When I heard a new Italian tapas bar was taking over the space where The Bake and Noi once lived I was excited. I love Italian food and having it tapas style, meaning I get to try several several dishes in one sitting, is a great concept. Upon opening they offered dinner every night except Monday and offer brunch from 10 - 2 on weekends.
The complete redesign looks good. There is a hip vibe, with electronic influenced music playing at a low level with dark wood accents and Edison lighting dotting the interior. The newly built bar, now central in the main dining room, is a great landing spot while waiting for a table. They offer a full complement of craft cocktails ranging from $12 - $15 and moderate selection of local and national beers and wine. They've kept the original Marsal stacked pizza oven and pizza prep area to help with the build-your-own pizzas.
We are seated fairly quickly on our first visit for brunch. My table mate orders Ricotta Pancakes which are hockey puck sized with a biscuit look. The flavor is tasty with hints of maple and typical pancake texture. We wish to add an egg to round out the pancake breakfast. However, the server tells us we need to pay for two eggs to get one, as a single egg is not a menu option. While we agree, once we get the check it turns out they charged for another entire breakfast ($9). Yep, nine dollars for an additional egg! Not cool.
The Egg Boat ($12.00) is a breakfast sandwich on a hoagie roll with scrambled eggs, bacon, pepper jack cheese, served on a wood platter. It's a decent portion but there's nothing to make this combo stand out.
Service is slow and inattentive. At one point I get up from the table just to get a drink refill. After our meal one of the owners comes by the table and asks about the meal and is apologetic that a one egg option saying it is not on the POS system. But, it's a $9 plate nonetheless.
On our second visit for dinner we are able to walk in and get a table sitting close to the bar. The dinner menu is convoluted and difficult to navigate with different sections for meat, veggies, meatballs, build your own pasta, and a couple of sections that appear to have no rhyme or reason.
We start with a Margherita pizza ($10.00). This standard is a simple pie with sauce, cheese, and basil. The secret to a good Margherita pizza is the crust and sauce, and this one doesn't do so well. The yeasty flavor in the crust is missing, as are the big bubbles of puffy goodness that are the mark of a true Margherita pie. The mozzarella cheese is stringy enough but is bland and not all that plentiful. The pie could use more basil to carry the flavor, and it needs much more sauce and less olive oil. We move on.
Pappardelle bolognese ($8.00 single serving) is next and things take a positive turn. Perfectly cooked noodles blend with a meaty red sauce and a sprinkle of parmesan cheese. Now that's Italian!
We also order the Bank Shot ($9 single serving). It's blackened chicken mixed with bacon, spinach, and red sauce. The bacon delivers and gently pops right out of this dish. Again the pasta is nicely cooked and the sauce is creamy, enveloping each noodle with a taste smack down!
For our main course we order fresh Bronzino (sic) but the server server says they are out and rarely have it. So, we opt for Sociale's version of Surf and Turf ($20). It's three bacon wrapped scallops on a bed of short rib beef and polenta. Unfortunately the scallops are consumed by the bacon wrap and the entire dish is too salty. The short rib meat is tender and works well with the sweet polenta but each bite finishes with too much saltiness to enjoy.
With dinner, service is much better and on task. The waiter is friendly and engaging. Going to Sociale Italian Tapas and Pizza Bar is hit or miss. Serving such a large menu with small plate options is a great concept, but the execution here is weak. Only a couple of dishes make the mark. Service is spotty and at times flippant. One of the owners, who visits our table during brunch, says that he and family have been in the restaurant game in Tampa for a long time. The food chops just aren't here given that kind of experience.
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