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Food & Dining

Couple prepares Florida Cracker restaurant

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Published:   |   Updated: May 14, 2013 at 04:28 PM
TAMPA -

Greg and Michelle Baker would very much like to introduce the world to the concept of “Florida Cracker Cuisine.”

The pair of nationally known restaurateurs have already made their Seminole Heights restaurant The Refinery one of the hottest gourmet spots in the Southeast. Now they've bought land nearby and plan a second, much larger restaurant to be called Fodder & Shine.

If all goes well, they could be open around New Year's, transforming a former auto repair center into an indoor-outdoor hotspot with decidedly old-school Florida foods like gator, heirloom beef, pickled veggies, special charcuterie sausages and Gulf-caught seafood – plus craft cocktails in an outdoor-yet-shaded portico.

Their project adds momentum to Seminole Heights' new status as the No. 1 neighborhood in Tampa Bay for creative new restaurants and bars – a movement the Bakers themselves helped spark.

Almost every month sees a new upstart chef leave an established restaurant group to start their own new place in Seminole Heights, helping transform an area that has long been considered ripe for development.

Cracker cuisine The name Fodder & Shine is a two-part tribute to very old school Florida culture, with “Fodder” paying homage to the earthy practice of creating something special from spare parts, and “Shine” a reference to Florida's moonshine heritage.

Much of the menu is still in development, but while the Refinery has a lineup of dishes that changes every week, Fodder & Shine will have a more stable lineup. Baker aims to take advantage of the best Florida veggies, meats and seafood as well as the state's heritage of African-American, Native American and Spanish influences.

The size of the restaurant will give Greg Baker more room to play, including a walk-in cooler dedicated solely to making charcuterie in house and another just for craft beer. Their current refrigerator at the cooler is smaller than many walk-in closets.

“It's going to be wild game, it's going to be quail, there's going to be lots of seafood,” Michelle Baker said. “He's going to be doing a lot of preservation, from charcuterie to canning. We're getting the farms lined up. We have fields that will be growing for us.”

The 2,000-square-foot kitchen will be significantly larger size than at The Refinery, where having more than three cooks on the line leaves little elbow room to maneuver. It includes an outdoor kitchen where Baker can smoke and grill steaks from heritage Yellow Hammer cattle.

What it won't be is a southern food restaurant. Greg Baker intends to delve into old Cracker cuisine using native ingredients. To do so, he is researching old cookbooks and taking oral histories from pioneer families.

“This is not shrimp and grits,” she said. “If there is fried chicken, it will be because it was an African influence. It will be cooked in the manner it was done back in the day.”

The menu price point will differ from The Refinery as well, with plates spanning $3 to $30.

“When you say $30, it will be because Greg is using Yellow Hammer cattle, which is as rare as it gets in Florida,” she says.

Renovated site In a way, the Fodder & Shine project takes a piece of abandoned property off the backs of the U.S. taxpayer.

The site dates back to the 1930s when a dry cleaner operated there, and for decades it was an auto repair shop. The real estate downturn pushed the site into foreclosure, and it was taken over by the Heritage Bank of Florida, which in turn failed in 2012 and was taken over by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation.

The Bakers scouted the site earlier this year and paid thousands of dollars for an environmental study. When the results came back clean, they made the purchase. “Rumor has it a dollar store was trying to buy the property,” Michelle said. “But we got to it first.”

The deal includes three buildings: The A-frame steel auto mechanic shop, and two dilapidated buildings to the north. The two buildings to the north will be taken down, making enough space for all on-site parking.

The A-frame steel building will stay, but a thorough renovation will transform the space, with the back side enclosed and air conditioned, and the front side kept open as a shady cocktail patio.

Hipster neighborhood “The hipster element is helping drive the restaurants, for sure,” said Colliers Tampa Bay real estate senior associate Raquel Coryer. “It's been a long time coming, but this is a community growing into itself.”

Much of the trend began several years ago with the opening of Ella's Americana Folk Art Café on Nebraska Avenue. The Independent craft beer bar moved into a renovated 1930s gas station and the gourmet Refinery restaurant in a former bungalow, both on Florida Avenue, and Cappy's Pizzeria moved into a renovated space next to the Independent.

This trend picked up steam when the Refinery started winning some of the most prestigious dining awards in the nation. Now, the restaurant draws foodies from around the country and often has a waiting list for a table on weekend nights.

More recently, the hipster craft beer scene picked up speed with the opening of the Mermaid Tavern on Nebraska Avenue. Then the Italian-themed, upscale Domani Bistro Lounge restaurant opened on Florida in a renovated storefront space. The Red Star Rock Bar should open soon in a former TV repair shop on Florida Avenue.

Add to that the new Cold Storage Craft Brewery and the new Southern Brewing & Winemaking store that sells supplies for home brewers and vintners. Both have opened tasting rooms and started hosting events on site.

The nearby San Carlos Tavern has a history dating back a half-century in different incarnations, and has undergone a major renovation.

Now Ferrell Alvarez, formerly executive chef at Café Dufrain on Harbor Island, is partnering with Ty Rodriguez and Brian Lampe to open Rooster & The Till at 6500 Florida Ave. Rodriguez and Lampe previously worked with Alvarez at the and French-themed Mise en Place. Other beer entrepreneurs plan on opening a small brewery and tasting room called Angry Chair on Florida Avenue this winter.

Seminole Heights is turning into “the Brooklyn of Tampa,” Coryer said. South Tampa may have more affluence, but Seminole Heights is becoming an eclectic neighborhood that's the creative epicenter for the region: Hipsters, renovators, brewers, artists and restaurateurs. As more creative types move in, others start targeting the area as the hip place to be. “It's not a neighborhood relying on the immediate community,” she said. “It's pulling in interest from all over.”


rmullins@tampatrib.com

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