Jamal Wilson’s vision for the Hall on Franklin is unique for Tampa Bay dining. You’re greeted by a smiling hostess who shows you to a table, bar or comfortable sofa. You’re then given a board with menu tabs representing a group of diverse restaurants before ordering from a server. It’s an upscale spin on a food court and has clearly found a niche. When I arrive to explore the latest tenant, the joint is jumping. I’m reminded of the sleek design and the beautiful bar from my previous review. Next to the huge screen displaying the baseball playoffs, is a handsome glass front wine cellar holding “The Collection” — but there’s only a single Italian wine by the glass (from Sicily) and surprisingly no Chianti to match Fork & Gallina’s cuisine. Luckily, the red wine is cellar temperature (55 F-60 F degrees) which makes me very happy. Reds show much better with some contrast; most are served too warm.
We dive into the menu with avocado bruschetta, which is straightforward. First of all, remember that “ch” in Italian is pronounced with a hard “k” (Chianti, pinocchio, and zucchini) so please say “brus-KET-tuh.” Don’t give in to the urge to dumb it down, but also it’s OK to refrain from trying to sound Italian and waving your hands around like you’re dining in an SNL skit. Despite a mound of diced tomatoes and a generous balsamic drizzle, the bruschetta seems under-seasoned. It’s fine, rather than popping on the palate.
Caesar salad endures. This dish is a classic because of a unique combination of flavors. I learned to make it when I first started cooking and traditionally it never fails. The coddled egg adds real lushness to the emulsion, anchovies bring briny essence and meaty umami, garlic and Dijon mustard perk up your taste buds while fresh lemon keeps the flavors bright. The final addition of a luxury ingredient, Parmigiano Reggiano, makes the combo soar. The homemade croutons add additional crunch to the crisp romaine lettuce which is, of course, the basis for the salad. Surprisingly, nearly all of the memorable elements are lacking here; this is a sad, little dish apart from the snow of cheese which sits upon the lettuce.
Most of Fork & Gallina’s main menu choices are casual — wraps, sandwiches or kebabs. We opt for the lone pasta dish, spaghetti and meatballs, to see how the kitchen handles this traditional stalwart. The answer is quite well, it’s the bright spot of the visit. The spaghetti is perfectly al dente, the tomato sauce is fresh and bright (if a little salty), and the meatballs are light and flavorful with balanced herbs. If only everything else met this standard.
The Margherita pizza is Sicilian style, which means thick dough. The long rectangular focaccia crust is light and airy and while the tomato sauce is pure, there’s lots of cheese and no fresh basil (unlike the mouthwatering photos taken by CL’s estimable food photographer, Chip Weiner). It just strikes my table as cheesy bread from a chain and a waste of the beautiful imported Italian pizza oven which usually imparts a delightful char to the crust.
Early social media posts from the August opening feature zeppoles, those wonderful, fried Italian donuts. Sadly, they’ve now disappeared from the menu. Never fear, we grab a sweet treat from Bake’n Babes, a soft chocolate chip cookie that’s vegan, yet delectable. Apart from the pasta, I’d be hard-pressed to recommend that you partake of Fork & Gallina’s Mediterranean offerings. Luckily, there are other menu tabs with plentiful charm.
CL Food Critic Jon Palmer Claridge dines anonymously when reviewing. Check out the explanation of his rating system.
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