By Gary Nager
OK, first of all, I’m not saying there are no longer any good restaurants in New Tampa, but with the recent closings of Lee Roy Selmon’s, Ciccio’s Lodge and Sushi Tsu (among others), there’s no doubt we have fewer great eateries in our area than we did a year ago.
I also know that many of you already venture out of our area quite a bit to enjoy a great meal and who could blame you? I’m sure you already have a lot of favorites that are kind of…let’s say…conventional, but on these pages are a few of my newest favorites located in other parts of Tampa and none of them are any more than 30 minutes from any part of New Tampa.
Domani Bistro & Lounge
The only one of these out-of-area favorites to participate in this year’s Taste of New TampaTM, Domani Bistro & Lounge is the kind of place I would love to have in New Tampa, even though I don’t know if our community would embrace its unique menu and funky, non-chain ambiance.
I read a review posted on Domani’s wall that made it sound like more of a New York City-style restaurant. Well, I don’t know if Domani reminds me of any one NYC eatery in particular , but what I do know is that there’s literally nothing like it in New Tampa.
Domani recently overhauled its menu and the restaurant’s co-owners says the menu is now planned to change seasonally. Among the new favorites to sample is a pulpo confit, an appetizer portion of preserved octopus, served with a smoked onion remoulade and crustini. Also new on the appetizer list are suppli, which are fried balls of crispy risotto, mozzarella cheese and a spicy tomato sauce that is to die for.
New entrées on the menu include grilled grouper, a grilled New York strip and a rack of lamb, all featuring unique preparations and sauces. There’s also a pork shank “osso bucco,” seared salmon, eggplant parmesan and a game hen duo.
Among my favorites already on the menu is the Domani Caesar, which doesn’t forget that the ingredient that differentiates a Caesar from most other salads is the unmistakable taste of anchovies — and the anchovies are fried for a unique twist.
I also really enjoyed the honey lavender Thai chili duck confit and the prime burger and the rolled grapes appetizer with brie, pistachio and a pistachio truffle is legendary in Domani’s Old Seminole Hights neighborhood.
I hope you got to sample Domani’s unique cuisine at the Taste. If not (or even if you did), I suggest a visit. Domani has a gorgeous lounge area with an ultra-premium bar, amazing wines by the glass and bottle and excellent service, all at very fair prices for the quality of the food.
Domani Bistro & Lounge is located at 6421 N. Florida Ave. between Sligh and Hillsborough Aves. For reservations (not required) and more info, call 644-5995 or visit DomaniBL.com.
Carne Chop House
I know a lot of folks are still apprehensive about visiting Ybor City, but if you want to enjoy a great meal at more-than-fair prices, I suggest a visit to my long-time friend Michael Ingrassia, the general manager of Carne Chop House on E. 7th Ave., in front of the 16th St. entrance to Centro Ybor.
The newest upscale addition to the family of restaurants that also includes the always-delicious Bernini Italian Restaurant and the Green Iguana, Carne is a traditional steak house with a Latin twist.
Ingrassia, the former GM at Dempsey’s Steak House in Saddlebrook Resort Tampa, is rightfully proud. “We’re working hard to make this place a success,” he says. “If you like anything from a tender steak to an authentic, traditional ropa vieja, give us a try.”
I recently took the office for lunch at Carne and everyone was thrilled with the food (and the ultra-premium liquors).
Among the items we sampled on our most recent visit included: tuna sashimi, which is crispy seared rare tuna, citrus jicama slaw and wasabi aioli on wonton chips; French onion soup au gratin, with Madeira scented caramelized onion medley & rich Beef broth; the petit (7-oz.) filet mignon; the panko-crusted grouper with a lemon beurre blanc sauce; the prime rib sandwich with caramelized onions, Fontina cheese & whole grain horseradish mayonnaise, served on a toasted French loaf; and spectacular desserts like a homemade red velvet cake and an Oreo cookie brownie thing that’s too decadent for its own good.
Carne Chophouse is located at 1536 E. 7th Ave in Ybor City. For more information, call 341-9555 or visit CarneChopHouse.com.
Gio’s Italian Restaurant
There’s definitely something about a great Italian restaurant that keeps me always searching for the next great one and even though it’s hardly “new” — it’s been located on W. Waters Ave. in the South Carrollwood area for more than a decade — I only recently discovered Gio’s Italian Restaurant.
If you’re like me, great Italian food is all about the proper amount of garlic, zesty sauces and portions big enough to always have leftovers for the next day.
And, Gio’s doesn’t disappoint on any of those talking points. Despite its tucked-away in a corner of a shopping center off N. Dale Mabry Hwy., Gio’s definitely qualifies as one of my favorite Italian eateries in Tampa.
Start off your meal with some of the best cozze (mussels) fra diavlo you’ll find anywhere, an authentic Caesar salad, crispy calamari or tasty eggplant rollatini.
Gio’s also has some of the best veal you’ll find in Tampa. The veal Marsala is properly pounded thin and topped with a Marsala wine sauce and demi-glaze. The black grouper is always fresh and my favorite dish at Gio’s with balsamic vinegar and fresh Italian herbs. There’s also great steaks, lamb chops, pollo scarparella, which is chicken breast sauteed with slices of Italian sausage, mushrooms, roasted red pepper and onons in a white wine, balsamic vinaigrette and a touch of demi-glaze. The sautéed spinach is always a worthwhile side to add.
Among my favorite pastas at Gio’s are the penne alla vodka and the tagliatelle principessa con pollo (tagliatelle with chicken), with spinach fettuccini tossed in pieces of boneless chicken breast, sauteed mushrooms, ham, Pinot Grigio wine and princess sauce. And, Gio’s tiramisu is a to-die-for dessert and the wine list is awesome and well-priced.
For reservations and more information about Gio’s Italian Restaurant (3621 W. Waters Ave.), visit Gio’sItalianCuisine.com or call 932-1922.
Folk Art Café
And finally, the restaurant that has gotten credit from locals for almost singlehandedly reviving the Old Seminole Heights area is Ella’s Americana Folk Art Cafe, located on N. Nebraska Ave., just south of E. Hillsborough Ave.
Ella’s does have amazing art on its walls, but it’s the food and atmosphere that keeps folks coming back for more.
Start with Ella’s incredible “Soul Food Sundays,” when you can get everything from some of the best fried chicken and waffles in town to very delicious BBQ ribs and pulled pork and great sides like collared greens and totally tasty grilled corn on the cob.
But, Ella’s is more than just a soul food brunch place — it’s a great café!
Start with Ella’s signature bloody Mary, served extra spicy with a hickory-smoked BBQ rib bone instead of celery on Sundays. Then, try a stone-baked pizza, the Rasta-far-fries (potato wedges in house mustard, with sea salt, cilantro and siracha), a “tuna cracka stacka” (sesame-seared ahi tuna, Asian slaw & wasabi cream served on fried wonton chips the 16-oz. porterhouse pork chop, “Henry the Loaf” homemade meat loaf, superlative burgers, salads and the kind of atmosphere that’s worth waiting for, especially with live music on the weekends.
For call-ahead service at Ella’s Americana Folk Art Café (5119 N. Nebraska Ave.), call 234-1000. You also can check out the full menu and get more info at EllasFolkArtCafe.com.