SPRING HILL — Over time, the cavernous 10,000-square-foot edifice on the southern end of U.S. 19 in Spring Hill has been home to a Belgian-style microbrewery, a sports bar and a nouveau family-style restaurant. None of those ideas caught on in a conservative economy where folks are extremely choosy where they spend their dining dollars.
Enter Passports, whose owners tout an ever-changing menu that can best be described as all over the map. With offerings of scratch-made ethnic and regional specials as diverse as authentic Russian beef stroganoff, grilled yellow fin tuna served with Fiji-style ambience that includes coconut basmati rice and grilled pineapple, and Louisiana standards such etouffee, seafood gumbo and oyster fritters, it's the kind of place serious foodies may want to check out often.
Opened in late November by Spring Hill businesswomen Susan Alascia and Nikki Cucciniello, who own Felony's Bar and Grill in Spring Hill, and Kate Cahill, the owner of Solid Steel Fitness in Spring Hill, Passports has already gained a loyal following, said general manager Robert Anania.
"We believe that we offer food and service that's more personable than the chains down the road," Anania said.
At least part of the buzz comes from the establishment's theme of celebrating a different country or region each week, with chefs Mark Peloquin and Gennaro Castiglione teaming up on specialty entrees ranging in price from $18 to $24. Past weeks have seen steaks, chicken, seafood and other dishes whose origins include Japan, Argentina, Mexico, Russia, Germany and Fiji.
Anania said customers seem to enjoy the adventuresome fare that comes with cocktail, beer and wine suggestions.
"We have people who call every Monday to see what country we are featuring," he said.
Customers can find out the specialty country in advance by checking out the restaurant's Facebook page. Of course, for the less adventuresome diner, there's also a standard menu. Lunch and dinner offerings include selections such as a half-pound classic Angus beef burger ($8.95), Tijuana fish tacos ($9.95) and Maryland-style crabcakes served Caribbean-style with apricot remoulade ($18.95).
Of particular note for past visitors of the establishment in its former guises is that it no longer looks like a dressed-up chow hall/sports bar. Instead, Passports owners have attempted to bring a touch of elegance with low-lit ambience and soft jazz.
Although the new owners have considered it, they have decided, at least for now, not to reopen the onsite brewery operation.
"I'm not sure that's a direction we feel we need to go in just yet," Anania said. "If we do it, we want to be assured that what we brew will be as high a quality as what comes out of our kitchen."
Logan Neill can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 848-1435.