Sunday, September 22, 2013

Begging for Crumbs: Crumb & Cork in Downtown Tampa

Hello LilyOnTheLam.Com Readers:

Myself and two friends decided to check out Sunday Jazz Brunch at "Crumb & Cork" in Downtown Tampa.  Living close to downtown, I appreciate the growth of local businesses and want to do what I can to support them.  Also, Creative Loafing had a $30 certificate for $15.  I thought this would be win-win.  I was wrong.  Being a lawyer, I know my way around fine print and I had read the restrictions on the Creative Loafing certificate before purchasing it.  I wasn't trying to pull a fast one, ignoring the restrictions on the certificate.  But boy, did the waiter treat me like I was a dumbass.  Not what I am looking for with Sunday brunch.  

It says "Limit one certificate per party, regardless of separate checks."  That's fine - we're only using my one certificate.  Rule met.

It says "Not valid with other specials, promotions or discounts."  My friend had ordered the "$15 all you can drink mimosas with purchase of an entree" special.  We were told this could not be included.  That's fine - under the terms of the certificate, it doesn't say "no separate checks" - it says you can't use multiple certificates at one table.  So under these terms, I should have been able to have 2 separate checks and used the certificate for myself and my friend who was not purchasing a special on our check.  

However the waiter said that because all 3 of us were sitting together, we could only have 1 check if we used the Creative Loafing deal.  However if we didn't use the Creative Loafing deal, we could have separate checks.  That is not what "Limit one certificate per party, regardless of separate checks" means.  It's referring to the number of certificates you can use, not the number of checks.  

After politely arguing semantics with the waiter for 5 minutes, I gave up and did not use the Creative Loafing deals certificate - and between the three of us we ordered over $90 in food and drink.  I could have asked for the Manager, but I was so disgusted by the waiter's attitude I didn't want to work that hard to save $15!  

The waiter said condescendingly "you can just come back and use that certificate another time."  Then at the end of the meal, he actually brought a dinner menu over for us to look at for next time.  Needless to say, none of us looked at the menu - we were so put off by the bad experience.  I bit my tongue but wanted to say "Do you really think there will be a next time??"

Creative Loafing has a refund policy where if you request a refund within 90 days, you get a full refund back to your credit card on unused certificates.  I have already requested my refund because I won't be back to Crumb & Cork with their crummy behavior.

My philosophy is that if you're not going to honor your certificates, don't sell them!  If you want to put additional restrictions on your certificates that is fine if they are listed on the certificate - but the waiter was enforcing rules that were not listed.  Had I been dining alone, I would have just left and not given any money to Crumb & Cork.  

I saw a gentleman who looked like one of the owners pictured on the Crumb & Cork website walk up and talk to one table of people who apparently he knew.  It would have been nice if a manager or even the owner had stopped by all tables and inquire on customer service.  But not such luck!

However, putting aside the awful beginning, let's talk about the food, atmosphere, service and entertainment.

Entertainment:  Lisa Casalino was our jazz singer for the brunch.  She is a local jazz artist with a wonderful voice.  She also sings at Love's Artifacts, Eddie V's, Hula Bay, The Living Room and other local venues.  To hear her music and see her performance schedule, check out her Reverb Nation page here.  To see her website, check it out here.  A+ for entertainment.

Atmosphere:  Crumb & Cork is on the corner of Franklin and Madison next to the downtown Tampa Taco Bus location.  I like the corner windows, outdoor seating and one fantastic chandelier in the middle of the restaurant.  

However the walls are strikingly devoid of art and feel kind of "we redid an office with white and blue paint" feel.  The ceilings are so high, the walls are begging for some art or even some streaks of paint to break up the solid color.  

There is a small stage air with glittery curtain type material.  Personally I think it looked cheap and tacky - like an off the strip Las Vegas lounge stage - but I am not sure how they could have done it better on a budget.  It's not a deal killer, it's just not the swankiest thing to look at while dining.  There is some nice foliage decorating the restaurant but the big old fern on top of the drinks cooler has to go.  It was very "1970's ladies who brunch diner" feel.

Service:  Putting aside the Creative Loafing deals certificate fiasco, the service was OK.  Two of our entrees came with toast and when my friend asked for butter, our waiter looked at us like we had asked for a cup of diamonds.  We had to ask for water, but it was refilled in a timely manner - as were my friend's bottomless mimosas.  Our waiter could not remember who ordered what, which was a little off-putting since we were one of three tables in the entire restaurant when the food arrived.  But again, not a deal breaker - just not the best service in the world.

But most important (in my opinion) when evaluating a restaurant - how was the food and drinks?

Drinks:  One of my friends (Mrs. KG) and I ordered the mango bellini.  It was very sweet and perfectly clear.  I thought it would be a bit pulpy, but all in all it was decent.  My other friend (Ms. CD) liked her bottomless mimosas.  

For coffee, they have fresh-brewed Nespresso.  It was very strong, high octane coffee.  My friend, Mrs. KG, found the coffee to be too strong and couldn't drink it.  She said it was like a large cup of espresso.  I like strong coffee, but even I had to throw sugar and half and half into it to be able to drink it.  And I normally do not use any sugar or sweetener in my coffee.  No sweetener was offered - just one packet of sugar on each of our coffee saucers.  So if you like strong, rich coffee - this is for you.  If you're more Coffee Americano in your tastes, then skip it.

Crumb & Cork also has wine flights - but your individual waiter chooses the wine for you.  I can understand having a set list of selected wine flights to choose from - but the "you order and I, your waiter, bring you whatever I choose" struck me as weird.  Given our waiter's behavior, I didn't think he was also a sommelier.  They have beer, other wines by the glass and limited cocktails which I believe are wine-type cocktails versus liquor ones.

Food:  Mrs. KG ordered the bacon, egg and cheese croissant sandwich which comes with a side salad.  She also ordered a side of the "Artisanal Cheese Grits."  Ms. CD and I ordered the prosciutto-wrapped shrimp and grits.  I also ordered a blueberry muffin.  

The blueberry muffin was super huge and reminded me of what you can buy at Costco.  It was fresh and tasted decent, but I would have expected something nicer.  It's not hard to make fresh muffins.  I ate part of the top but then decided it wasn't worth the calories.

The 3 half-slices of dry toast were not necessary on an entree containing grits.  But it was very flavorful bread, so I did enjoy it.

The shrimp was cooked very well - perfectly tender.  My prosciutto was so thin and small that it was almost non-existant.  Ms. CD had a little more prosciutto on her shrimp than mine did.  The spice on the shrimp was perfect - a nice kick without going overboard.  Six shrimp on the entree was a fair amount and they were delicious.  They were A-/B+ in my book.  

Our table's views on the grits was unanimous - for something labeled "artisanal cheese" - we could not taste any cheese at all.  I was dismayed that the grits were a congealed mass that i could pick up as an entire disc.  Ms. CD found them to be lumpy as well.  I ate my grits with the shrimp, which was a nice balance.  But if you ate the grits on their own, there was no flavor.  They were not the best grits I have ever had, but they were also not the worst.  I would give them a B-/C+.   

Mrs. KG said that her croissant bacon, egg and cheese sandwich was fantastic and that her salad was very good as well.  My picture does not do the salad justice - it was simply gorgeous looking with sliced strawberries on top.  Mrs. KG's regrets were the coffee and the grits.

The table next to us ordered the bananas foster pain perdu (French Toast).  Out came gigantic plates filled with French toast.  I don't know how it tasted, but it was a huge portion and looked great.  None of the diners finished their French toast, it was so big.

The food and drinks were decent at Crumb & Cork, but for over $90 for brunch for three people before tip; there are better options with better food and better service in Tampa Bay.    

The snafu encountered when trying to use the Creative Loafing certificate was enough to cement in both my mind and my fellow diners', that we will not be back to visit Crumb & Cork again.  Which is sad, because I like to support downtown Tampa businesses.  If Crumb & Cork had some artwork on the walls, it would be a quaint spot to relax, have a drink and listen to some jazz.  

However given my experience there, I'd rather hit other downtown Tampa locations, such as the bar at Malio's, nearby Paninoteca Cafe, Fly Bar and Restaurant, the swanky bar at Anise Gastrobar or Taps Bar and Lounge than go back to Crumb & Cork. 

Sept 23 Follow Up Note:  Creative Loafing Deals promptly refunded my unused certificate price in full.  Then an extremely nice representative gave me a customer service call with an additional credit for the trouble.  Crumb & Cork needs to take their service cue from Creative Loafing Deals.  I buy most of my certificates through versus Living Social or Groupon because of their quality of service.  Thanks CL Deals!  Much appreciated!

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