Since Spanish and Latin American cuisines are my hands-down favorite diet-busters, I seriously perked when Spanglish Bistro popped up on the barren, culinary wasteland of Valrico a couple of months ago. There's not a lot to get excited about here in Far Eastern Hellsborough County unless your taste receptors live for the offerings of the likes of Applebee's and Golden Corral. Everyone, please join me in a "Hallelujah!" for the blessing that has been deposited practically in the heart of Stepford - Spanglish Bistro.
Located in a strip mall (because pretty much every restaurant east of I-75 is located in a strip mall), the ambiance is a tad sterile but I sensed that it may still be a work in progress. UD and I arrived mid-afternoon and virtually owned the place, but there was still a flurry of activity going on as the staff prepared for the evening crowd. Apparently, there's some pretty fine live entertainment offered on Friday and Saturday nights that keeps the place rocking until 2:00 AM, so the dance floor (yes...there's a dance floor in this relatively small venue) was being cleared and tables were being reconfigured to accommodate several larger groups who had made reservations for the evening.
As a 5'10", Sasquatch-footed, uptight white girl, the sight of me dancing is enough send anyone scrambling for a bottle brush and some Clorox with which to scrub their optic nerves. But, never fear...Underdog has been trained to spirit me home the minute I decide it's a good idea (which usually happens after copious amounts of wine have been consumed). Still, I'm intrigued and will return soon one evening to check out the dinner and dancing scene (don't panic, people...only to observe).
We began with the Lobster Arepa starter, which was a precious little dish. A tender on the inside/crusty on the outside grilled corn cake was presented topped with wilted spinach and poached Maine lobster, garnished with some cherry tomatoes and garlic cream sauce to add interest.
An empanada freak to the highest power, I was desperately torn by my options - chicken, shrimp, Angus beef, jalapeno beef or devil crab. Beef picadillo is ever the filling I long for but, because it wasn't specified on the menu, we opted to try the devil crab variety. These were a well-done riff on the classic Ybor staple. Pastry was flaky, hot and crispy. The spicily-seasoned crab meat interior was moist and plentiful. Carmine's could definitely learn something here.
About this time, the owner/chef came out to personally check on us. Both engaged and engaging, he was happy to answer our questions about both the resto and the menu (and, no...he did not know us from Adam). When I inquired about the absence of picadillo empanadas, he was quick to clarify that the Angus beef version was done picadillo-style. Apparently noticing the "WTF-how-did-I-miss-this-boat?" look on my face, he offered to comp us a couple to sample. They were amazing. Super meaty and chunkier in texture than some, they still had all of the zesty tomato, onion and potato accents I longed for along with the unexpected delight of melted cheese.
We both ordered sandwiches, which came with a choice of plantain chips or really phenomenal fat, lightly batter-dipped fries. My classic Cuban was quite good. If I have to find something to bitch about (which I often do), I would probably have preferred a little more roasted pork and a little less ham, but now I'm just being nitpicky. It was quite a feast for eight bucks, most of which is residing in my fridge as I type.
UD's $12 Ribeye Steak Sandwich with sauteed mushrooms, onions and peppers, oozing with Manchego cheese, however, was a sandwich to be reckoned with. Dubbed "the best sandwich I've ever had", that's high steak sandwich praise coming from a Philly boy.
In addition to casual lunch fare, Spanglish Bistro also offers a short-but-enticing tapas menu along with dinner entrees like Spanglish Paella, Pork Tomahawk Chop and Red Snapper. There are also a few familiar Italian items on the menu to provide comfort for less-adventurous palates.
Brandonites...we don't want to let this one go down the drain as we have so many others. Please check out this little gem and support local.
Spanglish Bistro Facebook
My blog entries contain the unmitigated, and sometimes unforgiving, dining truths and perceptions I experience as an ordinary restaurant patron. Every meal I post about has been fully paid for by one of the participating members of my personal dining party. I do not engage in the gratis blogger freebie dining events I'm constantly invited to attend and never will. If I ooze font-like love for a restaurant in my blog, it's because they totally earned it…not because they gave me free food or knew I was going to share the experience on the internet.