By Justin Grant, tbt* correspondent
This year has been a big one for Tampa's drinking and dining scene, in no small part because of Armature Works, the wildly popular restaurant hall and event space that features everything from vegan Southern cuisine to rooftop tiki drinks.
After opening in February, the Oak & Ola restaurant has quickly become a central feature of Armature Works, occupying a sprawling corner space with floor-to-ceiling windows and a spacious patio overlooking part of the Tampa Riverwalk and the downtown skyline.
Billed as a "EuroAmerican restaurant" with seasonal food and drink, Oak & Ola is a partnership between award-winning chef Anne Kearney and the co-founders of the similarly swank On Swann: Chris Arreola and John and Trudy Cooper, as well as fellow restaurateur Andy Ganger.
It's a neat example of modern fine dining, nixing white tablecloths and chandeliers in favor of casual cafe tables, exposed ductwork and rustic wall lanterns. The weathered orange brickwork adds a nice contrast to the terrazzo and wood floors, which are dotted with funky blue sofas in a lounge area near the bar. The open kitchen and its blazing wood-fired ovens are a focal point at the rear of the restaurant, with a small, marble-topped horseshoe bar on the opposite side.
Here's where you'll kill some time before your reservation, or, like me, pop in simply to have a look at Oak & Ola's clever cocktail list, a 10-strong selection listed as starlets, with each cocktail featuring a name referring to a famous female chef.
Someone had fun putting Oak & Ola's menus together, featuring categories such as somethings (appetizers) and herbs | fruits | beans (tea, juice and coffee). The cocktail list is similarly coy, with titles and descriptions that are often little more than hints as to their compositions.
Take the Santini '13, presumably named after chef Nadia Santini, who was voted the world's best female chef in 2013. The menu tells us that it's made with Martell Blue Swift, Gozio, cacao and Julius Meinl espresso.
I had to ask to learn that Martell Blue Swift is a VSOP Cognac aged in bourbon casks, and Gozio is a type of amaretto liqueur.
How about the Yumi Chiba?
That one's made with "Roku, MIO Natural and Chartreuse Jaune," which is Oak & Ola's way of saying "Suntory Roku gin, MIO sparkling sake and yellow (jaune in French) Chartreuse. It's bright and citrusy, with a compelling herbal finish.
Looking beyond the well-varied cocktails, you'll find an extensive wine list, an eclectic and internationally sourced beer menu and a truly impressive selection of apertifs and cordials ranging from Italian and German bitter liqueurs to an extensive range of vermouth, which is no longer resigned to an accompanying role in martinis and manhattans.
A glass of Vya vermouth from California, on the rocks with a ribbon of citrus peel, is a drink that deserves a starring role.
As with its neighbors BAR and M.Bird, Oak & Ola presents a compelling case for cocktails at Armature Works. I'm happy that each has its own identity. Where BAR features an extensive whiskey list, M.Bird focuses largely on tiki-inspired drinks. Oak & Ola brings in some European flair, utilizing exotic liqueurs, fortified wines and unique spirits to craft an eclectic menu of cocktails that fit right in at this "EuroAmerican" restaurant.
It's well worth a visit.
— Contact Justin Grant at email@example.com. Follow @WordsWithJG.
Oak & Ola
1910 N Ola Ave., Tampa. (813) 773-1901. oakandola.com
The vibe: A bustling kitchen and lounge with an inventive cocktail list and rich aperitif selection.
Food: Small plates and salads, $6-$18; entrees, $12–$50.
Booze: Beer, wine and liquor. Beer, $5-$14; wine, $8-$25 by the glass and $30-$190 by the bottle; liquor, $8-$17.
Specialty: Head directly to the list of "starlets" signature cocktails named after noteworthy female chefs. Highlights include the Braidwood 20, a layered riff on a classic Rob Roy featuring Compass Box Great King Street Artist's Blend scotch, Carpano Antica vermouth, Galliani and Aperol; and Yumi Chiba, a bright spritzer made with Suntory Roku gin, MIO sparkling sake and yellow Chartreuse.
Hours: 11 a.m.-3 p.m. and 5 p.m.-10 p.m. Sunday-Thursday; 11 a.m.-3 p.m. and 5 p.m.-11 p.m. Friday-Saturday.