Byblos, located in the heart of South Tampa’s Palma Ceia neighborhood, is giving longtime patrons and newcomers exciting new culinary options. After closing in September 2017 for an extensive remodeling, Byblos reopened on December 8, 2017. What was once a quaint Lebanese cafe tucked away in between the shops and businesses in Palma Ceia is now a sleek hot spot with floor-to-ceiling windows, an outdoor fire pit, and modern decor.
Byblos' new look is trendy and minimal, and in a lot of ways it reflects the overall vibe of Palma Ceia, one of South Tampa's oldest neighborhoods. With a variety of indoor and outdoor seating options, the new Byblos is sure to be a neighborhood favorite for happy hours, company events, first dates, girls’ nights out, or intimate dinners.
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Byblos owners Ziad Estephan and Roger Stephan thinks this remodel and reopening is coming at the perfect time. "Experiencing the complete modernization and transformation of a well respected, 16-year-old established neighborhood restaurant and the support and the encouragement of our community...is very fulfilling," says Stephan. “As our area continued to grow and expand into a food destination with many new restaurants open, we felt it was time to take the restaurant to the next level."
The ambiance isn't the only thing to undergo a facelift. Byblos's cocktail and drink menu has also been seriously overhauled with the addition of craft cocktails, an extensive wine list, a new wood-fired grill, and plenty of innovative fusion menu items. The culinary changes are thanks to Stephan’s hand-picked Executive Chef David Puatu, formerly the chef de cuisine at Council Oak Steaks & Seafood in the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Tampa.
"We’ve obviously succeeded for many years with our Lebanese cuisine," says Stephan. "By upgrading the look of the place, it was imperative that we also upgrade our menu. Our previous menu was missing a lot of seafood dishes known to be popular in the Mediterranean. Our chef David brings a very diverse experience, ranging from his days in New York working under Bobby Flay, to his most recent experience at the Council Oak. We felt his diversified experience brings the best blend of expanding our menu with stronger Mediterranean seafood and other dishes, while maintaining our popular dishes with a twist in the presentation."
Aside from the spirits and the ambiance, Byblos is famous for its quality, authentic cuisine. Now they offer the same great food with a modern twist, with dining options for almost every dietary preference. Order traditional “Mezah” appetizers such as hummus, baba ganuj, labneh, kebbeh, falafel, or grape leaves. A cheese and charcuterie board is also an ideal appetizer.
For a more adventurous choice, try one of the new fusion dishes or something cooked on the wood-fired grill. Byblos offers a variety of Lebanese fish, meat, and pasta dishes that are traditional but also modern. The Gyro, as an example, is served with traditional hummus, tahini, and pita, but deconstructed with fresh vegetables on top and tahini on the side.
Another import from the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Tampa is Byblos' general manager Manny Quinones, who previously managed Grey Salt in the Tampa casino. Quinones has made drastic changes to the cocktail menu, adding an impressive list of wines and bourbons. Pop in and try their signature cocktail, a smoked Old Fashioned. Made with Redemption Rye Whiskey, Zacapa Centenario rum, and Angostura Bitters, and infused with actual cedar smoke, it's easy to see how this cocktail became the signature drink.
If bourbon isn't your thing, there are 10 other cocktails on the menu to choose from. For those of us who like bubbles in their drink, the 75 Bubbles cocktail does not disappoint. This beverage, a fun twist on a French 75, combines Mulberry Gin, house-made berry-infused syrup, and lemon juice topped with Enza Prosecco.
The large U-shaped bar is the perfect place for professional happy hours, networking events, and meeting people for the first time. It's also spacious enough that you can pop open your laptop and work while you eat or drink. They even have free wifi, giving new meaning to the term "working remotely." And according to owner Ziad Estephan, Byblos will also offer entertainment for special events. "Byblos is a great space for parties,' says Estephan. "For our special events like our New Years Party, there will be a DJ and, of course, dancing."
Byblos reopening will do nothing but great things for longtime patrons and those new to the neighborhood. Byblos continues to enhance the Palma Ceia neighborhood foodie scene by blending the past with the present in innovative and exciting ways. This is sure to become a local South Tampa culinary treasure for years to come.
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Photos by Karla Stevenson.