Tampa restaurant preview: Love's Artifacts Bar and Grille

From iphone 011Lynn Love has crossed a threshold — a move that landed him in one of the least successful businesses in our country: Restaurants. A risky decision, at best, since the majority of new food establishments fail within the first five years. But I think he’s being watched over by someone… a guardian angel, the universe, Buddha, whatever.

Lynn spent the last 23 years in the used car business. At some point, I bet he even proudly sported a tan leisure suit, complete  with lapels that could help him fly away. His irresistible charm inevitably helped him pull it off. But charm alone can’t sell a car. You need customers for that… customers desirous of a used (ahem, “pre-owned”) automobile. And that, my friends, Tampa Bay apparently lacks. So about two years ago — to test the restaurant waters — he started selling smoked barbecue in the corner of his car lot, just south of Gandy (or its affectionate nickname “SOG”) on MacDill Avenue in Tampa. Pretty soon, he gained a loyal following of BBQ eaters who heartily agreed he should abandon the car biz and open a restaurant.

I’ve heard the phrase “you should open a restaurant” countless times in my life, but never had the balls (or insanity?) to do it. Lynn Love does. And did.

He shuttered his office doors and opened back up — months later, after undergoing what could be considered a rude introduction to Tampa’s Stalin-esque food and drink laws — as Love’s Artifacts Bar and Grille in early spring 2010. Lynn says the attention for his concept has been “flattering” and “overwhelming”  — his recession transition story has captured the hearts of national, regional and local media.

Fast forward four and half months. After hearing manic raves about this neighborhood restaurant from three separate, reliable sources, I darkened the doors. And emerged impressed. Really impressed.

wexford water tumblerMy husband observed the atmosphere felt like “eating dinner in an antique mall.” And there’s a reason: Lynn Love also owned an antique shop a few years back (get the name now?). The eclectic contents of his storage unit now adorn the walls and ceiling, as well as serve as tables, chairs and plates. They even have those heavy, goosebumpy-looking glasses my grandparents poured milk into (that are apparently still made). Nothing matches, which, of course, adds to the abundant charm of Artifacts.

Lynn regularly cruises the tables, inquiring after the guests, trying to uncover how he can improve. On a Saturday night, the place pumps out plate after plate of what could be considered BBQ meets southern picnic. Lynn’s the kind of guy who will sit down at your table and pick your brain for ideas and opinions. Since this is his first foray into the restaurant business, he asks a lot of questions, weaving you into his charming spell of earnestness and true concern. No one can fake the kind of honest, fervent love he has for his customers or his inexorable adoration of Artifacts’ potential. The place feels like home and Lynn is your Dad, friend, uncle or son.

The atmosphere might lull you into a comfort zone but the food will keep bringing you back. Fall off the bone Rib Meal Deal (a steal at $8.95) and crispy, near-perfect South Macdill Fried Chicken (most of the bird for $9.95) come with two generous sides which change often. My favorites of the evening: baked beans, garlic mashed potatoes, collard greens (better than Bailey’s, in my opinion — not sweet) and they even do a pretty tasty sauteed broccoli. I did not, on this trip, brave the peanut-butter-stuffed peppers appetizer, which apparently doesn’t taste as nasty as it sounds. Next time, maybe.

Less impressive is the wine list. Acrobat Pinot Noir from King Estate in Oregon ($36), arrived at the table around 80 degrees. I sheepishly asked our server for an ice bucket and he didn’t blink an eye or even roll them. He apologized. Score one for Larry. But the Acrobat and the Andeluna Malbec were the only two wines (available by the glass and bottle) that attracted my attention. Lynn said he’s tweaking everything so maybe that will change. The beer list, however, sports La Fin du Monde, Spaten Optimator and Maudite. Nice.

Reservations at peak times might be needed on a Saturday, but don’t expect anyone to answer the phone. No perky hostess mans the front door and Lynn doesn’t have the time. Just show up and wait at the bar, listening to dreamy Frank Sinatra tunes sung by Andy Stefano. But go.

Love’s Artifacts Bar and Grille
4914 S. MacDill Ave.
Tampa, FL
813-831-3273
Open daily for lunch and dinner, including Sunday
Facebook page

Artifacts Bar and Grill on Urbanspoon

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