Operating partner Dave Rathbun (photo) says he is often amused when he sees people trying to leave his popular Stonewood Grill & Tavern after a meal, only to bump into a neighbor or someone they know and delaying their exit.
Those moments, as much as any other, are when Rathbun can smile and truly appreciate the success of his restaurant.
“We tried to create a culture where it feels like the ‘Cheers’ of New Tampa,’’ Rathbun says.
And indeed, for Rathbun, it is a place where everybody seems to know his name, because they keep coming back.
The friendly and welcoming atmosphere, the familiarity between the customers and Rathbun and his carefully selected staff (the folks he says “bring the place to life”), and a menu and bar area that almost never fail to deliver one of the best dining and imbibing experiences around are why, once again, Stonewood Grill & Tavern is the Neighborhood News “Best Restaurant in New Tampa & Wesley Chapel,” as voted on by our readers, for a second straight year.
Stonewood, a Tampa Palms staple since opening in September 2002, beat out Bonefish Grill and newcomer Noble Crust — the reader’s top pick for best new business (see list, on pg. 50) — which are both located in Wesley Chapel, for the top spot.
“It’s just an honor to have people vote for you,” Rathbun says. “I’m humbled by every vote.”
Despite a not-so-great location — Stonewood is tucked behind a 7-Eleven and McDonald’s on Bruce B. Downs (BBD) Blvd., just north of Commerce Park Blvd. — it has thrived as an upscale family restaurant because, well, Rathbun is kind of like family. He has lived in North Tampa for more than 20 years, including Richmond Place the last 16 years. He knows most of his customers, and their kids, and where those kids go to school.
“It’s wonderful to work in the community where you live,” he says.
Stonewood, a small chain which has 10 locations statewide, is best known for its steaks and seafood. Rathbun says the restaurant receives all of its steaks from only three different plants in Iowa, and “it’s all Midwestern beef, aged for 28 days, then hand cut to our specs and cooked the way you want them.”
The restaurant has popular main dishes like delightful short ribs with butternut squash ravioli, hearty grilled rosemary and garlic lamb loin chops, tender oven-baked herb-encrusted grouper and cedar plank roasted salmon in an apricot mustard jalapeño glaze, to name a few.
Or, you can hunker down at Stonewood’s popular bar and order tavern wings or oak grilled shrimp or anything else from the full lunch or dinner menu.
“One of my customers once told me, ‘You know, I can come in here and have a real nice dinner and a bottle of wine with my wife and celebrate an event, or I can come in with my guys and have a burger and a beer at the bar and watch a basketball game,’” Rathbun says. “They love the flexibility.”
A new and improved lunch menu, plus weekday specials which can be ordered at the bar or at your table, also help keep people coming back.
For example, on Tuesdays, Stonewood offers specials on craft beer and craft burgers (see photo). Wine Down Wednesday features half-off discounts on almost a dozen wines, and Thursday is Stoli Martini night.
“We offer something for everyone, and I really like that I’ve been able make so many relationships with my customers over the years,” Rathbun says. “I’m glad so many people enjoy it.”
Stonewood Grill & Tavern is located at 17050 Palm Pointe Dr., Tampa Palms. For info, call (813) 978-0388 or visit StonewoodGrill.com.