Did my sci-fi dreams of teleportation finally become a reality? I must have teleported to a New England city. Boston? Perhaps. NYC? Could be. No way is this Tampa. Walking into the brand-new, much talked about, Oxford Exchange is kind of like a dream for Tampa natives and imports alike. This dazzling and genius mix of 20th century, retro and modern eras is like nothing we have seen before in our modest metropolitan city. A play house for adults. An escape from the bland, usual, uninspired eateries speckled all over town. The word is out. With only a month and a half behind them, Oxford Exchange is definitely all the rage. For those who have been, you understand. For those who have yet to visit…join me in a little journey as I give you the official Oxford Exchange tour.
A 100-year-old white building, just off of Kennedy Ave. stands prominently and proudly before its excited guests. With a swing of a door, a rich interior is unveiled before your unbelieving eyes. A stately bookstore is at its entrance with a grand archway and a vaulted elegantly paneled white ceiling. Below you is a shiny black and white swirled marble floor as a subtle reminder you just may be in the twilight zone.
Before you lay a long walkway of nonstop beauty with candy for both your eyes and your nose. Continue forward. Mahogany walls and a brass detailed staircase taking only the privileged to a private club upstairs. The soothing smells of steaming hot beverages are officially upon you now. Buddy Brew Coffee with old time hanging lanterns and baristas in 20th century costumes is crafting cappuccinos, flat whites and lattes that would make any Starbucks jealous. Just past Buddy Brew is TeBella, a tea stand with traditional, uniquely refreshing and dessert-like combinations.
Let’s carry on with our Oxford Exchange excursion. You have almost reached your dining destination. Now, look to your right for the most picturesque sight of all. An elaborate solarium is simply flaunting its splendor. Guests can sit outside under glass panels with foliage and flowers catching the sunlight while they sip their coffee or teas and nibble on their breakfast and lunch.
Before reaching the restaurant at Oxford Exchange, you are swept through a charming and eclectic gift store. Colorful orchids, novelty note cards, fresh and fun pieces of jewelry as well as home décor are just some of the items for sale.
Appetizing aromas are officially upon your nose as you walk toward the hostess stand. I hope you made reservations for your breakfast, lunch or teatime. This place gets packed. Once seated in the dining room, you can gaze out the huge windows at Florida palms and UT’s minaret adorning brick buildings. If you scored a seat in the solarium, you may hear the soothing sounds of the fountain and appreciate the sights of the blue sky, fluffy clouds above you and the flowering plants all around you. If you thought ahead, you brought your prized bottle of wine as they will cork your first bottle for free.
Oxford Exchange has a flawless cafe style menu with just enough options to please even the selective souls. An array of teas and coffees are also available in the restaurant, directly from Buddy Brew and TeBella- just a few hops, skips and jumps away. Classic cafe starters, salads, sandwiches, and entrees are listed for both breakfast and lunch times. Tuna Tar Tar, Crispy chickpeas and Smoked Salmon Bruchetta all sound like a wonderful start. Crispy Chickpeas will hit the spot. Served in quick time, these little pops of sweet, spicy and salty are quite fun. But, a drizzle of a garlic aioli would have completed the plate. Just the slightest bit dry, a sauce to moisten them up a bit is in order.
Time for the main course. The Roasted chopped salad sounds heavenly and perfectly earthy. The Wild Salmon Nicoise is ever so appealing with its flavorful and healthy flair. The Grilled Cheese with a side of gazpacho seems comforting and nostalgic. Everything else sounds delectable too. Going for a sandwich and a flat bread it is. A chicken burger, split in half for my lunch mate and fellow blogger, Megan (I Run For Wine) comes out first. Juicy and dotted with fresh jalapeno, it is topped with tomato, avocado and creamy queso blanco. Santa Fe style but only in its richest form, this chicken burger receives relatively high nods (and big bites) from start to finish.
Next up is the Olive Flat bread topped with Caesar. Not exactly what I’d expect-slightly unappealing even. Where's the melted cheese..why aren't the toppings distributed tastefully and evenly on the plain crust? The flat bread itself is crispy, the romaine crunchy and well dressed and the olives kick it all up with a salty bite. Parmesan shavings contribute a bit of nuttiness, rounding out this very light and fresh salad topped oven toasted bread. Once I accepted it was a different take on "flat bread," I could declare it decent but certainly nothing to rave to my foodie friends about.
Onto visit number two at the remarkably gorgeous Oxford Exchange. After my first time, just one week open and with service somewhat slow and a few minor mishaps along the way, going back a second time before a review was in order. Now a month and a half in, I was prepared for chaos from customers and efficiency from the chefs and servers. Thrilled I made a reservation; OE was in fact crowded with patrons wide-eyed and grinning ear to ear in delight. As a returning guest, I was still taken back by the striking design and décor.
Ordering two simple sandwiches that had surprisingly received much recent praise, I was anticipating excellence. Although a very uninspired usual suspect, the Club sandwich was delicious. Piled high with warm roasted turkey, thick-cut crispy bacon, numerous wedges of creamy avocado, bibb lettuce, swiss cheese and a garlic mayo as an awesome accomplice, this Club was anything but boring. Enormous, it would be difficult to down the whole thing.
The Steak sandwich would be best described as a Philly Cheese Steak for the upper class. While it was plated kind of sloppily, it was truly a gourmet twist on the shaved beef, grilled onion and cheese concoction. Loaded with medium rare tender steak, caramelized onion, charred tomato, roasted red and yellow peppers with provolone cheese oozing out every crevice, this hunk of greasy food heaven was everything I expected and more. Again, although a rather unoriginal menu item, it was executed well. Both sandwiches were ordered with the sweet potato rounds- a delectably sweet playful side for some scrumptious savory sandwiches. Service was timely and precise this time around, pleasing me from beginning to end.
Oxford Exchange is a Godly space of awe in Tampa. With a faultless mix of old and new, the building’s interior is as regal as it is progressive. Having restored much of the old and then dressing it all up nature, lanterns and framed art of Historic Tampa in several nooks, this is the kind of place where “ohhs” and “ahhs” can be heard from every direction. Although tasty, I would like to see the restaurant attempt some adventure in their menu in the months/years to come. The ambiance, however, is bar none. It is an experience no Tampa resident should overlook. As a Tampa native, it is a place that makes me proud- proud of where I am from and proud of where I still am.