Food bloggers agree: Tampa’s Pelagia Trattoria makes a meal of discovery

Chocolate tuile atop espresso panna cotta at Pelagia Trattoria

Coffee and cigars are more fun as a chocolate tuile atop espresso panna cotta.

It took a stint of unemployment to help Todd Sturtz become a cheerleader for Tampa’s culinary scene.  Last year, the chemical-environmental engineer and self-proclaimed foodie, started a blog, TastingTampa.com, and organized a dozen Food Truck Rallies throughout the area. The September rally at Hyde Park Presbyterian Church created lots of lines with almost 5,000 visitors.

Todd recently launched 13th Step: A Support Group for Foodies, to promote the local talent in our area.

“I don’t make money on these but I eat for free,’’ explains the 31-year old entrepreneur.

The 13th Step dinners, which include wine, spirits or beer, are first-come, first-served and limited to about two dozen guests. Details are leaked on Todd’s blog and the menu is kept a secret.

Were folks taking the bait? You betcha: The inaugural restaurant dinner at Pelagia Trattoria, held Saturday, sold out in 24 minutes. The price for this luxurious evening? Your initial stock in Facebook? Nope, just $50 a person.

Publicist Mary Lou Jansen says she “stalked’’ Todd for him to spotlight Pelagia for the first restaurant dinner that “inspires conversation, collaboration, and celebration.’’

Andrew Basch, executive chef, Brett Gardiner, sous chef, and Jim Bartholomay, hotel manager, of Renaissance Tampa International Plaza Hotel, provided chatty commentary while guests bantered in approval. Continuous pours from Jim Bodkin, of Casa Vinicola Zonin, lubricated the conversation as he showcased wonderful wines and talked about each Italian families and vineyard nuances.

The menu was result of two-week collaboration between Andrew and Brett.

“It took so long because we started with about 18 courses,’’ says Andrew. They spent days executing each to narrow choices to eight. They researched locally-sourced, seasonal ingredients and put in about 100 hours to prepare the resulting dishes, which included:

  • A tender, smoked, char-grilled octopus atop frisee with blood oranges having a saffron-chorizo accent.
  •  The chefs’ whimsical answer to a BLT: slices of ripe, heirloom Ruskin tomatoes, micro basil, smooth burrata, topped by the razor-thin square of crunchy prosciutto and drizzled with 20-year old Balsamic vinegar.
  • Many said they had never tasted these three home runs:  tripe – crackling’ honeycomb tripe frites with a pizzaiola sauce, sweet breads – the thymus gland was in a slick Frangelico glaze and  squab, which was served with faro, aged Saba and orange blossom honey.
  • Ebony squid ink pappardelle smitten with Marigolds and a bit of foie gras butter.
  • Roasted, herb-crusted, rack of veal hosted creamy, yellow polenta, accented by a delicate, cipollini onion. A man who hadn’t ordered veal in 20 years almost licked his plate.
  • Dessert paid homage to Ybor City with a chocolate “tuille” stogie over an espresso panna cotta “coffee.’’  A lovely, amber, six-week-old berry grappa opened the course.
Todd Sturtz and Michael Blasco

Business partners, Todd Sturtz, from left, and Michael Blasco, thank guests at the inaugural 13th Step dinner.

Jansen thought some of the dishes could appear on future Pelagia menus.

As luck would have it, Todd has found another job, but now his wife, Stephanie, has given her employer her notice. She’s going to forge ahead with future events, working with business partner, Michael Blasco, for 13th Steps at Café Dufrain (one of our Top Ten restaurants in Tampa), Sidebern’s (written about here) and Pane Rustica.

Todd’s first 13th Step experimental dinner was in Seminole Heights on Jan 21 and sold out before Todd could announce it on his blog.  Kurt and Heidi Raschke cleared their living room to fit four tables to hold six guests at each. Guests talked about brothers Josh and Nick Bonanno’s seared cauliflower with béchamel sauce, sautéed squid and sardines, bone marrow butter and fresh strawberries with orange zest, mocha basil seeds and elderflower liquor gelee.

This food blogger can’t wait to see what Todd the blogger does next. Read his work at TastingTampa.com

Pelagia Trattoria (inside the Renaissance Hotel at International Plaza)
4200 Jim Walter Blvd., Tampa, FL
(813) 313-3235
www.pelagiatrattoria.com

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Tighten the belt: It wasn’t just football, it was the buffet. Some 1.25 billion chicken wings were eaten last weekend. That’s billion. With 300 million people living in the U.S., that’s four wings each. We went through 70 million pounds of guacamole. It’s the 8th biggest beer drinking day, as well.

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