Thursday, January 16, 2014

Southern Food, Modern Down Home Atmosphere - Sylvia's Restaurant St. Petersburg

Hello LilyOnTheLam.Com Readers:

When I moved to Tampa many years ago, I knew that I would be missing out on many of the attributes of a larger city like my former homes in Los Angeles or even Minneapolis.  However I knew the beaches, good weather and the ability to recount half a dozen local "stupid criminal" true crime stories at the drop of the hat were worth taking a sacrifice in the "big city events" department.  

So when I heard that the Soul Food treat, Sylvia's (Queen of Soul Food) Harlem Restaurant was opening a 2nd location in St. Petersburg of all places, I felt proud that my city by the bay was gaining yet another jewel in its crown.  Watch out big cities, we're getting more fabulous places and we have great beaches!

However the holidays and end of the year work insanity hit me full force and my plans to try out Sylvia's were pushed to the back burner.  (For shame!)  However it is now 2014 - Happy New Year! - and time that I got myself over to Sylvia's St. Pete!

The restaurant is located a few blocks from St. Petersburg's "Grand Central" district.  It is down the street from Morean Arts Center for Clay - which has terrific pottery and sculpting classes.

I am not sure what I was expecting when I went to Sylvia's, but I was surprised by the beautiful, modern decor in warm brown tones.  It was like Southern luncheonette as seen through the eyes of a contemporary LA designer.  I marveled at the lovely floor and the ceiling design.  It was a really nice blend to have upscale, sophisticated, modern decor with down-home, "warm your heart and your belly" food.  

There is a nice side alcove and separate entrance to pick up take out orders.  The large glass case filled with pies and cake slices was like a siren's song.  I adverted my eyes!  

Service at Sylvia's is warm, friendly and inviting.  I swear there must be some frustrated monarch in me, because I love when you walk through a restaurant and multiple people say "hello" to you and welcome you to the restaurant.  Call me a diva, but I love it!

Complimentary cornbread and whipped butter greet you at the table.  I have never been a big cornbread fan - which is weird since I love corn, love bread - but go figure.  I did take a bite just to be able to report about it (I do it for you, my wonderful readers!)  It tasted like good quality cornbread.  

I had an unsweetened iced tea - it was crisp and tasted fresh-brewed.  I know if I were a traditional Southerner, I would have had a sweet tea.  However I prefer to eat my calories versus drink them.

Now if you are a dedicated LilyOnTheLam.Com reader, you may remember my post about chicken and waffles from 3 different restaurants.  If not, check it out here.  I had decided to try Sylvia's chicken and waffles.  They sell it two ways - California style (with brown gravy) and Harlem style (regular). I went with the Harlem style fried chicken.  

The plating above may look very simplistic, but I have to say that the waffle all on its own is one of my favorite waffles in Tampa Bay.  It was very crisp on the outside with a custardy-eggy rich center- which in my opinion is the perfect waffle.

The fried chicken had a savory, spicy, crisp coating with moist tender meat.  It was golden, not greasy.  I splashed some of Sylvia's hot sauce on it - it had a nice flavor with a decent amount of heat.

The problem with Sylvia's menu is that I wanted to try everything - ribs, fried green tomatoes, the daily lunch special.  Even though the chicken and waffle were quite filling, I also ordered a side of baked macaroni and cheese and collard greens to be able to try more items on Sylvia's menu.  I figured they would be good as leftovers for dinner.

The baked macaroni and cheese is perfection.  I don't like heavy soupy cheese sauce on my mac & cheese.  Sylvia's baked mac and cheese has firm elbow macaroni with pockets of cheesy goodness.  I also appreciated the bits of crisp baked cheese crust.  Delicious!

If you read my past blog post on collard greens, you will know that I am always on the search for delicious collard greens.  Sylvia's collard greens were terrific.  I find that most restaurant collard greens are overcooked and overly seasoned.  This was not the case at Sylvia's.  They were nicely cooked, very fresh and seasoned well.  You also have the choice of vegetarian collard greens or traditional style, which is a nice option.

With a box full of leftovers to go, I was pleasantly but not overwhelmingly full.  However my very nice server had to tempt me with "how about dessert - to go?"  Ohhhh again with that siren's song!  I acquiesced and ordered a slice of banana pudding cake to go.  Layers of dense, moist, sweet cake with banana filling and a whipped cream frosting and vanilla wafer topping.

I enjoyed lunch at Sylvia's Restaurant.  The decor was beautiful and modern.  The service was down-home friendly.  The food was fresh, well-seasoned and delicious.  And on my way out, four different staffers said goodbye to me, thanked me for visiting and hoped I would come back.  If you read my blog post on Elevage restaurant, you'll know I was frustrated by their poor service.  Perhaps the upscale eatery should send their waitstaff to Sylvia's to see how friendly, good service is done!  

I will definitely be back to Sylvia's Restaurant to try more of their fresh soul food in a modern, welcoming atmosphere.  
Sylvia's Queen of Soul Food on Urbanspoon