Michael’s Grill in Tampa, FL

I grew up in North Tampa, among its many strip malls and chain restaurants and highways the size of small states. My mother hated it there. To her it was a suburban wasteland; her hell. There were no little bookstores or cafes or places to walk to or shady parks to read in that didn’t have the sound of ten thousand SUVs whizzing by.

So when she did find something local, something fresh and home-grown, she embraced it. First was our family hair salon, Inga’s, which employed a young man named David who teased my hair through all my proms and homecomings. He shaved my brother’s head before his chemo, and he saw my mother through the transition from spiral curls to a poker-straight blonde mane. He was like a member of the family (and sadly died of AIDS a few years ago; we were heart-broken).

After a visit to David at Inga’s on North Dale Mabry Highway we would routinely stop for a bite at the small restaurant underneath the salon, called Michael’s Grill. We eventually got to know the couple who owned it, and it became our post-church brunch spot as a family, a date spot for my parents, and now it’s the place I gravitate to when I return back to Tampa for the holidays.

Michael's Grill

Over Thanksgiving weekend I gathered my Tampa friends for brunch at my old local. We sat around a big table with fresh flowers, next to the window that overlooked an expanse of concrete, and pretended we weren’t in Tampa. The service was friendly, and Michael, the chef, in his chef’s toque, kept eying us from the kitchen.

Michael's Grill

The Bloody Mary were big and came in Sam Adams beer mugs. The coffee never stopped coming. The bread that they dropped on the table was lovely and warm and spongy. A perfect start to brunch.

Michael's Grill

The specials were sketched onto the big chalkboard on the wall, and we were sold on all the fish that was on the menu (Michael’s is known for its crab cakes). The she crab soup is one of the best bisques I’ve had in Tampa—it’s got chunks of crab meat on top of the smooth soup, and it’s absolutely delicious.

I had the benedict, of course, which came with home fries on the side. It was filling—no frills, nothing special. Perfection. The home fries were standard and just greasy enough.

Michael's Grill

The breakfast sandwich is a bargain ($6!), and comes in between two fresh bagel slices. Or you could go all-out with the $7 Reilly Bagel, made with ham, egg and cheese with mayo on tasted bagel served with grits or house potatoes. Big spender.

Michael's Grill

The breakfast with eggs, sausage, biscuit, and potatoes was the standard. Michael’s calls it the Traditional Breakfast, and you can substitute in toast or grits if you’d like.

The French toast, however, was the winner of the table. It was truly decadent, with a layer of blueberry in the center and crumbles on top. It was topped off with a big dollop of cream and drizzled with syrup. This was the special of the day, so not on the regular brunch menu, but here’s hoping Michael’s makes it a brunch staple.

Michael's Grill

There’s a lovely patio outside, which should be taken to full advantage this time of year in Tampa. Yes, you’re on Dale Mabry, the city’s main traffic artery, but you’re facing a rather lovely wine shop with a mural on one side, and the other, a nearly deserted parking lot (there used to be a big movie theater in this particular strip mall, but it has long been gone).

Michael's Grill

Being that it’s in one of Tampa’s gazillion strip malls, Michael’s makes do with its location and makes it charming with wooden tables, a statue of Michael himself inside and outside the restaurant, fresh flowers on every table, and a touch of the family here and there.

It’s our brunch oasis in a sea of suburbia.

Michael’s Grill
11720 North Dale Mabry Highway
Tampa Florida 33618
813-964-8334

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Comments

  • [...] I expect to find unique coffee shops and bookstores in Washington, New York, Asheville and Europe, but not in Tampa. I’m from a small beach town that’s part of charming St. Petersburg, outside Tampa (or Trampa as I affectionately call it). Meanwhile, Becca is from Tampa and has gripped about it quite a bit. [...]

  • Anne-Marie says:

    as a north tampa native i feel your pain! i’ve been wanting to try michael’s and definitely will next time i’m home! i normally gravitate to the tiny thai restaurants when in tampa because they’re better in tampa than chapel hill and not massive chains!!

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