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Hyde Park kitchen fires up a revival

The quaint, old Dutch colonial house near the southern edge of Old Hyde Park Village once again bears the name of its longtime owner. Chavez restaurant opened last month at 815 S Rome Ave., courtesy of veteran restaurateur and former Tampa City Council member Helen Chavez.

The 1927 structure has been home to a litany of restaurants over the years _ Jeff's Desserts, Hyde Park Bistro, Ken's Hotdog Galore, Cafe Marcelo's, Jekyll's and Juli's Garden Cafe.

Chavez knows only too well that restaurants have struggled at the location. She tried to open one when she first bought the property in 1972, long before Old Hyde Park Village existed. The neighborhood opposed her, but Chavez persisted, eventually taking the matter to court to get zoning for a restaurant.

The Tea Room in Old Hyde Park finally opened in 1976 and remained until 1995. During that time, Chavez served two terms on the City Council, ran other restaurants and a catering business, and watched the development of the Old Hyde Park Village shopping district.

In 1996, Chavez decided to try retirement. She did it for a few years but missed the restaurant business.

In 2001, she took the reins of the restaurant at the Don Vicente de Ybor Historic Inn. Within a year and a half, her thoughts turned to opening another place in her house in Hyde Park.

Since opening the restaurant Aug. 11, "All my customers I used to see years ago are back," Chavez said. Also back are her signature dishes from other restaurants, including Chavez at the Royal, a space now occupied by Ceviche.

Chavez's Grouper Royal, Chicken Bayshore and seafood casserole appear on the menu, along with pad Thai, spring rolls, Bangkok chicken and various salads. Sweet and savory crepes, lobster bisque, chicken dumplings, clam chowder and desserts, such as Kentucky Derby pie and Old Meeting House Ice Cream, are also offered.

Having a long-established clientele and no rent, she says, will help her overcome the property's lack of a liquor license, a problem that dogged all her previous tenants. Either way, she's happy just be back in action. "The best part of my life is when I had all these businesses," she said. "I love the challenge of it."

Chavez serves lunch from 11 a.m to 3 p.m. Monday through Saturday, but after-hours private events are available.

GYMBOREE BOUNCED: Like a good ball, Gymboree Play and Music of South Tampa has jumped to its fourth location since opening in 1989.

Franchise owner Rachel Tilow said Gymboree outgrew its 1,800-square-foot space at 1220 S Dale Mabry Highway, across from Publix. So on Aug. 30 it moved to a 2,600-square-foot space a few blocks south on Dale Mabry at the corner of San Miguel Street.

The additional space has allowed Tilow to add music, art and play classes, expand the lobby and host larger birthday parties.

Tilow opened at Palma Ceia Christian Church on Bay to Bay Boulevard, then moved to Bayshore Boulevard near Chubby's restaurant. In 1994, she moved to Dale Mabry.

GASPAR SETS SIGHTS ON PARK: Tampa's mythical icon isn't planning an early invasion. Rather, a new townhouse development by Gaspar Properties, Gaspar on the Park, will soon rise on Morrison Avenue across from Kate Jackson Park.

The vacant lot in historic Hyde Park was recently the site of three old houses that were subdivided into apartments and had seen better days. Gaspar Properties president Hamilton Jones said the city deemed the houses noncontributing structures and, therefore, not protected by the historic preservation laws that blanket most of the neighborhood.

Construction should begin within two weeks on four, two-story townhomes, priced at $750,000 each.

At first glance, the finished project will have the all-too-common Mediterranean look. But look beyond the barrel roof tiles and burnt orange paint, Jones said. It will actually sport a more highly refined Italian Renaissance look, with lots of exterior details.

If this seems bellissimo to you, you'd better act presto. Three of the units are sold, Jones said. Construction should take seven months.

_ Do you know something that should be everybody's business? Call 226-3382, or e-mail mikecanninghotmail.com.

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