Sunday, January 12, 2014

Farm To Table In Seminole Heights

Could the food culture of Tampa Bay be on the verge of casting aside the hackneyed menus that are so ubiquitous in restaurants on both sides of the bay? I think that we may have to answer yes to that question. The Oracle has experienced a few cutting edge restaurants on the Pinellas side of Tampa Bay that have impressed us with their originality and creativity. We have experienced less of that culinary innovation on the Tampa side, but the times, "...they are a-changin'."

Yesterday evening my bride and I journeyed from downtown Tampa north on Florida Avenue in search of a new dining spot I had read about and was anxious to try, the Rooster & the Till at 6500 C, North Florida. The Rooster is on the left as we drove north, and if you don't have a good navigator on board it is an easy place to miss. The building is in a small strip mall structure and the Rooster is nestled between a couple of other businesses.

We were to meet our dear friends Under Dog and Sweet Polly at the Rooster for our occasional blogger convergence. We arrived a little earlier than the 5 o'clock opening time, but to our surprise the door was unlocked and when we stepped inside we were greeted by our friends and welcoming staff members. While the restaurant was not quite ready to start dinner service we were invited to make ourselves at home and enjoy an adult beverage. That in itself is a refreshing change from gruff greetings we have received at other venues.

Since we were the first guests to arrive at this intimate 37 seat restaurant, we were invited to sit where we pleased. Megan, our delightful server for the evening, suggested we sit under the rooster...actually, a picture of the rooster, not the real bird. So, we did!

The dining area consists of table seating as well as bar seating. The interior of the Rooster has a charming rusticity and, according to the web site, "...was built by local craftsmen using reclaimed materials whenever possible."

Once seated, the next order of business was to order wines to accompany dinner. The ladies chose a refreshing Talley Vineyards Bishop's Peak Chardonnay with the subtle flavors of sweet tangerine leading to delicate notes of melon and minerals.

For us manly men only a 2010 Napa Valley Petite Sirah would do. This T-Vine Cellars wine is nearly black in color, with extracted flavors of blueberry cheesecake, cocoa powder and blackberry cobbler. This wine is mellowed for 11 months in about 35% New American oak and 65% once used French oak barrels. After barrel aging the wine is allowed to mature for an additional year in the bottle. Megan said we would not be disappointed, and she was correct. This was a spectacular wine.

Our menus suggested for raw and cured oysters, clams, crudos and such that we should take a gander at the chalk board toward the back of the dining room. Raw oysters you say? Why, heavens to Murgatroyd, I believe I will.

The Barnstable, Massachusetts oysters are farmed by a small family run operation harvesting briny, firm fleshed oysters with a sweetness at the center. The Wallace Bay oysters are harvested off the coast of Nova Scotia, they are plump for Canadian oysters with a medium brine and a mellow finish.

The prices seemed reasonable for oysters of this quality, and these were quality oysters. I requested 3 of each, and I can't remember the last time I tasted oysters this good. Normally I eschew garnishes on my mollusks, but the kumquat mint vinegar with the pickled chili peppers was sublime.

For the next stop on our culinary journey, the table shared the Charcuterie and Cheese Tasting with the Point Reyes blue cheese with honeycomb, Piccolo Crontonese cheese with golden raisin chutney, Flat Creek cheddar with pepper jelly, the delicious Chicken liver pate with candied walnut crumble, and finally the pork shoulder tasso with apple coffee butter. While each portion was a little small, it was apparent that much thought went into the preparation and presentation. I don't believe any in our party was disappointed in this tasting.

With recommendations from Megan, we continued sampling small plates. One of my favorites was the crispy pork belly with cornbread, dainty little pickled apples and peppercorn honey.

Next up were the smokey portobello mushrooms with savory burnt onions, green tomato, and Point Reyes blue cheese. Even my bride, the Belle of Ballast Point, who doesn't normally eat fungus, said these mushrooms were really good. I thought so, too.

The next dish served was the duck confit with smoked eggplant, acidic fennel and warm foie gras emulsion. This was one of only two only dishes of the evening that was not well received. It looked good, but for some at our table it was too vinegary, too acidic. The shaved black radish was a nice touch, though.

After tasting the small plates, our table decided to try the "slightly larger" plates starting with the rabbit ballotine with chicken liver, raisins, and unbelievably good porky kale on soft polenta. Even those in our party who were hesitant at the thought of rabbit seemed pleased with this innovative delight.

Another tentative plate was the squash orecchiette with braised goat, stewed tomatoes, hazelnuts and smoked butter. I think goat might be a little foreign to American taste buds, but this was some pretty good goat. It wasn't strong or gamey like some that I have consumed in the islands.

For me, one of the very best plates of the evening, besides the oysters, was the duck breast with charred carrots, spiced granola, black lentils, and duck demi-glace. The duck was cooked to perfection, and the lentils were tender and loaded with flavor. I don't remember other comments, but I was in water fowl heaven.

Dessert? You have to be kidding! I was stuffed, but when Megan described the parfait: orange spice custard with salted caramel, hazelnut granola, and rosemary creme fraiche I knew I had to at least have a taste. I was glad that I did.

I was totally impressed with Rooster & the Till - delightful, innovative food, great service, and reasonable prices. Our party of four split the bill, so dinner and wine for two, including gratuity came to $167.24.

The Rooster menu changes based upon availability from nearby farms and gardens. This is a "must do" dining venue.

Rooster & the Till on Urbanspoon

Rooster and the Till on Foodio54


  1. Great post...loved sharing this experience with good friends! :)

    1. It's always a treat to share good food and wine with great friends like you and UD.

      Your review of the Rooster emphasizes why you are the best food blogger in Tampa Bay. I am humbled but grateful to bask in your aura.

  2. Jon,
    This looks like my kind of place. That is the coolest picture of y'all with the rooster. It looks so real, ha! Petite Sirah is my absolute favorite wine. I love the blackberry tannins in it. Fantastic choice. And I love a cheese board like coffee butter? Nice!! I wonder if that Flat Creek Cheddar is from Flat Creek Lodge in Swainsboro, Georgia. We eat lots of their cheese around these parts. Enjoyed this post.

    1. Hi Rebekah,

      If you and Kurt ever make it down our way we will have to take you to the Rooster. They seem to take the same approach to farm to table that you write about in your blog, Some Kinda Good.

      Thanks for commenting and we shall see you soon...'cause I got Georgia on my mind.