The Refinery. Tampa's most prized claim to spectacular cuisine. And the praiseworthy joint doesn't just serve up original and expertly executed fare with unique flavor combinations galore. Nope, these guys do way more than that. If you live in Tampa and fancy yourself a food-lover, then you already know how The Refinery rolls. The most serious in boasting the "Farm-to-table" assertion, they're brutally strict in using only local, seasonal produce. But we're not talking strawberries in the winter, peas in the spring, and squash in the fall. Rather, the folks at Refinery pick produce on a weekly basis, ensuring that every eggplant, endive, and escarole plant are at their absolute prime.
You may have also heard about the restaurant's James Beard award-nominated chef, Greg Baker. The culinary rock star is no stranger to these nominations either. In fact, for three years in a row now, he's been nominated for the most-prestigious award and was a semifinalist both this year and last. To add to Refinery's chef award-winning status, the joint received nomination for "Best New Restaurant in the US" in 2011, just one year after its initial opening.
So it's quite shocking that this is my first-ever Refinery review. Truth is, I've visited the Seminole Heights gem on several occasions but for whatever reason - perhaps the lazy glutton in me, I've sat back and relaxed as a guest without a camera (or blogging concern) in hand. Well, last Sunday, I decided it was due time I give Refinery the Dash of Les whirl. But since their dinner menu changes weekly, I'm going to tease you guys with a grand taste of their brunch menu, which changes only a few times a year.
The Refinery doesn't have a liquor bar. But fear not, my Sunday Funday, Bloody Mary loving friends; they do up the tomato-based hair of the dog very nicely with their house made sake. As an avid Bloody connoisseur, I will speak to the sans vodka concoction...it's pungent, and it's got all the booze you need to recover from Saturday's shenanigans. Oh, and they have mimosas (2 sizes) as well as their regular craft beer and wine menu too. Yeah, you're in good hands with that whole drinking thing.
Refinery's brunch, like their dinner, features ingredient combos that may make the average restaurant goer's head spin. And that's a good thing. With dishes like the "Aldous Snow" which comes with house banger, baked beans, veggie hash, poached eggs, and a biscuit, you should prepare to excite your palate with unexpected, yet delightfully delicious creations. Thankfully, I was with a group of "experienced eaters" this past Sunday morning so I didn't see a single eyebrow raise at the interesting menu.
I found myself playing eenie-meenie-miney-moe as every dish was calling my name. But once our server looked my way, I blurted out "Pretzel Logic." Oh, and how happy I was with my selection. A large piece of pretzel bread came topped with massaged kale, house-made pastrami, sunny-side up eggs, and a grainy mustard aioli. Served alongside a cup of flawlessly creamy Anson mill grits, it was a savory breakfast beauty. Salty with both crunch and supreme softness, the pretzel bread was an excellent throne to the peppery, moist meat. The eggs spewed out their greatness and only added to the delicious aioli.
Two of my friends went with the "Yukon Cornelius" which consisted of homemade biscuits covered in house shoulder ham, scallion creamed corn, and poached eggs. The eggs were poached to perfection (a known requirement of mine) and creamed corn has never tasted so good. Tender and full of flavor, the ham played a key role in this brunch plate that both of my friends devoured in what seemed like seconds. Their only complaint was that the biscuits were a bit "hard." But with my few bites, I found that this minor discrepancy was perhaps purposeful so that the loads of ham, eggs, and creamed corn were properly "supported."
Probably the "safest" menu item was ordered by my pregnant friend. The '58 Ranchero Skillet Bake is served in a cast iron skillet and is loaded with eggs, potatoes, frijoles charros, and fresh salsa. While it didn't blow me away like some of the other brunch selections, it was still very tasty and perfect for those who aren't very adventurous.
I'll admit when I have menu regret and/or food envy. For I was suffering from both last Sunday when I caught eye (and a few bites) of my friend's "Lilly Livered," a plate of fried chicken livers, collards, homemade corn bread, and poached eggs, all smothered in a heavenly red-eye gravy. My goodness how this dish was swooning my taste buds. Texturally diverse, the ingredients were also screaming with their own individual tastes. Winner, winner, chicken liver dinner. I'm still dreaming about the red-eye gravy....and slow cooked collards...and crispy, rich chicken livers...and the perfectly poached eggs. Yeah, I'm dreaming about it all.
My brother, who's an extremely open-minded food-lover, went with another safe bet. But while "Daddy's Favorite" is a basic brunch go-to, it's one of the most righteous versions of Biscuits and Gravy that I've encountered. Because when every component of biscuits and gravy is made in house and with tons of tender, love, and care, you know it's gotta be good. The creamy gravy is generously filled with savory and slightly spicy breakfast sausage and comes with those large and in charge biscuits. Served with fluffy scrambled organic eggs and either roasted potatoes or Anson Mill grits, you simply can't go wrong with this tried and true brunch favorite.
Refinery's brunch is just something you don't want to miss. Whether you have friends in town who you wish to impress or you just desire a feast of inventive, farm-to-table fare, Refinery is a brunch hot spot that you've got to check out. Make reservations and sit in the eclectic but welcoming dining room or come and wait for the ever-so lovely rooftop on a picture-perfect Florida Spring day. Either way, you can't go wrong. An award-winning restaurant with stellar service and food that just might knock your socks off, it's one of my highest recommendations for the Sunday morning and afternoon indulgence.