With a name like Above the Salt, an explanation seems in order. The expression dates to medieval times, when esteemed guests were seated at tables with salt — a highly valuable commodity at the time — as a sign of respect.
The idea, then, is that visitors to Lowry Park's Above the Salt Cafe represent the modern-day version of these esteemed guests, seated metaphorically "above the salt."
Indeed, the impression I got from visiting the Tampa cafe was that I was a guest, rather than just a customer. If it sounds like I ripped that from a customer service training video, fine; but visit and you'll understand.
Above the Salt Cafe is the creation of mother-daughter team Sonia and Christina Piasecki, both Tampa natives. It's been getting great reviews since its grand opening in November. I had to check it out.
While Seminole Heights gets all the play, its neighbor to the west has been picking up steam over the last year. Between Lowry Parcade, c.1949 and now Above the Salt, Lowry Park has its share of quirky spots to enjoy a quality brew, allowing residents to stay closer to home, while also drawing an adventurous few from the hip comforts of the Heights.
While I visited Above the Salt for a couple of drinks, it's a restaurant first. The menu is Cuban-leaning, with an emphasis on affordability (nothing — food or drink — is over $8). Thankfully, there's a reasonable number of vegetarian selections, ranging from a plantain and black bean house-made veggie burger to a spaghetti squash bowl filled with sauteed seasonal veggies. The food is made-to-order and has a home-cooked feel to it, in part due to the environment in which it's served.
With the plate-glass windows at the entrance partially obscured by sheer white curtains, it's easy to forget that you're only a few steps away from a typically drab stretch of Waters Avenue. The walls of Above the Salt are painted a bright turquoise, which absolutely pop in the sunlight, adding some colorful cheer before the drinks come out.
I started with a Starburst Wheat from Michigan's Saugatuck Brewing, a nice hoppy wheat that I wasn't familiar with. It came out in a handled mason jar, followed by a fruit-infused water, which was a nice touch. Sometimes it's the little things that make a place memorable.
The beer selection is concise. Just 12 brews are on the menu, but you've got a West Coast IPA (Racer 5), Kölsch (Gaffel), a trio of goses (Anderson Valley: briny melon, G&T and blood orange), hefeweizen (Hofbräu), Belgian-style (Merry Monk), porter (Smuttynose), fruit beer (Lost Coast Tangerine Wheat), the aforementioned Starburst and a couple of light macro lagers. That's a lot of range for a dozen beers.
I'd also heard good things about the sangria, which is made in-house from Vandori Italian wines. The white sangria, which I tried, is made with peach nectar and mint, and the red is flavored with orange and cinnamon. While I can't vouch for the red, the white sangria was refreshing — not overly sweet, and with a very effective flavor combo.
There's a tiny stage cutaway in the back corner, which is home to open-mic nights on Thursdays, live music on Saturdays and a DJ on the last Friday of each month.
The best feature of Above the Salt is not the live music, the food, the tidy drink selection or the charming decor — it's the service, which is true to its promise of a small, family-run restaurant experience.
I can't think of many places in town more welcoming, and that makes for a great place to grab a bite and some drinks. It also makes Above the Salt a real asset for its growing Lowry Park neighborhood, and that's no small praise for a little cafe in the corner of an old strip mall.
— [email protected]; @WordsWithJG