TAMPA ― Restaurant openings can be difficult even in the best of times. There are always a few hiccups, and things rarely go exactly as planned.
For Kristine and Eric Zostant, opening a restaurant in the middle of a pandemic meant an entirely different set of challenges.
“It’s a whole extra layer of work that you’re not expecting,” said Eric Zostant.
The couple is opening Rome + Fig this week in Tampa’s North Hyde Park neighborhood.
The Zostants, who are both hospitality industry lifers, had been planning on opening a restaurant of their own for some time. The restaurant was originally slated to open in November but the date got pushed to January, and then April.
When Rome + Fig opens this Wednesday, it will look slightly different than what they had planned. Though the menu, which the couple describes as “globally inspired,” is still designed for a more upscale dine-in concept, some dishes might eventually get tweaked for takeout purposes. The physical menus will be single-use to start, though that may evolve into QR codes at the table that guests can scan to see a menu on their phones. Sanitizing stations will greet guests when they enter and employees will have their temperatures taken daily. Staffers who work together will be given similar schedules, to avoid too much personnel overlap.
The biggest change was the seating, which with state-mandated social distancing and capacity requirements had to be cut in half: The inside dining area, which originally was planned for 80 diners, now will seat 40. Outside on the patio, tables spaced six feet apart will accommodate roughly 40 people as well.
For now, the long communal table that the couple imagined as a gathering place where people in the neighborhood could meet and mingle will go unused.
The restaurant’s name is a nod to the location, on N Rome Avenue and W Fig Street, across the street from the Noho Flats apartment complex in a burgeoning stretch of Tampa’s North Hyde Park.
The kitchen is also taking a unique approach to the initial launch, starting with a three-week soft opening period during which diners will be introduced to executive chef Rob Scott’s full menu through a series of prix-fixe menus that will change by the week. Each four-course meal will cost $30 and feature an appetizer, a soup or a salad, an entree and a dessert.
“We wanted to give people a taste of everything and allow our kitchen to really work out the kinks,” Kristine Zostant said.
By mid- to late August, the owners plan on running the full menu, plus a list of rotating daily or weekly specials.
Scott’s resume includes previous stints at St. Petersburg’s the Birchwood and Brick & Mortar as well as Tampa’s farm-to-table pioneer the Refinery. The menu at Rome + Fig will nod to international cuisines while sourcing where possible from Tampa Bay, including produce and seafood from local farmers and fishmongers.
Dishes on the opening menu include a Thai curry soup with Scottish salmon; lumpia with ground duck, cabbage, sprouts, noodles and ginger; tuna tartare served with wonton crisps and apples, scallions, avocado and a ginger vinaigrette; and a bone-in ribeye served with duck fat confit potatoes, corn pudding, heirloom carrots and a bearnaise sauce.
A cocktail program featuring a mix of original and classic creations will round out a beverage program featuring a large selection of wines by the glass, priced anywhere from $10 to $20.
Rome + Fig will serve dinner from 5 to 9 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday. Eventually, the restaurant will add a weekday happy hour and weekend brunch.
317 N Rome Ave., Tampa. (813) 253-3353. romeandfigbistro.com.