You know the word cleave, and how it means to split apart, but also its opposite, to adhere firmly? Same goes for the word hew. It means to cut with heavy blows, but also to conform or adhere. What gives, English language? I was flummoxed by this as I considered the new HEW Parlor & Chophouse at the new Fenway Hotel, but also because my Google maps lady resolutely thought the hotel was on the other side of the street. (Tip: It’s on the side of the street furthest from the water.)
The Fenway originally opened in 1927, playing host to notable explorers, artists, politicians, musicians and celebrities of the day. The hotel was also home to the first radio station in Pinellas County, WGHB (a precursor to WFLA), which began broadcasting from the roof of the Fenway in 1925. It was a private club in the 1950s and then operated seasonally until 1961, when it became home to Trinity College. When Trinity moved to Pasco County in 1988, it sat empty.
The Tampa Bay Times has called the hotel building Dunedin’s “most historically valuable structure,” so it was only right that it be preserved somehow. But as with the Belleview Biltmore, opinions were divided on precisely in what way. A plan stalled, but in 2014 the nonprofit Taoist Tai Chi Society of the USA purchased the hotel as its national headquarters. They in turn partnered with Mainsail Lodging & Development to redevelop the Fenway Hotel. It debuted in November with 83 guest rooms and suites, HEW Parlor & Chophouse, the Hi-Fi Rooftop Bar overlooking St. Joseph Sound and lots of event space, including the Caladesi Ballroom.
Herman Everett Wendell was the architect, so his towel monogram was HEW. Thus, the name for the steak and chophouse that anchors the hotel. It’s a pretty space, its walls still a little bare, with marble-topped tables and plaid upholstered booths that seem both retro and edgy. Bright blue tumblers are focal points in the neutrally hued HEW. Bentwood cane-back chairs say “yesterday,” while a kitchen bar with views into the exhibition kitchen say “right now.”
In a couple of recent visits, service was the biggest bobble — lots of inexperience, lots of lags and a way-too-close-to-Playboy-bunny decision to have servers in bow ties worn as chokers, not around the collars of the shirts. That’s all new-restaurant stuff and will likely work itself out. After all, Tampa-based Mainsail is a bunch of pros. (They have the Epicurean Hotel, Waterline Marina Resort & Beach Club and Mainsail Beach Inn on Anna Maria Island, Scrub Island Resort in the Caribbean, and they operate corporate housing all over.) And they’ve tapped some pros to head things up, notably Adam Hyatt as executive chef and Shawn Routten as general manager.
I appreciated Hyatt’s work at the unfortunately short-lived Platt Street Borough in Tampa, where he and longtime friend Kiel Lombardo, both formerly of Roy’s, did vivacious, New American, cocktail-friendly food. Hyatt also worked to develop concepts for Ciccio Restaurant Group and was once sous chef at Mystic Fish in Palm Harbor.
What I like about the HEW menu is that it is short and curated but still manages to harken back to a more glamorous jazz age (steak tartare with the fixings, $10, filet mignon with a puddle of red wine demi-glace, $32). At the same time, it feels rooted in right now. There’s a rosy fan of hangar steak with a spoonful of toasted almond chimichurri ($29), as well as a peppered bison coulotte with a tangle of crispy shiitake mushrooms as accompaniment ($35).
Steaks and chops come fairly unadorned on big white plates, set too far off to one side so things seem a little missing. If you order a side dish with your steak, it comes on a separate small plate that you’re just itching to dump in the empty spot next to your steak. There were a couple of starters that need some rethinking (the pork belly, soft and not crisp-edged, with its big black smear of olive reduction, $13; a not-compelling Caesar in which the advertised black garlic anchovy puree was not in evidence, $7), but otherwise there are a number of well-executed dishes at fair prices.
The visually lovely beet salad pairs the earthy tubers with creamy charred orange, tangy sorrel and grapefruit and little clods of crunchy granola as well as more traditional fluffs of goat cheese, an assured assemblage ($10), as were all the desserts we tried, from a pistachio cake with burnt honey to a just-tangy goat cheese panna cotta and a fun spin on a banana split with candied walnuts, crunchy banana chips and cubes of rich brownie (all $9).
HEW’s wine list thus far is a head-scratcher, not a ton of offerings, spread between old and new world, but either very affordable or very expensive, not much in between. I was more smitten with the cocktail list, reimagined classic drinks named for local historical movers and shakers (Wendell himself gets a spin on an old fashioned), most between $12 and $14.
Dunedin has been underserved by boutique hotels — the Fenway feels like a big win, and HEW cuts a dashing figure while still adhering to traditional hotel restaurant idioms.
Contact Laura Reiley at [email protected] or (727) 892-2293. Follow @lreiley.