I've never thought of Carrollwood as a hot spot for food in Tampa. The only reason I've ever made the trip is to visit their massive Whole Foods, which by the way, puts the one on Dale Mabry to shame. However, I found myself re-thinking that unfounded notion when I stepped into Marlow's Tavern for the first time several months ago.
At first, I was a little put off by the chains surrounding it, which range from The Melting Pot to Bonefish. Believe me, I live my best life at Chili's all the time, but I was expecting more than typical chain food from this dinner, and I feared impending disappointment. However, my worries abated when I finally opened the doors to Marlow's Tavern and found, inside, a casual-yet-classy ambiance, much like one would find at Bricktop's in Nashville. Marlow's isn't fussy or pretentious, which I love, and while it is a chain, you don't get that feeling when you're there.
After being seated, I immediately ordered a drink (duh) while helping myself to the kettle chips in front of me. Covered in gorgonzola and piled high with bacon, I found myself in heaven before even getting a chance to sip my sangria, which only served to keep me in such an elevated state. I tried limiting my consumption of said kettle chips, and luckily, I semi-succeeded, because a delicious (and beautiful) plate of hummus soon arrived at our table. I'm really picky with hummus, mainly because I can make it myself and I ALWAYS think mine is better, but I found the hummus at Marlow's to be creamy and flavorful, just like it should be.
Shortly thereafter, the head chef appeared at our table to introduce some of the main courses we would be sampling. I was impressed by how down-to-earth he appeared, despite his numerous accolades in the kitchen, and his presence only made me love Marlow's more. However, I would soon watch my love skyrocket, as it was then that he introduced the banh mi chicken wrap. Let me preface this by saying that I do not like banh mis, and I would NEVER in normal conditions order a chicken wrap for dinner. But this delicate, flavorful wrap simply blew my mind, and I found myself stealing my dining companion's serving when she didn't finish it.
Next came the grilled chicken stack, which was a little too basic for my liking. However, that being said, my friend was obsessed with this dish, and it remained her favorite throughout the evening. So feel free to take my words with a grain of salt. We also got to sample the shrimp and grits, which reminded me of the many renditions of this dish I got to sample in Nashville. I loved that the grits were served in the form of a cheddar grit cake (which takes care of the texture issue most people have with grits), and the buerre blanc sauce elevated the entire ensemble quite a bit. However, I would still pick that stupid chicken wrap every time, and I feel no shame in admitting that. I guess I'm a cheap date?
Overall, I would recommend Marlow's Tavern ten times over, whether you're looking for a casual family dinner spot or a more romantic date night destination. Take the Uber to Carrollwood. And while you're there... might as well hit up the Whole Foods, am I right?