3 out of 5 stars
Appetizers: $5-$19; entrees: $14-$18 (Market Price); No Desserts; beer/wine/cocktails: $4-$12
304 W. 7th Ave., Tampa. 813-328-3910; stonesthrowtampa.com
It’s hard to believe that five years have gone by since the Gozmart clan opened Ulele in the Tampa Water Works building first erected in 1903. Just north of I-275, as the Hillsborough River bends to the west, Tampa Heights’ premiere greenspace was an undeveloped area that has proven very ripe for adaptive reuse.
As if there weren’t already enough choices provided by the splendid Hall on Franklin and drool-inducing Heights Public Market neighborhood food hub, Armature Works exploded with sophisticated dining options. First it was the southern-inspired chophouse, Steelbach. Then that was followed by the M. Bird rooftop and the 2019 BOTB best new restaurant, Oak & Ola — which was the reader’s choice, as well as my critic’s pick.
Now, down by the riverside, just a stone’s throw away is a casual outdoor cocktail joint on a raised slab lined with umbrella-sprouting picnic tables and a handsome U-shaped bar tucked under a small overhang. It’s a pleasant space reachable by the Pirate Water Taxi (stop 16) or just a short stroll from ample parking.
Stones Throw’s “hold fast, have fun” is an apt motto for this waterfront cocktail playground. There’s a small selection of beer and wine and a large stash of spirits for you to “pick your poison.” They stock 21 agave (tequila), 9 whisk(e)y, 11 vodka, 18 gin and four rum choices — most under $15 but topping out at $29 for a Don Julio 1942 tequila shot. Add two bucks, and they’ll make your favorite into one of a trio of cocktails with fun names like “I’m Sick of These Dolphins” or “Zé Crazy Eyes” where they’re offering Campari, pineapple, cucumber or fresh basil to tempt your palate.
The main cocktail list focuses on a Gintonique trio (built on Q’s spectacular tonic). I’m not sure of the significance but the G&T offerings sound serious: “The Statesman,” “The Debutante” or “The Scholar”? They have interesting combos and colorful garnishes with citrus slices, fresh berries and herbs.
Then, there’s “Spritz & Giggles.” I wholeheartedly agree with the menu‘s proclamation that “bubbles make everything better.” There’s also a trio of cocktails here teasing the promise that we all should “enjoy a spritz and raise your spirits.” The “Wimbledon Spritz,” for example, is a Pimm’s No. 1 variation with strawberries and sparkling rosé. If you don’t have any Brits in your circle, you need to add Pimm’s to your cocktail list.
Most everything is served in plastic (including the cocktails) or cardboard. It’s not inappropriate for the casual, outdoor vibe; just be forewarned. Also, check the weather report because there’s not much cover should any precipitation rise above a drizzle.
As to food, tots and tentacles is a nice idea. It combines two favorite bar snacks into a satisfying mashup. Golden fried calamari gets up close and personal with crispy tater tots. It’s all bathed in a light and creamy piquant “bang bang“ sauce and dotted with ring slices of pickled yellow and red peppers. A chiffonade of fresh cilantro adds a contrasting herbal note and, of course, chunks of fresh lime are poised for you to add a touch of bright citrus to taste. I must say, we all kept coming back as we were slurping our cocktails.
The fish spread is a pedestrian, chunky amalgam of smoked mahi topped with house giardiniera, those wonderful pickled veggies of Italian descent. The paper-lined enameled tray includes the de rigueur cello-wrapped packs of club crackers and lemon wedges. As with almost all other seafood, a spritz from a wedge of fresh lemon adds zip.
The chilled peel-and-eat shrimp are perfectly cooked and not a bit rubbery. They come with two small cups to dip for flavor accents. One is a standard spicy cocktail sauce, the other a thin, tart Key lime mustard that’s not too spicy.
Moving beyond snacks, your first choice is raw bar oysters on the half shell, which change daily based on availability. Those don’t really reflect skill in the kitchen, so we focus on the fresh catch at market price that lets you choose a fish or chicken preparation (fried, blackened, or grilled), which is then put on a bun, in a bowl, or a taco duo.
We opt to put the seared lane snapper fillet ($18) on a toasted sesame bun with lettuce, tomato and preserved-lemon mayo. The fish is superb; it’s a substantial fillet perfectly grilled and scrumptious.
Blackened mahi ($14) is the basis for our two tacos which load flour tortillas with beautiful chunks of fresh fish garnished with sweet pineapple pico, chipotle crema, avocado and pickled red onion chunks and a sprinkling of fresh cilantro leaves.
The third option is a bowl with brown rice and black beans; I opt instead to try the lobster roll for my main dish even though it’s listed under snacks. At $19, it’s cheaper than most of the rolls around the bay which are now creeping into the $20-$23 range. Those, however, include fruit or fries as an accompaniment. This one sports a huge piece of claw meat tossed with mayo, lemon and tarragon on a small brioche bun garnished with dill crunchies. It’s disappointing because it truly is a snack sized treat. Lobster is a pricey ingredient, but the fresh catch options are more ample and satisfying.
Still, you can’t argue with the relaxed waterfront vibe. The staff is attentive and friendly, and where else can you slurp on “The Debutante” while you snack on tots and tentacles?
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