-4 Snaps! Strongly recommended
The Seminole Heights Asian food favorite Chop Chop Shop opened in its new digs in late October. Originally an Ayre's Diner (there were several around Tampa in the '50s and '60s) it's a place where Elvis Presley reportedly ate, tying it to local folklore. If you listen closely you may still be able to hear Blue Christmas echoing in the background. The diner housed Nicko's Fine Foods from the 1980's until it closed in late 2017.
While the structure still has that signature shiney stainless steel exterior with wrap-around windows, the interior has been replaced a more Asian look. Leather tufted booths are out, replaced by wooden tables and chairs, and in the evening the lighting is very dim and distinctly red (making photography very difficult!). The original lunch counter with (most of) it's floor mounted spinning stools and curved countertop remains, although the counter top has been replaced and the pink and white striped kick panel now has a wood look. I am torn. I love Tampa's history and feel slightly lovelorn with the changes. But I also appreciate the fact that someone, anyone, is willing to step up and keep life in this beautiful and historic place.
Ordering is done at the counter (or on-line) with servers delivering food to your table. Billed as a "Modern fast food establishment offering build-your-own Asian-style bowls & unique burgers", the menu is simple enough to give a variety of choices but not overwhelm. You know the drill... pick your base, protein, sauce, and add-ons. Our food arrives quickly.
I love pork belly (thick bacon really), and give it a try. I choose Soba noodles (Japanese buckwheat noodles) as a base, the Chicago Lee sauce (sweet with medium heat), and add purple slaw and fried Shumai-shrimp dumplings. ($12.25). It's a generous portion of food and beautifully presented.
Pork belly is a cut of meat with vertical layers of fat and meat, and I prefer close to a 50-50 mix of each. This portion is decidedly fat heavy and could use a little more time searing. The salt and pepper crust touted on the menu doesn't really show up. Flavor wise, however, the pork is outstanding. That sweet sauce made with Korean chili paste, garlic, and ginger mixed with the fat of that pork belly is top notch, as are the rest of the ingredients. The purple slaw is tangy and crunchy and the Soba noodles shine.
We also order a Chicken Katsu Bowl- thinly sliced Panko breaded fried chicken breast on a soba noodle base. It is remarkable as well. It's difficult to not overcook chicken sliced so thinly, but these morsels remain moist on the inside and have that good Panko crust crunch on the outside. The accompanying Miso coconut sauce- a coconut cream, miso, mustard combo- is perfect for this dish.
Chop Chop shop does not offer alcoholic beverages. Fountain drinks are available. They are closed Mondays and Tuesdays, with shop hours 5:00 pm - 10:00 pm except for Sunday when they close at 9:00
The move looks to be a win for everybody. The owners got more room, the community not only got to keep a historic structure, but also gets to keep eating the Asian based fare prepared so well by this talented kitchen.
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