By Gary Nager
I have to admit that I was never a big fan of Quizno’s Subs, but I already am a HUGE fan of the new, family-owned Oakley’s Grille that has replaced Quizno’s New Tampa location on Bruce B. Downs (BBD) Blvd., next to Dairy Queen (DQ) and in front of Home Depot.
Owner Keith Oakley has nearly four decades of experience in the restaurant business. He has taken what he learned while he was opening some of the original Chili’s, Outback and Longhorn Steakhouse locations in Florida (among others) and created a concept that promises gourmet burgers, sandwiches and salads in a clean, contemporary, family-friendly environment.
“My family and friends have been trying to convince me for years to create and open my own restaurant concept,” Keith says. “This may be pretty basic food, but we hope you’ll agree that it’s great food at the right price.”
Service also is a big concern for Keith, so he has assembled a restaurant “dream team” to create and serve the truly gourmet burgers and sandwiches that make up most of the menu at Oakley’s Grille. He started with chef James Holland, who himself has 27 years of restaurant experience, including much of the last 20 years working with Oakley at four different restaurant concepts. And, manager Derek Bailey has worked with Oakley for 15 years at three different concepts. Oakley’s “opening team” also includes Ryan Kaplan, cashier extraordinaire Stephanie Yglesias and Oakley’s son Ryan.
“From the moment you step up to our counter to order,” Oakley says, “we want you to be treated like royalty. And, we always want your feedback about the food, our prices and especially, the service you receive. Our philosophy is that great food should be made with the best, wholesome ingredients.”
Born and raised in Middletown, OH, Oakley has been in Florida since 1968. During that time, he helped open the first Chili’s in Florida, when the now-humongous chain had only six locations. Keith says he learned a lot from Chili’s late founder Norman Brinker, who made his original fortune with the Steak & Ale concept.
“I sold the first Steak & Ale for Brinker. I also was at the opening of the first Outback Steak House and I was with Longhorn Steakhouse when it had only eleven locations.”
In other words, Oakley knows his business and he believes he has taken what has worked at other places and created a restaurant concept that can itself become a successful franchise someday. But, in the meantime, he says he is planning to open at least two other locations in Tampa and Brandon, as soon as he is comfortable that the original Oakley’s Grille is running like a well-oiled machine. And, from the looks of the ever-increasing numbers of people already checking out the place and telling their friends how good it is, Keith and his crew are off to a great running start already.
A Simple, But Truly Delicious Menu
Keith’s catch-phrase for Oakley’s Grille is “Where Appetite Meets Delicious,” and on my five visits so far, I have to admit that the motto rings absolutely true.
The menu at Oakley’s isn’t extensive, but neither is it expensive, And, everything I and the hungry crew at Neighborhood News have sampled at the place so far has been yummy.
Yes, there are sizable, healthy salad options, including a tangy Greek salad and chef and chicken Caesar salads I haven’t yet tried, as well as a tasty seasonal fresh fruit salad.
But, if you really want to experience Oakley’s, you have try one of the many sandwich varieties, from the amazing half-pound charbroiled real black angus burgers to the hot pressed and grilled sandwiches, including truly awesome Philly ribeye and chicken Philly cheesesteaks. Art director Tony Sica said the chicken Philly was loaded with thick slices of tender chicken breast. “Six full ounces of grilled chicken breast, actually,,” Keith notes. “This is the real deal.”
I also have loved the roast beef dip sandwich with melted provolone, the hot, pressed “The Club” and “The Oakley” sandwiches and several of the awesome burger options. The Club is piled high with freshly sliced turkey breast (“Sliced like at a great gourmet shop,” says Keith), smoked ham, hickory smoked bacon, naturally aged Swiss, cheddar cheese, vine-ripened tomato slices and mayo, and The Oakley combines turkey, Genoa salami, tender roast beef, capicola, smoked ham and provolone with tomatoes, onions and Italian dressing.
Also on the sandwich menu are a spicy Italian, Uncle Muzzie’s muffaletta, a unique take on a New Orleans classic, pastrami & swiss and more.
But, even though I’ve eaten fewer burgers the past few years than ever before, the burgers at Oakley’s may be the best I’ve had in New Tampa. The charbroiled taste, the size, the fresh bakery-style potato bread bun, the perfectly melted cheese and the fresh tomato slices have my mouth watering again as I’m writing this. So, whether you prefer your basic cheeseburger like I do, or want bacon, mushroom & swiss, a grilled patty melt or sales rep David Zacharia’s favorite, the Black & Blue burger (with Cajun spices and melted blue cheese), you can’t go wrong with Oakley’s burgers.
And, although the sandwiches are served without side dishes, the highest priced sandwich on the menu is just $7.49, and the crispy fries (just $1.99 per order) at Oakley’s are a must-try, too. There’s also a kid’s menu and free fountain drink refills while you dine. “We will add more menu items at our customers’ requests,” Keith says. “Come on in and tell us what you really want!”
Oakley’s Grille (17631 Bruce B. Downs Blvd.) is open every day, 11 a.m.-9 p.m., and until 10 p.m. on Friday & Saturday. For more information, including franchise opportunities, call 523-5075 or visit OakleysGrille.com.