Just as he wouldn't be caught dead watching "Sleepless in Seattle," Hubs undoubtedly would go next door for Wood Fired pizza or Big Papa's Pit barbecue before he'd opt for a meal at Season's Fresh. I, on the other hand, do not possess these studly standards and enjoyed a quick bite there.
Blame It on Rio sang the praises of Season's Fresh even before it moved from a New Tampa shopping center location north of I-75 to its current venue in a restaurant-filled strip center off Bearss Avenue near Bruce B. Downs Boulevard. She was excited when the owner decided to move to a more visible location. Lo and behold, I hear the tennis ladies have discovered it.
As the name suggests, the Season's Fresh culinary focus is on seasonal, organic ingredients. The menu consists of wraps, paninis, soups, salads and smoothies, which are served in better-than-your-average-sandwich-shop surroundings.
The multi-talented owner has been a caterer and a decorator; the latter skill she has applied here to create a bright, contemporary space featuring modern art showcased against a backdrop of pelican blue-gray walls. Red cushions, black tables and white chairs add to the colorful mix. Exposed overhead ducts are painted black with a few wood beams added to warm things up. An inviting, tree-shaded patio presents a nice niche to dine alone or with friends.
The ordering procedure is similar to Panera's, but here the food is brought to your table. I got a sandwich and Rio ordered a panini. My Shaved Roasted Chicken Breast Sandwich ($7.95) was served warm.
It lived up to the fresh ideal, with hunks of oven-roasted white-meat chicken, caramelized onions, fontina cheese and spring greens, all encased in thick country bread that was warmed to a toasty crunch in a panini press. While there was no shortage of pungent fresh herbs, in fact there were too many, the missing links were moisture and fat. The dry sandwich cried out for a saucy partner, or at least a slather of butter on the bread. Since I noted that wraps are accompanied by a choice of dipping sauce, I will be sure to order a side of sauce with my sandwich next time.
A few cornichons and nicoise olives, as well as a small seasonal side salad, are included with sandwich selections. Rio is a regular and highly recommends the soups, which change daily.
My favorite part of this place is the Illy coffee bar. Italian coffee gets my vote as one of the best and Illy is up there with Lavazza. I have not discovered any other business in Tampa that serves it. I mentioned this to the owner, who said the Illy honchos have strict guidelines about the product, including the equipment on which it is prepared. She has thousands of dollars invested in Illy-approved coffee apparatus.
I can see this spot taking off with organic-frenzied USF students, laptop-toting coffeehouse junkies, health-conscious yoga fanatics, and generally those who appreciate fine ingredients and are fatigued by the often careless preparation and waning food quality at Panera.
But Season's should stick to the hours it advertises if it wants to build a customer base. I stopped by a few days ago for lunch and it was closed. According to the hours posted on the front door, it should have been open. And I can't find the hours on the website, either, which brings me to my...
Verdict: Needs tweaking but has promise.
2816 East Bearss Avenue