Datz what it is: At a Tampa deli-turned-gastropub, the sandwiches are still sublime 

When Datz Deli first opened in January of 2009, it had some problems. The new spot was owners Roger and Suzanne Perry's first foray into the restaurant/gourmet market world and they admit they made some mistakes. One week in, the deli dropped the counter service and became a regular restaurant — a regular restaurant that served a strange combination of interesting deli standards alongside charcuterie plates and plenty of wine by the glass, that is. That wasn't quite right, either.

Over the past two years, the Perrys have continued to revamp the Datz concept, resulting in a "Datz 2.0" that's very different from the original, while still maintaining some of the charm of the early days. Largely gone is the extensive selection of interesting gourmet food items, cured meats and other sundry sundries. Saved is the extensive wine and beer selection, previously sold at retail prices but still fairly inexpensive in the new incarnation. The biggest change, however, is on the menu.

Datz 2.0 is a gastropub, with the kind of revamped classic American dishes that fit that mold. Fried and roast chicken, meatloaf and fried steak, fish that borrows from New York or Louisiana. Starters and sides run the gamut from downscale loaded potato chips or garlicky pretzel nuggets to flatbreads or ravioli.

And, on the whole, it's a satisfying tour of the country, even though the potential elegance of some of the dishes sometimes falls by the wayside. Massive short rib ravioli feature pasta that's a touch too chewy and meat that's much too subtle for the heavy dose of garlicky cream sauce, not to mention the unnecessary addition of a red wine reduction drizzled around the plate. Fish tacos are built on second-rate tortillas and stuffed with featureless ingredients, filling but far from interesting.

At Datz 2.0, you're better off with the more pubby appetizers, like those simple pretzel bites paired with sharp mustard that work perfectly with just about any beer you order from the wide variety of draughts and bottles available. The homemade potato chips are topped in enough ingredients to cause a soggy train wreck, but the kitchen is judicious in their application, resulting in a surprisingly tasty blend of sour cream, chili and three different cheeses. If only someone could get the owners to stop putting sugar on their "signature" chips, it'd be perfect.

Although entrees are largely solid renditions of classic meat-and-potatoes dishes, the kitchen sometimes veers into imaginative territory that shows the potential of re-imagined pub food. Nowhere is that more apparent than in Datz's version of chicken and waffles. The crisp, crenellated breakfast pastries are infused with cheddar cheese and paired with a pot of good maple syrup loaded with chopped jalapenos and herbs, an odd combination that works surprisingly well. The syrup also adds character to the chicken, which needs the help thanks to breading the texture of floury sand.

Datz's grouper Pontchartrain, although less imaginative, is much more accomplished. Seasoned and spicy dirty rice, nicely seared fish and a tomato and shrimp sauce with a kick of chile heat makes it one of the best entrees on the menu.

And you can always order from the former deli's abbreviated, but still sizable, list of damn fine sandwiches. Those haven't changed a bit from the early days, except for the better.

Same with the beer and wine selection, which isn't quite as big when it comes to bottles. However the addition of more wine "flites" and 36 draught beer selections — smartly stocked with a good variety of craft and import brews, including a slew of Cigar City offerings — makes it one of the best beer and wine bars in the area, probably the best in South Tampa.

That means there are a few different ways to approach Datz 2.0. As a restaurant, it's moderately successful, occasionally interesting and worth an occasional visit. As a beer bar, its food easily surpasses that of almost every other spot in the Bay area. As a wine bar, it gives you the opportunity to sip from glasses of exquisite vino while noshing on comfort food.

And, if none of those approaches works for you, never fear. This deli/gastropub's first two years have taught us that Datz 3.0 may not be too far off.

Photos by James Ostrand.


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