TAMPA — The year 2022 is shaping up to be a busy one for Ferrell Alvarez.
As early as next month, the chef and owner of celebrated Seminole Heights restaurant Rooster & The Till will open Dang Dude, a new fast-casual Asian concept at Tampa’s Sparkman Wharf.
Rooster & The Till was recently approved for a full liquor license, which means Alvarez and his partners at Proper House Group are in the process of building out a new bar and full cocktail program at the restaurant. And in the coming months, the team has designs on their most ambitious undertaking yet: a full-service Italian restaurant in downtown Tampa.
But first up, Dang Dude.
The new spot inside the sprawling waterfront outdoor food court will open as early as March and takes over the shipping container formerly occupied by Southern-inspired restaurant 7th + Grove. That restaurant, which opened at Sparkman Wharf in early 2021, has closed, according to a spokesperson for Strategic Property Partners, the commercial real estate firm behind the project and developers for Water Street Tampa.
It’s the fourth concept for Proper House Group, which Alvarez runs together with business partners Ty Rodriguez and Chon Nguyen. Besides Rooster & The Till, the group’s restaurant concepts include Nebraska Mini Mart in Seminole Heights and Gallito Taqueria, a fast-casual taco spot with locations at Sparkman Wharf and Lakeland’s The Joinery.
Dang Dude will feature “super fun, creative plays on Asian food,” Alvarez said. He described the flavors as umami-rich with plenty of sweet, sour, sticky and salty elements. The menu includes dumplings, pot stickers, spring rolls and double-fried Asian-style chicken wings (one with a dry Szechuan-style rub and the other with a sticky, Asian-style barbecue sauce). There will be rou jia mo, a Chinese-style flatbread (sometimes referred to as a Chinese hamburger) made with crispy-griddled bread from the local baking pros at Jamison B. Breadhouse Bakes and stuffed with either braised pork shoulder, cumin beef or a togarashi tofu crumble and pickled veggies.
A fish dish, possibly made with grouper cheeks, will get the same treatment as Rooster & The Till’s popular cobia collar, which gets fried until crispy and dressed in a fiery nuoc cham sauce laced with Thai chiles.
Alvarez said the menu will also feature a heavy focus on vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free selections, with gluten-free dumpling wrappers and noodle dishes and sauces that build on homemade vegan fish sauce and tamari, instead of soy.
The spot’s beverage program is shaping up to be equally enticing with Asian beers, canned sake and bubble tea (and the option to make that bubble tea boozy).
Alvarez said he hopes to be open by “early March,” a target that’s slightly easier to hit than some of his other endeavors, including the new bar buildout at Rooster & The Till, which — like many other construction projects — is facing delays due to national supply chain lags and construction material shortages.
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In the coming months, Alvarez hopes to have a downtown Tampa lease secured for his newest concept, a full-service Italian restaurant, a project his team has been working on for the better part of the last year. The restaurant is the group’s largest undertaking so far, and is projected to occupy a roughly 2,500-square-foot space with seating for approximately 125 to 150 people.
Unlike the many Italian concepts currently operating in the Tampa Bay area where pizza and pasta are the focus, Alvarez said the new restaurant will feature a menu with a tighter lens on seafood, meats and locally sourced vegetables with “Italian and Mediterranean undertones.” There will likely be a selection of cicchetti, the Italian cousin of Spanish tapas — small, snackable plates — as well as some large-format and family-style dishes.
Alvarez, who in 2017 was named a James Beard Foundation semifinalist, said he envisions his newest project to be slightly more approachable than Rooster & The Till. He hopes to have the restaurant open within the year, but said that construction setbacks could push the opening into early 2023.