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Seminole Heights attracts two hip restaurant projects

Williamsburg, Brooklyn. The Pearl District in Portland, Ore. The Mission District in San Francisco. If you live there, it's just "home." To outsiders, these are enclaves of hip, areas with the right mix of boutiques, an edgy art scene and sartorial mavericks. And restaurants, they have to have restaurants.

Tampa's Seminole Heights is on the verge of joining the list.

Two new projects in the works may cement the central Tampa neighborhood as the "it" spot to dine. Michelle and Greg Baker launch restaurant No. 2 with Fodder and Shine making its debut near the end of the year, and Ferrell Alvarez and Ty Rodriguez, the duo who started Local Dirt magazine and most recently paired up at Harbour Island's Café Dufrain, will launch Rooster and the Till this summer.

Seminole Heights has always had restaurants, but it wasn't until Ernie Locke and Melissa Deming opened Ella's Americana Folk Art Café in 2009 that Seminole Heights began to coalesce as a neighborhood with a resolutely bohemian mind-set matched by serious culinary ambition. And shortly thereafter, the Bakers' Refinery made the neighborhood a national destination for food tourists with nomination nods from the James Beard Foundation three years running.

The question for this quartet of established restaurateurs is: Why here? What does Seminole Heights have that downtown Tampa or St. Petersburg's Beach Drive don't?

"Ty and I have always had our hearts there," says Alvarez. "People in Seminole Heights are more Williamsburg, Brooklyn-esque. They get it, that you don't have to go broke to get a great meal, and that food should be super fresh and affordable. The community support there is awesome."

There may be other compelling reasons that restaurants like the Independent, Taco Bus, Cappy's Pizza and Domani Bistro Lounge, and craft breweries like Cold Storage and Angry Chair have settled in Seminole Heights. According to Keller Williams commercial broker Gary Culler, the average commercial lease price in Seminole Heights may run roughly $17.50 per square feet, versus $21 for property in downtown Tampa.

And Michael Marini, a commercial broker with Foresite Commercial Real Estate Advisors, said St. Petersburg's downtown ranges even higher, from $21 to $29 per square foot.

For the Bakers, the site of restaurant No. 2 required a leap of faith.

"Our broker, Greg McNutt, said he wanted to show us this property," recalls Michelle Baker. "I thought, 'You've got to be kidding, man.' It was an open-air automotive place, barely four walls. He started talking to me about a vision he had, and I got it."

A much bigger space, with 2,000 square feet allotted for the kitchen alone, Fodder and Shine will allow Greg to do things he can't at the much smaller Refinery. Something of a Florida history buff, Greg aims to pay homage to Florida's American Indians and early Florida settlers, with smoked fish, shrimp and oysters and lots of preserved food (housemade charcuterie, pickles and canned goods). And although the menu won't change weekly as it does at the Refinery, F&S will lean heavily to what is seasonal and local — a commitment also dear to Alvarez and Rodriguez over at the soon-to-be Rooster and the Till.

For Alvarez, farm-to-table cooking is second nature. He'll be working with Urban Oasis, a hydroponic Farm in Tampa, and Pasture Prime Family Farm in Summerfield will be a major source of poultry and meat.

"We'll be pushing the envelope more than other places in Tampa," he said.

The unusual names follow a curious national trend using a "Blank and Blank" configuration, like Girl and the Goat (Chicago), Butcher & the Boar (Minneapolis), Hog & Hominy (Memphis).

Fodder and Shine?

"The second definition of fodder is to use raw material for artistic creation, and the second definition of moonshine is essentially to bulls- - -, to sit around and talk," says Michelle Baker.

And Rooster and the Till?

"Ty came up with that name over a year ago," says Alvarez. "He's always had a thing for roosters, because every day is a fresh new opportunity. That's resonated with us for a long time."

Laura Reiley can be reached at lreiley@tampabay.com or (727) 892-2293. Follow @lreiley on Twitter.

Seminole Heights attracts two hip restaurant projects 05/14/13 [Last modified: Tuesday, May 14, 2013 9:21pm]
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