How far would you go for a really good bar?
Would you drive 10 miles out of your way? Twenty? Thirty-five?
That's the approximate distance from my home to the Stein & Vine on the east side of Brandon — easily an hour on a normal day of traffic. And yet I've probably been there a half-dozen times in the less than two years it's been open — mostly just for work, but also kinda-sorta not just for work, if you know what I mean.
The Stein & Vine is a gem of a gastropub stashed deep in the Brandon 'burbs, one that would stand proudly in Seminole Heights, Dunedin, downtown St. Pete or any other hip urban area. You dig the Ale and the Witch? The Mermaid Tavern? Taps Wine and Beer Merchants? The Stein & Vine would be right up your alley.
I'm not the only one who thinks this. When we asked tbt* readers to tell us their favorite bar in Tampa Bay, the Stein & Vine got more nominations than any other place. For such an intimate place, it's got an impressive wine selection and a food menu that's cheeky (they pride themselves on their tater tots and "pig wings") yet creative (try their 3 Little Piggies sandwich, with fried pork loin, prosciutto, bacon and port wine cheddar; or their PB&J Burger, which comes stuffed, not topped, with peanut butter and jelly).
But their carefully curated tap list alone is worth the drive. On a recent visit, I got a $6.50 flight containing three unique and not particularly common local brews — Rapp Gose, Cigar City Horchata ale and Two Henrys Blueberry Jalapeno Porter — as well Illinois brewer 5 Rabbits' Paletas #1, a wheat ale with guava, pink peppercorns and tarragon. Such a range of flavors and textures.
Ty Mathis, who runs the Stein & Vine with wife Lacey, said keeping tight reins on the beer menu draws drinkers from all over Tampa Bay. His close relationships with Florida breweries often yield rare or one-off selections — Bell's Hopslam, J. Wakefield and Stone Brewing Co.'s Hot Lil' Miami Tart, even Cigar City's Hunahpu's Imperial Stout — and he sometimes features Pinellas breweries that don't often surface in east Hillsborough, such as Cycle. But he's not afraid to ditch a local brewer if customers say the product isn't up to snuff. "I'll weed 'em out, unfortunately, if I'm not impressed with what they're doing," Mathis said.
The Mathises live within walking distance of the Stein and Vine, and opened it in late 2012 simply because there weren't really any options like it near their 'hood. Others in the Brandon quickly adopted it as their own.
"We've got a good following around the area," Mathis said. "We know everybody; it's kind of like the little neighborhood pub, but with good food and good beer."
Business has been so good, in fact, that the Mathises recently purchased the out-of-business gun shop next door and, pending zoning approvals, will expand the Stein and Vine into that space, possibly by the end of the year. The space is needed — "We get pretty backed up on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, where I've got 30, 40 people backed up outside the front door, staring at tables, willing them to get up," he said. "It's uncomfortable for everybody, so it'll help with the overflow. Plus, it would allow me to do a few extra things, like a tasting room."
Looks like another drive to Brandon might be in the cards soon.