Pub grub: The Little Lamb brings "downtown without the drive" to Clearwater

The new strip-mall gastropub specializes in out-there eats.

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click to enlarge Offering lunch and dinner, the 38-seat Little Lamb Gastropub has launched in Clearwater. - Shelbi Hayes
Shelbi Hayes
Offering lunch and dinner, the 38-seat Little Lamb Gastropub has launched in Clearwater.

James Renew's dream of opening his own restaurant fell into his lap.

One of the vendors that serviced Omni Orlando Resort at ChampionsGate tipped off the chef — who got a taste of the world through launching casual garden-style restaurants in the 90s and 2000s, plus working banquet-style dining experiences around the U.S. and in Sydney, Australia — that a Clearwater AC servicing company, Phi International Inc., was looking to become a silent business partner for restaurants.

“It was dumb luck,” Renew said.

And just like that, The Little Lamb Gastropub was born.

The executive chef and owner drew inspiration for The Little Lamb's name from his daughters Lily and Lila, making use of their double L's. The new gastropub, opened two weeks ago, is meant to capture "downtown without the drive." It's located in a Clearwater strip mall at 2475 N. McMullen Booth Road, making it an easier drive for residents on the west side of the bay than, say, Seminole Heights or downtown Tampa.

click to enlarge Executive chef and owner James Renew fries venison corn puppies for the bar. - Shelbi Hayes
Shelbi Hayes
Executive chef and owner James Renew fries venison corn puppies for the bar.

Renew enlisted pastry chef Kyrie Rotolo, whom he met at Omni, to add more dimension to the Little Lamb menu. Rotolo trained at Orlando's Le Cordon Bleu and has worked in local restaurants like Edison: Food+Drink Lab and Mermaid Tavern. She says her desserts are meant to balance sweetness with “out-there and muted flavors.”

According to Renew, he did about 85 percent of the restaurant build, from the design to stylistic burn marks on the walls to the concrete bar. To complement the space's wood and metal accents, a friend made his idea of pipe-based wall lamps come alive. The point was to keep the gastropub's look “simple and basic, not flashy.”

The Little Lamb is quite small, with 38 seats and an open kitchen. The chef-owner says he wanted to be able to easily interact with patrons and recommend dishes, especially since the bill of fare could be new to some people.

click to enlarge Renew created burn marks in the wood as a stylistic touch. Featuring steel and copper hardware, the gastropub's mixed metals are also essential. - Shelbi Hayes
Shelbi Hayes
Renew created burn marks in the wood as a stylistic touch. Featuring steel and copper hardware, the gastropub's mixed metals are also essential.

Featured items include arctic char, farro risotto, poutine, duck, venison, lamb shank, and a s'mores tart with charred espresso marshmallows (which are like a piece of Rotolo’s heart because the crispy 'mallows are “straight out of her childhood”). They're switching up the menu and using “whatever [they] can get [their] hands on that’s off the beaten path” to prevent boredom in the kitchen. 

Renew doesn’t claim to be local farm-to-table. He says he finds it hard to trust markets in the area since some source from larger markets that aren't local. Plus: “I would have to hire a person just to source locally.” But he does use offerings from Sammy’s Seafood in St. Petersburg, as well as high-quality ingredients, including antibiotic-free chickens FedExed from Bell & Evans.

Because The Little Lamb is so small, the gastropub can't have a full liquor license. A variety of beer and wine are offered, though, and the staff is currently undergoing sake training, which will allow them to create cocktails without the use of spirits.

In Brandon, Renew and his silent business partner are working on another restaurant concept, a modern smokehouse called Black and Red. The chef-owner trained with pitmaster Wayne Mueller, a Texas barbecue scene staple, for a few weeks and also designed a couple of smokers with him for the project. The smokehouse will be a much larger venue, about 8,000 square feet. It's slated to launch by summer 2017.

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