As a Brandon area resident, I am painfully aware that upscale dining options are few and far between in East Hillsborough County…but here’s some welcome news! We got an early Christmas present just before Thanksgiving with the debut of the eagerly-anticipated Grey Salt, a collaboration of celebrated New York chef (and judge on the Food Network series “Chopped”) Marc Murphy and the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino. I’ll admit that, justifiably or not, visiting restaurants with “celebrity” chef pedigrees invariably makes me a little starry-eyed and I couldn’t wait to check this one out.
For me, a casino always feels like the odd juxtaposition of a Technicolor dream world filled with endless possibilities and a sad fog of Marlboro smoke, cheap cologne and desperation. Per usual, I got sucked into the vortex as I wound my way from the casino entrance to the hostess station, trying to hold my breath while making multiple detours and compulsively dropping – and losing - several $20s on slots (money and I always seem to be quickly parted when something shiny catches my eye). The 30 minute “journey” turned out to be worth it, lighter wallet notwithstanding.
The 240-seat restaurant is almost surprisingly tranquil considering the raucous den of hedonism it’s nestled in, flaunting sleek, contemporary lines and a subdued, neutral palette stunningly accented by a wall of backlit jars of canary-hued preserved lemons. A gleaming open kitchen with a wood-burning grill provides a secondary focal point.
The Mediterranean-inspired menu is comprised of locally sourced seafood, house made pasta dishes, flatbreads and roasted or fire-grilled meat, poultry and fish. Appetizers range in price from $9 for Soup of the Day to $20 for the Grey Salt Charcuterie Board and entrees will set you back $26 to $59. The menu is a la carte, so things can (and do) add up quickly with the inclusion of salads and sides – albeit not surprisingly considering the venue and the quality of the cuisine. Tables do get a complimentary drop of grilled pita wedges and some really fine hummus bursting with bright, lemony flavor, however.
My party raved over the roasted oysters with parsley, butter and lemon ($18 for a dozen, nicely separated into two portions for sharing), which were perfect in their simplicity. I’ve gotten a little spoiled of late by restaurants like The Mill and Annata in St. Pete, who offer mix-and-match charcuterie boards accented with a plethora of tasty accoutrements like Marcona almonds, jams, honeycomb and the like. Grey Salt’s rendition has no options and the meats are simply presented with pickled veggies, mostarda and crostini. Still, ours was an attractively plated and generously portioned plank.
Like any good carnivore, my resident caveman fell upon his juicy and flavorful cow chop – the 24 oz. Prime Bistecca alla Florentina – with gusto, but was ultimately defeated by its heft and toted the remainder home for another meal. This is a steak that can easily be shared by two, making its $59 price tag a little more palatable. The roasted duck breast with dried fruit mostarda was similarly well-executed and cooked to a nicely precise medium rare, as requested, although the portion seemed light for $32 with no accompaniments. A shareable side order of crushed potatoes with Parmesan was also sampled, which proved to be pretty remarkable. Tiny and multi-colored, the tender orbs had crusty, golden-brown exteriors, creamy centers, and were lavished with a fine confetti of cheesy goodness.
Typically suspicious of any dessert that doesn’t demand the penance of several extra hours on the treadmill, I went rogue and ordered fruit to help me ramp up for that veryshortlived lie of a New Year’s Resolution I pledge every January. It almost pains me to say it, but I will. The grilled pineapple spear with its caramelized edges and succulent center might’ve been my favorite aspect of this meal. Accented with mascarpone, Moroccan honey and pistachio, it was a candy-like marvel.
At the end of the day, Grey Salt’s price point and location are less than ideal for many restaurant diners and there are definitely better options if you're willing to drop the kind of coin it demands. Still, it’s a solid destination for high-rollers and celebratory dinners – especially for residents living near the I-75 corridor.
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.