A pop-up restaurant is a fantastic way to test out a restaurant idea without the commitment or extended overhead costs.
Last night, I was very excited to attend the Genesis Pop-Up Restaurant that was hosted in Port Charlotte. After being offered tickets for myself and 2 guests, including 2 tickets that were given away in our Venice Foodies Community group, I was completely hyped up.
The “experience” was promoted to be a “vegetable-forward” concept where the focus of the meals would be on a balance between the locally sourced produce and locally sourced chicken and shrimp.
The local vendors included:
- Circle C Farm
- Florida Pure Sea Salt
- Fruitville Grove
- Geier’s Meat Market
- Rock Creek Shrubs
- Wiel Farm
- Worden Farm
I invited my sister and one of my best friends to attend with me and off we went on our journey south to experience this pop up restaurant! It was very difficult to find as there were no signs showing the event and we drove past it twice before finding the location. The space was quite large with only the back end of the room set up for dining and a cash only bar at the very front of building.
The table was set in a minimal way with a simple centerpiece and our menu for the night on the cloth napkin. Our servers were almost overly friendly, coming by every few minutes to refill our water even if only sips had been taken. Although dinner started at 5 pm, it was nearly 5:45 before we received our first course. I was shocked that the chef did not come out to tell us what the dish was, as I have been accustomed to in other similar set-ups. In fact, we did not see the chef in the 2+ hours we were there.
This first course was presented as a wrap, but note that the lettuce pieces are not equal, and the center piece is actually used as the base for two of the wraps. The lettuce itself was dripping wet, making it impossible to consume as a wrap. I glanced at the menu to try and make some sense of what was in front of me.
The first wrap should have been fresh pineapple, Worden Farm chili sauce and cucumbers. Instead of cucumbers, it was clearly radishes and if there was a chili sauce there, it was masked by the pineapple.
The second wrap should have been a stuffed chicken thigh with a tamari-sesame emulsion. I’m not entirely sure what the chicken was stuffed with, but perhaps that is where the cucumbers ended up? However, the chicken was very underseasoned, cold, and seemed undercooked enough that it made me almost nervous to eat it.
The third wrap should have been fresh herbs, carrot remoulade, citrus pickled fennel and radishes. Instead, it seems the radishes disappeared, but I can say this was the most flavorful bite in the first course. The pickled fennel had a crisp, slightly sweet and bitter bite with the crunch of the carrots. Although the event was pushing that they were using salt harvested from Tampa Bay, these dishes could have used a bit more (which is saying something as I am NOTORIOUS for under-salting because I prefer less salt in my food.)
By 6:30, the next seating had arrived and we were just getting our second course. It was very underwhelming. The event had been hyped up as a vegetable forward meal and yet, the first thing you notice on the plate is the chicken. The meal was described as Pan Seared Circle C Farm Chicken and a root vegetable hash with Geier’s bacon, a butternut squash puree and wilted turnip greens.
For my sister and my friend, the plate, the chicken and the vegetables were cold. My meal was luke warm at best, but at least it had some heat. This round, the chicken was cooked well, juicy and had a nice flavor to it. The most delicious bite the entire night was the diced vegetables. Beautifully carmalized onions and bacon with perfectly cooked root vegetables, the three spoonfuls I had were amazing, I was desperately searching for more.
I am a huge fan of pureed butternut squash, so I had high hopes for this one. However, it was simply mashed up, with no additional seasonings or creaminess that I could find. My guess is they were lost with the turnip greens which was also absent from my plate.
The strangest part of our experience was how the servers collected the silverware between courses and then polishing them at the table after setting the new set down in front of us. It was also strange that they were coming around to wipe even the smallest crumb off the table with one of those table scrapers. Service was definitely on the ball, if not over the top.
We had one other dinner companion at our table, who decided at 7 PM that she could not stay anymore. We had enjoyed getting to know her and I hope that I see her at other events in the future as she was so sweet! Unfortunately, she was the sweetest part of our evening. Our dessert arrived around 7:15 and it left all 3 of us discussing where we were going to go to get a real meal because we were starving and needing a delicious bite.
The dessert was on the menu as “Banana Four Ways” and yet, I only found 3 on the plate. There was banana bread, spiced banana bavarois, banana-oat dust and Wiel Farm Honeycomb all with a chocolate ganache drizzle around the plate.
Let’s start with the honeycomb, as I was very excited to try it. I watched as my sister and friend both took the first bite and had an immediate, almost violent reaction to it. I have no idea how honey could be rotten, but that is exactly what it tasted like. The memory of that flavor is burned into my senses and I shivered remembering it to write this now. I did alert our server to pass along the message to the chef because something had obviously gone very wrong with that part of the dish.
The banana bread and the spiced banana bavarois were dry, but the most palatable bites on the plate, although there was not much difference in their flavor to be able to tell them apart from the other.
I was begging for some sweetness when I dipped into the chocolate ganache. Unfortunately, it was made with an unsweetened cocoa and was just incredibly bitter.
If I had to sum up our evening, I would say that for their first event, they definitely have a lot of kinks to work out before doing it again. I truly admire the vision of sourcing locally and highlighting our incredible farms and products within 100 miles of this beautiful place we call home. If a brick and mortar location were to open, I would probably go after they had been established for a bit just for that vegetable hash… lots and lots of that vegetable hash. I’ll just make sure to skip dessert.