Saturday, March 26, 2011

Ella's Americana Folk Art Cafe, Tampa, FL

After reading so much positive buzz about Ella's, I'm already feeling a little Debbie Downerish (and UD will agree with that moniker because he thinks I'm being too hard on the place) and my blog post is just beginning.  Let's start with the positive. This is a really cool-looking and cozy restaurant.  I love, Love, LOVE the historic Seminole Heights venue; the antiques and folk-art kitsch; the huge, comfortable booths; the Elvis shrine; the bowling balls lining the walkway...nothing at all wrong with the vibe here.  Really fun. Really charming.

The view above our booth:

The "Elvis Wall" (being from Tennessee, I gots to lub anything "Elvis"'s the law):

Even the menu paid homage to The King.

Ella's offers a nice selection of cocktails, wine and beer (with most wines by the glass costing $7 or less). Underdog relaxes with a brewski while perusing the menu.  Oh, and before I forget, I don't want to neglect to say that we got pleasant, prompt service at Ella's.

First up...a small, beautiful, warm yeast loaf (plenty for two) with some honey butter infused with chives.  The bread was perfect and I really liked the flavor combo of the butter.

I had already sized up the menu online and decided that I must have the Fat Japs (jalapenos stuffed with pulled pork, cheddar & cream cheeses, then beer battered and fried served with horseradish cream sauce). I was sorely disappointed by these.  For starters, the pulled pork filling was practically nonexistent.  I also thought the jalapenos were far too large and too thick for this application (almost like small bell peppers).  The coup de grace was an uber-thick crust of greasy breading.  I mean, really...they were size of baseballs.  All I could taste was the nasty exterior and tough, undercooked jalapeno pepper.  I know I was complaining about my food not being carby enough at Cassis last week, but I think the pendulum may have swung too far in the opposite direction, here.  Or perhaps some of us are never satisfied.

Dogboy ordered the Latkas (Pan fried Potato Cakes topped with chive sour cream served with granny smith apple & cranberry compote).  This starter was also huge and heavy...we honestly could've stopped eating completely after these two mammoth appetizers.  The latkas were really tasty, however...fresh, slightly lumpy mashed potato goodness on the inside with a perfect crispy fried exterior.  The compote topper seemed unnecessary and didn't do that much for me, but the sour cream was just right!

In spite of already being completely satiated, we plowed ahead.  I selected the daily special which was Duck Enchiladas with Blackberry Infused Rice and Fried Plantains.  The enchiladas were fine (more like taquitos, though) but nothing mind-blowing...the moist duck meat was mixed with goat cheese and served wrapped in crispy tortillas on a puddle of spicy orange sauce.  The rice wasn't as special as it sounded, being both surprisingly bland and delivered to the table cold.  Fried plantains were done to caramelized perfection, however.
UD went with The Stuffed Burger (1/2 pound Organic Raised Angus Beef Patty stuffed with Caramelized Onion, Gorganzola & Bacon served on a bed of Arugula) which I thought was one of the best burgers I've ever tasted.  I actually wound up swapping entrees with him because I thought his was so much better than mine (and vice versa).  He had also been given a choice of sweet potato fries or fried zucchini fritters as a side dish, and chose the latter.  He chose poorly.  The thick slabs of zucchini were (as the Fat Japs had been) so deeply enrobed in their oil-soaked crusts that they were reminiscent of hockey pucks.  Not that I've ever eaten a hockey puck, but this is how I imagine one would taste. They were just...gross.  Google "Estia Chips" and see how it should be done, people.   By now, I was beginning to understand all the references to Elvis.  I love fat as much as the next person, but maybe Ella's should dial it down a notch...or at least provide discount endarterectomy coupons. It's like Cracker Barrel on steroids.
We were able to justify ordering dessert because so much of our food had been taken away uneaten.  I was so tempted to try the King Killers (Banana & Peanut Butter Chimichangas served with Vanilla Ice Cream & Chocolate Syrup. R.I.P. Elvis!) but figured my arteries had already been pushed to their limit at this point and didn't feel like tempting fate.  We decided to share the Peach Cobbler (Bourbon Soaked Peaches with Pecan Topping served with Vanilla Ice Cream) and I'm glad we did.  It was just about as good as it gets...a perfectly executed Southern classic and only $6!  I'll take it from here, honey.  :p

 Ella's atmosphere is eclectic and interesting, portions are huge and prices reasonable...which may be why the place was full of young families early on a Saturday evening.  By the way, is it now cool to let children run amok in restaurants?  I was surprised at how freely parents let them roam at Ella's...I thought for a minute I was on the set of "Kids Gone Wild".   And, yes, I'm being a crotchety old crone. Vent over.
I'm not sure what I think about Ella' kind of left me sitting on the fence.  It may be worth a second try, but I won't be chomping at the bit to do it anytime soon.  UD, however, has already labeled me a bratty food snob and bookmarked Ella's for future client lunches.  Maybe he's right.  Post a comment and let me know who you agree with.

Ella’s Americana Folk Art Cafe on Urbanspoon


  1. Next time I'm in Tampa I am definitely going to give this a try. Love the decor, the personality and the food looks great.

  2. The food is an over-extension of what the chef/kitchen staff can actually pull off. It comes off as over thought and under executed. They'd be better off shooting for solid and then mixing it up, instead of trying for interesting and getting sub-par food.