I so badly wish I could say that new eateries in Tampa are a dime a dozen. Although my hometown is certainly showing progress in the name of cuisine, there’s still tons of room for culinary growth. We’re blessed with random spurts of new restaurant openings and then….nothing. The scene is stagnant. Foodies frequent favorite spots and begin to feel a bit bored with the menus we’ve memorized and the dishes we’ve repeatedly devoured. Then it happens…a new and highly anticipated joint opens its doors to our salivating mouths and growling guts.
I strategically stalled with my visit to Cigar City Brewpub. Walking into a restaurant within weeks of its opening is often a regrettable decision. So for two months I anxiously waited. Boasting the beer, vibe, and cool people of Tampa’s own Cigar City Brewing were reasons enough this place would be solid. The highly respected and award-winning brewery surely wouldn’t put their name on the venture if it wasn’t worthy.
I strutted through the doors on a Sunday eve along with my beau, my bro, and his fiancé. The unique brewskie décor immediately caught my eye. This joint screams “beer infatuation” with its chandeliers made from beer cans and bottles, fans made from old wooden beer barrels, and barley/wheat encased in the partitions between the booths. That’s just the beginning of it. The restaurant also claims its Tampa roots with fun street signs and antique photos. With every last detail, CCB was awe-worthy in its casually fun ambiance.
We were ravenous. As I scanned the menu I found myself blurting out at least 10 items I wished to devour. The cuisine is deemed “Tampa-style Cuban cuisine” which is noted to differ from Cuban-influenced fare in other areas. Pledging to use locally sourced produce and humanely raised meats, Chef Nicolay Adinaguev is dedicated to serving top-notch goods. Needless to say, I couldn’t wait to begin stuffing my face. Beginning with some of Cigar City’s finest ales and a refreshing martini for yours truly, we wet our lips before indulging in some heavy fare.
Cuban Eggrolls were first to the table. I immediately loved the innovative fusion of Cuban and Asian cuisines. Never having seen this concoction in a restaurant before now, it just seemed like such a sensible combination. Fried wonton wrappers came generously filled with house made pork and glazed ham along with swiss, pickles, mustard, and roasted garlic aioli. Delightfully meaty, these little numbers were devoured in seconds.
Up next was the Tampa famous Devil Crab. I was introduced to these deep fried beauties several years back and wondered how I had gone most of my life without them. Now, an obsessed connoisseur, I was skeptical as to whether Cigar City’s version would impress. Wow…did it ever. With an abundance of spicy crab all fried up in a crispy, doughy vessel, I was beyond words with my first bite.
We also ordered the Vande Rose Farms Pork Chicharrones. I braced myself for the chewy pork rinds as I was feeling halfway fearful I’d despise their texture. To my surprise, I enjoyed the pops of grease and chew. Boasting tons of flavor from the mojo salt and lime, they weren’t half bad.
Perhaps I’ve been depriving myself of crispy fried goodness for far too long because I just couldn’t get enough of it. Tostones were now added to the feast. Twice fried green plantains with sea salt and house made mojo, they should've been scrumptious. But, they were quite dry and there was just something missing in the way of flavors...
I had heard serious praise about the Rum-cured White Oak-Smoked Swordfish Tacos. Let it be known: I am not a fan of Swordfish. In fact, I’ve never, ever enjoyed it in any form. These tacos were blow your socks (and shoes) off incredible. With shells made from Malanga (root vegetable) and a filling of smoked swordfish, house pickled cabbage, jalapeños and Poblano aioli, I was in a state of fish taco bliss. The smoky fish combining with the spicy tang and crispiness from the cabbage…and the delicate crunch of the malanga shell…it was all so perfect. This dish was the star of the show…
We were feeling quite indulgent. The feast would continue. To change things up a bit, we ordered the Crispy Pig Ear and Roasted Corn Salad. Weird? Absolutely. Insanely delectable? You better believe it. Bibb lettuce came topped with a mound of fried pig ear, sweet corn, watermelon radish, red bell peppers, scallion and cilantro all topped with their house made Poblano Pepper Vinaigrette. The severe contrast of flavors and textures was scoring high nods from the whole table.
Since we couldn’t leave before trying one of Cigar City Brew Pub’s entrees, we opted for the 48 Hour Boliche. I was extremely excited for this dish as I’ve loved Boliche ever since I was a little girl. Made with an all-natural beef eye of round and stuffed with quijote chorizo, it came adorned with plantains, black beans and rice, and salsa criolla. Although the beef was moist and flavored appropriately, this dish left a lot to be desired. Extremely standard, I was disappointed that they hadn’t put a cool spin on the traditional Cuban meal. Perhaps incorporating one of their awesome beers in the mix would make it a little more special.
Because no meal is complete without something to satisfy the sweet tooth, we ordered the Bread Pudding of the Day. Since I make a mean bread pudding myself, I was hoping for nothing short of amazing. The Triple Berry Bread Pudding came served in a Mason jar and was dripping with lusciousness. Loaded with raspberries, strawberries, and blueberries, the ever-so-sweet pudding was given a delightful balance of sweet and tart. I won’t say it was the best I’ve ever had but I will say it’s worth ordering. We might as well have licked that Mason jar clean.
Overall, I was extremely satisfied with the cuisine. I’ve heard mixed reviews and I can’t help but wonder if it’s due to their uninspired entrée options. It seems as though they’ve put so much effort into their small plates that they’ve somewhat neglected the dinner plates. Given that we mostly stuck to the “snacks” and “small plates” portion of the menu, I suppose I have a completely different attitude about the joint than guests who’ve ordered only entrees.
CCB needs to keep their innovative twists consistent on the whole menu. I think integrating their beers into all or most of their dishes would be of added value too. I also noticed they didn’t have beer pairing suggestions which I found odd. The restaurant is still in its infant state so I have no uncertainty that they won’t be modifying their menu in the coming months. I foresee myself revisiting very soon as I’ve had dreams about those tacos, Cuban eggrolls, and Devil Crab every night since…