Thursday, January 24, 2013

Boca Kitchen: Cookin' Good

It's a little disconcerting to see a car wreck as you are being shown to your dining table, but Sister Foodie and I were focused on lunch when we stopped by the comfortable and creative farm-to-table oasis that is Boca Kitchen, Bar and Market.

Who doesn't like tablecloths? Nice touch.
Thanks to an impressive expanse of windows lining two sides of the Hyde Park restaurant, Sister and I -- and the other patrons lunching at the much-ballyhooed eatery -- witnessed a typical Tampa smash-up at the intersection of W. Platt St. and South Blvd.

While the victims emerged unscathed from their mangled vehicles, we, without a moment's hesitation, proceeded to order Blistered Shishito Peppers, the Kimilwick Sandwich and the Staff Meal.

Fire up your mouth for Shishito Peppers.

Sipping our iced teas to temper the spiciness of the peppers, we agreed that they would be a great diet-friendly appetizer to pair with Boca's craft beers. Although we liked the pile of peppers, I imagine that not everyone would care for them. True to their "blistered" description, they have a charred taste. Don't be fooled by the initial bites because, by about the seventh pepper, you will begin to sweat. The heat creeps up on you, but in a good way.

Bring on the sandwiches...and a ravenous hunger! These heifers are not for the timid eater. In fact, I have a bit of a bone to pick with our friendly, young server because I asked about portion size and she said the sandwiches are a "perfect" portion. Maybe for a competitive eater with a bottomless gut!

Terrific take on tuna.

We managed to eat only half of our meal but nodded our approval of the flavors as we chomped. The Staff Meal featured fresh tuna -- coarsely chopped and tossed tuna-salad-sandwich style -- placed between thick slices of sourdough bread, then grilled. Eating a tuna fish sandwich made with fresh tuna will forever sour you on StarKist, but what took this sandwich to the next level were the additions of caramelized onions, cheese, tomato, avocado and "Boca bacon," thick slices of awesomeness that the restaurant smokes out back. Let me just say that the staff was freaking lucky that day!

Plan on a nap after you down this beefer.

The Kimilwick Sandwich was piled high with juicy roast beef, horseradish sauce, garlic Boursin cheese and a fried tomato. The tomato added nice moisture, but that was some potent cheese! I would have preferred something milder, but the sandwich, served on a brioche bun (I think), was delicious nonetheless. Both sandwiches were accompanied by french fries that were so good that I believe duck fat had to be a player.

On a subsequent visit with the Mississippi Maven, we tried the Farmer's Bacon, Lettuce and Tomato and the Heirloom and Swine Flatbread. The highlight of the BLT was the incredible, thick and juicy bacon, reason enough to order it, but the smoky stack also featured a creamy avocado mayo and -- you know me by now -- an egg! I actually could have done without the egg because it didn't have a runny yolk and it wasn't hot, but this sandwich was decent and made better by the buttery grilled bread that encased it.

Keep the bacon coming.

If you still want bacon but served pizza style, go for the Heirloom and Swine Flatbread. Combined with Manchego cheese, caramelized onions and heirloom tomatoes, this thin-crusted concoction will take your taste buds for a pleasantly spicy spin.

The caramelized onions at Boca would be good on just about anything.

My only complaint -- and it pains me to complain about this foodie-pleasing place -- is the fries were soggy on my second visit. They were greasy and as limp as noodles, and at the height of lunch service when they should be at their best. (Sorry, guys, but you need to know.)

Oh, how could I forget! We got dessert. I hardly ever get dessert but it was the Maven's birthday lunch and this place rocks, so we ordered the strawberry shortcake crumble or some such thing.

Dessert took us right to the Land of Oz.

It came out blazing hot in a six-inch cast iron skillet and went somewhere over the rainbow of expectations. Whole strawberries glistening in their own juices were clustered atop half of a shortcake biscuit, then topped with a bit of crispy, sugary crumble and crowned with a scoop of French vanilla ice cream. The freezing ice cream over the piping-hot, locally grown and in-season berries, combined with the contrasting textures of the moistened cake, crunchy crumble and delicate fruit, make this one outstanding dessert.
Boca reminds me of trendy Atlanta restaurants that deftly put a Southern twist on fresh, straight-from-the-farmers-market ingredients and serve their creations in an atmosphere that reflects amped-up country sophistication. The aura is inviting at Boca, if not a bit noisy when things are hopping. Yep, I'd say it's downright hospitable -- and a welcome addition to the local dining scene.

Verdict: A breath of (organic) fresh air!

Boca Kitchen Bar Market on Urbanspoon


  1. Dayum! I've gotta get back over there. <3

  2. we had brunch there yesterday! Thanks for the suggestion! The eggs benedict w/ lobster were to die for :) But the staff needs to become faster and more organized. We waited a long time to be seated (although they had some empty tables, nobody would come to clean them - the hostess kept saying she was going to call someone to do the cleaning until she finally decided to do it herself - but she clearly was not cut out for this kind of job). All in all we were there for almost 3 hours... But the eggs were sooo good that I'd go back... just have to find another company since I really doubt I'll be able to convince the husband to give it another try.

    1. I noticed some complaints about their staff on Urbanspoon. I haven't had any service issues, but obviously I may have gotten lucky. The hostess probably had nothing to do with the problems. Sounds like they were short-staffed; somebody didn't show up. Sometimes restaurants do not allow the hostess to bus tables. Or, she was instructed to postpone seating you to get the servers out of the weeds. The manager on duty is ultimately responsible for these front-of-the-house screw-ups. Sorry the great food was marred by bad service. Imagine how the chef feels!