Downtown Tampa's Paninoteca closes for arrival of Dio Modern Mediterranean

Owners Mary and Joe Khabbaz expect to launch in early February.

click to enlarge The couple behind Dio Modern Mediterranean, Joe and Mary Khabbaz, opened Paninoteca in 2007. - George Khabbaz
George Khabbaz
The couple behind Dio Modern Mediterranean, Joe and Mary Khabbaz, opened Paninoteca in 2007.

Who could’ve predicted that a menu update would result in a new restaurant? Not owners Mary and Joe Khabbaz of Dio Modern Mediterranean, formerly known as downtown Tampa panini spot Paninoteca.

Initially, the Khabbazes’ plan was to remodel the more-than-a-decade-old Paninoteca and expand its bill of fare at 519 N. Franklin St. But the couple decided to go in a different direction after they gained some extra space by taking over the building next door, where a Thai eatery last operated.

“We want to bring a full, authentic Mediterranean concept into Tampa,” Mary says. “Usually people think ‘Greek,’ but we’re going to focus on the entire region, so we’ll have items from the Middle East and Italy, too.”

Going from 1,300 square feet to 2,500, Dio expects to launch in early February. A soft opening is in the works for friends and family, which will allow Joe and Mary to iron out the kinks, and a public grand opening should take place the following week.

The restaurant’s eats are priced between $6 and $22. Regulars can drop by for old Paninoteca favorites — including panini, spanakopita, Greek salad and hummus — that accompany never-before-seen items like kebabs, gyros, lobster pasta, grilled sea bass and lamb chops.

“We’re not going to have a [hodgepodge] of things. If you’re going to have a lobster pasta in Italy, it’s probably going to taste similar to one in Greece with a few different herbs, so a lot of the flavors are the same,” Mary tells CL.

Another addition to Dio is the full bar, featuring a variety of imported Mediterranean wines and specialty cocktails that range from $8 to $12. For example, the refreshing Phoenician combines premium Barón tequila with fresh watermelon and basil.

More than 100 seats are now available throughout the restaurant. Its roll-up garage door, according to Mary, is designed to provide an “indoor yet outdoor” vibe, which is great for the Sangria Sundays promotion: two-for-$1 glasses and half-price pitchers.

The Khabbazes aim to accommodate all sorts of celebrations at Dio, from anniversaries to nights out on the town.

“Now that downtown is changing and expanding, especially with residences and events, I thought now is the best time to expand the menu and give downtown an actual dinner place,” Mary says. “It’s somewhere you can have dinner, drinks or do brunch on the weekends.”

Once the doors open, Dio will operate seven days a week. Lunch and dinner are served 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. Friday, 9 a.m. to 2 a.m. Saturday, and 9 a.m. to midnight Sunday.

Brunch is available on weekends, specifically 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

“I want everyone to come here and feel like they’re at home,” Mary adds. “I want them to feel happy here and enjoy themselves.”