At the Music Spot Bistro in Tampa, one can find an old favorite in vinyl and then sit down to a pleasing medley of food and service.
TAMPA - Sorry, but you already missed the glory days of the Music Spot: The restaurant got its license and has started charging for wine.
For a few delicious weeks, the Music Spot not only didn't charge for wine, it also provided a short list of smart selections, from Estancia's new, full-bodied pinot gris to a honeyed 1977 chardonnay from Sequoia Grove.
I can understand how you missed it - and I did until friends insisted there was a fine restaurant there - because the Music Spot appears to be a used record store in a neighborhood that's always had one somewhere.
The Music Spot is an exceptional music store, including a wall full of classic 45s and endless racks of CDs. I'll mention only one personal find, Duane Eddy Does Dylan, but this musical yard sale covers a half-century of treasures and trash. You be the judge on Duane/Bob - or ask your parents. It's rare. And ought to be.
Or ask John Michael Martin, who seems to have fond memories of every record in the store (and the addresses of where he first heard them). His encyclopedic knowledge of music and wine - you can bet that the new wine list will be both imaginative and affordable - informs all the selections at the Music Spot with wit and integrity.
Wine and hip music, from blues to techno, have flirted before, but only Martin has invited them to sit down to dinner with a menu of fresh, contemporary food and the best local musicians.
Credit the chilled soba noodles, stuffed artichokes and rack of veal to Martin's partner Chad McColgin, who had stints at Roy's and SideBern's, and Jamie Gillie, a saucier at Mise en Place. Musical partners run an impressive gamut, too, from Bobby "Piano" Ciurczak to the blues of Sandy Atkinson and the guitar tales of Ronny Elliott.
Let me point out that I met Martin in one of his earlier lives, when he sold wine for Bern's. He has had many lives: librarian at the University of South Florida, nursing and public health student, asphalt paver, barbecue cook (Holy Cow) and, of course, record store geek (Vinyl Fever, Music Revolution) and collector.
Can all these talents come together? Local restauranting is dangerous for creative sorts with wild ideas, yet the most exciting restaurants are not built by focus groups but by individuals with big hearts, joyful idiosyncrasies and quality in all things. Where else could you watch the Stanley Cup finals, vintage clips of Louis Armstrong, and John and Yoko's home movies?
Better to ask, how could great food and wine, old records and new artists not make beautiful music? Except for the layout, which puts the music store first and hides the restaurant, it's a harmonious fit.
Indeed, the dining area would be sharp on its own, with a modern open kitchen and clean marbled tables spiced with Hugh T. Williams' outsider portraits of great musicians.
Certainly the handsome food and savvy service alone stand out against local competition, even in the early stages.
It starts where I love to, with soup. I'm a sucker for tomato, creamy with Gorgonzola; the artichoke soup was smooth, thick and tart, simultaneously rich and refreshing.
Salads are just as much fun, whether you wrap your own tofu in bibb lettuce with snow peas and carrots (more mint please) or deconstruct a tower of ripe tomatoes and goat cheese, which charmed the palate as well as the eye.
The list of entrees is short, which allows each to get smart trimmings, at less than $20 a plate. The rack of veal gets a velvety risotto, zucchini and finger-licking demiglace; the grouper's butter lemon gets roasted mushrooms and pureed parsnips (I'd like sharper spicing there, maybe marjoram or harissa).
No quibbles at all about the New York strip with a glaze of Cognac and Creole pepper and thyme, spice-infused sweet potatoes (cardamom is my guess), green beans and hints of shallots and truffles. Fish en papillote too often translates as "bag o' generic seafood with extra goop," but a special of snapper in parchment was remarkably light, with neither fish nor vegetables overcooked.
Lunch is simpler, yet still ambitious. There's a fine Greek salad with good lettuce and ripe tomatoes, even though Dale Mabry Highway already has Greek salad aplenty. Wraps include vegan tofu with peanut sauce, and sandwiches aim to upgrade classic reubens and muffaletta. My brisket had great promise, with tomato-fennel relish and horseradish applesauce, but the bread was a wimpy onion roll and the relish much too scant. The end result tasted more like an Italian beef (a fine thing in Chicago, but not what I was jazzed for).
Still, if a garage band had this much together, you'd know it ought to make it big. Join the Music Spot Bistro fan club now. Groupies never ate so well.The Music Spot Bistro
1902 S Dale Mabry Highway, Tampa
(813) 259-2559 Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 11 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. Friday, Saturday.
Details: Credit cards; beer, wine; no smoking; restrooms accessible.
Features: Live music nightly; records, CDs, DVDs for sale.
Prices: Lunch, $4.95 to $6.95; dinner entrees, $15.95 to $19.95.
Web address: www.musicspottampa.com