Friday, May 15, 2015

Where We Eat: Stage Left

Stop me if you've heard this one. Two lovers walk into a bar. Its a dark, dingy place that smells of alcohol even though it is only two o'clock in the afternoon. The stage that was occupied by a singer-songwriter last night, now sits empty and barren. The two lovers don't drink. They aren't here to, what's the lame ass word proper drinkers use, imbibe, they have come for the food.

No? Keep going? Alright.

The food isn't your typical bar food. Its healthy and fresh and locally purchased from other small businesses when possible. There is no frying in the kitchen. Instead of burgers and onion rings, you'll find the menu covered with African Peanut Soup, Thai Noodles, Mexican Gumbo and a Mediterranean Plate. This is the story of Stage Left.

Stage Left is a relatively new bar located in the Lutz area. It is the brainchild of husband and wife duo  Brian and Isabelle Dunleavy. According to an article in the New Tampa Neighborhood News, Brian is the one with the restaurant experience but Isabelle is the one who inspired the menu. The couple modeled it after the way she cooks at home, fresh ingredients with lots of vegan and vegetarian options.

Ever since I first visited, to celebrate myself, I've been been trying to find a time where J-Fur and I could go there together. We were finally able to arrange it last week. After being seated, the waiter gave us some time to look over the menu. We were buried pages deep when he returned and told us about their new guacamole. It was so new that it wasn't even on the menu yet. That sounded good to us, so we put in an order.

       The Chips and Guacamole

The guacamole had a nice lime and garlic flavor. I was absolutely ecstatic that they didn't ruin it by putting that terrible, no good, downright rotten, cilantro in it (and if they did, they masked it well). I felt like the ratio of chips to dip was great. I ran out of both of them at the same time (and this wasn't me skimping on the guac either, I was really digging in). On my previous visit, I settled on the Mexican Gumbo as a main course. I was stoked to see that a restaurant in the area offered a rice dish that wasn't fried rice. It was a good dish, certainly something I'd do again, but it didn't have that epic feel to it. I wanted to branch out and try one of their other vegan offerings so I went with a bowl of African Peanut Soup and the Mediterranean platter. The platter wasn't my first choice. I had my heart set on the COLD Thai Noodles (cold is emphasized as it seems a lot of people mistakenly order them expecting a heated dish). But, alas, they were all out. J-Fur chose the Farmhouse Melt (mozzarella, tomato, basil, and balsamic reduction on farmhouse bread).

       The African Peanut Soup

The African Peanut Soup is both gluten free and vegan. It consists of sweet potatoes, ginger, peanuts and fresh veggies. With that combination, it should come as no surprise that the soup was sweet. I was fine with the sweetness but my mother-in-law, who visited earlier in the week, thought it was too much. Just take note, if you aren't into sweet soups, steer clear. The consistency was smooth, save for the peanuts that were bobbing on the surface.

        The Mediterranean Plate

With Mediterranean Plate's you never know what you are going to get. I'm not talking about what's on the plate, you pretty much know it will be some combo of flatbread, tapenade and hummus, I'm talking more about the quality and portions. There are too many places that skimp on the flatbread, serve you a ton of dip and wonder why you ask for more. Actually, no they don't, they just take your money as you pay for a second helping to finish off the dip. Is it really that hard to give me enough pita for my dip? Thankfully Stage Left doesn't have that problem. As you can see in the picture, there is ample flatbread to go around. If, by some chance, you do run out...well, that's where the carrots and cucumbers come in handy. I was a big fan of the tapenade, all chunky and easy to handle. I liked the flavor of the hummus, a grand little flair, though I prefer mine to be a bit creamier in consistency.

        The Farmhouse Melt

J-Fur's sandwich certainly looked good. The bread was pressed and crispy and provided a fabulous contrast to the gooey cheese and tomato interior. Based on the ingredients, J-Fur expected a memorable sandwich. By her estimation the Farmhouse Melt was good but not memorable. She craved an exotic pesto to elevate it deity level.

There is a lot to like at Stage Left. They've got drinking and live music. On top of that, they have a unique menu that offers a lot of quality food that tastes fresh and homemade. The bar has options y'all. Especially for people with extreme diets as their menu has a number of gluten free, vegan and vegetarian options.

Will I be back? You bet ya. I need to find a way to get my hands on those Thai Noodles.

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I'd pair Stage Left with a side of Yukon Blonde's "Como". The track is all about spending the night together. Stage Left was just the beginning of a full day affair for us, one that saw Yukon Blonde repeated over and over. That is until the evening ended in a former ice hockey rink dancing to Passion Pit.