Restaurant review: Ebisu Sushi Shack makes you want to be a regular

In Seminole Heights, the leisurely Ebisu's sushi and Japanese eats keep it interesting.

Ebisu Sushi Shack

3.5 out of 5 stars

5116 N. Nebraska Ave., Tampa. Appetizers: $2.25-$6; sushi: $1.50-$14; dessert: $4. 813-252-6393;

Seminole Heights has long been a gastronomic petri dish. It's home to a few of Tampa Bay's most notable culinary leaders, and in the past year, the neighborhood's added two of my Food Issue choices for 10 Best Bargain Restaurants. Now, with the opening of Ebisu Sushi Shack in a welcoming renovated bungalow on Nebraska Avenue, there's a mom-and-pop shop that's the sushi yin to Ichicoro Ramen's yang.

Japanese chef Akemi Simmons and her husband, co-owner and "long time gaijin" Ron Simmons envision an izakaya where a "part of 'Old school' Japan lives on." In a Facebook post last week, they announced that in addition to being a Pokéstop, they've added a sushi assistant to reduce wait times and enable takeout phone orders. Soon they'll expand the menu to add fried protein dishes such as Japanese karaage chicken and agedashi tofu.

The renovated space is a relaxed neighborhood hangout, with a shiny corrugated-metal sushi bar, comfy tables with a green chenille banquette and wonderful Japanese B-movie posters that wrap the room. I know, for me, eating sushi with Godzilla standing guard is most comforting.

click to enlarge The Seminole Heights mom-and-pop is a welcoming renovated bungalow on Nebraska Avenue. - Chip Weiner
Chip Weiner
The Seminole Heights mom-and-pop is a welcoming renovated bungalow on Nebraska Avenue.

We start with a smoky bowl of miso soup, dotted with small chunks of tofu and wisps of wakame seaweed. It's a satisfying starter, as is the seaweed salad. The greens are nicely dressed with just enough acidity to perk up your taste buds. It helps me practice my chopstick skills, but I end up chastened by a companion whom I insist also pick up the sticks. After a few false starts and frustration coordinating the two sticks so that the tips act like pincers, my bubble is burst. My tablemate successfully attacks the seaweed with two hands and ends up being just as effective as I — since the tiny green strands interlock and render practiced, one-handed chopstick technique superfluous.

We decide to sample a few of the sushi rolls from different categories. The veggie special is a visual and taste sensation. The secret is that the regular veggie roll's center of avocado, spinach, cucumber and carrot is enhanced by asparagus and mango. The colors are bright and arresting, and the flavor-texture mashup really pops. It's a wonderful example of how good a vegetarian sushi roll can be.

The classic Florida roll is all about lush texture by combining tuna and salmon with seductive avocado, plus cream cheese and a sparkling orange roe topping. It's a distinct contrast from the fried roll, which has some similar contents (salmon, avocado, cream cheese) but adds crunch, warmth and spicy mayo for an entirely different taste sensation. Though I find the flavor less assertive, a dining companion proclaims this one as a favorite. As with most food, it's personal. What's nice is that chef Akemi presents diners with interesting options.

From the specials list, we choose Orange Sunrise, a spicy yellowtail and cucumber roll draped with thin slices of luxurious salmon. Topped with lemon zest and some of the jewel roe, it's then finished with ponzu sauce. The lemon is bright and almost shocking, but the downside is the citrus that overwhelms the notable fish and roll, knocking them out of balance.

We create our own nigiri platter to sample a range of fish. Glistening slices of tuna, salmon, yellowtail, octopus, tobiko roe, and my "I-really-want-you-to-try-this" eel are nicely presented. I tend to skip the wasabi to savor the fish and save the fresh ginger as a palate cleanser. These two condiments are flavorful yet can obscure what you're really paying for. I'm also a fan of nigiri rice, which adds texture and a touch of acidity, so I rarely order the rice-less sashimi. Ebisu's rice is loose, making it a bit difficult for a less-than-expert chopsticks user. I'd like a tad more acidity to brighten each bite, too. While I enjoy the platter immensely, I have eaten a bunch of sushi lately and am more attuned to nuances.

click to enlarge Salmon, lemon zest and roe top the Orange Sunrise, a spicy yellowtail and cucumber roll. - Chip Weiner
Chip Weiner
Salmon, lemon zest and roe top the Orange Sunrise, a spicy yellowtail and cucumber roll.

For dessert, the lineup's limited to that quintessential Japanese sweet: mochi-covered green tea ice cream. These are not made in-house, and that's not unusual. The glutinous rice covering makes the macha confections convenient just to pop in your mouth for a sweet finish. And unless you've got an insatiable dessert fetish, your table can share a single order.

Ebisu is a quintessential neighborhood mom-and-pop. On our visit, there's a single server stretched to the max, who's friendly and attentive. The pace is leisurely, and although the restaurant made a "now serving beer" Facebook post Aug. 10, it's crossed off our menu, alongside seven of nine small plates. They admit to being overly ambitious in these early days. However, my question, in this era of easy desktop publishing, is why not print a set of menus depicting the current offerings instead of telling customers so many items are unavailable? What I don't know doesn't hurt me.

Regardless, Ebisu is the kind of place that makes you want to be a regular. Where else in the 'hood can you hang with Godzilla?

Jon Palmer Claridge dines anonymously when reviewing. Check out the explanation of his rating system.


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Jon Palmer Claridge

Jon Palmer Claridge—Tampa Bay's longest running, and perhaps last anonymous, food critic—has spent his life following two enduring passions, theatre and fine dining. He trained as a theatre professional (BFA/Acting; MFA/Directing) while Mastering the Art of French Cooking from Julia Child as an avocation. He acted...
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