Review – The Refinery
Located in a renovated house on Florida Ave in the Seminole Heights area of Tampa, the Refinery is something unique.
The building itself is has a kind of self-styled hipster vibe going on and although that’s become more and more commonplace in the Heights, the Refinery owns every bit of it, right down to their purple walls and “Hippie Side Entrance.” Beyond the decor, the first thing I noticed was that seating was sparse and every table was filled. It’s small and doesn’t appear to be conducive to small groups but I find that to be a positive, because I prefer smaller, more intimate settings. Fortunately there were only three of us and my friends had the foresight to book a reservation early. It was a good thing too, because after a quick conversation with the person who seated me, I learned that apparently the next open table they had available was two-and-a-half hours later.
I was greeted with an amazingly varied selection of rare craft beers which is something love seeing as I’m somewhat of a beer snob. I settled on one from Colorado called Crazy Mountain Amber Ale. Deep red, malty and a thousand times more refreshing than a Coor’s Light, I was happy with my choice and even happier with the restaurant for introducing me to a new microbrew.
My friends had already made me aware of the fact that the restaurant features local food. But I had no idea how far that actually went. The chef, who recently won an award for “Best Chef in the South” buys locally and builds his menu based on what was currently available that week. Some people see food as an art and this guy is no exception as the menu was incredibly interesting. A completely new menu is created every Thursday. The boon here is that the adventurous get some amazing dishes to choose from, and should the picky take a look at their menu on their website and not see anything appealing, they can simply wait a week.
There are a variety of small plates, the sizes of which in comparison to the price left a little to be desired. We each settled on a small plate and shared: duck wing confit, clams in an onion cream sauce and some firecracker grilled corn on the cob with lime-butter. All three were amazing and the flavors were perfectly complimentary.
The main course options were even more interesting. I saw a game hen with ancho-cocoa sweet potato puree which looked good. There was also an eggplant cannelloni with roasted quinoa. There was a chocolate chipote burger which I swear I would have ordered on the spot if I could eat red meat. Yes, you read that right. Chocolate… chipotle… burger. These dishes were just so inventive I had to make a mental note of some others to come back and try (but promptly erased it once I realized this menu would be gone in five days).
I settled on the polenta cakes with creamy chai butternut squash, collards, red potatoes, chick peas and toasted cashews. Being italian, polenta is a staple but I have never had anything like this before. It was a perfectly balanced dish despite having no meat course. The polenta was buttery and firm, the veggies were crisp and flavorful and the seasoning was perfect.
We had tickets to a show at Skipper’s Smokehouse later that night so we opted to skip desert but upon making a trip upstairs to the restroom I realized there was a second floor with a rooftop bar that looked really cool. The mental note was definitely made to return, try another dish and spend some time up there.
All through the meal the service was attentive and prompt. Our server was personable and able to recommend his favorite dish-of-the-week when asked (which is something I value). Aside from the size of the small plates, I don’t have a single complaint and would recommend that anyone who’s looking for something off the beaten path in location, creativity and taste.
Check out the menu at http://www.thetamparefinery.com and if you give it a shot, let me know in the comments.
And remember… the food abides…