By Gary Nager
When local favorites like Ciccio’s Lodge and Lee Roy Selmon’s exited the New Tampa area over the last few months, Toast Wine & Café (located in the Oak Ramble Plaza on Bruce B. Downs Blvd., just south of Tampa Palms) co-owner and wine expert Hector Gonzalez already had the idea for transforming Toast from “just” a wine bar that also served some interesting flatbreads, salads and cheese platters, into more of a sit-down restaurant.
Well, to that end, the interior of Toast has undergone quite a few changes — Hector and his partners have greatly expanded the kitchen, changed the former cigar smoking room into the new walk-in humidor (which means no more smoking inside the place), reduced the number of bottles of wine and added a new coffee area, as well as a few more tables and chairs.
But, the biggest change at Toast is the new menu. There’s a little something for just about everybody on it and quite a few new items warrant rave reviews.
Hector, who has his “Level 1” wine sommelier certification, has more wine knowledge than just about anyone I know. While he’s had no formal culinary training, he has been doing food pairing meals at Toast with a lot of great Bay-area restaurants and caterers since Toast opened 4+ years ago and, like so many of you, he’s also a big fan of cooking shows on the Food Network. He’s been working on this new menu for at least two years.
My favorite new items on the menu are the jumbo lump crabcakes, which are loaded with lump crab and topped with a semi-spicy peri peri pepper aioli and served with mixed greens. Assistant editor/ photographer Matt Wiley raved about the jumbo tiger shrimp cocktail Bordeaux and we both enjoyed the beef tenderloin trio, which is three amazingly tender filet mignons, one of each topped with goat cheese and sun dried tomatoes, Maytag blue cheese and an Adobo beer glaze.
If you’re looking for sandwiches, Toast now has artisan slider sandwiches, where you can choose 1-3 sliders from pork cushon (belly), chicken burger, filet mignon and roast chicken and you can add your choice of an incredible potato gratin or wild mushroom risotto. Three sliders and a side is a nice “small plate” meal for two. There’s also a variety of panini sandwiches and everyone at the office enjoyed The Veggie, which combines spinach, buffalo mozzarella, roasted red peppers and oregano.
But, my favorite sandwich so far is a bit of a surprise to me, because I’ve never really been Cuban sandwich guy, but Hector’s new “top shelf” pressed Cuban, with Genoa salami, cappacola, pork cushon, pickles and a spicy Coney Island mustard is just outrageously good.
And yes, Toast still offers its wine tapas, from a mini Caprese salad to antipasto pairings, cheese and fruit and more, as well as a chicken and cheese quesadilla and the already-popular flatbreads, of which my favorite is the not-so-traditional pizza version, with tomato sauce, mozzarella, black olives and roasted chicken.
Great Coffee, Too!
Also new at Toast is truly delicious coffee, including everything from freshly brewed or French press coffee, which Hector says he creates from a variety of gourmet beans from a private roaster, to awesome Segafredo Zanetti Italian espresso and caffé lattés. “We saw a need for a great coffee and breakfast place in the area,” Hector says, “so we now open at 6:30 a.m. for breakfast.” And, with the coupon on page 54, your next latté is on the house!
Don’t expect omelets or egg dishes (at least not yet), but Toast does have popular low-fat Greek yogurt and oatmeal, which can be served with raisins, almonds, fruit, cinnamon, granola or brown sugar. There’s also Cuban cheese toast (my next item to sample) and a variety of sticky, tasty breakfast buns topped with everything from marshmallow fluff to peanut butter, strawberry jam, chocolate “gravy” and pumpkin butter and with names like the “Fig Capone,” “PB&J All the Way” and “Gimme S’Mores from Orlando-based Daily Bread Bakers.
And, oh yeah, Toast still has a great selection of fine cigars, an even better selection of fine wines (try a glass of the Urban Malbec-Tempranillo blend) and even a variety of craft beers to which the aforementioned Matt Wiley gives two thumbs up.
And, speaking of beer, if you’re looking for a little something different to do on St. Patrick’s Day (Sunday, March 17, 2 p.m.-5 p.m.), Toast will have corned beef & cabbage, Irish cheese trays and those Top-Shelf Cubans and great craft beers and every “Leprechaun” in attendance will receive an “I Got Lucky at Toast” T-shirt.
Toast Wine & Café is located at 14921 BBD Blvd. For info, call 632-3105 or visit ToastWineandCafe.com.