Asian fusion lounge Caracara and its kid sister, Taco Baby, coming to Dunedin

Best part? They both serve tacos.

click to enlarge In Dunedin, Taco Baby's specialty will be a little different than what Caracara serves. - Courtesy of NINA Hospitality Co.
Courtesy of NINA Hospitality Co.
In Dunedin, Taco Baby's specialty will be a little different than what Caracara serves.

Traci and Kurt Ferguson brought the Old World street food of Coattails Kitchen to Woodwright Brewing Co. last year. But now, the wife-and-husband team behind NINA Hospitality Co. have a couple of new downtown Dunedin eateries up their sleeves.

The Fergusons are joining forces with Shane Bittaker to add a quick-serve taqueria called Taco Baby and Caracara, an Asian fusion lounge, to the NINA family. The trio aim to debut Caracara in late February, but the opening of Taco Baby could take place around then, too.

“We’d like to get Taco Baby open first,” Traci said, “but it kinda seems more and more like they’re gonna open at the same time.”

Bittaker has worked in the restaurant business for more than three decades. He was with the Bon Appétit Group for about 25 years and previously owned Clearwater Beach bistro Cork N Brew. After selling Cork N Brew in September, Bittaker was looking for something to do. A mutual friend suggested he meet Kurt and Traci, so he did — and they hit it off.

“It kind of went super quick, because we were talking about a long-term plan and then doing something, and this location became available,” Bittaker told CL. “We were like, ‘Yes. This is what we need to do.’ And we just kind of got together, and we made it happen.”

Partly drawing upon a type of navel orange for its name, Caracara occupies 730 Broadway, where breakfast and lunch hasn’t seemed to stick (the building previously housed Broadway Kitchen and Deli, and before that, Downtown Dunedin Deli & Grill). The 1,600-square-foot lounge with 100 or so seats — which includes the about-500-square-foot outdoor patio — will introduce some different grub to the Stirling Commons complex: tapas and tacos.

Coattails was inspired by the Fergusons’ travels, and Caracara is an extension of that.

“It’s gonna be Southeast Asian meets Mexican, sort of some equatorial fusion in there,” Traci said.

So far, her menu for this cross between a restaurant and a bar showcases Korean, Indian and Thai influences, in addition to what she calls “weird, strange brainchildren food.” Four or five types of a la carte tacos and tapas, like the shrimp doughnut, are planned.

Traci and Kurt have also been using Coattails to test out dishes for Caracara; falafel bao and “crabocado nachos” were big hits.

“We really want to have a lot of shared plates,” she said. “It’s like, come here, enjoy, socialize.”

Boutique wines and a local and international list of draft and bottled beer drive the lounge’s fun beverage program. Wine-based cocktails aren’t forgotten, either, and the same goes for the rotating selection of house-made agua fresca.

What’s more, the partners expect to dedicate two taps to Dunedin Brewery, owned by Traci’s family, and at least one of those will pour an exclusive collaboration beer from Caracara and the oldest craft brewing operation in Florida. They want to offer a lighter brew with citrus flavor (because of the name and all) that appeals to everyone.

Caracara will mostly accommodate the nighttime crowd, with the exception of brunch on weekends. As such, the lounge’s vibe is designed to feel like a contemporary Western restaurant in Southeast Asia.

The clean yet warm aesthetic incorporates splashes of gray, peacock-colored Art Deco booths from an antique mall in south St. Petersburg, a crafty faux marble bar top and dim lighting, juxtaposing them with live-edge tables and plants. Lots of plants.

“The three of us have spent a good amount of time in Southeast Asia, and that’s kind of where we’re drawing our inspiration,” Kurt said.

The hostess stand has a particularly interesting story. According to Kurt, all of its repurposed wood, besides the cedar on the front, hails from Dunedin. A local guy with a knack for salvaging, Ray Bouchard, used parts of a camphor tree and a mimosa tree (Kurt and Traci found the latter in Scottsdale Park) that fell during Hurricane Irma for the one-of-a-kind piece of furniture, as well as pecan wood with funky striations.

The stand now hugs a corner of Caracara, inviting guests in.

In the back of the lounge is the garden room with additional seating. The space will feature those aforementioned plants and the same tables and chairs as the patio, aka the garden, to create a connection between both environments.

“We wanted to be the best place for a date, so dim but comfortable,” Bittaker said. “Not uppity really, but a place where anyone would feel good to come.”

The partners will eventually expand the patio to a little over 800 square feet. After all, it’s meant to be more of a social experience.

Around the corner from Caracara and just steps from the marina, Taco Baby specializes in exactly what its name suggests. But get this — the place will occupy an old ATM vestibule at 235 Main St.

Remember the one Chase had at Stirling Commons forever? Yeah, that’s it.

“We were like, ‘What can we do with that?’” Traci said. “Like, ‘Oh, we can finally get on Main Street. We can finally afford to be on Main Street because it’s only 61 square feet.’”

Traci and Kurt’s globetrotting tendencies unsurprisingly took them on a recent trip to Mexico, which is how the idea for Taco Baby surfaced. Taco takeover, indeed.

Once complete, the sunflower-yellow taqueria — finished with bright pink shutters Bouchard built with reclaimed fence wood — plans to churn out tacos to-go well into the evening, a service the trio hopes Rosie’s Tavern and Reboot Arcade & Bar patrons will jump on after hours.

Al pastor and a vegetarian option are among the anticipated offerings served on corn tortillas.

“They’ll be a bit more authentic, whereas over at Caracara there’ll be some fusion in there,” Bittaker said.

The coolest aspect might be that kid sister Taco Baby is still sort of an ATM. Guests will approach the taqueria’s self-service kiosk to order, punching in modifiers and paying with only a card. When their tacos are ready, they’ll pick ‘em up at the window and head for the nearest munching spot.

You might not want to split a taco or two after a night of drinking downtown. However, back at the mothership, Caracara remains all about sharing.

“When I look at the menu, I want to share something with whoever I’m with,” Kurt said. “We’ll have a couple drinks or whatever unique thing we put on the menu for beer and wine, but the main thing is let’s share.”

Traci put it simply: “People are gonna come here to dine, and they’re gonna come here for a date like [Bittaker] is saying. But we also want people to feel comfortable to stay awhile and have a bottle of wine and order another tapas.”