Tag Archives: restaurants

The Refinery

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 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
of beer.

Strawberry Panzanella

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
chicken.

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.

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Trip to Pittsburgh: Primanti Brothers

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So, after a long morning of shopping in the Strip District where do you go at lunch for a true taste of Pittsburgh? If you’ve seen any Primanti Brothers. The famous sandwich shop that started the Pittsburgh tradition of putting the coleslaw and the french fries right on top of the sandwich. This was my first trip to Primanti’s; though not my first p-burgh style sandwich.

Atmosphere:
The restaurant appears to be your standard bar/grill. It’s tucked into one of the older buildings in the Strip where it’s been for something like 90 years. It’s cramped, there are long wooden booths tucked against the walls and battered and scarred wooden tables scattered throughout the restaurant. It gives the whole place an ambient friendliness. There are actually two sides to the restaurant; on one is the grill behind the bar so folks can watch their food being made and on the houses a bar and several TVs (during our Monday daytime visit they were tuned to the Ryder cup and ESPN).
The restaurant oozes casualness. The menus were large print signs on the walls throughout the restaurant and I’m 98% certain I only saw people get silverware with soup. Overall it was a nice relaxed place to grab lunch. My one issue with the atmosphere was that it was self seating (which is not a problem by itself), but someone in the front room was shouting/being generally unpleasant at folks to just take a seat in the back where the were no open tables. If you’re going to tell people to go sit in the back someone should sort of be paying attention to whether tables are available.

The Eats:

Ok so the famous sandwiches.
The cross section of this gigantic sandwich

After some serious debate I decided on the corned beef. Usually when I’m having a Pittsburgh style sandwiches I’m having fried fish, but I was worried that the bread wouldn’t be able to stand up to fish. So corned beef. I love that the sandwiches came out on wax paper; it was totally laid back and I’m sure it makes cleaning up a breeze.
First, the things I loved. The bread itself was very good; it was soft, squishy, and everything good Italian bread should be. The corned beef was tasty, well seasoned, and warm. And the french fries had a good flavor. And in general the corned, beef, tomatoes, and vinegary coleslaw were all good together.
Second, the things I wasn’t a fan of. The fries had good flavor, but mine were cold and sort of mushy. I wasn’t expecting super crisp. but hot with a little texture would’ve been good. The other thing I wasn’t a huge fan of was the coleslaw; let me preface this by saying that most of the time I love Pittsburgh style coleslaw, but the slaw at Primanti’s was way overpowering. The coleslaw had a great crunch and added good texture, but it tasted like the flavor or the cabbage overpowered the vinegar and other spices.
It was a good experience for the most part, but I’m not sure I’d do it again. In the future I’d rather go to the Back Door Tavern in New Brighton. The have great food and an extensive beer list.

=)