Tampa has a new stand-out restaurant that's got the city buzzing. Named Ava, this casual Italian eatery is located in the hip and trendy neighborhood of SoHo, and it's quickly gained popularity in an area already known for its world-class eateries.
Part of the initial draw was the superstar collaboration between successful restaurateur Michael Stewart and former coach of the Tampa Bay Rays MLB team, Joe Madden. Madden was frequently on-site during the initial months of operation, and many diners were eager to engage in a little celebrity-sighting.
However, the diners keep coming back even now, lured by the promise of another great meal. At Ava, the philosophy is clear; simple ingredients, authentic recipes and handmade dishes make good food and repeat customers.
Ava's authentic margherita pizza, fresh from the oven — Photo courtesy of Ava
Promising pizzas indistinguishable from those served in Naples, the restaurant is dominated by the Ferrari of pizza ovens, a handmade-in-the-homeland, wood-fired Acunto.
The result of over 100 years of design and craftsmanship, this sleek Italian beauty produces the most authentic margherita pizzas humanly possible. Out comes a pizza that's the perfect combination of tangy tomato; fresh mozzarella; and a fabulously puffy, chewy crust.
While the pizza may have a starring role, the menu at Ava also features outstanding performances by many other carefully prepared dishes. For appetizers, the house-cured meats featuring soft Italian sausage have diners raving, as do the warm ricotta flavored with fennel and mussels with a sauce perfect for dipping their fresh-baked and grilled bread.
Ava's spacious interior features a modern, industrial design — Photo courtesy of Ava
Entrées include a delicious variety of homemade pastas and grilled meats and fish.
The pastas feature a few intriguing, lesser-known pasta shapes, and they're accompanied by simple, rustic ingredients. For the grilled entrees, both the lamb shank and ribeye are emerging as early favorites.
For desert, diners can choose from their Italian favorites such as tiramisu and zeppoli, but for something a little different, try the sweet and salty caramel budino.
As with the food menu, the beverage options have also been carefully chosen and developed. There's a very good wine list that features moderately priced Italian favorites, and also a pleasing lineup of beer options. Ava also shines in the original and well-crafted cocktail category.
The restaurant itself is pleasingly spacious, with a well-designed, urban industrial ascetic and casual atmosphere. When it's busy, which is most of the time, the space fills with the hum of happy eaters.
If you’re looking for a little more quiet or intimacy, there's a good-sized patio that can be enclosed in inclement or overly hot weather.