On the menu at Toast on the Town’s first pop-up dinner of the fall season? Nostalgia.
The multi-course meal on Sept. 19 is led by Nathan Hardin, chef at the Armature Works anchor restaurant Steelbach in Tampa. For Hardin, it’s a chance to step outside of the restaurant and get a little more playful with dishes that conjure a certain vibe.
“One of the big things that drives creativity for me is nostalgia,” he said by phone recently. “That’s where a lot of this menu came from.”
Hardin has come up with dishes that hearken back to his childhood, things like tomato soup (his version includes fresh mozzarella, tomato water, basil oil and sourdough bread) and tetrazzini, a casserole his grandma used to make. His duck tetrazzini features broken linguine, gruyere mornay, mushrooms, carrots, peas and pearl onions.
The idea is to give old dishes a new light with refined cooking techniques and high-quality ingredients.
“It starts with what I ate as a kid and gets into what I enjoy now,” Hardin said of the menu. “Growing up in the late ’80s and early ’90s, my family like a lot of families ate a lot of take-out. The mexi pizza is a take on the old-school Mexican pizza from Taco Bell."
That’s one of the appetizers (a tostada topped with refried beans, short rib, cotija cheese and crema), along with a “peanut butter and jelly” dish featuring puff pastry, chicken liver mousse, pistachio butter and spiced grape jelly.
“My dad used to work in Clearwater, and there was a shanty of a grocery store that sold ham croquettes and Cuban sandwiches,” Hardin said. “We used to get those all the time.” His croquettes feature manchego alfredo and mojo aioli.
Toast on the Town’s pop-up dinners have featured mostly Tampa-based chefs including Rooster and the Till’s Ferrell Alvarez and Cena’s Michael Buttacavoli. The dinners intentionally take place at venues that aren’t restaurants. It’s all part of the company’s aim to get local chefs out from the kitchen and connect them with Tampa Bay diners in new ways. Hardin sees such events as ways to break out of the “larger corporate food scheme that we’re familiar with here in Tampa.”
This dinner is happening at CAVU, an event space in Tampa Heights that was first built in 1921. Think lots of exposed brick, and floor-to-ceiling windows. It pairs well with the fall-themed, nostalgia-driven dinner.
Hardin, a Tampa Bay native, was most recently chef de cuisine at Highball and Harvest at the Ritz-Carlton Orlando Grande Lakes. Previously, he was executive sous chef of Yardbird in Miami Beach. Tickets for the Sept. 19 dinner start at $125 and are on sale through Sept. 16. You can also enter to win VIP tickets at Why Tampa Bay’s Facebook page through Sept. 13.