Something is definitely happening in downtown Safety Harbor. Longtime restaurants like Cello's and Green Springs Bistro have been joined recently by a robust crop of exciting independent restaurants: Parts of Paris, Southern Fresh, Nantucket Bucket and, about a year ago, Pizzeria Gregario. This last is anomalous in the area: A small, family-friendly pizzeria that is a stickler about sourcing local products.
The force behind it is Greg Seymour, 42, an itinerant chef who has spent time working fine dining at Chapel's in Rochester, N.Y., and California's Napa Valley, launching Tra Vigne's pizza joint next door to the fabled flagship restaurant in St. Helena. It was an uphill battle for Seymour in the tiny town. Making great pizza is really hard. Just a handful of ingredients and a heat source, but it's still hard.
Family exerted its magnetic pull and brought Seymour to Florida, where he looked around for a while for the right space. He said Safety Harbor "spoke to him," and it seemed underserved in the pizza arena (other towns should take note: Safety Harbor's new restaurants gracefully fill untapped niches).
It's dinner-only, five nights a week, Seymour's brother and sister, twins Corey Seymour and Cristin Hernandez, 41, helping out regularly. But mostly it's Greg Seymour manning the pretty, tiled wood-fired oven in the sunny yellow house. The dining room houses a couple rows of unclothed tables and simple cafe chairs. You order at the counter from the chalkboard menu, grab your drinks and a toy that identifies you (I had Ernie; no word on whether Bert was in the mix), and find a seat.
If you're paying attention, some things will jump out at you. There are only a couple wines, but they are from Parducci's sustainably grown grapes. You can have a local egg on your pizza from Dancing Goat farm in Hillsborough County or house-cured bacon. Sausage is housemade as well, made from the whole pig Seymour orders every few months from nearby Nature Delivered. And produce may be organic stuff from 3 Boys Farm in Ruskin or something Suncoast Food Alliance has rounded up from another local farm.
For a pizza restaurant this is a strange place to start, so bear with me. I had one of the most delicious desserts I've eaten in ages there one evening. Fresh Florida peach from King Farm, diced roughly with a sweet-sour agrodolce syrup, topped with a blob of crème anglaise and some crunched-up amaretti cookies ($9). As with so many memorable dishes, it was a perfect expression of ripe fruit, no need for distracting bells and whistles.
Salads, too, deserve high praise, from a simple Caesar ($8.50 for large) with anchovy oomph and a flurry of manchego cheese adding an unusual nutty counterpoint, to an evening's special of warm roasted beets ($8.50), their heat just wilting the arugula and greens in the salad bowl, or a lively, citrusy fattoush salad ($8.50 for large) with cucumber, onion, greens and lengths of chewy pita.
But you're here for the pies, right? They come in 9 inches and 13 inches, one large amply feeding two people. Roasted mushrooms get paired with fontina and dots of gremolata (parsley, lemon zest and garlic; $11 small, $14 large); the housemade sausage, flecked with fennel, perform a duet with pickled banana peppers, the combo with just a touch of heat ($11, $15).
The crust itself is thin, but not cracker-thin, with nice blisters and a tooth-resistance and tang that comes from a 160-year-old San Francisco sourdough starter Seymour has nurtured. Seymour, who favors the kind of sardonic banter one usually associates with fabled New York deli-counter guys, is a big presence in the dining room, serving as impresario over meals' pacing and details. Thus the name, I suppose: Greg-ario is bringing a welcome new show to Safety Harbor's increasingly rich downtown.
Laura Reiley can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 892-2293. Follow @lreiley on Twitter. She dines anonymously and unannounced; the Times pays all expenses.