By Chef Greg Baker
I love Seminole Heights. It’s a very unique neighborhood and the diversity here is incredible. There are millionaires who live here; there are people who don’t have two nickels here; and everything just works, everything clicks. This is a very friendly neighborhood where people actually look out for each other, and they look after their neighbor’s homes. It’s not just drive up to your house and hang out in your backyard. People hang out on their front porches and talk to each other.
This is a neighborhood that saw better days and had a decline in the '60s and the '70s. It is really starting to bounce back. Being an area full of creative types, it is nurturing with a lot of forward-thinking, independent businesses, like art galleries, retail stores, restaurants, and bars.
We opened The Refinery in 2010 and chose this location largely because we live here in the neighborhood. If we were going to invest in a neighborhood then why not right down the street from us. Instead of going across town and trying to raise the profile somewhere else, keep it in our own backyard. My wife and I have wandered a lot to different cities, always seeking greener grass and we always kept winding up in Tampa. We decided it was time to plant our own green grass and stop looking for it elsewhere. So, it only makes sense that we would do it here in our neighborhood.
There is no place better in Tampa to me than Seminole Heights.
Our original concept for The Refinery was a bar that happened to serve really good food. We accidentally became a restaurant before we could ever establish ourselves as a bar.
I wanted to open a restaurant that was much more approachable from a price perspective, but still with the same quality of service and food. We are very casual and laid back. We created an atmosphere where everybody is comfortable and nobody needs to feel like they’re a thug if they put their elbows on the table.
Our menu changes frequently, so you’ll never know what you’ll find on any given visit. As a staple, we always have a burger, but what’s on it is anyone’s guess. One week we set out to make a fire burger – with varying levels of heat and pepper flavors, derived from togarashi bacon, pepper jack cheese, and a sambal aioli. We decided that there needed to be a bit of a cooling component to the burger, so we added cantaloupe that had just come into season and a bit of peanut butter served to bridge the gap between the chiles and the savoriness of the beef, much the same idea as the ubiquitous peanut sauce that accompanies beef satay.
5910 North Florida Avenue, Tampa, FL 33604
T: 813.234.3710 | thetamparefinery.com
My Seminole Heights Favorites
FIND | Markets
Jug & Bottle Department
This is a store that sells great craft beer, boutique wines, cheeses and charcuterie. Local grocery store selections are often lacking, and prior to them opening, the only choice in the neighborhood were package shops. It's probably the only bottle shop on the west coast of Florida where you can grab a bottle of Malbec while listening to the Heroine Sheiks.
6203 North Florida Avenue, Tampa, FL 33604
T: 813.675.4522 | jugandbottledept.com
EAT | Restaurants
Independent Bar and Cafe
This is my favorite place to hang out on a day off in the neighborhood It's a great Belgium style beer bar and a cafe. They’ve got a good variety of sandwiches and German-style food. You can get a proper bratwurst or leberkäse, but at the same time you can also get a plate of hummus or some charcuterie and cheese. Their beer selection is fantastic. They’ve got 18 taps, plus an entire rare bottle cooler that has one offs and hard-to-find beers. They keep it locked up so you have to go and pick what you want through the cooler and have somebody come and unlock it for you. They are well-researched, well crafted, well-curated beers.
5016 North Florida Avenue, Tampa, FL 33603
T: 813.341.4883 | independentbartampa.com
Ella’s Americana Folk Art Cafe
This is definitely not your run-of-the-mill kind of restaurant. It's a funky place full of modern folk art and I’m not talking about Holly Hobbie kind of stuff. There are great metal sculptures and there’s found art made into things. It’s really cool. They do comfort food well, they serve anything from meatloaf to steak. On Sundays they do Kansas City style barbecue. They’ve got a great cocktail and beer selections as well.
5119 North Nebraska Avenue, Tampa, FL 33603
T: 813.234.1000 | www.ellasfolkartcafe.com
Rooster & the Till
This is the closest place to the Refinery in the neighborhood in that it’s not fine dining. It’s forward-thinking food. The chef and owner [Ferrell Alvarez] is always pushing his limits and you never know exactly what you’re going to be getting. The menu changes fairly frequently with an emphasis on local ingredients and produce. All in all, it's a great dining experience.
6500 N Florida Avenue, Tampa, FL 33604
T: 813.374.8940 | www.roosterandthetill.com
They recently opened in an old gas station and they serve great pizza. It's a pretty nice place to hang out and they have a limited, but really good, selection of craft beer. You can drink while you’re eating, waiting, or just because you’re there.
5921 North Nebraska Avenue, Tampa, FL 33604
T: 813.238.1114 | www.zaisdank.com
DRINK | Brewery
Angry Chair Brewing
They do a great job with their beers, running the gamut from very light sessionable beers, like Berliner weisses, all the way up to rich porters. I have yet to taste a clunker from them.
6401 North Florida Avenue, Tampa, FL 33604
T: 813.238.1122 | angrychairbrewing.com
Chef Greg Baker
Greg Baker is the chef and owner of The Refinery in the Seminole Heights neighborhood in Tampa, FL. Originally from Clearwater, he worked in Portland, OR, before moving back to the Tampa Bay Area. He was a James Beard semi-finalist for Best Chef: South in 2012, 2013 and 2014 and The Refinery was a James Beard semi-finalist for Best New Restaurant in 2011.