Mortar & Pestle: Coffee, Food, Alcohol? Sounds Like a Good Time!

There are a lot of opinions about this restaurant. Lets see what the Exploring Tampa crew thinks!
Mortar & Pestle, 2019
Coming from the ashes of a popular food truck, Mortar & Pestle is a concept that thrives to bring back the old timey pharmacies. You know the ones... You go to get a soda from the fountain, you wander the aisles, make your way to the lunch counter, then leave with your prescriptions. Located on the same block as local favorites Angry Chair Brewing and Trip's Diner, there's no lack of business to be had. This is also one of the few places in Seminole Heights with a real parking lot. Had you never read a review of this place and had you not heard about their filing for bankruptcy, you'd be impressed. The inside of the building is a hipster's paradise, with the industrial looking tables and chairs, the high ceiling, the steampunk-esque inspired decor. The inside of this building is cool. Next door is also a fully functional pharmacy that I wasn…

Floridan Palace: Downtown Tampa's Hidden Gem

Downtown Tampa is really taking off. Luckily, there's still tons of history left!

 Floridan Palace, 2017

Tampa is undergoing an interesting problem. Destroy history or build upon it? Go through Ybor City and for every historic, brick cigar factory that's been turned into a bustling club, art gallery, restaurant, museum, brewery, what have you, there is a parking lot or a parking garage built on the remains of what used to be there. Downtown Tampa is no different. With the Riverwalk now bringing new interest to a downtown that was seen as dead as recently as a handful of years ago, now comes the issue: Do we salvage what we have, or do we wipe it clean and start anew? History is a funny thing. If a few small events didn't happen, the entire course of history could have been changed.

Grand Entrance, 2017

The year was 1927, and the final touches were finally placed on Florida's tallest building, then known as the Floridan Hotel. The building itself stands at 240 feet tall spread over 19 floors. Originally, there were 316 rooms. The hotel cost $1.9 million to build. Of the six constructed skyscrapers in Tampa during the 1910-1930 period, the Floridan is the only one still standing. And while Pinellas County has a few historic hotels, Hillsborough County, especially Tampa, only has one. The hotel was designed by Francis Kennard and constructed by G. A. Miller Construction Company. The Hotel Floridan flourished during the roarin' 20's, all the way up until the 1960's when, thanks to the rise of the suburb, people chose to live further from the city core. After the 1960's, the hotel went from a classy hotel that generals, movie stars, and baseball teams would stay at to a homeless shelter. In 1989, the hotel was finally closed due to not being able to upgrade to meet fire codes.

Crystal Dining Room, 2017

From 1987 to 2005, the hotel bounced around the hands of a few different owners. Most notable, however, is Akio Ogawa who had purchased the building in 1989 at a foreclosure auction. This one purchase is one of two reasons solely responsible for the hotel still being around today. It was because of Ogawa that, in 1996, the Hotel Floridan was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. Without this building being deemed a historic building, it is likely that it would have been torn down long ago. In 2005, the hotel was under a demolition order. The second reason this hotel is still around today is because of the hotel's sale to Antonios Markopoulos who spent the next seven years cleaning and restoring the hotel to its former glory, and thus saving it from demolition. On July 30, 2005, the Floridan Palace, which had been renamed as a means to give new life to the hotel, opened to the public for the first time since 1989.

View of the Room, 2017

Full disclosure: I didn't actually stay at the hotel. As part of my parents' 30 year wedding anniversary, they stayed and Stormy and I were invited to partake in some of the ceremony. I did get the chance to check out the room, which was a corner room on the 15th floor, as well as eat in the Crystal Dining Room and have drinks from both bars. Now, according to my parents about the hotel room itself: It was a nice room, the attention to detail was flawless. Their room was kind of awkward as, because of the renovations and making the rooms bigger, there were windows down a REALLY narrow hallway in the room. This tiny hallway was blocked by a nightstand, but it's worth mentioning. The bed was comfortable, the bathroom was a bathroom. Nothing amazing or grand about it. There are, however, rumors that the hotel is haunted. I will say now, full disclosure, I don't believe in ghosts. Again, this is what my parents told me. On their last night there, at around 3:00 am, they both claim to have heard music playing and an adult woman screaming in the hallway. When they peaked their head out of the room, they claim no one was there. When they reported it to the front desk, the gentleman behind the counter exclaimed that he "had never heard that one" and that no one else had reported it. I was not there, I'm simply relaying what was told to me. I was there when the gentleman told my parents that he had not heard that one before, however. Find out for yourself for $126 a night!

Dinner, 2017

On to the festivities! Stormy and I arrived on a Thursday night to meet my parents for dinner at the Crystal Dining Room. We first went to the Floridan Bar and partook in a drink. I had an old fashioned (because I had seen it on TV and wanted to look fancy), and everyone else had wine. The drinks were strong, our bartender was good company, and then it was on to the Crystal Dining Room for dinner. The prices are what you would expect for a dinner in a restaurant of this quality. It was expensive, however, it was amazing. I had the scallops, my mom and dad each ordered a steak, and Stormy ordered the grilled salmon. We also partook in the crab cakes and salmon rosette for appetizers. We were introduced to the restaurant manager, Jean Paul, right off the bat. He was very friendly, approachable, and knowledgeable. He came around a few times during our dinner to ensure that everything came out to our liking. The waiter, whose name escapes me at the moment, was also friendly and knowledgeable, albeit a bit reserved. The appetizers were easily some of the best I've had anywhere, with the only complaint I have being that the salmon rosette was hard to pull apart politely. The crab cakes were downright amazing, with just the right amount of crab. During the appetizers, I realized that the food was going to be amazing... It was a wonder why we were the only people there. Our dinners come out and we all reach for each other's food. I will say that the steaks are cooked to perfection. The salmon was also really good. My scallops were mouth watering, the problem being that, with such a small protein, you usually get a decent amount for sides. Unfortunately for me, this wasn't the case. The rice, of which I was really excited about, was almost nonexistent. This is the one downfall about the dinner. Dinner ended and it was time for desserts. We ordered one of each of their desserts, being key lime pie, a strawberry cheesecake, and a chocolate cake. I will say this: Come for the food, order the appetizers... Skip dessert. It's not that they were bad, they just weren't particularly good. You're in Downtown Tampa and close to Ybor, you can find MUCH better. But alas, if that's the worst part of the meal, I'd say it's a highly successful dinner.

Bartender, 2017

A week later, we had so much fun that the crew decided to go back. This time, we were going to experience the infamous Sapphire Lounge. We came by a bit early on a Saturday evening, which might explain why we were the only ones there. We were introduced to our bartender, who told us upfront that he was new, this was his third day on the job, he hadn't learned the bar yet, and he was called in last minute. Understandable, I've been new on the job as well and know EXACTLY what that feels like (try being the new guy at the deli at a Publix...). He was very quiet, seemed a bit nervous, and was having a bit of trouble finding liquor bottles at the bar. Being new, this is expected, I'm not going to fault him for it. My mom had ordered a drink that he had started to make before realizing that he didn't have the liquor required to finish it. Ok, time for some wine. However, my parents have had trouble with certain wines from this place in the past and asked to smell it first. Butterscotch. As anyone who has brewed a beer or made a wine can tell you, that's not a good thing. My parents eventually settled on White Russians, Stormy ordered a cosmo, and I decided to go for my tried and true: Free Dive from the local Coppertail Brewing Company. The problem now comes with the fact that they only have frosted glasses which any beer snob (such as myself) can tell you, kills the flavor of the beer. It was also incredibly clear that our bartender was short pouring. I think this has more to do with his history of working at The Straz Center, as I'm sure they're told to charge premium prices for less alcohol. Overall, the bartender was incredibly friendly, and lit up the minute he started talking about his last residence (Las Vegas), however, the bar itself was not my favorite. I'm hoping that, once they're better stocked, once they pour full shots, and once they provide proper glassware that this bar will become one of my Friday night go-to's. In the meantime, there is some work to do.

Salmon, 2017

Things to know before you go:
- It will be expensive. This is a destination, not a spur of the moment type trip.
- It is beautiful. There was a lot of attention to detail put in here.
- It is haunted. If you believe in that sort of thing.
- The food is amazing. Don't believe me? Try it.
- The bar is one of my favorites in Tampa. The Sapphire Lounge, on the other hand, is not.
- The beer selection is really small, however, there is always at least one local favorite.

What's your favorite liquor beverage to order at a bar? Seriously, have you tried this food? Leave a comment below. If you'd like more information on Tampa, check out my YouTube Channel and if you'd like to support my efforts, don't hesitate to buy a shirt from our Spreadshirt. Also, don't be afraid to click subscribe and you'll instantly be notified whenever a new entry is posted. Thank you all and I will see you next time!

One more for good luck, 2017

Comments