For those of you who are not local to Tampa, every year from January through March a whole collection of events take place that are associated with Gasparilla, our mini-Mardi Gras with a distinct pirate theme. No raucous celebration is complete without parades, and Gasparilla has three of them, from the tame (toddlers only) to the raging (think adults in period costumes fueled by toxic amounts of alcohol). There's a music-fest, a fun run, a film festival, a brunch, a mock invasion in which the mayor gets kidnapped (don't ask), an art fair, and probably several others that are less publicized. Since we're in the process of remodeling our living room here at the Canteen, it's the art fair that caught Mrs. Hackknife's attention and drew us downtown one Saturday afternoon seeking some sort of wall hanging for the space above the piano. Sadly, I didn't notice a single pirate-related item for sale (where were the velvet paintings of Blackbeard?); however, the available offerings were otherwise decent and we settled on a large-format photo of a sandy Pensacola beach at sunset (or is it sunrise?). After dropping the family off back home, we needed to return downtown to pick up our purchase and decided to stay there for dinner, popping into edison food+drink lab, located a short distance from the art fair off of Kennedy Avenue (912 W. Kennedy, to be exact).
edison (the lowercase "e" is intentional, by the way) has been on my dining radar since we made the move south - founder and executive chef Jeannie Pierola spent many years honing her craft at Tampa institutions Bern's and SideBern's before striking out on her own, opening her current venture in 2012. The restaurant's name comes from the nearest cross street, but Chef Pierola embraced the spirit of the famous namesake inventor to build her entire concept, creating a culinary experience heavy on innovation (for example, the menus are all designed with a chemistry lab motif and you can order drinks in a flask, among other cute touches). Her reputation for creating modern dishes with exacting techniques has not gone unnoticed in town (there are only a handful of chefs doing this sort of thing here), so the missus and I were excited to finally try it out.
The space is spare and energetic to the point of being a little rowdy, with not a lot of room for mingling. We were seated near the kitchen (which also appeared to be improbably small) and Chef Pierola was there at the pass, putting finishing touches on plates as they made their way through. In addition to inventive cuisine, edison is also known for its unusual cocktail program, which isn't something I normally value, but my curiosity was piqued enough to order a Desert Lily, containing everyone's favorite New Mexico bubbly (Gruet Brut), plus Astral Tequila Blanco, lemon juice, and rosemary syrup (the drink was refreshing, although I could have done without the actual rosemary sprig in the glass that managed to find its way into my mouth when I wasn't paying attention). Mrs. Hackknife equally enjoyed her Vieux Carre, a current interpretation of a classic cocktail featuring Mitchter's Single Barrel Rye, Benedictine Liqueur, Germain-Robin Brandy, Dolin Rouge Vermouth, and Peychaud's Bitters.
Tastebuds sufficiently primed, we now took on the task of wading through the menu, which is segregated into small plates (spark, cold start, and hot start) and entrees (soluble/solid and large format). We quickly realized that edison is one of those places where we could easily just order one of everything, so to make life simpler, we limited ourselves to mainly small plates for this first visit, starting out with a spectacular trio of goat cheese truffles stuffed with a filling of Medjool dates and foie gras, dusted with fennel pollen, and paired with toasted baguette rounds for spreading (spark, indeed!):
Good, but not quite as spectacular was Spark #2, another trio of items, this time thin slices of Benton's aged ham nestled into sweet potato biscuits and garnished with pickled mustard seed and goat's milk cajeta (a sweet caramel sauce). While tasty, the biscuits became very crumbly upon handling, although the combination of the ham with caramel sauce is a new classic that (mark my words) will somehow find its way into my home kitchen:
Two of the hot start dishes followed. First up was a crispy pork belly terrine containing an unknown stuffing (maybe ground-up head cheese?) with fennel pollen polenta, radicchio fennel agrodolce, bread and butter apples, and fennel oil. From the richness of the terrine to the perfect polenta (daresay the best I've ever had?) to the palate-cleansing radicchio, I absolutely loved everything about this plate. Mrs. Hackknife had a slight preference for our other hot start, cracked conch and bacon fritters (which I found to be a little heavy) paired with pickled mustard seed and burnt honey dijonnaise (both dishes can be seen in the photo below):
We opted to go for a light course before diving into dessert, choosing a lump crab and butter lettuce salad with avocado, heart of palm, cucumbers, pickled strawberries, and goat milk ranch dressing. The salad was bright and refreshing, just was the doctor (or, in this case, nutritionist) ordered:
Our server brought over a separate menu for desserts, which included a number of tempting homemade ice creams (think pb&j or sweet potato/toasted marshmallow) as well as several original creations. We first picked the sugar-crusted butter cake garnished with brown butter ice cream, pistachios, orange segments, toffee sauce, and pellets of meringue (all of it amazing):
We just couldn't leave without trying the house's most famous dessert, homemade crullers with cardamom glaze, carrot ice cream, and powdered white raisin puree. The crullers made me think of the breading that surrounds the sweet and sour chicken from the local Chinese take-out joint (in the best possible way, not an oil bomb):
Clearly, edison tops a number of the local food press's "Best of" dining lists for good reason. After our experience, I have no problem declaring that it's on our personal short list of best restaurants in Tampa and I sincerely hope we'll be able to return before Gasparilla comes rolling around again next year...