TAMPA - Tampa Bay's craft beer scene is perennially in flux. New breweries open, others close or get scooped up by bigger breweries, some reinvent themselves so they can sell beer off site, and still others build on kitchens and add food to give enthusiasts another reason to sit tight.
The Brew Bus Terminal and Brewery has an interesting story. Anthony Derby was raised in Carrollwood, went to University of Colorado in Boulder and came back on vacations to work at Cigar City, where his mother, Toni, was president. Revved up about the growing beer scene in the area, he bought his first bus when he graduated in 2012 and conducted brewery tours based out of Cigar City. In 2014, he started doing contract brewing from Cigar City's facility, and he got up to four buses. These days, Brew Bus has six buses with tours spread across six cities.
But that's not the biggest change. Derby and team moved to the Seminole Heights space formerly occupied by Florida Avenue Brewing Co. After major renovations and the addition of a lounge area, retail area and outside seating, they began brewing Brew Bus beers at the new location, as well as continuing the Florida Avenue brand.
"Florida Avenue has great name recognition, especially with tourists. It was one of the first to start in Tampa, in 2010," Derby said. "For Brew Bus we have 12 labels between core, seasonal and specialty beers, and we have 11 under the Florida Avenue name, with fruited Berliners as the stars."
At first, Brew Bus brought in food trucks to service hungry tasting room visitors, but it never quite gelled. So Derby decided to take the plunge, carving out a back office that wasn't being utilized and putting in a 400-square-foot kitchen. They opened the Eatery in December, bringing on executive chef Max Sherard and chef Kasia Lavigne (who has since moved on to Big Storm Brewing Co. in Clearwater). Sherard has an impressive resume, with a lengthy stint at the Epicurean Hotel and some time at On Swann as well.
That said, the tidy little one-page menu is easy pub grub, heavy on the sharables like poutine, wings, fried cheese curds and shishito peppers (which I love that they call "One-in-Ten Shishitos," because it's true, every 10th one will clear your sinuses, these served with a wasabi cream drizzle and a soy dipping sauce so even the fruity ones have verve; $8).
On a couple of visits I worked my way through most of the menu. And although there was major variation in dishes from visit to visit (I'm guessing one visit with Sherard overseeing things, one not — I can't explain the choice to smother falafel with barbecue sauce any other way; $8), it was an appealing array of options for pairing with a Brew Bus You're My Boy blueberry wheat or Florida Avenue Helles Lager (both $6 for a pint).
The menu offers suggested pairings that actually seem fairly thoughtful: The barbecue chicken flatbread, with its bacon jam, caramelized onions, jalapenos and fontina ($13), does in fact show off the toasty toffee-malty character of the Rollin Dirty Irish Style Red Ale.
The poutines are the menu highlight, a trio of offerings including one ladled with beef ragu and dotted with cheese curds, green onion and bacon, with a fried egg unblinking at its center ($12), and a pork belly version with a chili garlic sauce, more of that wasabi cream and a big tangle of tart and crunchy red onion pickles ($12).
You order at the bar and sometimes have to scoot back to the kitchen to retrieve your own orders, but often the very friendly bartender will grab dishes for you, happy to talk beer, cars or the manifold allures of poutine. Seminole Heights already has so many shrines to craft beer, but the Eatery at Brew Bus Terminal and Brewery brings a lot of lovely elements together: a table full of games, an easy hangout invariably ameliorated by a delicious soundtrack (mostly early 1990s alt rock) and a menu that frequently manages to celebrate the Brew Bus offerings and guest taps.
Contact Laura Reiley at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 892-2293. Follow @lreiley. She dines anonymously and unannounced; the Times pays all expenses.