noodles, a fan of grilled flank steak, tiny roasted mushrooms, more broccolini and a simple herbed vinaigrette.
In just a few weeks since opening, they've experimented with different to-go containers (I'm rooting for the cool cardboard ones), all of them cradling ample portions that are unlikely to do anything malicious to your car mats. The tiny dining room is airy and attractive, but it seems more geared to a busy weeknight takeaway. A bowl and a juice, maybe with an almond butter krispies treat for dessert, will set you back about $20, so FK is not cheap. But as an alternative to so much local guilty-pleasure takeout, what this newcomer is doing seems smart and contemporary, speaking directly to current health trends. I'd expect no less from the Ciccio folks.
Contact Laura Reiley at [email protected] or (727) 892-2293. Follow @lreiley. She dines anonymously and unannounced; the Times pays all expenses.