A family affair

The Blatterfein clan transforms Mangroves into Sunova Beach.

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Jeff and Katie Sorrentino, managers of the family-owned Sunova Beach. - KIMBERLY DEFALCO
  • Kimberly DeFalco
  • Jeff and Katie Sorrentino, managers of the family-owned Sunova Beach.

Sunova Beach, Howard Avenue’s latest addition to its burgeoning culinary and bar landscape, is a collective collaboration of one family’s brains, brawn and sense of humor.

Guided by patriarch Larry Blatterfein, the restaurant-bar opened May 9 in the space formerly occupied by Mangroves Seafood Grille and Bar at 208 S. Howard Ave. Sunova is managed by Blatterfein’s daughter Katie, 30, and her husband Jeff Sorrentino, 37, and serves a classic beach bar menu with regional influences.

Matriarch Grace Blatterfein and other relatives worked around the clock, painting and building tables, before the restaurant’s opening.

“Our intent is to offer a relaxing, fun bar with food that surprises you with high quality and value, and a constantly updated menu,” Katie said.

Katie developed Sunova’s concept, recognizing a need for a casual, beach-themed venue in SoHo.

“Here you can come as you are, have a beverage and visit with neighborhood people while enjoying eclectic, quality food,” she said.

Chef Trey Taylor, Mangroves’ former chef, stayed on to anchor Sunova’s kitchen and refine the menu choices. Nationwide favorites, including shrimp po’ boys, Philly cheesesteaks and Chicago-style beef sandwiches, reflect Sunova’s nod to Tampa Bay’s diverse community.

The menu also includes California chicken sammies, build-your-own flatbreads and pommes frites with a choice of 18 dipping sauces. Maple Thai doughnuts and rum-banana caramel cake are Sunova’s dessert items, and Taylor plans to add high-end seafood and steak specials to its list of fare.

Unsettled by the closing of the New Brunswick, New Jersey-based Knight Club, which Larry ran for 32 years, Blatterfein sought out Austin, Texas, as the base for his next eatery. However, he was deterred by the city’s real estate prices. At Katie’s urging, Blatterfein set his sights on the Tampa area, scouting locations on both sides of the bay. The family then approached Mangroves proprietors Sam Shah and Larry Hudson with the idea to sell their restaurant.

Mangroves, though, was not on the market.

Blatterfein and co. later returned to persuade Shah and Hudson to sell. Eventually, they relented, and Blatterfein closed the deal in December. The family continued to operate the space as Mangroves through the end of the year before shutting its doors for renovations.

The Sorrentinos sample Sunova's signature fishbowl drinks. - KIMBERLY DEFALCO
  • Kimberly DeFalco
  • The Sorrentinos sample Sunova's signature fishbowl drinks.

“The family stepped in and helped with everything from the ground up,” Jeff said. “In the past seven months, we’ve had Mackenzie, our first child, I retired from the military and now opened my dream restaurant.”

Jeff used to manage the Lodge, a restaurant-bar next to Sunova. As Jeff’s mentor, father-in-law Blatterfein intends to phase out of Sunova and let his family run the day-to-day operations.

Sunova’s open-air bar features 18 flat-screen televisions, a dozen beers and a specialty cocktail menu. Homemade, fresh fruit-vodka infusions are available, too. Acai blueberry, pineapple brown sugar and cinnamon apple are among the flavors, as well as a bacon-maple syrup rendition. Beachy rum drinks like “Jaws” and “Nemo” are served in Sunova's signature fishbowls.

A D.J. booth decks out the two-level structure’s second floor, and live entertainment is showcased Tuesday through Saturday nights. On Fridays, Sunova holds a bacon happy hour, with maple-cured and applewood-smoked offerings served in lieu of traditional bar snacks. Other food specials are hosted throughout the week.

“This is the market Jeff and I have always worked in off-and-on throughout the years,” Katie said. “His dream was to open his own restaurant, but we didn't think it would happen this quickly.” 

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