Character is key: More on that collab between Bodega and Mandarin Hide

Here's what to expect from the popular St. Pete duo in Seminole Heights.

click to enlarge In Seminole Heights, Bodega's menu is set to remain relatively the same as what's offered in St. Pete. - Hype Group
Hype Group
In Seminole Heights, Bodega's menu is set to remain relatively the same as what's offered in St. Pete.

What happens when two St. Petersburg staples fall for a Tampa property with lots of character? An expansion — and partnership — across the bay.

At least it did for Bodega and The Mandarin Hide, in case you missed CL's last update.

As co-owner Ryan Griffin tells it, the minds behind downtown St. Pete's Mandarin Hide, which opened in 2010, had been looking to launch a specialty cocktail bar in Cigar City for a number of years, as many of their patrons regularly make the drive from there. Griffin eventually found the perfect location across from Fodder & Shine (soon to be the new headquarters of The Refinery) in Seminole Heights, a neighborhood whose vibe and people he says he digs.

But Bodega owners George and Debbie Sayegh, turns out, had also spent quite some time scouting sites for their EDGE District restaurant's second outpost in Tampa. Griffin reached out to the husband-and-wife team (who are big fans of SH as well) about the good-size property, and they saw the vision: a shared space where Mandarin Hide — excuse me, Mandarin Heights — and Bodega can simultaneously do their things on-site.

"I just pulled into the parking lot and said, 'This is it,'" Debbie recalled.

Finding a location with character was important for both parties. Luckily, the future home of the popular St. Pete duo at 5901 N. Florida Ave. — an indoor-outdoor collaboration that allows guests to flow from the cocktail bar to the restaurant with ease — is an "unusual building," according to Debbie, with a tropical oasis feel fit for spending time outside, which is sort of the point. (There's even some culinary history behind the place — the property once housed Honduran restaurant El Rincon Catracho, and before that the venerable Viva La Frida.)

Mostly enclosed by a courtyard that blocks the hustle and bustle of the street, the open-air Bodega plans to feature two shuffleboard courts that elevate its family-friendly atmosphere, as well as a rum-meets-fully-operational-juice bar where endless creativity abounds. The restaurant's bar will incorporate the featured spirit into any freshly squeezed juice; imagine driving down the roads of Puerto Rico, Debbie says, and someone adding rum to your pineapple drink.

click to enlarge St. Pete's Mandarin Hide opened eight years ago. - Shanna Gillette
Shanna Gillette
St. Pete's Mandarin Hide opened eight years ago.

Juices are a bonus for Mandarin Heights, too. Expect innovative cocktails fashioned with Bodega's house-made bounty throughout what Griffin describes as a hip, intimate bar area. With a smaller footprint than Bodega, Mandarin Heights is focusing on a laboratory that embraces experimentation with new menus and drinks.

"In the design, you'll see some things that have an homage to Mandarin Hide," Griffin said, "but kind of a different vibe and look."

As for the Latin market food of Bodega No. 2, the lineup — listing memorable sandwiches and platos served with black beans and rice, among other items — is set to remain relatively the same as what's offered in the EDGE. However, SH guests can look forward to new dishes rolling out after the doors open.

Bodega's flagship does great evening business (and Tampa will likely follow suit), but the restaurant is also a hardcore lunch place, which is why the Sayeghs are excited to provide another lunchtime option to the SH community. And Mandarin Heights hopes to do what it can to bring a different experience to the neighborhood in the form of a cocktail-forward watering hole.

Neither have pinned down a launch date, but springtime is their target.

Expanding elsewhere locally isn't really a priority for Mandarin Hide or Bodega. According to Griffin — who says he and his partners are working on a restaurant project in St. Pete that isn't Mandarin Hide-related (specifically, a fresh fish house with nautical cocktails) — finding the right opportunity, and being a part of something special, is what the bar is about.

George shared similar sentiments. Debuting Bodegas all over the region isn't in their master plan — they just wanted to come to Tampa.

Speaking of, are he and Debbie worried about those purists who might question their celebrated take on the Cuban sandwich, which has foregone mustard and salami since 2013, in Tampa Cuban territory? Nope.

"I love it. I can't wait for the conversation," George said. "That conversation happens all the time in St. Pete, trust me. We do a great sandwich."


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