Ask the Locals: Jeannie Pierola, inventive chef

click to enlarge Ask the Locals: Jeannie Pierola, inventive chef - Photo by Heidi Kurpiela
Photo by Heidi Kurpiela
Ask the Locals: Jeannie Pierola, inventive chef

If Tampa Bay had a cooking reality show, Jeannie Pierola would lord over the judge’s table. Not only is she one of the area’s most revered chefs, she’s a no-nonsense, self-taught cook who can just as easily discuss the culinary merits of a $100 chateaubriand steak as she can a $5 cheeseburger.

Pierola is the chef and proprietor of edison: food + drink lab, an inventive and unpretentious South Tampa restaurant that prides itself on its simple kitchen formula: product + technique + creativity². The restaurant, which opened in 2012, has garnered high praise from foodies and ordinary eaters alike. In January it landed at the top of Tampa Bay Times food critic Laura Reiley’s list of top 50 Tampa Bay restaurants.

The 52-year-old Tampa resident grew up on Anna Maria Island, where she spent her childhood fishing and eating flat top burgers at her favorite hometown watering hole, Duffy’s Tavern.

She spent 10 years in the local (and national) spotlight as the executive chef at Bern’s Steak House and its sister restaurant SideBern’s, where she earned four semi-finalist nominations from the James Beard Foundation –– the Oscars of food awards. When she left the steakhouse in 2007, her fans followed.

After spending a few years consulting and experimenting with creative restaurant concepts (pop-up kitchen events and the short-lived Knife & Co.), she opened edison, an everyday gastropub that serves everything from foie gras to peanut butter-and-jelly ice cream.

The one restaurant where she could eat for the rest of her life: Duffy’s Tavern on Anna Maria Island. “Their cheeseburger zooms me back to being 11 years old on a banana-seat bike. I had my first legal beer with Miss Duffy. That to me is a true local experience.”

The restaurant her friend just opened that deserves a plug: Tide Tables in Cortez.
“It’s my high school buddy Bobby Woodson’s place on the edge of Cortez Road. I just had the best grouper sandwich I’ve had in 20 years. They clean the grouper right there on the dock. It was seasoned just right.”

The one salad in Tampa you should eat: Columbia Restaurant’s 1905 Salad. “Everyone who comes to Tampa should have that salad. It’s one of the greatest expressions of Ybor. Everyone in Ybor or West Tampa grew up with some version of that salad. It’s the perfect salad.”

The deli sandwich that’s a cut above the rest: Bánh mì at Saigon Deli. “It’s the best $3 you’ll ever spend. It’s ridiculously delicious. Everyone has had some kind of a mixed meat sandwich on crunchy bread, but Saigon Deli does it the best.”

The closest you’ll get to old school Florida cooking: Sea Hut in Palmetto. “They fry their seafood in that old Florida cracker meal crust. It has that salty sweetness like a buttery Ritz cracker. That’s how the old Floridians used to fry their fish, in crushed up crackers.”

The red meat that’s so good it tempts vegetarians: Prime Peppered Steak at Euphemia Haye on Longboat Key. “It’s killer. It’s legendary.”

The restaurant that’ll pick you up when you’re feeling down: Indochinois in Tampa. “If I’m not feeling well or I don’t care how I look, this Vietnamese French place does the trick. I just slide in there, sit at the bar and eat classic home-cooked dishes. They do a great pho and papaya salad.”

The dive that’ll cure any hangover: Acapulco Mexican Grocery. “They do the best pork carnitas in town. They use tons of onions, cilantro and great salsa. Even the corn tortillas are made by hand. That’s my go-to place when I’m in the mood to consume.”

The steak you can’t get anywhere else: Chateaubriand at Bern’s Steak House. “I would be remiss if I didn’t mention it. It’s the best in the business; expert execution. It’s textbook delicious.”

The event that everyone can’t stop talking about: Gasparilla Music Festival. “My staff just raves and raves about it. I went to it last year. It was pretty awesome. Anything that goes down at Curtis Hixon Park is bound to be beautiful. The Hillsborough River from downtown is the perfect Tampa backdrop.”

The salon that will make you feel like queen for a day: The Grand Beauty Spa. “It’s a really luxurious hair and wellness spa. They do all kinds of treatments that I sadly don’t have time for. I just go to get a fantastic haircut from [owner] Carmen Sargeant.”

The activity every local should do once: Fish for your supper. “I used to fish right off Beer Can Island between Longboat Key and Bradenton Beach. There are a lot of fishing holes in the bay where you can catch snook, strawberry grouper and speckled trout. It’s such a full-on experience to catch something so fresh and delicious.”


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