Thursday, October 04, 2007

A Bistro in a Bungalow

I share an office space with my friend, Chris Bilar; owner/ operator of Moneywell Financial (yes, that was a plug). Today he wandered into my little piece of heaven and asked “Where ya wanna go for lunch?” He and my other office space mates have been nagging me to take them to any of the places featured in Jeff Houck’s Tampa Tribune article The Tampa Underbelly Tour, in the hopes of free food. I smiled and said, “I have a better idea. Let’s try out Bungalow Bistro. Elizabeth opened today.” Chris was game.

We headed out for the 6 block drive to Florida Ave just before Hillsborough.

I guess I should say this first. I know Elizabeth. My clients are her clients and I patron her salon. I also like Elizabeth. She is much like me, in that we are business women. When it comes to business, friendships are put aside and the matters are handled. I respect her for that. Now, this isn’t to say if the food was bad I wouldn’t be writing. In fact I would still be writing because it is just important to showcase bad food as it is to showcase good food.

Luckily, there would be no bad food to be had.

Chris and I entered the very beautifully remodeled Bungalow, designed by Nikki Couture, one of my favorite clients. As you enter, you are greeted by maybe 10 good sized dark oak tables. Earth tones drapery falls from the original windows, and a bank like teller counter separates you from the kitchen. A large mirror holds the hand written menu of the day. The process is to decide what you want, go to the counter and order food and beverages. Food will be brought to the table.

“Michelle! I am so glad you came!” announced Elizabeth. At this time, there was only one other table and they were heading out the door with what appeared to be large Cheshire cat grins snuggled along their jaw lines. Good sign I thought.

Elizabeth and I caught up (I won’t bore you) while Chris examined the menu. He chose the Smoked Turkey Sandwich on whole wheat with aioli, tomato, sharp cheddar, and arugula along with a cup of the Roasted Tomato and Goat Cheese soup. I decide on the Roast Beef Sandwich with garlic aioli, tomato, arugula, red onion, and munster (I think, I can’t remember what the cheese was now) on wheat berry bread along with a cup of the Roasted Chicken and Baby Portabella Bisque. At the time, I didn’t know there would be roasted chicken in the soup simply because the lines were a little off and you couldn’t quite tell they were together. Later, I would over hear I was not the only one to be confused. Another item on the menu caught my attention, the chicken salad served in an acorn squash shell, after seeing it come out to another table, I had orderer’s remorse instantly. It looked amazing.

I also ordered one of Elizabeth’s mother’s famous Sticky buns. I had heard so much about them, I had to. I then spied heaven in a pastry pan. Freshly baked lemon squares.

Typically, I am not a sweet eater, but there are some things I have an unhealthy passion for. Lemon squares are one of these things. They bring back fond memories of being a little girl assisting my Mother while she baked éclairs, German chocolate cakes, cookies, and my Father’s favorite; lemon squares. Juicing a thousand lemons for one batch, churning the batter to the right consistency for that perfect separation. All of this without the ability of a KitchenAid mixer, just good old Southern forearm.

I decide to hold back my gluttony and remain seated. As we waited for our lunch to arrive, I scanned the very pleasing atmosphere of the Bistro. It looked, well, like a Bistro if Bistros existed in Tampa in 1925. The lighting is pleasing, the long accented windows hide the ugliness of Florida Ave., and the large tables allow diners to eat without having your friends elbow in your ear. We almost felt like we were sitting at our own tables at home. Very shortly after, Elizabeth returns with our lunch and what a lunch it would be.

First, the sandwiches are huge and they are jammed packed with tons of deli meat and some of the freshest produce I have seen at a Tampa restaurant in a long time. The aioli (or mayonnaise) is homemade (yes, homemade) and you can tell. The roast beef is perfectly medium-rare (none of that end cap crap) and the bread is delicious (also made on site by Elizabeth’s Mother). The sandwiches were accompanied by roasted herbed potatoes, a little surprise to us. The potatoes were done well, nothing special, just done well. I can’t tell you which one of the sandwiches Chris and I liked best. I ate some of his, he ate some of mine, we would then trade again. Let’s just say, they were damn good and priced accordingly. Both sandwiches were right about $6. A very good deal.
Then the soup. Let’s start with the Roasted Tomato and Goat Cheese. This soup was very good. You can tell the tomatoes were perfectly ripe before they were roasted off, you can taste the bite of the goat cheese, and you can smell the fresh herbs aroma melding with the liquefied roasted tomato. This is the kind of soup you want to dip your grilled cheese into on a cold, rainy Tampa day.

Now for the Roasted Chicken and Baby Portabella Bisque.

I used to manage a restaurant/ bar in Austin, TX called the Empanada Parlor. It was made famous by the law suit brought on by Sheridan Hotels, a noise ordinance issue. The Empanada had a beautiful back courtyard along a creek right off of 6th street (this would be equivalent to Ybor city) where a stage was set up and bands would play, just like every other bar or restaurant along 6th street. To make a little more money, The Empanada would serve lunch during the day and small dinners at night before the 10PM bar crowd moved in. The owner was a drunk of an English woman who attend Le Cordon Bleu in London and cook anything to perfection regardless of her stage of sobriety. One of my fondest Ash (that was her name) recipes, was her Portabella Cream Soup. I don’t know what she put in it, but it was so damn good, I would often lick the bowl. I lived off that Portabella soup for the entire 10 months the place was open. I am surprised I didn’t grow spores.
With that said, I have claimed myself to be a Mushroom soup aficionado.

I am sorry to tell you, Ash. Your Portabella Cream Soup is dead to me.

This Roasted Chicken and Baby Portabella Bisque was so damn good, I found myself scraping the bowl for every last remnant. The chicken was juicy and flavorful; the baby bellas were almost puréed, allowing for some very fine pieces to add to the texture of the bisque. The herbs were perfectly paired. There was a smoky component; I believe to be a little sausage? I had quickly grown to regret ordering only a small cup.

My friends, this is the type of soup you can eat anytime of the year because the flavor is so addictive. If for any other reason, visit Bungalow Bistro for this soup. A very large bowl will set you back $6 and it will be the best $6 you have spent in a long, long time.

I sat back, looking at the 3 bites left to my sandwich, about to take the last of it on, when Elizabeth came walking over holding a Sticky bun in one hand and a Lemon Bar covered with fresh whipped cream, fresh strawberries, blueberries, and raspberries in the other. I almost began to weep. Note: I did not order the lemon bar.

At this point I was stuffed from the Roast Beef on Wheat berry sandwich big enough to feed King Kong and the Heaven in a Cup (aka Roasted Chicken and Baby Portabella Bisque), but I sat staring at these little works of art (and works of art they are) in a trance of gluttony. I agreed to have a maximum of 2 bites each.

First I broke into the sticky bun. A perfectly, tightly rolled dough with cinnamon and pecans peaking through. As my fork broke through, the center poured out it’s bounty of sticky honey, toasted pecans, nutmeg and brown sugar. Delicious.

I then nestled into the Lemon Bar, oh sweet, sweet Lemon bar. The fork sliced through the bar as if it were slicing through clouds. I lifted my fork to my mouth with only anticipation Dr.Frank-N-Furter would understand. The moment my lips touched the lemon bar my tongue began to dance with the zesty punch of the 1000 juiced lemons and the forearm strength of hand churning. The back end of my tastes buds, right where your jaw meets your neck, tingled as if being tickled. Delicious really doesn’t describe these little bars of gold. I believe I am speechless.

A large Cheshire cat grin crawled across my face.

Bungalow Bistro is currently serving a light breakfast and lunch with dinner to come very, very soon. With every new restaurant, hurdles must be jumped and Elizabeth has done a good job not letting the most important thing be affected, the food. Equipment didn’t show up on time, a brand new cooler broke, and Coca Cole was a no show, but you would never know.

This is a place we want in Seminole Heights, forever. I can’t wait for dinner.

4 Possums, I hope dinner will change that to 5.

Credit Cards will be accepted soon.
9AM – 3PM Tuesday – Saturday
5137 N. Florida Ave
813-237-2000 Orders may be called in for pick up

Pho An Hoa in Tampa


Anonymous said...

I didn't experience that much rapture on my 2 visits but I went back when I had a fridge full of leftovers.

I'm glad she has held out against all the issues the city has created for her to open and I will most definately be a regular!

SteamyKitchen said...

Congrats on your new blog!

leeeemmmmmooooon barrrrr.....i want one.

Donna said...

Baker, I can't agree with you more. I have frequented the BB 5 times and every single time, it's totally awesome. The food is so fresh and definately made with much care and love. They definately worked out the kinks they had within the first few weeks. Bill is an excellent waiter. I haven't gone there for dinner yet, but know that it won't be long before I do. I wish all the best for Elizabeth and her crew at the BB.

Michelle said...

The BB has come a long way and has a long way to go, but as stated a few months back, the food has never been affected.
They are doing a great job. I've not been in for dinner, yet. I'll do some recon here shortly and will report back. I am sure it will be great!

Anonymous said...

bilar should be arrested soon.....
mortgage frauder!!!