TAMPA — Four-time James Beard Foundation semifinalist chef Jeannie Pierola will expand on her award-winning restaurant Edison: food+drink lab this October when she opens Edison’s swigamajig divebar and fishkitchen at Sparkman Wharf.
Edison’s swigamajig will do business out of two of the 10 re-purposed shipping containers where the developers of Sparkman Wharf are putting together a Who’s Who of Tampa restaurateurs — including those behind Mise en Place, BT, Rooster & the Till and Ichicoro — to create what will be, in effect, an open-air food hall on the waterfront with a tree-shaded lawn for diners.
"Super excited to join the extraordinary local culinary team that has been assembled," Pierola said in a statement released Sunday through Strategic Property Partners, a joint venture between Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik and Microsoft founder Bill Gates’ Cascade Investment. She said the idea for Edison’s swigamajig had been in the works for some time.
"Then we heard the vision for Sparkman Wharf and jumped at the chance to partner with Strategic Property Partners to bring this modern seafoodie dive to downtown," she said. Sparkman Wharf — a top-to-bottom re-working of the old Channelside Bay Plaza complex near the Florida Aquarium — is part of the $3 billion Water Street Tampa mixed-use development.
Edison’s swigamajig is envisioned as a re-thinking of a traditional Florida seafood shack with a kaleidoscopic menu intended to go way beyond clarified butter and Old Bay seasoning, plus craft cocktails, beer and organic wines.
A former chef at Bern’s and Sidebern’s, Pierola opened Edison: food+drink lab in 2012, a restaurant with inventive ambition, wide-ranging imagination and a sense of humor. Pierola was the first Tampa Bay-area chef to be invited to cook at the James Beard House and has cooked for President George H.W. Bush and First Lady Barbara Bush, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and Oprah Winfrey.
Along with Edison’s swigamajig, Sparkman Wharf will include a cluster of local chefs offering riffs on and the occasional departure from their better-known ventures:
The Corners Pizza
With ramen shops on both sides of Tampa Bay, chef Noel Cruz is no stranger to local foodies, but he is moving in a new direction — pizza, cut in squares, Detroit-style — for his piece of Sparkman Wharf.
Known for projects like his Ichicoro restaurants (ramen), c.1949 (Florida-brewed craft beer), and Chismis & co. (Filipino), Cruz is teaming up with Anthony Messina, who says he plans to feature "my grandmother’s recipe" at The Corners Pizza.
The pizza is baked in square pans suitable for holding small parts in factories — hence, the connection to Detroit. Thematically, however, it’s also a fit for Sparkman Wharf, which is working to transform Channelside Bay Plaza from festival marketplace that was not so festive into a destination with a more post-industrial look and feel.
The idea for The Corners Pizza "has been a secret passion project in my head for a while," said Cruz, a graduate of the University of Florida and the Culinary Institute of America, and Sparkman Wharf is a chance to do "something different."
"Pizza, like ramen, is truly endearing to me, and we are approaching it with integrity and fun. " Cruz said.
Flock & Stock
"This is the most exciting time in our city’s development history," said Burton, who also is known for the Tampa Pizza Company, Heights Melts and the Heights Fish Camp in the Hall on Franklin, and GenX Tavern, a restaurant and bar with a retro 1980s and ‘90s vibe. "Thrilled to be a part of it."
Longtime local chef BT Nguyen plans another interpretation of classic French and Vietnamese dishes, built on organic ingredients, small-farm meats and poultry, wild fresh-caught seafood and local Florida produce.
Nguyen was born in Vietnam and came to the United States as a refugee after Saigon fell in 1975. She put herself through college, earning a degree in textile science and fashion design, but her interests led her to food and designing stylish restaurants, something she has done in Tampa over the past 30 years at BT, Bistro BT and BT-to-Go.
Watch for "on-the-go, small plates featuring some of the most popular French-Vietnamese-style dishes from our restaurants," she said.
Mise en Place duo Maryann Ferenc and Marty Blitz, plus Ben Carson, a Mise en Place alum who is general manager of Olé Imports, will team up to create Montados, a place to get Spanish-style tapas and five Spanish wines, including cava and sangria.
"We knew tapas had to be a part of the culinary offering here," Ferenc said, "because enjoying tapas is all about sharing and gathering as a community to enjoy the simple, good things in life."
Boat Run Oyster Co.
An offshoot of Tampa-based SaltBlock Hospitality, Boat Run farms its own oysters at Cedar Key. Co-founders Ryan Conigliaro and Scott J. Roberts plan a menu with raw and chargrilled oysters, local shrimp rolls, stone crab and other seasonal Florida fare.
Gallito will be a taqueria planned by chef Ferrell Alvarez and partner Ty Rodriguez, who are behind the Rooster & the Till farm-to-table restaurant in Seminole Heights.
Gallito (pronounced guy-E-toe) will focus on authentic Mexican flavors with real tortillas. Alvarez said the founders are sourcing heirloom corn varieties and fresh masa and are in talks with Hacienda out of Los Angeles.
"They don’t distribute to anyone in Florida yet," he said, "but we’re going to figure it out."
Whatever Pops, owned by Steve McGlocklin, currently has a location in Seminole Heights serving popsicles — with flavors ranging from coconut lime and pineapple cilantro to Earl Grey lavender lemonade and "salty chocolate Elvis" — plus house-made gelato, açaí bowls, locally roasted coffee, fresh-fruit smoothies, shakes and waffles-on-a-stick.
Owned by Jason and Emily Smith, Foundation Coffee has shops in a 1920s brick building in Tampa Heights and Riverview. Foundation works to roast and brew coffee from places where farmers get an equitable price for their coffee.
When complete in early 2020, Sparkman Wharf will include about 180,000 square feet of office lofts — some of them in place of the long-closed Channelside Cinemas — 65,000 square feet of ground-floor retail, plus a 1-acre outdoor space with a lawn, outdoor dining and beer garden in place of a Channelside wing that has been demolished. Also gone will be Hooters, which this month announced that it is losing its lease and will seek a new home nearby.
Run by Joel Bigham and Daniel K. Charley, the Fermented Reality Biergarten will have more than 30 taps with an emphasis on Florida craft beer alongside wine, iced tea and natural sodas. The 3,000-square-foot covered bar will offer shade, outdoor televisions and cooling misters.
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