Soul Food and Eclectic Southern Charm at Ella’s Folkart Cafe
A metal horse, rows of bowling balls, and items you wouldn’t be surprised to find in an antique garage all make up the decor at Ella’s Americana Folkart Cafe. It’s special and eclectic and no matter how many times you visit, there is something new to spot every time. As wonderful as the space has been put together, the food is on a whole other level. Located in Seminole Heights, an area newly recognized for a impressive mix of quality restaurants, Ella’s has become a staple, quick-like.
Florida may be the southernmost state in the continental United States, but we’re hardly known for our wide selection of true southern food. Born and raised in Tampa, I had never really been exposed to southern food. Other than Ella’s, I still can’t rattle off a restaurant where one can get this same caliber and type of cuisine. In 28 years, Ella’s was really my first venture into something I didn’t even realize I was missing.
I visited Ella’s a couple of different times to try all of the food featured in this blog post. Each time I brought someone new to dine with me. Ella’s is just the kind of place you want to share.
Although Ella’s does a great job in representing itself in their daily entrees and crafted cocktails, a visit to Ella’s for Soul Food Sundays is crucial.
For whatever reason, on this particular Sunday visit, I wanted an alcoholic breakfast beverage. The Breakfast of Champions caught my eye immediately, promising a taste of pancakes and syrup. It’s been 7 years since I turned 21, but I’m still fascinated by a shot that tastes like the food it claims to represent. Frankly, I inwardly challenge a shot to be wrong every time I let it slide down my throat. I never claimed to be normal.
This shot consisted of chilled Jameson and Butterscotch Schnapps, with an orange juice chaser. It went down smooth, without so much as a burn, and guess what? It did not disappoint. I was fascinated beyond belief. Pancakes and syrup in drinkable form! I could get wasted off of this…
Keeping the Sunday libations coming, I next chose to try the Po-mosa. There are plenty of places in Tampa with a reasonably priced mimosa, but I was surprised by the Po-mosa. For $2, it’s a fun mixture of Narragansett and Tang. In case you aren’t aware, Narrangansett is a beer, and Tang is, well, an orange-flavored powdered drink that would make any cook cringe. It was something different and it made me laugh, so why not?
On Sundays, Fried Chicken and Waffles is the first item listed on the menu. Loving this dish so very much, I almost decided to not even read any further. But, Ella’s Soul Food Sundays menu also consists of Fried Catfish, Biscuit and Gravy, plus more. In the end of my (very short) menu perusing, I still went back to the Fried Chicken and Waffles. For a side, I chose one of my favorite Ella’s items: Fried Green Tomatoes.
Please note: the waffle is green because it was St. Patrick’s Day. I’m looking forward to my next Sunday visit, looking forward to trying something new, because I’ve had better chicken and waffles elsewhere. That’s not to say that the Ella’s rendition was anything less than great, but I found the waffle to be bland. The fried chicken, though, was a dripping, juicy meat that had incredibly crisp skin, something I’m always amazed by. The bourbon maple gravy was sweet and strong- always a good thing!
Soul Food Sundays is also complete with live music and an entire menu portion of Kansas City BBQ options.
On a separate visit, it was time to try some food with the word southern at its core. This signature Cherry Limeade cocktail may sound innocent and like something you’d find at your local Red Robin, but it includes cherry vodka, cointreau, lime juice, club soda, sour, and a touch of grenadine. It’s reminiscent of a Shirley Temple, only with a sharp taste that still manages to be refreshing.
The Smoked Watermelon and Apple Slaw was certainly different. I’m still unsure how I feel about this side dish. I’m a big coleslaw lover, but I think the smoky watermelon flavor overpowered all of the other components and was a flavor my taste buds weren’t used to or prepared for. However, it was my friend’s favorite dish of our lunch.
What a gorgeous dish, right? Macaroni and Cheese is such a comfort food for me and then you add bacon and even more cheese, I’m a goner. I love that Ella’s serves their Bacon Macaroni and Cheese in a small cast iron skillet, keeping the dish hotter longer. Not that there was a need because this side was gone before you can say “carby goodness in my mouth!!!!”, but the presentation received an A+ in my book.
I loved how the added parmesan cheese baked to give a crunchy element to the dish. Obsession in its purest form.
I shared a story with coworkers the other day. When I was in elementary school and going to daycare during the summers, I would have my mom pack me the same thing for lunch every single day: a roast beef sandwich with mustard and a thermos of pickle juice. That’s right, pickle juice right from the jar and into the cup that would eventually empty into my gullet. I was obsessed with pickles and still am. It’s extremely rare for me to spot fried pickles on a menu and not give in to these fried, vinegary treats.
The Fried Pickles have the perfect amount of breading, which is actually pretty perfectly seasoned as well. As for the ranch dressing accompaniment, it’s a dressing that left me wondering why more restaurants can’t serve something similar. It’s peppery and very unique to the other ranch dressings I’ve had.
Living up to its name, the Stuffed Chicken is filled with pancetta, asiago, portabella and spinach, breaded and served over spinach fettuccini alfredo with grilled lemon. I chose this dish during my very first visit to Ella’s and no matter how many times I try something new, a small part of me is always with the stuffed chicken dish. It’s perfect in so many ways.
Creamy alfredo, salty pancetta, tart lemon and the bite of the asiago, it doesn’t get any better at Ella’s, in my opinion.
The Chicken Mole is not a normal item on the Ella’s menu. On one visit, this was a featured special. Sitting on a cornbread cake, the coffee/chocolate combination sauce poured over roasted chicken and soaked into the bottom layer. On top was a guacamole that was equal parts creamy and chunky.
Yet another special, this Chorizo Soup with toasted cornbread and a chipotle cream had all of the makings of a great soup: crunch, salt, sweetness, corn, herbs, and this deep core flavor from the chorizo. It was gone in seconds and I could then resume my table conversation.
Is there anything decidedly more southern than a creamy, flavor-punching plate of Shrimp and Grits that’ll literally knock your socks off and wish you’d grown up in the middle of, I dunno, Kentucky?? No, there’s not. And Ella’s, with their Shrimp and Grits, transports me to a place I’ve never even been. If you don’t try this dish on your trip to Ella’s, you’re about the stupidest person I know.
The Dog House salad is perhaps my favorite salad ever. No, it IS my favorite salad ever. It seems pretty basic. Looking at the ingredients, it’s not something I would have thought to put together, but it all works and the cooked elements of this dish are cooked to perfection. The Dog House consists of baby spinach tossed in a honey sherry vinaigrette with tomato, red onion, goat cheese, almonds, sauteed asparagus and portobello with grilled salmon.
The creamy goat cheese is easily spread throughout the greens. The salmon is flaky and melts in your mouth. The sauteed vegetables bring some warmth to the dish. The honey sherry vinaigrette makes the meal.
A couple of years ago at a Blogger Brilliance conference, I tried Panna Cotta for the first time. It was love at first bite. Ella’s featured a Vanilla Panna Cotta with blackberries and a blackberry sauce that made me wonder if I could get away with licking the plate without looking like a scavenger. I ended up resisting, but this dessert stands out as one of my favorites.
If you’ve yet to try this Seminole Heights fan favorite, what are you waiting for? There is happy hour Tuesdays through Fridays from 5pm-7pm, Retro Vinyl Night on Wednesdays, live jazz on Thursdays, live music on Fridays and Sundays. Plus, all of the southern cuisine, with as many locally grown ingredients no less, than you can possibly devour in just a couple of sittings.
So, go ahead and make Ella’s a regular monthly stop in your quest for some down south country cuisine.