Friday, September 21, 2018
Dining

Review: Chop Chop Shop needs refinement, but its Korean fusion flavors are worth seeking out

TAMPA

Last month I wrote about a new trend in the food truck business. Folks are taking the wheels off, starting with a truck in order to pave the way for a brick-and-mortar restaurant. Steve Sera and his wife, Olivia, were among the examples I gave. On June 27 they debuted Chop Chop Shop in Seminole Heights after having built a following with their Korean-fusion build-a-bowl truck called Kind Grinds.

After a couple of recent dinners, it has left me thinking about the difference between the two in terms of customer expectations.

Chop Chop Shop is still in its infancy, a very DIY-fun little red box set in what used to be a bare-bones barbecue joint. The hours continue to be in flux as they tinker with which days work best for lunch and whether Sunday to Tuesday are viable for dinner (eh, August and September are rough; maybe relaunch Tuesdays in October).

A hand-lettered menu on one wall gives you the drill: You pick a base (white rice, buckwheat soba noodles) then a sauce or style, then a protein, and then a standard side (some sides and proteins are a bit extra). Also, there are burgers, some of them with Korean or Brazilian stylings. Tell the guy at the counter what you want and he writes it down on an old-timey ordering pad, but often with furrowed brow and a lot of sighing, like your extra Russian pickled mushrooms could push him over the edge. At that point the open kitchen gets sizzling with motion and heat. You find a table in the tiny dining room and a few minutes later a woman with a train conductor's booming voice calls your name. Order up.

This is how their food truck worked. But with a sit-down restaurant, especially one with chopsticks and a lot of sauciness, you need someone to clean the tables between guests. This is a real shoestring dining room, but it suffered on both my visits by being a little dirty and having a bus-your-own-table trash can open and a little ripe in one corner of the room.

They've overcome an HVAC problem and still seem to be grappling with venting issues, but Chop Chop Shop is sending out enough gutsy and novel food that a bit of discomfort should be endured.

I was most enthusiastic about a dish called the Karage bowl ($9 with rice and no upgrades), lengths of crispy Japanese twice-fried chicken marinated in soy, sweet rice wine and roasted sesame and drizzled with a sweet, salty sauce, set atop a generous mound of white rice and then accessorized by "mean greens," a tangle of thick-stemmed Chinese water spinach drizzled with a black sesame sauce, plus a couple of half moons of pickled daikon. I was nearly as smitten by a simple bowl of rice topped with ginger roasted pulled pork and grilled chicken, the pork satisfying crunchy-edged strings, the chicken moist and bouncy, accompanied by some spunky purple slaw and a ramekin of thin soy-based Korean barbecue sauce ($10).

Thus far there are no seafood and no vegetarian entrees beyond an assemblage of side veggies, most of which are pickled — pickled jalapenos, Vietnamese-style pickled carrot and clove-scented pickled brown enoki mushrooms — which together yields an overly acidic finished dish to my way of thinking. A tofu or salmon option might accommodate a wider range of diners.

Burgers are a third of a pound, plenty big, and topped with some sumptuous doodads, the best of which is the Seoul burger ($8; add $3 if you want a pile of skin-on fries with that) with seared pork belly, grilled kimchi, pickled jalapenos and a drizzle of that sweet-salty sauce (what they call Shop Sauce, which makes a frequent showing on the short menu). I'm sure this is the dish that built the Kind Grinds rep — the Tampa area has been so starved for Korean or Korean fusion flavors, that combination of fermenty-funk, spicy and sweet not found in other adjacent Asian cuisines.

I'm hoping Chop Chop's beverage options will expand. For now it's traditional sodas and a handful of Asian sodas. Even without a liquor license I think tea and other nonalcoholic beverages would better complement the food, which tends to have a lot of sweetness to it.

Food truck audiences like boho, maybe even a little grunge — it's part of what makes a truck feel authentic. But in a standing restaurant, service details need to be more articulated and grunge should never apply to table surfaces. Still, the Seras are working with enough good flavors and dynamic texture juxtapositions that Seminole Heights residents seem already to have embraced their newest brick-and-mortar Shop.

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

   
Comments
New restaurants: Olivia from Chris Ponte, Crabby Billís Off the Hook

New restaurants: Olivia from Chris Ponte, Crabby Billís Off the Hook

COMING SOON: OLIVIAChris Ponte, right, has been a steady and notable culinary leader in our area for more than a decade with his flagship restaurant Cafe Ponte in Clearwater. A couple of years ago he mixed things up a bit by debuting On Swann in Hyde...
Published: 09/19/18
Restaurant review: The Local doesn't stand out enough above its Tampa neighbors to make an impact

Restaurant review: The Local doesn't stand out enough above its Tampa neighbors to make an impact

TAMPA Do you have this debate? "Florida is not in the South." "Um, look at a map." I guess I am in the former camp: It seems Florida gets more Southern the more north and west you go, accents only creeping in as reliably as boiled peanuts up on the ...
Published: 09/17/18
Updated: 09/18/18
Chefs offer up a taste of whatís coming to Sparkman Wharf

Chefs offer up a taste of whatís coming to Sparkman Wharf

TAMPA ó On Wednesday night, about 60 people got a sneak preview of what Tampa diners soon will experience at Sparkman Wharf, part of the $3 billion Water Street Tampa neighborhood that Jeff Vinik and Strategic Property Partners are developing in what...
Published: 09/14/18
Whatís new in food: Clearwater Beach Restaurant Week, National Cheeseburger Day

Whatís new in food: Clearwater Beach Restaurant Week, National Cheeseburger Day

DINE AROUND: CLEARWATER BEACH RESTAURANT WEEKPromoted by the Clearwater Beach Chamber of Commerce, Clearwater Beach Restaurant Week is celebrating its ninth year Friday through Sept. 23. The culinary celebration offers foodies an opportunity to exper...
Published: 09/12/18
Restaurant review: Part fish shack, part high-end cocktail bar, Trophy Fish in St. Petersburg thrives on a fresh approach

Restaurant review: Part fish shack, part high-end cocktail bar, Trophy Fish in St. Petersburg thrives on a fresh approach

ST. PETERSBURGI value restaurants and people the same way, I suppose. I like those with a take. They donít have to be the smartest or the prettiest, but the ones I like have a unique perspective, something that differentiates them from everybody else...
Published: 09/10/18
Updated: 09/11/18
Tampaís Fly Bar and Restaurant will move locations

Tampaís Fly Bar and Restaurant will move locations

TAMPA ó Restaurant announcements for Sparkman Wharf and Strategic Property Partnersí 50-acre Water Street Tampa project have come fast and furious the past couple weeks. With a price tag of more than $3 billion and reading like a whoís who of Tampa B...
Published: 09/07/18
James Beard winner Anne Kearney to open Oak & Ola in Armature Works

James Beard winner Anne Kearney to open Oak & Ola in Armature Works

TAMPA ó It was always part of the plan for the 22,000-square-foot Heights Public Market at Armature Works to have two anchor restaurants in addition to the fourteen quick-serve vendors. The developers debuted Steelbach, a sprawling steaks and chops b...
Published: 09/06/18
Whatís new in food: The Artisan, Big Rayís Fish Camp, Joe and Sonís Olive Oils

Whatís new in food: The Artisan, Big Rayís Fish Camp, Joe and Sonís Olive Oils

COMING SOON: THE ARTISANGulfport is heating up. Iíve been hearing raves about Golden Dinosaurs vegan deli, and now it seems that seasoned restaurateurs Michael Stewart, left, and Tom Golden will open an art and food collective called the Artisan in G...
Published: 09/05/18
Updated: 09/06/18
Are tacos the new burgers? A slew of new taco-centric places in Tampa Bay make the case

Are tacos the new burgers? A slew of new taco-centric places in Tampa Bay make the case

One thing has remained constant. Ketchup may give way to salsa as the dominant condiment, with sriracha nipping at its heels, but for decades the hamburger has been the No. 1 most-purchased menu item in food service. There it is, the hallowed beef pa...
Updated one month ago
Tampaís Columbia Restaurant will be tented for termites

Tampaís Columbia Restaurant will be tented for termites

Ringling Brothers may have been put to bed, but thereís another serious big top soon to be erected in Tampa.Tampaís Columbia Restaurant is said to be the oldest restaurant in the state, as well as the largest ó a whole city block in historic Ybor Cit...
Updated one month ago