Abbott Station in Zephyrhills serves up fresh meals in historic setting
There's something fitting in the placement of Abbott Station Restaurant in Zephyrhills. The doors opened in May in the historic home of Rosemary Trottman. Trottman is known for authoring "The History of Zephyrhills, 1821 to 1921." The book, published in 1978, covers the early days from before Zephyrhills was Zephyrhills. The restaurant is owned by chef Jeff Meserve, his wife of 15 years, Kristen, and partner Jennifer Stevens. The Meserves came to Zephyrhills after running a restaurant at the University of South Florida called Terek's Cafe for 10 years. "It was great," Jeff Meserve said of Terek's. "It was a very busy, successful little restaurant with perfect hours. Monday through Friday - 6 in the morning, home by 3 in the afternoon, no weekends, no nights, no holidays, closed the entire month of July and the entire month of December."What it didn't have was long-term security. "I needed something to retire on," said Jeff Meserve, 49. "My wife drove by and saw the sign and said 'Hey, there's a restaurant for sale in Zephyrhills.'" The rest is history - literally. "For weeks we were trying to come up with a name," Jeff Meserve said. One day as they sat finalizing the sale with their real estate agent, the agent told them that the city had once been called Abbott Station. "As the words left his lips I thought, 'Oh, that's perfect.' We wanted to tie in with the community," Jeff Meserve said. The name also appealed to Meserve because he has a love for trains. He hopes to decorate the restaurant as a train station in the future with an outdoor drive-though caboose serving food at a quick stop. The plan is based on local history. It appears from historical references that the name Abbott Station refers to a train station in Abbott, according to a newspaper reference on Jan. 27, 1910, recorded by fivay.org. The Zephyrhills Colonist reports, "There are a few houses near the station at Abbott now. It will be but a few months until it will be a bustling town." In May 1910, the post office name was changed from Abbott to Zephyrhills, fivay.org reports. Dr. J.M. Abbott was a Confederate States of America doctor who moved to Zephyrhills for his health, wrote Trottman, the historian. He partnered in opening a sawmill and was involved heavily in the life of the community. Abbott (now Zephyrhills) was named for J.M. Abbott or his father, fivay.org says. At Abbott Station Restaurant, Jeff and Kristen Meserve are weathering the slow months of summer, a challenge for any young business, but things are looking up. "We seem to be building up a base of regulars," Jeff Meserve said. "I see a lot of customers over and over again and then they're bringing friends in and then I see their friends coming in and they're bringing friends. He said there is a group that meets at the restaurant who call themselves "sunbirds" as opposed to "snowbirds" because they are here year-round. Meserve also thought that summer was a good time to work out details of service. "It's a learning process every day," he said. "Every day we figure out something we can do a little bit better." Meserve is a culinary school graduate and has worked in Miami, New York and at various hotels and country clubs. He describes the menu as "casual gourmet." "It's pretty much strictly American food," he said, but he does have what is becoming a signature dish that may not be described as strictly American - pumpkin bisque. "It's got a Caribbean flair to it because I lived in Miami and I kind of created that on my own," Meserve said. He makes it with coconut milk and curry and it has become a sensation among his customers. "It's kind of become a signature thing here," he said. "People on Facebook were saying 'Oh my god, you can take a pumpkin and turn it into this, it's so delicious." Meserve uses fresh ingredients and the best oils he can find. He said his is the only restaurant within a 15-mile radius serving certified Angus beef. "We're definitely more about quality than quality," Meserve said. "I try to buy top-of-the-line stuff, I don't skimp on anything. I buy the best, the freshest, and local if I can. I don't want to be known as the cheapest place in town. I want to be know as the best place." In keeping with the history of the building, the Meserves have dubbed a sunken room the "Rosemary Room" in honor of its former local celebrity owner. Some customers remember being in the house when Trottman lived there, Kristen Meserve said. The Meserves and Stevens are looking forward to getting involved in the community The name is just a start. To learn more about Abbott Station Restaurant, call (813) 322-3686 or visit abbottstation.com.