TAMPA — Barterhouse, the modern American restaurant that grew from popup dinners around Tampa Bay and in Charleston, S.C., is close to opening on the west side of Ybor City.
Originally dubbed the Bowery and in the works for a few years, Barterhouse has significantly transformed the about 3,600-square-foot space most recently home to World of Coffees & Tea at 1811 N 15th St. The restaurant plans to reflect a particular ethos, driven by sustainability.
“I think more people are interested in something that’s a little more current in sustainability. We try to be local but local’s not as important,” said Kenneth Emery, a partner in Barterhouse with Chris Jimenez, Scott Black, Tony Marino and Kevin Lilly, the founder of Rock Brothers Brewing across the street. “We’re really close with our fishermen, our farmers, our ranchers. So we know how they take care of the land and the animal and their people and us.”
Barterhouse is a homecoming of sorts for Emery. Twenty-five years ago, he brought Market Cafe, inspired by the Eastern Market in his native Detroit, to Palm Harbor’s East Lake area. The restaurant was “fast-casual,” back when the dining style wasn’t as popular as it is today, and sourced from small local purveyors. However, Emery quickly converted it into a full-service joint called Scalawags, which he sold in 2001 to a family in the area. He said Market Cafe was a little before its time.
A couple of years later, he was drawn to Charleston, where he owns high-end steakhouse Burwell’s Stone Fire Grill and the rooftop raw bar above it, Balao. The popups there and here served as a testing ground for Barterhouse, allowing Emery and his Charleston chefs to cook for 20 to 30 diners and meet farmers, food and beverage leaders and other folks. They put an emphasis on education, too.
“It’s hard to know by looking at the plate what you’re getting. And when we say, ‘Not all ingredients are created equal,’ on the plate they may look the same, even in taste they could be similar, but there’s a radical difference in how they’re brought to the buyer,” Emery said.
According to him, the way Barterhouse curates its lineup is what separates it from other eateries doing modern American cuisine. He and his crew of hospitality veterans who have helped launch multiple concepts in other cities want to know who and where their products are coming from — and how their practices are affecting the environment and community. The restaurant buys beef from Idaho’s Snake River Farms and Odessa herbal outpost Cahaba Clubs’ microgreens, to name a couple, and will highlight items that are either sustainable or local on the menu.
Diners can watch executive chef Justin Sells do his thing in the open kitchen. There’s a nice view from the bar, and an even better one from the walk-ins-only chef’s counter with four to six seats. He’ll try to focus on Florida ingredients and seasonality in approachable, elevated fare.
“We really want to try and fortify the relationships between ourselves and the farmers as much as possible whenever possible. … We’re not dictating to the farmers what we need. We’re really focusing on what the farmer has that he can provide for us and that we can highlight,” Sells said.
Barterhouse expects to offer appetizers, small plates and entrees, six or seven of each to let guests tapas their way through dinner or dig into a full meal. A seafood-heavy selection is likely but so are beef and pasta options. Sells has been playing with a riff on the Florida cracker dish hog and hominy, which blends hominy into a tomato sauce, with some avocado, and swaps pork for what he called “hog snapper.”
“That’s really the mind frame,” Sells said. “Not trying to reach too far out of the great state — just trying to see what’s indigenous and giving it respect.”
The restaurant’s relaxed-meets-refined speakeasy atmosphere featuring pops of color honors 1920s-’50s Ybor. Local artist Ron Francis is behind the mobster sgraffito mural and the marble-looking wood tables made from reclaimed doors. Both add to the artistic, somewhat unfinished feel of the sustainable design.
The handsome bar helps divide the space — which Joffrey’s Coffee & Tea Company, the Laughing Cat and Streetcar Charlie’s Bar & Grille have also occupied over the years — into two areas. The dining room will operate from 5 p.m. to 10:30 or 11, with the lounge staying open until 2 a.m. Grub will always be available alongside a bold, Southern-inspired roster of traditional and signature craft cocktails that incorporate ingredients such as house-made syrups, Florida honey, house-made ginger beer and even spirits infused on-site.
Ensuring the drinks shake hands with the dishes is important as well. Backed by fellow bar wizards Joe Joe Fahey and Jon Calo of Charleston, cocktail creator Miles Ray will collaborate with the chef to procure products, including rarely seen Florida fruits like black sapote (chocolate pudding fruit) and monstera deliciosa (a cross between a pineapple and an apple) and familiar ones like mango and tamarind.
“Orange, too,” Ray said. “But being able to incorporate these into the cocktails gives us something different, a little bit more unique.”
“We’ll kind of carry that over to our cocktail and wine program as far as really utilizing native Florida ingredients that a lot of people may not even know of,” general manager Drew Morrow said. “It’s going to be light, bright, fresh food, so our cocktails and a lot of our wine offerings will mirror that.”
As Emery put it, Barterhouse isn’t going after the Ybor demographic. The restaurant, which aims to open before the end of October, wants to attract people from all over.
“If we can do a great job, I think people will come further. That’s going to be yet to be seen, although Ulele did it, Armature (Works) did it,” he said. “I think this can launch the area in a different direction, especially this west side.”
Sourcing ingredients in Florida isn’t as easy as it was in Charleston, where there are more “hubs,” as he called them, helping purveyors sell and distribute everything from blueberries to lettuces.
But he’s hopeful about what Barterhouse will be able to score.
“Little by little we find more and more people that can provide the things we’re looking for, and that’s why we’re excited for Tampa,” Emery said.
(813) 542-1710. barterhouseybor.com.