When I ask my friends to leave the comfort of South Tampa, there better be good reason. If it’s to venture off to St. Pete Beach on a sunny day, no convincing powers are necessary. If it’s a fifteen-minute drive north of Kennedy Blvd. for a bite to eat, I might as well be pulling teeth. That is, until, Seminole Heights began turning up fantastic, top-notch eateries just a couple of years ago. Gaining continuous city wide recognition, a couple of the new powerhouse “players” in the Tampa culinary scene are planted sturdily and successfully in this up and coming “hipster” part of town. Ella’s Americana Folk ArtCafé is one of the two establishments with rave reviews coming out the wazoo and it’s really no wonder why.
Ella’s, a two story building resembling interesting architecture of another region, shows off their…ahem, colorful side the second guests walk toward it. A huge, outlandish horse made of tarnished metal pieces lay in their “front yard,” tipped over with a squealing look on its face. Once the front doors are opened to the inside of this quirky joint, funky, bizarre and perfectly inappropriate pieces of folk art are hung, bolted and strategically placed everywhere the eye can see. “Dog Boy,” an old-fashioned suitcase painted like a dog’s coat with a large vintage doll head planted on one end is just one of the pieces one can simultaneously laugh at and admire. There is certainly no moderation with art at Ella’s- from an abundance of fine art to live music performed by local musicians on the regular, art is just as much part of Ella’s as the food- the glorious, always memorable, food.
It was a Friday night and there were fifteen of us dining on the second story of Ella’s for our friend’s birthday. As usual, it was a packed house filled with upbeat conversations and laughter galore. Ideal birthday celebration atmosphere? Heck yes. We were quick to be seated and drink orders were taken promptly. Ella’s has quite the plethora of craft beers as well as great wines and inventive cocktails so choosing a beverage here can be a bit bothersome; bothersome in only the most awesome kind of way, that is. Sitting on the second floor did pose problems with timely delivery of drinks but it was obvious our server was busting her tail so despite our anxiousness, there was satisfaction in seeing the sincere effort. Once all of our drinks were in hand and tough menu decisions were made, we waited for our starters.
I fell in love the first time I had the “Fat Japs” at Ella’s. Though quite a bit spicier the second time around, I fell in love all over again. These pulled pork, cheddar and cream cheese stuffed jalapeno poppers are down right luscious. With seeds still in tact, I must warn you, these little wonders are not for the weak. We were all wiping the tears from our eyes and washing down the sting in our mouths with ice water after just one nibble.
The other starter I had the pleasure in trying was the lump crab meat stuffed butternut squash. Wow. This beauty came drizzled with a citrus Hollandaise and was packed generously with crab. The flavor from the crab ran throughout the sauce and butter, making even crab-less bites absolutely delectable. Topped with micro-greens, in true Ella’s fashion, it was an edible piece of art.
I ordered one of the specials of the evening- a beet infused fettuccine dish in a pesto and lump crab meat sauce, topped with Chevre, a creamy and delicious goat cheese. When it arrived, I was delighted with the perfectly pink color of the pasta. The Chevre resembled icing on a cake and the lump crab was spewing decadence between every pink pasta noodle. This dish tasted even better than it appeared. The beet infused fettuccine could have stood alone in a light sauce but was taken to another level of food paradise with loads of the freshest lump crab my palate has tasted in a while. The pesto sauce was full of flavor and was turned creamy with the chevre “icing” I deliberately mixed throughout this scrumptious creation. This is a special Ella’s should have on the regular as it is like nothing I’ve ever had before and could force a food snob into a delicious dreamland.
My boyfriend ordered their “Heritage Pork chop,” described as “Black pig”- humanely raised and antibiotic-free. The pan-seared porterhouse chop was presented with a gorgeous crust and topped with an apple bacon jam. Flawlessly cooked to medium temp, it was juicy and oh so tender with every glorious bite. The bacon apple jam was out of this world delicious-so savory and sweet, adding the perfect punch to the pork. Adorned with Gorgonzola mashed potatoes and asparagus, this plate was a true winner.
The birthday girl, an Ella’s enthusiast, ordered their Filet medallions topped with garlic goat cheese in a port wine reduction. She was underwhelmed with the meat she deemed dry as she had expected the medallions would still rank up there with a juicy filet but in different form. She thoroughly enjoyed the bacon wrapped asparagus on the plate and was partial to the flavor lacking potato cake. Claiming the meal was by no means awful, it would never be ordered again. Just the birthday girl’s luck!
My friend Megan ordered their Chicken Spidini, a mouth-watering dish I’ve had before. Alfredo sauced fettuccine topped with chicken roulade stuffed with portabellas, pancetta and Fontina cheese takes a lover of rich and creamy cuisine to cloud nine. My friend was just as pleased with the dish as I had been when I had it before, proving consistency exists at this eatery.
My friend Jake ordered “Henry, the Loaf,” a bacon-wrapped meatloaf served with mashed potatoes, crispy onions, seasonal veggies and a demi glaze. With every bite, he was enthused about this mound of meat. Allowing me to have a bite, I was equally impressed with an underappreciated comfort food classic even a meatloaf-scarred child could appreciate. The bacon was so crispy, the loaf so succulent and the demi glaze a wonderful complement to this carnivorous cuisine. Topped with crispy fried onions, texture diversity was impeccably on point. Definitely not your mama’s meatloaf.
Ella’s has quite the fun…and peculiar atmosphere I can especially appreciate.
They are dedicated to buying local produce and only naturally fed and humanely treated products. Live music and a very special Sunday routine, called “Soul Food Sundays,” insist a lively and food honoring crowd. Their mission is clear- to provide an escape from the ordinary and to please their guests with exceptional cuisine worth coming back for. They have certain flair for fare and admiration for folk art, making this establishment one to remember.