I am a New Tampa-ite, so traveling south of Busch Blvd. makes me
somewhat uncomfortable, and my general comfort zone consists of the
college area hang outs near where I work and the yuppie young
professional joints closer to the Wiregrass Mall. It’s sort of slim
pickings for non-chain that have excellent, reasonably priced food. So
when people at work and in the blogosphere started raving about this
laid-back small restaurant with a focus on local produce and
sustainability I stood up and listened. The Refinery in Seminole
Heights is a kitschy and quirky establishment in what I’m pretty sure
is a renovated mid-century era home. I visited last week with a few
friends for Girl’s Night Out.
I am one of those irritating people who always tries to find the
bright side. It probably makes me bad at writing reviews of anything
because not only do I hate writing negative comments, but I can
usually find at one positive thing. I’ve been mulling over my recent
Girl’s Night Out at The Refinery for close to a week now hoping time
would help me characterize the experience more positively, because if
I’m being honest I’ve never been had an establishment that I’ve heard
such wonderful things about be such an overall disappointment.
Let’s start with the pros.
I really did love the atmosphere. The kitchen was open to the dining
room, they serve water and soda out of Mason jars, the plates were
eclectically mismatched and chipped, and I loved the grapey purple
paint on the walls (I’m trying to decorate my apartment so seriously
it was like my favorite thing about the whole visit). I could
definitely see this as a fun place to hang out and grab something to
eat before heading off to The Independent or another neighborhood hang
out. They wait staff, or at least our waiter, was also very
knowledgeable about the menu.
Now onto the rest.
While knowledgeable I didn’t find our waiter especially pleasant or
helpful. He seemed to think we were a bother to him and he was
molasses in January slow about ev-er-y-thing. Seriously.
The wine and beer list was very limited. I will say it up front. I am
a HUGE Cigar City Brewery fan. So I was somewhat, ok clearly a lot,
disappointed that at a restaurant that claims to be about local food
there were only two Cigar City brews on the menu. Additionally, I just
felt like the beer menu leaned more towards craft IPAs, generally not
a personal favorite, without a well rounded selection of other types
The food was sort of hit and miss. My salad, Strawberry Panzanella,
was fantastic. The strawberries were super sweet and ripe, which
surprised me as it is not Florida strawberry season, and they paired
well with the peppery greens. Though the Tomato Saffron Vinaigrette
tasted like olive oil to me. For my entrée I ordered Ale Braised
Chicken which smelled divine, but ended up being very dry and over
cooked. The barley however was perfectly cooked and the hop gravy was
excellent and provided the good ale flavor I was missing in the
|Ale Braised Chicken with Hop Gravy|
The Refinery’s menu changes weekly, based on the local season, but two
items are ever present; the 5-Spice Hanger Steak and the Burger. My
friend Nina ordered the burger. Her words were it lacks flavor. Also
her French fries, while tasty, were cold. This is a personal pet peeve
of mine. I will send French fries back if they are not burn your
finger tips hot.
|Refinery Burger and French Fries|
The best dish on the table hands down was the Mushroom Ragout, ordered
by my friend Kim. I expected more of a dark sautéed mushroom and
garlic with olive oil, but what was presented was a bright and acidic
tomato based ragout over smooth polenta. It was excellent.
|Mushroom Ragout with Polenta. The crappy Iphone pictures do not do this dish justice. I apologize.|
My overall verdict at this point is general disappointment and a sort
of “Meh” feeling. I will probably give The Refinery another shot;
maybe in the spring or summer when in season produce isn’t limited to
Cabbage and Oranges. For now though thumbs down.