TACE Lounge debuts its NOLA-inflected fare Saturday

Tampa's not-for-profit TACE Lounge is all about the food, but also something more.

click to enlarge TACE Lounge will benefit a community leadership center for youths. - Meaghan Habuda
Meaghan Habuda
TACE Lounge will benefit a community leadership center for youths.

Let the good times roll, says LaToya Brown.

She and her husband Greg are ready to laissez les bons temps rouler, New Orleans-style, at their new restaurant, TACE Lounge.

Tampa's latest spot serving up Big Easy eats is set to open at 11 a.m. Saturday. LaToya will manage the eatery's front-of-the-house operations, while Greg handles the back.

The Browns don't have restaurant industry backgrounds, but TACE Lounge won't just be about the food. It's got a mission. 

Housed in the former Shells Seafood Restaurant at 14380 N. Dale Mabry Highway, the restaurant, Gregs says, will donate its profits to a community leadership center he began that offers mentoring and skill-building to youths.

The monthly Christian mixers Brown started hosting in 2010, called The Alternative Christian Experience, established the Youth Empowerment Leadership Center. Brown says he tied the center, and the meetups (hence the restaurant's acronymic name), into his not-for-profit eatery.

Nonprofit food and drink joints aren't unheard of.

There's one in Charlotte, North Carolina, known as The King's Kitchen, and others around the country. However, TACE Lounge is a first for the Bay area, according to Brown.

He says proceeds from the restaurant will go to the center after expenses, such as paying the staff, are covered. 

Executive Chef Tom Mack, who's worked at New Orleans restaurants like Muriel's Jackson Square for the last 15 years, will head TACE Lounge's kitchen, doling out lunch, dinner and Sunday brunch. He relocated to Tampa for the position about a month ago.

The menu will include crawfish étouffée, veg-friendly collard greens and red beans 'n' rice, po' boys, brioche biscuits and jambalaya. Sauces, stocks, Creole seasonings and the like are made in house, and Mack says there will be "different vegetarian options for everything."

The 100-seat eatery — with a "refined but eclectic, rustic feel," as Brown describes it — will serve a limited lineup of bar snacks after the kitchen closes at 10 p.m. Fresh juices, Abita brews, house wines and signature cocktails round off the beverage offerings.

"We'll refine the menu as we go along," Brown says.

With an emphasis on service and friendly staffers, the restaurant will host a number of events throughout the week.

Saturdays will bring different types of jazz (Brown says he's a big fan of the Dixieland style), while jam sessions on Thursdays may draw open-mic artists or bands. His mixers will continue every first Friday of the month.

When this reporter visited last week, the restaurant's walls were mostly bare. The Browns plan to decorate with N'awlins photographs, Mardi Gras masks and the city's street signs. Street lamps already hang above tables in the main dining room.

Brown says opening a restaurant has been challenging, but that he's never felt like giving up. Curious patrons of the nearby Starbucks have asked about the new spot, too.

"We don't have something like this in the area with live music," Brown says.

The restaurant's official grand opening is planned for 6 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 1. It operates from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesday through Friday; 11 a.m. to 1 a.m. Saturday; and 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday.

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