During Prohibition, rough, working-class speakeasies were sometimes referred to as Blind Pigs or Blind Tigers (not sure which was the tougher kind of establishment, but I'm going tiger). The operator of the saloon would levy a cover charge for showing customers an animal attraction and then serve "complimentary" alcoholic refreshments. Crafty, eh?
Siegfried & Roy hung up their whips more than a decade ago, so cocktails-and-fierce-mammals aren't as seamless a marriage these days. Still, we have a steady nostalgia for Prohibition: classic cocktails, secret knocks, the whole nine yards. A couple of years back Sharon Stewart debuted the Wine Studio in a former 1970s-era dentist office with a groovy porte-cochere. It was all low-slung couches and classic black-and-white movies playing against one wall. It didn't last, and George Tsambis and Perry Dube, FSU college buddies, took over in January. They unveiled the Blind Goat Food and Drink Co. in March, a clear homage to Prohibition-era speakeasies.
In a couple of visits I saw no animal shows, myopic ruminant or otherwise, but there was indeed that clubby, those-in-the-know feel that must have been heady before the 21st amendment was ratified. Tsambis and Dube, with the help of Tsambis' father, Gus, repainted, remodeled the bar and furnished the space with a passel of fairly utilitarian wooden tables and chairs in a way that feels intimate and convivial.
Purchasing a full liquor license, the owners' focus thus far is more liquid than solid. There are textbook Bourbon Trace manhattans ($10), bacon-infused old fashioneds ($9) and quenching dark and stormies with Gosling's Black Seal Rum ($8), complemented by a familiar (and fairly pedestrian) beer list, a short wine list (with a couple of crowd-pleasers on tap) and something novel: a lineup of shot-and-beer pairings. With happy hour specials every day ($4 goblets of local beer, $15 all-you-can-drink wine, etc.), this is a boon to South Tampa's very thirsty.
The thing that drove Stewart to think creatively with the Wine Studio (it was one of the few places in the area to focus on fondue) seems also to guide the menu at the Blind Goat. In short, there's no hood system and thus no open flames (this means no fryer, no saute, no grill, and so forth). I see this quite frequently, and with new technology like combination ovens a restaurant can get along just fine. But it's a work-around.
Thus, at the Blind Goat, the menu is divided into several categories: sandwiches, pizza, salads and dips, all noshables suitable for an evening of sipping with friends. In that last group, the smoked fish dip ($8) and tzatziki ($6) were notably zesty, hummus ($5) and salsa ($4) more forgettable, all paired with a choice of pita, potato or tortilla chips, carrots and celery or meatballs (a $4 upcharge, but a neat idea for the carbo-phobe).
The pizzas, ultra-thin-crusted babies about 10 inches, are very simple, but with a couple of interesting combinations (feta, grapes and sausage, $9, who knew?). I'm not wild about the crust itself; it's hard to get those blistery bubbles and proper chew outside of a wood- or coal-fired oven.
Sandwiches, on the other hand, are executed in the "nothing succeeds like excess" style, each fat roll topped with provolone, coleslaw, potato chips and a drippy fried egg, not a bad capper to eggplant, zucchini, roasted red peppers and mushrooms ($8), but you're leaning over your plate big time, seepage a foregone conclusion.
Tsambis and Dube, 2013 college grads, bring a youthful dynamism to the dining room. Perhaps for that reason, the Goat skews much younger than the Wine Studio did. (It was a magnetic Girls' Night Out draw for Plant High School moms.) Service is familiar and breezy, and can fall apart a bit when the dining room gets busy. And thus far, it often bustles with Blind Goat fans. And a bit of goat trivia: A group of goats? They're called a trip. That's much more benign than an animal gathering at a Prohibition-era Blind Tiger: That would be an ambush.
Contact Laura Reiley at [email protected] or (727) 892-2293. Follow @lreiley on Twitter. She dines anonymously and unannounced; the Times pays all expenses.