Roux Tampa, New Orleans inspired Nouvelle Creole, is a Destination Restaurant
New Orleans is well-known for their award-winning restaurants, so it’s no surprise a food
crazed enthusiast like me has a culinary tour of New Orleans firmly planted on her bucket list – I like to call it my “Someday List” because I intend to #MakeSomedayHappen soon.
Sadly, that someday is not today. It’s Mardi Gras time and I am nowhere near New Orleans, thus I’m left to drool over my flavor memories – and my pictures – of one of the best New Orleans inspired dining experiences I’ve had in recent years. I still can’t believe I drove almost two hours just to get there. I’m known to travel for food, but Orlando to Tampa and back just for dinner is a bit much, don’t you think? Was it worth it? You bet your sweet beignets it was!
My destination was Roux Tampa, the creation of Roger and Suzanne Perry, culinary geniuses behind Datz and Datz Dough, which opened its doors in late August 2014. Not surprisingly, it has already won a Florida Trends Magazine Golden Spoon Award for best new restaurant, named Top 50 Restaurants in Tampa by the Tampa Bay Tribune, and more importantly has a full reservation book almost nightly – which is the best award of all. Avid foodies can’t get enough of this place and I don’t blame them. Roux Tampa is worth the drive.
We visited during a pre-opening training event as guests of a good friend and fellow food blogger based in Tampa. The two-hour drive’s objective was truly for the company as we don’t get to see each other often. I’ve attended and hosted my fair share of restaurant pre-opening events to know that it’s a crap shoot what you’ll get. It could be awesome or a complete disaster. This is, after all, their time to work out the kinks and our time to feel like guinea pigs – More pepper? Less spice? How does the plate look? Is it taking too long? – This is definitely not the time to judge and so I didn’t expect much. Boy was I wrong. Roux Tampa hit it out of the park and made this evening with friends very special in spite of being in the midst of their training. Surely a good sign of things to come.
I should have known better because the Perry’s don’t do anything without extensive preparation. I heard (drooled is more like it!) about their culinary tour of New Orleans and wish I had been able to tag along for the ride. They lived my bucket list travel dreams dining in every major restaurant in N’awlins, soaking up every last drop of the flair and flavors of The Big Easy to bring it all back to Tampa. They did it all so that all of us in Central Florida can “Travel Through Food” and dream of our New Orleans bucket list trip without the need for a plane ticket (or a much longer road trip). After a wonderful evening of fantastic drinks, flavorful food and fun conversation, I tell you this, Roux Tampa is worth the drive, no matter where you are!
The New Orleans feel starts with the décor. Beautiful exposed brick walls, pressed tin ceiling tiles, gas lamps, and white table cloths set the mood for an upscale yet comfortable experience. None of the garish elements one associates with the French Quarter, yet the charm is definitely there.
The Drinks at Roux Tampa
The bar at Roux, called Toula’s, felt like your neighborhood bar, in the kind of swanky neighborhood I wish I lived in. A popular spot for those anxiously waiting to occupy Roux’s 100 seats, it deserves to be a destination itself. They offer craft beers, including Abita and Cigar City, and a small list of mostly California and French wines including some on tap, which I found interesting.
All the attention here belongs to the 15 craft cocktails on the menu. This is a front of house culinary experience. Every cocktail we sampled was just as imaginative, expertly prepared and presented as the dishes coming from the kitchen. The bartenders at Roux Tampa are every bit as talented as the chefs.
The French 75 made of The Botanist, lemon, champagne and lemon zest, is sure to be one of their most popular drinks. It was quite refreshing and fun to sip.
The Tequilamour with Milagro, Solerno, Ancho Reyes, lemon, strawberry and honey is everything a strawberry margarita should be. No sugary artificial strawberry mix in sight. It was the perfect balance of tequila zing and sweetness.
The NY Sour made with Great King Street scotch, egg white, lemon and splash of Cabernet Sauvignon was a surprising blend of smokiness from the whiskey and fruitiness of the wine.
The Vieux Carre with Michter’s Rye, Camus cognac, Dolin sweet vermouth, Benedictine and creole bitters was in a class of its own. So smooth, every layer of flavor noticeable.
The Hurricane of Kraken Dark, Siesta Key white, orange juice, passion fruit puree, pineapple, lime and bitters will certainly blow your mind.
An amazing looking Bloody Mary garnished with a crawfish floated by as I overheard a guest at the next table say the classic Sazerac, made with the original 200-year-old recipe, was the best Sazerac outside of New Orleans. The Pink Fairy also sounded magically tempting but one must use some restraint and save some cocktails for the next visit. These drinks are so smooth they are dangerous and we did have a two-hour drive back home in our near future.
The Food at Roux Tampa
We began our “creole nouvelle” feast with the Char-Grilled Oysters topped with Pecorino and Parmesan cheeses and Roux compound butter. They were quite spectacular! If you have nothing else on the menu, the oysters and cocktails alone are worth the visit. It is a “Must-Eat” dish. The garlic bread was crispy and buttery and oh so good.
The Abita Beer-Battered Crab Beignets were a nice surprise. I was not sure what to expect and wondered if they would be doughy and sweet like the original ones I love. Instead they were creamy, airy and slightly crispy on the outside with nothing but delicious crab on the inside. No fillers used here. The chive, saffron, and cayenne remoulade sauces offered a nice complement and variety of flavors.
The Roux BBQ Shrimp was finger lickin’ good. Served as the full shrimp with head and tail, the dish is messy, which is odd when you’re dining on white tablecloths, but don’t be afraid to dig in. Enjoy and get your hands dirty as you sop up the crusty grilled French bread in the spicy Worcestershire butter sauce. I dare you to resist licking your fingers. They will bring you a nice warm towel with a lemon after you’re done because this is a classy place after all.
We were ready for our entrees and kept hearing how good the Skillet Cornbread was from the tables around us so we had to try it. I’m glad we did. Served in an iron skillet with a crunchy exterior and the consistency of a fluffy warm cake inside, topped with a crumbly streusel of brown sugar. Served with cane syrup butter, it was the perfect combination of savory and sweet. I could have enjoyed this for dessert it was that good. Another “Must-Eat” Dish.
For our entrees we ordered the Red Fish. A generous portion of perfectly cooked white fish lightly seasoned served atop a sweet potato hash with brown butter. This dish was perfect for anyone wanting to avoid spice. Compared to the other dishes we tried, the flavor was much milder, which almost appeared under-seasoned.
The Abita beer-battered soft-shell crab served over corn succotash was a favorite of the table. The crab was perfectly battered and fried for a crunch exterior and wonderfully moist inside.
The 20oz steak was juicy and tender. It was a wonderfully rich treat to have it served with the bone marrow to drizzle over it, which elevated the presentation to a step above what you see at most steakhouses.
The Bolognese with Rabbit Ragout served over papardelle pasta was full of flavor. There was not a spec of sauce left on that plate when we were done.
For dessert we sampled the Old Fashioned Baked Alaska with layers of homemade gelato in Bananas Foster, Strawberry and chocolate atop Red Velvet cake and covered in the most sinful meringue. The bananas flavor was the most predominant of the three so keep that in mind if you are not a banana-lover.
The Chocolate Torte was rich and gooey and everything you want in a chocolate dessert. Pure decadence.
Please do keep in mind that the presentations and ingredients of these dishes may have changed since my visit. What I am certain hasn’t changed is the high quality of the preparation and the ingredients they source, some of which come straight from New Orleans.
I believed at the time that Roux Tampa would become a Must-Visit destination restaurant for anyone visiting Tampa and added it to my Tampa Must-Eat list. The night was not error-free and there were some tweaks needed, which I shared with the team.
The care and passion from the staff to provide an extraordinary culinary experience and attentive service was evident and the reason why I believed it would succeed. I am not surprised by the awards they’ve received and happy to hear reservations are strongly suggested due to the restaurant’s popularity.
Roux Tampa is a place for memorable dining. I’m still dreaming about it 6 months later and will not soon forget those amazing cocktails, the delicious garlicky oysters, spicy shrimp, sweet cornbread and flavorful soft shell crab. Of course, the evening would not have been as special without the great company of friends we shared it with. After all, friends are the most important ingredient of any great dining experience and always worth the drive, but so are those oysters and soft-shelled crab!
I can’t wait to go back to Roux Tampa. I just hope I can get a reservation.
I’m curious, do you have a favorite dining experience you still dream about months later? Does dining inspire your dreams of travel? What culinary destinations are on your Travel Bucket List? Please share in the comments below.
GO Travel Through Food at Roux Tampa and dream of your New Orleans adventure. Located at 4205 S. Macdill Avenue, Tampa FL. 813-443-5255