Where We Eat: Lee’s Grocery

“And suddenly, like light in darkness, the real truth broke upon me; the simple fact of Man, which I had forgotten, which had lain deep buried and out of sight; the idea of community, of unity.”
-Ernst Toller

Stumbling out of the shadows of the dollhouses and M & M porches that litter Frances Avenue is a brand new food establishment called Lee’s Grocery. Located on the corner of Frances and Central in the Heights of Tampa, Lee’s serves craft beer, gourmet coffee and stone baked pizza. Last night they held their grand opening celebration from 6 to 9 pm. With the promise of free pizza and beer, a group of us decided to end J-Fur’s birthday week there before moving on to ice skating and the dessert room at Bern’s.

After stepping through the front door, the first thing I noticed was the wall decorum of old vinyl record covers and band  posters. It was strange to see the likes of the Dead Kennedys and the Smiths becoming wallflowers with REM, Rick James, Ice Cube and Iron Maiden. It reminded me of another Tampa Pizza establishment, Cappy’s, who wrote their menu on the back of LP jackets.

The Bar and Menu Board in Lee’s

Not quite sure what to expect from a grocery store turned bar that offers stone baked pizza, the six of use waited for some of the free pizza to come out so we could taste it before deciding whether to purchase a whole one or not. Around 7:30 the first free pies (and only ones during the time we were there) came out. One pepperoni, one cheese. We grabbed some slices and put it to the test. The cheese pie was very doughy. I didn’t mind it but the New Yorker in our group called foul. “Cappy’s is better.” For the rest of us it was good enough to put in a full order. With specialty pies like Deadman’s Party (pepperoni, sausage, meatballs, bacon and ham), Hanging Garden (spinach, green pepper, onion, black olives, artichokes, tomato and mushrooms), Minor Threat (pesto, mushrooms, spinach, jalapenos and feta) and Don’t Stand so Close to Me (olive oil, garlic, onions, black olives, artichokes, mushrooms, ricotta and mozzarella) and 19 build your own toppings there was no shortage of choices. There was also no shortage of music connection either.

Decisions, decisions, decisions

J-Fur decided that she wanted the Don’t Stand so Close to Me minus the ricotta. Lee’s had no problem with the substitution and they said that it would be out in 25 minutes. Meanwhile they bought a sampling of the only other made to order food they offer, chicken wings.

By N’s standards the Lemon Pepper Wings were just right

When our pie arrived we were all eager to give it a try. The New Yorker liked the crust on the pie that we ordered much better as it wasn’t as doughy. I was pretty impressed by the pie. The dough met the strict standards I have (doughy, not too much, and not crispy). I loved the aftertaste that the olive oil sauce provided. Even when I reached the end of the slice, where the toppings melt away and only the crust remains, the taste of olive oil lingered. This meant that dipping sauces and some of the other gimmicks that corporate pizza places offer were unnecessary. The feelings from the rest of the group ranged from “the pizza was great, better than Cappy’s” to “a pleasant surprise.” Not one bad word was said about it. Of course Lee’s differs from Cappy’s in that it has more of a beer selection. It also only offers pizza and wings while Cappy’s has a few additional choices like salads and desserts. Cappy’s also has a deep dish option.

A slice of “Don’t Stand so Close to Me”

Still, it blew my mind that Lee’s Grocery, a place I assumed was more about the craft beers, actually had a pizza that is comparable in taste to other strictly pizza joints in the area. I could definitely see returning to this place and eating again.

Lee’s does have a problem that will need to be ironed out if it hopes to become a destination for diners and drinkers. As far as I could tell there was only one bathroom. If this is the case than it could create issues with people eating and drinking and needing facilities. Only once during our time there did I notice a line longer than three people but if you bring in the crowds things would be magnified.

I’m also not going to touch the idea of gentrification.

Lee's Grocery on Urbanspoon

The Cocks describe their sounds as the “bastard child of The Clash and The Replacements, having a polygamist relationship with the Kinks and the Beatles all the while lusting after Yo La Tengo, Wilco, Spoon and Built to Spill.” In essence, a beautiful wallflower. Check out “Turns Around the Corner” from their Tuesday Morning Hangover album:

The Cocks – Turns Around The Corner by write.click.cook.listen

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