Secret gardens are taking root on Tampa Bay rooftops. On Wednesday, Oct. 9, Tampa's Pelagia Trattoria revealed its rooftop garden at the Renaissance Tampa International Plaza Hotel. Above the banquet hall are several rows of vertical planters; they are all lush with squash blossoms, cherry peppers, and herbs.
Just a few steps from Neiman Marcus and the Apple store, Chef Brett Gardiner's garden hums with fresh ingredients. Many of the summer crops, like tomatoes, are gone for the season.
"These squash blossoms are just about done," said Gardiner, stroking the yellow blooms. "We're thinking of trying strawberries, a lot of people have had success growing strawberries this way."
Gardiner plucked a long leaf at the top of one of the planters. "That's stevia," he said. "It's so sweet. Try it."
It's sweet, without the sugar burn, and coupled with a couple lavender leaves from below, it's like dessert.
Pelagia's new garden-infused menu features flavors from the rooftop oasis.The delicate spinach gnocchi with ricotta salata is browned in butter with slices of lamb's ear sage. Arugula is mixed with grapefruit and served alongside the charred octopus.
The buttery and rich grilled Mediterranean rack of lamb is served as a lollipop in all its bright herby-goodness. Dessert rounds out with a pumpkin semifreddo (think slightly softened ice cream) with pumpkin seed brittle.
Right now, the rooftop garden takes up only a small sector of the available space. "The best part is we have plenty of room to grow," Gardiner said.