It all began with SoHo in London, a neighborhood tucked between Covent Garden (home of the famous opera and “My Fair Lady” setting) and the toney Mayfair. It spread to New York City, south of Houston Street (SoHo) and Hong Kong in the early ‘90s. Acronyms are handy shorthand for neighborhoods and make for an easy marketing handle, especially in our world of texting culture.
Now Long Island has NoFo, Santa has HoHo, and popular culture has MoFo. Tampa jumped on the bandwagon south of Howard (SoHo), so NoHo was sure to follow. Now, north of Howard, on Cass Street, a new food court has sprung up in a historical location. Henry Plant’s railroad crossed the bridge west of the Hillsborough River at the sight of a Tocobaga Indian mound known as “The Junction.” This public meeting place welcomed travelers to exchange goods — and cuisine.
NoHo Junction sits on a piece of Plant’s railroad track and offers multiple gastronomic cultures with an invitation to “Gather. Meet. Eat.”
Franchetti’s Pizza serves a Margherita that looks great when it comes to the table — with slices of fresh mozzarella, thin wedges of tomato on top of piquant sauce, a sprinkling of grated Parmesan, and ample leaves of basil plucked from the garden. The problem is that the dough is undercooked. They’ve got a commercial pizza oven rather than a scorchingly hot wood-fired one to provide flavorful char. Still, the pizza that looks appealing is just doughy and disappointing. We still eat it, if you must know, but it’s not up to the standard of the other partners at the junction.
Taco Train offers the chance to build your own tacos, burritos and quesadillas with fresh ingredients including house-made salsa and guacamole. The guac is a bit one-dimensional, but all the ingredients are fresh and our chicken taco is fine if it’s handcrafted Mexican that you crave.
Royal Palace Asian Express captures some stalwarts from its SoHo restaurant including pan-fried rice bowls, spring rolls and dumplings. We get a chicken and shrimp pad Thai that is standard and satisfying. It neither thrills, nor disappoints. The rice noodle stir fry has the usual peanuts, bean sprouts, scallion and egg and much like the taco, is fresh and tasty.
House-Roasted Deli and Grill also highlights high-quality ingredients. The hot-pressed Cuban is a fine example of the sandwich that Ybor made famous. From the authentic La Segunda bread to the eponymous house-roasted Mojo pork and baked ham, this one has it all. Even our chicken salad on wheat with lettuce and tomato is well-made.
There’s no attempt here to be inventive, just to deliver what you want, as you’d expect.
Sarge’s Smokehouse BBQ is the first immovable arm of the vet-owned food truck army that’s been making its name known since 2013. Everything here is also made fresh in-house every day and it shows. The pulled pork is flavorful even without the ketchup-based sauce that’s not overly sweet. The ribs are tender and smoky. The chunky potato salad and particularly the baked beans — which are both light and dark and dotted with sweet pineapple — are a cut above.
There’s a cold-pressed Junction Juice Bar and hand-dipped ice cream with a bargain $6 banana split. Our pistachio and dark chocolate scoops are simple, but creamily divine.
NoHo Junction is a mom and pop-type operation. On our visit a single chef was in charge of pizza, deli, tacos, and ice cream. That’s stretching things a bit thin. Sarge’s is independent, both in ordering and paying. The Asian Express has its own chef, but all the paperwork is consolidated and low tech. After being given the option to add a tip on the screen at Sarge’s (which is now standard for those restaurants using tablets to swipe and pay), that was not possible when I settled the check for the other partners, so I left a tip in cash.
There are only about 30 seats, including cushy furniture facing a big projection screen, and they’re setup for a lucrative takeout business once the word spreads to the surrounding neighborhood. So gathering to meet and eat is a safe bet; just request your pizza well done.
CL Food Critic Jon Palmer Claridge dines anonymously when reviewing. Check out the explanation of his rating system.
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