TAMPA – When Robert Sickler first walked into the narrow Davis Islands building, it immediately reminded him of New Orleans.
The slender space was reminiscent of the shotgun houses of the Marigny and Baywater quarters; the exposed brick facade, the artwork covering the walls, and the small counter at the front are reminiscent of a café in the French Quarter.
It seemed perfect for the concept he and his wife, Yarinel Ramos, had been thinking about for some time: a bar where they could share their love of natural wines. But also, a restaurant – a gathering place for the neighborhood, where conversation between tables would take place freely. Creole and Caribbean flavors would highlight the menu and there would be plenty of work by artists from all over the world. Maybe one day they could have some live music.
In April, the couple opened Bayou Bodega, an intimate and colorful wine bar and restaurant on E Davis Boulevard where natural wine is the star. Mardi Gras beads hang from ornate chandeliers while hanging potted plants imbue a tropical vibe. The cozy dining room is flanked by exposed brick on one side and a bright blue wall adorned with artwork and photographs on the other. There is a shrine dedicated to Erzulie, the Haitian goddess of love and beauty, and the purifying scent of palo santo gently floats in the air.
Inspired by New Orleans and Oaxaca, Mexico, the eclectic decor (photographs of Mardi Gras Indians, paintings by Frida Kahlo, art by New Orleans folk artist Dr. Bob) evokes bohemian spirits of the two cities.
The love of art and travel were bonding themes for the couple. A native of Fort Myers, Sickler spent time in New Orleans working in bars and restaurants. He worked as an English teacher in Tampa, Minneapolis and the Czech Republic before entering the hospitality world in South Tampa, first as a waiter and bartender and later as a wine representative and whiskey brand ambassador. He met Ramos in Tampa while she was working in tourism. The couple eventually moved to Colorado, where they opened a New Orleans and Florida-inspired cocktail bar, before returning to the Tampa Bay area.
Opening a natural wine bar in 2021 is still a somewhat new concept for the Tampa area. The genre has become increasingly popular, but there are no spots that focus exclusively on so-called minimal intervention wines.
Most of the restaurant’s clientele are still fairly unfamiliar with the wines it sells, Sickler said. But ask him what makes the characteristics of a certain Slovenian or Georgian grape unique and he will tell you all about the crisp, fruity notes and minerality of some of his favorites; on how spontaneous fermentation can make all the difference in flavor; on how the terroir of a particular wine will be so much more distinct and pronounced. It could continue on small wine producers in lesser-known wine regions, or on how a new generation of younger winemakers are honoring the traditions and methods of their ancestors.
In short: He will sell you a large bottle of wine.
But wine is only half of the equation. The idea for a Creole and Caribbean inspired menu arose out of Sickler’s love for New Orleans cuisine and Ramos’ Puerto Rican background. The list of dishes features a mix of Creole, Cajun, and Latin fare, mostly small plates and po’boys.
Part of the appeal of Bayou Bodega is that eating here is a lot like eating at someone’s house, and the cuisine is moving away from the traditional appetizer / main course format. Instead, the menu lists a short selection of dishes, which vary in size and sharing. Sometimes it can be difficult to understand how, exactly, to cook a meal.
If the menu looks a bit like a work in progress, that’s because it is: the couple recently brought in new executive chef Julien Portier, who Sickler says will build on existing and existing dishes. will add more with a French influence (ratatouille and coq au vin will be added soon).
For now, a great start is the bread service, which includes a basket filled with sourdough slices, multigrain, and sesame crust from Sullivan Street Bakery in Miami ($ 5). The basket comes served with butter, but the real reason you order it is that once the piping hot Cast Iron Skillet of Spanish Garlic Shrimp ($ 15) arrives, you’ll need every last piece. bread to soak up the savory Manzanilla sherry sauce with garlic and paprika that collects at the bottom.
Louisiana-inspired brabant potatoes ($ 10) are also good, which look like homemade garlic and parsley fries – crisp and tan on the outside and soft and buttery on the inside. (There’s more sauce to absorb on this one, too.)
The kidney beans and rice ($ 11) take on a Puerto Rican twist and borrow from Ramos’ mother’s recipe for habichuelas guisadas with a homemade sofrito. The dish is often served with a lechon asado ($ 14), a slow roasted pork shoulder that’s crisp in places and soft and creamy in others (and a little too salty on one occasion).
The kitchen offers specials every night, which can range from the aforementioned lechon asado one evening to a plate of reheated homemade dolmas ($ 8) another.
An excellent jambalaya ($ 12) is made in Cajun style (no tomatoes) and includes thick and spicy pieces of pork, tasso and crayfish sausage with large pieces of fluffy chicken sprinkled in the tasty rice dish .
Po’boy sandwiches are served on signature French breads, topped with mayonnaise, shredded lettuce, tomatoes and pickles. Along with red beans, rice, and Brabant potatoes, the menu has a small selection of vegan fare, including a jackfruit po’boy ($ 10) and sweet potato and jackfruit hash ($ 12), flavored with cumin, paprika and turmeric.
For dessert, the restaurant sources vegan ice cream from Tampa’s Revolution Ice Cream, and the scoops are found in several dishes, including the must-have bread pudding ($ 10), a sticky, sweet version sprinkled with raisins. , coconut flakes and lychees, dipped in an alcoholic rum sauce.
Most evenings, Sickler and Ramos court at a table near the front, chatting with diners and neighbors who come to buy a bottle of wine or a po’boy to go. Conversations revolve around art, collecting eclectic music, food and, of course, wine.
Bayou Bodega is always evolving. Under Portier’s direction, the menu will change, and at some point Sickler and Ramos hope to add live music to the mix. But in many ways, it feels like the couple created exactly the kind of place they dreamed of.
If you are going to
Or: 241 E Davis Blvd., Tampa. 813-513-5478. bayoubodega.com.
Hours: Dinner, 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Wednesday to Saturday.
Prices: Small plates, $ 10 to $ 15; po’boys, $ 12 to $ 15.
Don’t skip: Po’boy chicken, jambalaya, bread pudding.
Details: Credit cards accepted. Accessible to wheelchairs. Several vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free options available.