One bite of the burger and I'm 11 years old again.
Richard Gonzmart, president of the Columbia Restaurant Group, isn't touting his upcoming resurrection of Goody Goody, the iconic Tampa burgers-and-pies restaurant, as the fountain of youth.
But a lot of people who, like me, grew up eating Goody Goody's old-school fare might see it that way. Based on a tasting on Thursday at the Columbia Restaurant Museum in Ybor City hosted by Gonzmart, his team has nailed the retro flavors that made the place such a fond memory for Tampa residents.
Goody Goody had an 80-year run as a drive-in and sit-down restaurant, closing in 2005. Gonzmart negotiated with the owners for nine years for its name, recipes, sign and memorabilia, announcing in 2014 that he would bring it back.
Gonzmart also said on Thursday that he is considering bringing back other Tampa restaurants such as the Colonnade, which just shut down this week.
Menu development and tastings for Goody Goody have been ongoing, and the location, at 1601 W Swann Ave. in Hyde Park Village, was announced last year. (A second location is scheduled to open in Tampa International Airport in August.) This week, the tasting panel was opened to members of the media for the first time.
When I was a kid in Tampa in the early 1960s, both of my parents worked downtown, and Goody Goody was a treat destination for my brothers and me. I have clear sensory memories of its food, and at the tasting the hamburger felt like a happy flashback.
This is a burger from the days before fast-food chains and gourmet burgers as big as your head. It's not a stamped-out, flattened circle or square, not an inch-thick monster that hardly fits in your mouth. It's a loosely textured patty with irregular edges that looks like your mom might have scooped it out of a bowl of fresh ground beef, slapped it between her palms a couple of times and tossed it on the grill pan until it was browned and juicy. (The beef is from Florida cattle raised by Strickland Ranch, "no hormones, no antibiotics," Gonzmart says.)
The bun is understated, the sauce the real Goody Goody touch, based on several recipes Gonzmart got from the former owners. It's tomato-based and assertively tangy, liquid enough to be a drip hazard but worth it, accented with toothsome chunks of fresh onion and three (not two, not four) slices of pickle.
The fries are fresh — Gonzmart says the only freezer in the place will be for ice cream, which will be made in house — and are steam baked before being seasoned and fried twice in tallow. The result is soft inside, red-gold and crispy outside, and potentially addictive.
My chocolate milk shake was intensely chocolatey and rich. The shakes are so thick that when one of the other tasters knocked hers over accidentally, it didn't flow out of the glass.
Pies were another Goody Goody specialty and will be again. Flavors include coconut cream, banana cream and chocolate cream, but perhaps the most famous was the butterscotch. The version we tried is creamy and soft, with subtle butterscotch flavor and a lovely cap of lightly browned meringue.
Menu tweaks are ongoing. "It's more diverse than you think," Gonzmart says of the new menu — not just those memorable burgers and pies. He waxes eloquent about breakfast, reminiscing about gathering fresh eggs from the family chickens on Davis Islands when he was a boy and talking about being a "pancake fanatic."
The Goody Goody morning menu is likely to include basted eggs, Kentucky country ham and pancakes. "We'll have coffee roasted in Ybor City, by Naviera" he says, "an unlimited cup for 99 cents." On the lunch and dinner menus, look for fried chicken, meat loaf, salads and a tuna, avocado and tomato sandwich.
Renderings of the restaurant's interior show an inviting space in evocative midcentury modern style, with window walls on two sides that are garage doors, so the whole place can be open-air on fine days. The original Goody Goody used school desk chairs as seating. Gonzmart says a few of them will be included, "but we wanted some more comfortable seating, tables and booths."
And the jackpot question: When will it open? Construction delays probably mean a summer debut, but Gonzmart just says, "When it's ready."
Contact Colette Bancroft at [email protected] or (727) 893-8435. Follow @colettemb.