Hops to it: The Eatery isn't dishing your average array of beer-drinking bites

An in-house food menu with crazy-good flavors and generous portions adds to Brew Bus's appeal.

click to enlarge The Eatery's braised brisket sliders feature grass-fed beef, smoked blue cheese butter, horseradish cream and caramelized onions on brioche with a side of fries. - Meaghan Habuda
Meaghan Habuda
The Eatery's braised brisket sliders feature grass-fed beef, smoked blue cheese butter, horseradish cream and caramelized onions on brioche with a side of fries.

I've had OK food from brewpubs in destination cities like Denver and Seattle. But the new project at Brew Bus Brewing’s Seminole Heights terminal The Eatery is not to be missed. Eatery chef Kasia Lavigne, a classically trained chef who previously worked at Tampa's Sacred Pepper, has brought crazy-good flavor combinations, generous portions and a penchant for presentation to the in-house restaurant.

During a media event Thursday night, CL got a taste of Lavigne’s menu, infused with signature Brew Bus beer and local ingredients, that lists everything from pork two ways and polenta sticks to poutine with an egg on top. Served on dried palm leaf plateware, eight count 'em, eight  items are dedicated to vegetarians (only one is labeled vegan, FYI), which is still pretty rare at your average dining spot, and they're just as exciting as the meat-eater options.

Something tells me you're not gonna see compressed lavender on a brewery's food lineup anywhere else.

click to enlarge Brew Bus opened its terminal, brewery and new restaurant in the former home of Florida Avenue Brewing Co. - Meaghan Habuda
Meaghan Habuda
Brew Bus opened its terminal, brewery and new restaurant in the former home of Florida Avenue Brewing Co.

Shishito peppers, vegan falafel balls (fresh jimaca-mango slaw, Carribean vinaigrette, barbecue glaze, wasabi drizzle), caramelized beer nuts, and a power kale salad (compressed lavender, watermelon, cucumber, tomatoes, feta, caramelized nuts, guava vinaigrette) are among the plates that veg-heads can enjoy. Omnivores choose from eats like the Mah Belly poutine (hand-cut fries, pork belly, bacon jam, chili garlic sauce, cheese curds, wasabi cream, cilantro, red onions) and Kung Pao Chicken Wings (Sichuan pepper sauce, chopped roasted peanuts, fresh cilantro, ginger) served with rice puffs.

The Birdy sandwich is Anthony Derby's go-to. The Brew Bus president and founder says customer experience led to the opening of The Eatery more than anything else.

Brew Bus noticed a couple things: People would come into the tasting room for one or two drinks before moving onto the next place, and riders on their bus tours would say, “I wish you provided something for us to snack on.”

“It’s just not economical for us to do that,” Derby said of the bus snacks. “We weren’t using that back office, [so] we converted it into a kitchen. It's like the perfect use of space. They can eat here, have a beer here, before they go.”

The still-expanding operation doesn’t define itself as a brewpub, though.

“We're a brewery first, and then we're just trying to complement our beer with food.”

click to enlarge Glorious Indian-spiced Japanese eggplant bites. - Meaghan Habuda
Meaghan Habuda
Glorious Indian-spiced Japanese eggplant bites.

Going on Day 10, The Eatery isn’t doing too shabby. According to Derby, beer sales have gone up at least 35 percent (that’s without taking food into account), adding that his friends, the owners of South Florida-based Funky Buddha Brewery, saw a similar increase in beer sales when they launched a “craft kitchen” inside their Oakland Park taproom a year or so ago.

“That's kind of where I — not where I got the idea  but I saw how successful it was for them, so I figured something here would do really well,” he said.

My dining mate and I had a hard time deciding what to order, but we went with the Japanese eggplant bites and trio of braised brisket sliders. Flash-fried eggplant, featuring nori sprinkles, chickpea papadum and sweet basil chili sauce, arrives piled high with Indian goodness, while a small-but-mighty component brings each slider patty of Providence Cattle Company grass-fed beef together: smoked blue cheese butter. (Say, what?) The butter's creamy decadence mixes with horseradish cream and caramelized onions between house-baked brioche buns.

For me, the best part about the menu is that suggested beer pairings accompany every dish. We matched our sliders with the Brew Bus Double-Decker English-Style Porter, for example, and the eggplant with the Florida Avenue Brewing Co. IPA, a beer that Brew Bus continues to produce alongside other rebranded Florida Ave favorites.

Using a fresh logo and new recipes, Brew Bus has scaled back Florida Ave’s statewide distribution to the Tampa Bay area. Derby says launching another brand might not be too far off into the future, either.

click to enlarge The Juicy Sloot Single Hopped Mosaic IPA, First Thing Coffee IPA and Fruit of the (Tasting) Room Passion Fruit IPA are popular choices. - Meaghan Habuda
Meaghan Habuda
The Juicy Sloot Single Hopped Mosaic IPA, First Thing Coffee IPA and Fruit of the (Tasting) Room Passion Fruit IPA are popular choices.

“I think we want to do another brand as well, like something maybe Seminole Heights-esque. That's all I can say, but I want to do something that showcases our home base in the neighborhood itself,” he told CL. “Maybe something this year or in early 2018. I mean, we have the capacity and the facility to do it.”

Brew Bus wants to put the quality canning line it’s invested in to use, as well as two 60-barrel tanks that’ll arrive on Monday. The additions will join the 15,000-square-foot facility’s 40-barrel tanks, increasing the Tampa brewery’s capacity from 5,000 barrels to about 7,000.

“Not that we need them right now. But there's sometimes where we make You're My Boy, Blue! or Florida Avenue Ale and we run out right away. This will allow us to keep maybe two to three weeks on hand, so we can just send it out as needed,” the founder said.

The next phase of Brew Bus's growth in Seminole Heights includes building an on-site event space accessible from the tasting room, plus an outdoor patio. The Eatery, which wants to ease into weekday lunch hours, is partnering with UberEATS on delivery next week.

“We’re gonna do that lunch no matter what, and then if we can sustain the numbers just through UberEATS, we can stay open for lunch,” Derby said. “That’s the plan, but realistically, mid-January, February, hopefully.”

Scroll to read more Food News articles
Join the Creative Loafing Tampa Bay Press Club

Local journalism is information. Information is power. And we believe everyone deserves access to accurate independent coverage of their community and state.
Help us keep this coverage going with a one-time donation or an ongoing membership pledge.

Newsletters

Join Creative Loafing Tampa Bay Newsletters

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.

We welcome readers to submit letters regarding articles and content in Creative Loafing Tampa Bay. Letters should be a minimum of 150 words, refer to content that has appeared on Creative Loafing Tampa Bay, and must include the writer's full name, address, and phone number for verification purposes. No attachments will be considered. Writers of letters selected for publication will be notified via email. Letters may be edited and shortened for space.

Email us at [email protected]