Dining in Florida
Culinary reinvention from some of Florida's great chefs
What have you done for me lately?
Fired up salt-and-pepper cracker jacks is one answer from Tampa chef Jeannie Pierola. Scallops dusted with fennel pollen before searing them to go with “pappardelle” shaved from zucchini is another.
Pierola, who has been running pop-ups and other ventures since she left Bern’s Steak House in 2007, has made reinvention a theme, naming her new place Edison Food+Drink Lab, reflecting its location adjoining Tampa’s Edison Street and Pierola’s identity as a culinary innovator. The decor pays tribute to Florida’s adopted Thomas Alva Edison, in dark industrial neutrals and rusty browns, with lab chic of flasks and beakers for flowers and drinks.
Most successful chefs and restaurateurs today are inveterate tinkerers. While fashion, finances and infighting force many changes, some come from sheer curiosity and a hunger for the new. Most show little interest in cloning another location of a successful restaurant; they’d rather create a new operation with new flavors and new style.
Edison’s kitchen, for example, makes its own labneh and tortillas, turns star anise into jus, creates cardamom “soil” and concocts waffles of butternut squash.
Pierola’s motto 15 years ago was “One World Under Food.” Now you can find all of it on a small plate or two, like French sweetbreads, with All-American maple and bourbon, orange pecans and a house-made maraschino. Seared tuna perks up with a green mango slaw, a sorbet of yellow garlic and a crunchy brittle of tamarind. All are ornate, uber-chef constructions, yet most are $13 or less; caramelized Brussels sprouts with lamb bacon are $5.
Blue Gill Quality Foods
For years, Tara and Bert Gill have led the charge in Gainesville for local and organic ingredients in retro style at Mildred’s Big City Food and the New Deal Cafe. For their new Blue Gill Quality Foods, they root deeper in the South for Dixieland gastro-fun with more biscuits and less goat cheese. Fried shrimp comes with collards and cornbread; black-eyed peas spike Greek salad; and there’s plenty of coleslaw and pickles (including Korean kimchi) to go with the pork belly, oxtail and chicken livers.
Sea Salt’s Fabrizio and Ingrid Aielli have taken their Italian up the street and down in price (mostly $18 or less) at their new Barbatella. The flavors are more rustic, earthy and varied, but the style is as sleek and chic as any along Third Avenue. The centerpiece is a wood-fired oven for skilleted frittatas and pizzas that might be topped with arugula and squid, duck and Berkshire pork from the rotisserie, and house-made cavatelli with mussels and white beans. For dessert, how about a rainbow of gelati and a banana-Nutella pizza?
Crumb at the Webster
Ever since her days at Azul, Michelle Bernstein has worn several toques with various menus and venues. While she has left her first Palm Beach location at the Omphoy and also closed Sra. Martinez in the Design District, she continues to preside at Michy’s in MiMo. Her big new effort, Crumb at the Webster, is less extravagant, a bakery-driven lunch place that started inside retail space in the Design District and has just opened in the Webster, a super-hip SoBe hotel. Despite stylish digs, the Crumb boasts Hot and Messy Sandwiches, Gooey Grilled Cheese and B.L.A.T., a BLT fattened up with avocado.
Matthew Medure, as in the haute cuisine of Matthew’s in San Marco, has joined the burger revolution with his brother David to open M Shack. They serve old-fashioned burgers, hot dogs, fries and milkshakes, with good ingredients such as Black Angus beef, for familiar prices, but you can have more fun and classic Medure accents for a few dollars more. Get your fries truffled with Parmesan or for the Ultimate, cheddar, white queso, prosciutto and a fried egg ($5.95) or indulge in the Medurable, a cheeseburger that goes all the way and then some: Foie gras and bacon-onion jam ($17.50). To drink, have a shake: Pecan pie or marshmallow brulee, for $4.50 to $5.50.