Registry Tampa Bay

I didn’t get introduced to short rib until well into adulthood. Once I did, I became an instant fan. My thinking was: Here’s a way to get pot roast in nice restaurants.

In the subsequent years, I’ve had short rib that’s been melt-in-my-mouth heavenly. I’ve had short rib that was so dry and stringy that I left most of it on the plate.

I didn’t expect the latter from the two upscale (but not quite fine-dining) restaurants I chose for this week’s Friday Food Fight: Renzo’s (the downtown St. Pete location), and Teak on the St. Pete Pier.

RENZO’S


At 6:30 Monday, shortly after we were seated at a four-top in the restaurant’s dining room, a miracle. Rain. Not hard rain — but watching drops splatter on the sidewalk through the tall windows certainly added to the lovely ambiance. We were the only customers until another party of two came in from their outdoor table to avoid getting rained on.

The downtown St. Pete location is the third Renzo’s, which was founded 2009 in Tampa and bills itself as a steakhouse focused on “the art of Argentine grilling.” The dining room is medium-sized and tastefully decorated. Acid jazz played quietly on the sound system.

We ordered Braised Short Ribs ($30) and a Palmitos (palm hearts) salad ($12), an Olema Chardonnay ($16) for Bonnie and a ginger ale ($3) for me.

Appearance


A generous slab of glistening beef, lathered with brown sauce, sat atop a bed of mashed potatoes. I admired the plate, rimmed in shiny brown. Visually, the dish was everything I’d hoped for.

Texture and Taste


Whatever mild trepidation I had about eating stringy short rib vanished with the first bite. The beef was supremely tender, with a bold flavor and the ideal fat content to provide a melt-in-your-mouth experience. I encountered a few slightly unpleasant fat globules, but that was a small price to pay.

The potatoes were more souped than mashed. Remember Cream of Wheat? Like that. Or grits. The entree would’ve been considerably enhanced if the potatoes were firmer. Still, I enjoyed the dish, and Bonnie and I made short work of it.

The salad was mostly big leafs of romaine lettuce. “At least we’re getting our greens,” Bonnie murmured. The lightly pickled hearts of palm were the best things in the bowl, but there were too few of them. The house dressing was tart to the extreme, and there was too much of it.

Bonnie was impressed with her Olema Chardonnay, and even more so with the generous pour.

TEAK


On Wednesday at 6, we parked and missed the first Pier tram by seconds, so waited on a bench for 15 minutes to get a ride out to the building on the far end. It was hot, man. We should’ve walked.

When we were seated in Teak’s large main dining room a half-hour later, translucent shades had been drawn down to help mitigate the blazing sun in the west. The shades obstructed the view of the downtown skyline (but I took a photo through the glass anyway).

Teak was doing a robust business for a Wednesday outside of peak tourism season. Most of the tables were occupied by the time we left just after 7:30.

We ordered Beef Short Rib ($34) and a Teak House Salad ($16) to split. I got a 3 Daughters Beach Blonde Ale on draft ($7).

Appearance


Both the entree and the colorful salad — one of the prettiest I’ve seen in a long time — were ready for their closeups. The sun shone through just so, ideal for snapping pics.

Texture and Taste

The beef had a striated consistency that I’m familiar with in short rib. It was less fatty than the competition’s, and not as moist. The potatoes were mashed instead of souped, thank you.

I appreciated the brown sauce — like an elevated gravy — and the generous amount in the bowl. A subtle bitterness from a stalk of broccoli completed the taste and texture.

I’m not usually in favor of fruit in my salads — unless it’s a fruit salad — but Teak’s version really worked. I hadn’t eaten mandarin oranges in a while, and had forgotten how fun they are in the mouth.

The sesame pineapple ginger dressing was sweetish and refreshing, ideal for this salad, although I could not definitively taste any of the stated ingredients. No matter — they blended well. The greens provided a touch of earthiness to add complexity.

And the Winner of the Short Rib Showdown Is …

Teak.

I preferred Renzo’s beef, but considering the meal as a whole — especially when factoring in the salad, and the mashed potatoes — Teak takes it.

Just to be clear: Bonnie and I very much enjoyed both meals.

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