The Rez Grill at Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Tampa opened in December 2017 for its chef-driven, American grill fare and a progressive bar program, recently enhanced with the addition of four new cocktails. In the short time since its debut, the upscale, yet accessible restaurant has garnered a reputation for its dynamic food and beverage program outfitted with skilled mixologists who create hand crafted drinks using house-made syrups and juices, premium spirits and the freshest produce and ingredients. Unique to the cocktail program is the emphasis placed on expediting the process without compromising the integrity of the craft.
Behind the bar program is a collaborative effort between longtime friends and colleagues, General Manager, James Manuel, and Assistant General Manager, Lorenzo Cardei, who make the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Tampa their fifth property working together. For over a decade, Cardei and Manuel had a mixology vision in their back pocket, always sampling new products and trying different styles and techniques. At The Rez Grill, their vision has finally come to fruition, and together they have developed a program that balances creativity and efficiency. “Handcrafted cocktails can sometimes take forever, leaving the customer waiting between 12 to 15 minutes for their drink,” says Manuel. “Our goal was to combine various techniques, styles and flavors, and dissect every component to determine how we can expedite the process for our guests without compromising quality and creativity.”
While the menu focuses on spirit-forward, slow-sipping cocktails using the most premium ingredients to complement the fine dining experience, Manuel and Cardei also want guests to have fun with the beverage offerings in keeping with the casual atmosphere. This is apparent with several out-of-the-box drinking vessels, like When We Were Young, which is served in a nostalgic, Capri-Sun-like pouch that brings a smile to everyone’s face, as well as category headers that divide the menu and make for amusing, yet accurate descriptions. For example, the “Expeditious” group on the menu describes bottled cocktails poured tableside, i.e. little to no waiting time for those who can’t quench their thirst fast enough; “Retro” refers to classic cocktails that pay respect to the history of mixology; “Savory” speaks to cocktail-goers who want to avoid anything too sweet or fruity; and “The Close” describes drinks that make for the perfect ending to a meal with coffee, tea and dessert-like options that incorporate alcohol.
Four new cocktails recently added to the menu enhance the forward-thinking beverage program even further. For example, guests can start with the New Fashioned made with Zacapa 23, chocolate bitters, dehydrated orange and filthy cherry. On the “savory” side, the Hot & Dirty features vodka, jalapeno, olive brine and a spicy tomato popsicle. A classically-made “retro” Mai Tai features dark rum, lime and two key ingredients made by the restaurant’s Executive Chef, Frank Anderson, including house-made curacao (a month-long intensive labor of love for chef) and his signature orgeat almond syrup. To “close,” the new Cookies & Cream made with house-made brandy milk punch and cookie crumble is served in a light bulb because it makes you grin and is nothing short of brilliant.
Continuing a starring role on the menu are several of The Rez Grill’s most popular cocktails since opening, including the mojito-inspired The Rez Cocktail, made with house-infused pineapple tequila (infused for 72 hours); and the Nacho Libre, a guest favorite, served tableside with Western Son Prickly Pear Vodka, house-made sour mix and hibiscus and mezcal-infused ice. As with many of their cocktails, spirits and extracts are infused directly into the ice, which creates a cool visual effect but also has a functional purpose: when the ice melts, it not only chills the cocktail, but adds flavor and seasoning without diluting it. Ice plays a particular key role in the popular Improved G&T made with St. George gin, elderflower, tonic water and b’lure ice. The cocktail utilizes an ice cube composed of purified water and blue butterfly pea flower extract. When tonic is poured over the cube, a change in the pH balance of the pea flower extract turns the cube’s color from blue to indigo to light purple right before your eyes while also adding flavor.
In addition to cocktails, guests of The Rez Grill are treated to a focused wine list with approximately 100 select bottles of mostly domestic offerings. The list is well rounded and offers something for everyone at accessible price points. Plus, many of the recognizable labels are offered as a ½ bottle or 12 oz. carafe. Guests also find an impressive collection of Bourbon and Rye Whiskeys, along with a well-balanced offering of Blended and Single Malt Scotch Whiskys, as well as a variety of American-made vodkas and gins. Also available are six micro-breweries on tap, three of which are local, including Tampa’s own Cigar City, Barrel of Monks, and Coppertail Brewing.