Comfort & refinement at Sacred Pepper

Sacred Pepper, the DeBartolo family’s fine dining restaurant in North Tampa, is a treat for every sense, in every sense.

The food is good, the ambiance is modern and luxurious, and the service is attentive. Here, it’s all about details. Sacred Pepper focuses on quality and follows through with little details that make the experience special, from the architecture and furnishings, right down to the accompaniments and coffee service.

A large bar, just past the reception stand, beckons the attention of arriving guests. The surface of Italian agate is underlit to showcase the colorful quartz mosaic. Bubbles rise through a wall of blue-lit water that runs the length of the room. They create constant motion and symbolize oxygen, giving life to the party around the bar. It’s a fun spot to gather with friends and enjoy some of Sacred Pepper’s signature cocktails, like the raspberry basil lemonade. Spiked with Tito’s, it’s light and refreshing and balances sweet and tart perfectly. 

Spiced Sangria starts with a simple syrup made with warm spices and citrus juice. Then it’s topped with 1000 Stories Bourbon, barrel-aged, zinfandel and a little brandy. Sipping this delicious ruby-colored elixir on a cool evening, with the hints of cinnamon and brandy, will make you feel toasty and satisfied. For something a little stronger, try the smoked old-fashioned. Redemption rye, Bitter Truth bitters and fresh orange are combined in a bottle. The bottle is filled with smoke before the contents are poured into a glass over a single, large square of ice. The smoke rises on the cocktail’s surface and infuses into the drink, giving it a smoky flavor and extra depth and dimension. It’s smoky, smooth and sophisticated. 

The menu at Sacred Pepper is filled with dishes that are traditional, and popular, like the Sacred Meatballs. They are made with a fine grind of pork and veal, then formed and simmered in chicken stock for five hours. Served with the family-recipe marinara, housemade ricotta cheese and sprinkled with ricotta salata, this dish is meant to be shared with friends and family. If you like the marinara, take a picture of the recipe, conveniently written on the mirror covering the back wall. The honey and goat cheese baklava is one of the more inventive items on the menu. It’s a twist on the classic Greek dessert, replacing the nuts and honey-syrup filling with whipped goat cheese and served with a fig reduction and balsamic glaze. It’s a savory spin served alongside a honey-pistachio dipping sauce.

Several varieties of pasta, all made from scratch, are prominently featured. Linguine, ravioli, cavatelli and penne create entrees with shrimp, lobster, crab, short ribs and veal. There is nothing better than scratch pasta. It’s got an unmistakable texture, and bite, and is another distinguishing detail of Sacred Pepper. The penne chicken carbonara combines grilled chicken with prosciutto, mushrooms and peas in a classic carbonara, spiced up with a little red pepper flake. It’s lush on the tongue, giving way to the glimmer of heat at the finish. 

The Asian-inspired Chilean sea bass is mild and savory-sweet from a ginger glaze, while a 16-ounce prime rib-eye is presented on a cabernet reduction. Both entrees showcase Sacred Pepper’s focus on quality ingredients and simple preparation. That’s one of the restaurant’s secrets. The food is accessible but never dull. The culinary staff add game-changing ingredients that transform their dishes into memorable experiences. A honey-truffle sauce is served with crispy fried chicken. Fresh creamed corn is studded with applewood bacon and Tillamook cheese. The cauliflower mash is blended with creamy fontina. The common becomes exceptional through elevated standards and careful attention to detail. 

As expected, it makes every element of their desserts in house. The do-it-yourself ice cream sundae starts with three scoops of ice cream, one vanilla, one chocolate and an ever-changing flavor, like caramel pistachio chocolate crunch. It’s ultra-creamy and served with both caramel and warm chocolate sauces plus Candy DeBartolo’s candied pecans, whipped cream and two tiny sugar cones. Order this dessert. Your inner child will love you for it. The crème brulee bread pudding sits on a pool of caramel and crème anglaise. Listen for the snap as a spoon cracks the crisp candy surface, parting to moist, firm layers of custard-soaked French baguette. 

If you can have only one dessert, go for the Killer Chocolate Cake. Layers of rich chocolate cake separated by dense chocolate ganache nestle against a pool of raspberry sauce and crème anglaise. Hands down, it’s one of the best chocolate cakes around. The crumb is tight, but not dense, and fudgy. It stands on the slice and delivers the rich chocolate flavor that stirs the soul. Take a bite, close your eyes and experience what heaven must be like, if only for a moment.

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