HANGING UP HIS CHEF COAT: GREG BAKER
One of our local culinary treasures has announced he's retiring. Greg Baker, along with wife and partner Michelle Baker, was among the first chefs to bring a farm-to-table restaurant to the area when the Refinery opened in 2010. Since that time, the restaurant and Baker were nominated six times for a James Beard award. The Refinery and their second restaurant Fodder & Shine, both in Seminole Heights, have launched the careers of many Tampa Bay chefs as well as establishing Seminole Heights as a notable restaurant destination in our area.
After more than 30 years of working in kitchens, Baker, 51, aims to spend his time writing stories about food, as well as doing advocacy work for the James Beard Foundation and other organizations and doing restaurant consulting. The restaurant will stay open as the Bakers look for a buyer for the property and for the Refinery. Baker has offered to stay on as the founding chef to future buyers, in a consulting and transitional role.
NEW IN TAMPA: THEETREE HOUSE
The short-lived Platt Street Borough (where the food was actually quite good) in South Tampa has been reborn as Thee Tree House. It held a grand opening on Dec. 7 after an expansive renovation that turned the former bar and restaurant into an immersive jungle-like experience (bonus: outdoor bar consists of rope swings) with overgrown foliage, exposed wood and decorative artwork by local artists. Once home to the very popular the Rack (where billiards met sushi), the location has proved tricky in recent years. It's not quite SoHo and not quite Hyde Park Village. Let's hope this vision, the brainchild of owner Mike Piper, has a long run. The menu is contemporary sharables and bar food — there's a "We Don't Give A Fork" portion of the menu dedicated to dishes that can be enjoyed without utensils. Everything is made in house, including dressing for their signature wedge salad, guacamole and tortillas, gravy for the poutine, pickles and buffalo-pickled cauliflower. The full bar stretches out with a smoke-decantered old fashioned with bacon-imbued bourbon or an "Herbaliser" CBD-infused drink. 1809 W Platt St., Tampa. (813) 605-0119. theetreehouse.com.
SPUD LOVERS: REJOICE
Get Fried is open in Dunedin, the first-of-its kind quick-service franchise that is all about topped French fries. Loaded fry specials include poutine, buffalo chicken and BBQ pulled pork, and there are "Finger Food Favorites" like pizza logs, Buffalo Crunch Rolls and chicken fingers. The restaurant also has a "Dutch Style" side of the menu, which offers any style of fry (there are six styles) in a cone with the option of 15 sauce flavors drizzled on top. Seem like a narrow idiom in which to operate? Think on this for a second. The average American consumes between 29 and 50 pounds of French fries per year. This is the first Florida location, which is operating out of a permanent food trailer on the patio at Blur nightclub at 325 Main St., Dunedin. getfried.com.
FISH TALES: BIG CATCH
Fish Tales was evicted after a couple decades of doing business at 1500 Second St. S in St. Petersburg in the Harborage Marina. A group of St. Petersburg residents have come together to debut the Big Catch at Salt Creek in its place. Mario Farias (partner in Pipo's and Callaloo), Larry Munch (of Munch's Sundries), longtime restaurant operator Jon LaBudde, Pete Boland and Ian Taylor (both of the Galley) have come together to reimagine the space and the casual American seafood-focused concept. It is named in homage to LaBudde's nightclub called Big Catch. They hope to have it open early in 2019.
SAVE THE DATE: DEC. 24
Looking for a new tradition this year? Here's one that's been going on a long time. Billy's Stone Crab in Tierra Verde, situated on the water on the way out to Fort DeSoto, has been doing this since 1972: Gathering around the piano bar with Jerry Demark at the keys, guests hold candles and sing Christmas karaoke from 5:30 to 9:30 p.m. every Christmas Eve. Guests can arrive early to get the best seat or enjoy a meal and a $2.99 margarita to warm up their vocal chords. 1 Collany Road, Tierra Verde. (727) 866-2115. billysstonecrab.com.
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CHARITY: THE SPIRIT OF GIVING
Through Dec. 31, Save-A-Lot stores are offering Bags for a Brighter Holiday, a food resource drive for low-income families. In stores, shoppers have the opportunity to purchase pre-assembled bags of food for $4.99 each. These bags will then be donated to local charities.
STOCKING STUFFER FOR BEER LOVERS: BREW BUS
Brew Bus Tours of Tampa Bay recently expanded its Friday Night Heights tour to include Zydeco Brew Werks in Ybor City as well as Shuffle in Tampa Heights and Bodega/Mandarin Heights in Seminole Heights. Friday Night Heights began in early 2018 with stops including Seminole Heights City Wine Bar, Lowry Parcade, Red Star Rock Bar, Armature Works, Rock Brothers, Hall on Franklin and Brew Bus Brewing. Nearly 2,000 passengers have hopped on the Friday Night Heights shuttle since January. Brew Bus also now offers annual passes: single pass for $70, two-person pass for $99 and four-person pass for $160. For more information, visit bit.ly/bbannualpass.