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Monday, Nov 19, 2018
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Bar review: The Strawberry Tap is a fruitful trip

I'm a big fan of day trips. You can enjoy a pretty remarkable change of scenery in under an hour for most parts of Tampa Bay.

This time around, I decided on Plant City: less than an hour's drive from home and less than a half hour from Brandon and Temple Terrace. Despite its proximity, downtown Plant City feels removed by both space and time - a quieter and sleepier version of Florida that I imagine must have once existed.

On the weeknight I visited, most of the mom-and-pop shops lining the downtown streets were long closed, turning the historic - and open - Lee Building into a beacon of sorts. The two-story, 19,200-square-foot building was the largest structure downtown when it was built in 1922. By the 1990s, it was aged and crumbling, but after a big-budget restoration, it's reclaimed its role as downtown Plant City's business hub, hosting everything from office spaces to a camera museum to The Strawberry Tap.

Open only four months, The Strawberry Tap has been hard at work building a clientele in a part of town notorious for going silent after 5 p.m. The concept is simple: It's a casual, locally focused restaurant and bar that pays homage to Plant City's history by way of photos and historic documents donated by guests and displayed on the walls. There are only a few pieces up now, but the place is still young.

Step into the Lee Building through its courtyard entrance or on the Reynolds Street side, and you'll immediately get a taste of its old school feel, reminiscent of an office building from an old noir film - all wood everything, checkered tile floors; everything but a frosted window pane with a private detective's name on it.

The Strawberry Tap anchors the corner spot, with windows looking out onto Reynolds and a kitchen down the hallway. In between, there's a small room with dart boards. It's a little bit family restaurant, a little sports bar and even a craft cocktail joint of sorts, a rarity in town.

Beer wise, there are six taps, including local brews from Cigar City and Florida Avenue, as well as locally brewed strawberry cider from Two Henrys. A charity beer is featured each month, with 50 cents of each purchase going to a rotating monthly charity.

The liquor selection at The Strawberry Tap isn't extensive, but it is varied and includes some interesting options, like Waterloo Antique Gin and a range of vodkas and whiskeys from Tampa's Florida Cane Distillery.

The big sell is the bar's cocktail menu, which features a range of fun and fruity concoctions, along with a trio of smoked cocktails, prepared and then placed into a glass chamber filled with mesquite smoke.

For example, the Johnny Law Dawg starts as a Red Label scotch Old Fashioned before being garnished with a cinnamon-salt torched orange peel and put into the smoker. The combination of mesquite smoke, scotch, orange bitters and torched citrus is pleasant.

The Smoked Apple Bourbon - the best drink on the menu, in my opinion - combines Jim Beam Vanilla with sparkling apple cider in a glass rimmed with a smoke-cinnamon-maple rub and garnished with a cinnamon stick and apple slices, again bathed in mesquite smoke. If there's a better fall seasonal cocktail out there, I want to know about it.

Naturally, strawberries play a prominent role in the cocktail menu. The ostensible house drink, the Strawberry Tap-a-Rita, is a play on the margarita, with Camarena Gold tequila, fresh strawberry-purée and juice-filled boba. It's an otherwise basic drink that gets a boost from fresh local ingredients and a fun texture addition. My only gripe is that the straw isn't big enough to pick up the boba, so you'll have to sip straight from the glass if you want to catch any.

The Strawberry Tap still has a way to go before it's packing the house on a Monday night, but it's unquestionably a welcome addition. It would fit in nicely in any quaint bay area locale. But it's Plant City all the way, and that's not a bad little day trip.

- Contact Justin Grant at [email protected] Follow @WordsWithJG.

The Strawberry Tap

E Reynolds Street, Plant City 33563. (813) 756-3380. facebook.com/thestrawberrytap

The vibe: A local-centric bar and restaurant featuring creative cocktails.

Food: Appetizers, $4.25-$12.25; entrées, $9.25-$18.25; desserts, $10.25-$13.75.

Booze: Beer, wine and liquor. Beer, $3.25-$8.50; wine, $8 by the glass and $26 by the bottle; liquor, $8.75-$20.

Specialty: Try one of the signature smoked cocktails. The Smoked Apple Bourbon is especially fall-appropriate, featuring Jim Beam Vanilla and sparkling apple cider, garnished with a cinnamon stick, apple slices and a cinnamon-maple-smoke rub rim, then placed into a chamber filled with mesquite smoke. Too intense? Try the Strawberry Tap-a-Rita, which combines Camarena Gold tequila with fresh strawberry purée, garnished with boba balls.

Hours: 3 p.m. to 11 p.m. Monday; 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday; 11 a.m. to midnight Friday-Saturday; closed Sunday.

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