Counter Culture’s Jeannie Pierola is already known for serving up some of Tampa’s most creative food experiences. Her new “Happening Hour” concept, however, is taking innovative eats to the next level.
“’Happening Hour’ is our take on ‘Happy Hour,’” Counter Culture general manager, Christye Moore, explained. “But we didn’t want it to be about discounts and BOGOs. We wanted it to be an exciting hour where something new is ‘happening’ each week.”
Moore further elaborated on this idea. Every week, she said, Chef Jeannie, Executive Chef Adam Moya and Chef-de-Cuisine Charles Gomez collaborate to create a special menu of “Happening Bites” that are available from 4-6 p.m. on weeknights. Those bites, though, are only served that specific week—never to be repeated. This gives the chefs a chance to flex their creativity while offering foodies an exciting, constantly changing secret menu of upscale plates.
Yesterday, I stopped in to the restaurant to give the new concept a try.
Tampa’s most “exciting” happy hour
When I arrived at Counter Culture around 5:30 p.m., Happening Hour was already in full swing. I was met by multiple servers, each eager to explain to me how the menu process worked.
My attention was immediately directed to this week’s five chef-crafted bites. These were available to order individually, but the best way to experience the “Happening Bites,” one of the servers informed me, was to opt for the “Flight of Bites.” The flight, she said, was a tapas-style tasting plate that included all five of the week’s offerings.
As someone who can never decide on just one dish, that sounded great to me.
A constantly-changing menu
While I waited for my secret-menu tasting flight to arrive, I perused the rest of the Happening Hour’s sleek, white list of eats. In addition to the “happening” bites, the menu included a “featured cocktail” designed for the week, as well as a list of five “everyday bites” and a “classic cocktail” that do not change.
The last of Happening Hour’s offerings I noticed was a “burger and a beer on the bay” option. Last night, the featured burger was done “banh mi”-style with a wood fired beef patty, daikon, carrot, pate, cilantro, fresh jalapeno and sriracha aioli. Like the “happening” bites, the burger component of this deal also changes weekly, and—at only $10 (yes, that includes the beer)—is a total steal.
After about 10 minutes, my sampler flight of bites arrived. The five creations were plated together on one shiny, silver tray, but in individual compartments. In a way, the presentation kind of resembled an artist’s palette, or a fancy version of one of those plates you give kids who don’t like their foods to touch.
Even though the menu rotates each week, the tray consistently features at least one meat, fish and veggie bite. In my sampler, the remaining two were also vegetarian (though they were notably hearty).
Curious what I ate? Here’s a glimpse at last night’s special menu:
- Korean fried chicken sliders: crispy chicken thighs, gochujang sauce, and charred pickled radicchio on a warm bun
- Barbajuan: citrus ricotta and swiss chard filling, served over rhubarb conserve
- Barley + brussels: roasted brussels sprouts, dried cherries, blue cheese whip, barley pilaf
- Oyster: strawberry gazpacho, basil oil, dehydrated strawberries
- Garden skewer: summer squash, bell pepper, red onions, basil pesto, sugo, parmesan
And, of course, the featured cocktail.
A ‘happening’ deal
If those bites sound good to you, there’s plenty more where they came from. In weeks past, Chef Jeannie and team have whipped up everything from duck ravioli to “pandan crepes.” According to the staff, each new menu seems to top the previous.
Oh, and—despite Happening Hour’s element of surprise—the price of the flight-of-five sampler never changes.
At only $23, it just might “happen” to be the best deal in the Bay.
Counter Culture is located at 2909 W Bay to Bay Blvd, Suite 100. For the current week’s Happening Hour menu—or to make reservations—guests can visit the restaurant’s official website.