Get to know Noel Cruz, the Filipino-American who’s redefining the Tampa Bay food scene

by Joey deVilla on April 2, 2019

Noel Cruz majored in microbiology and minored in chemistry at University of Florida, but when it was time to break into the job market, he went into hospitality, and hospitality hasn’t been the same since. Noel Cruz sharpened his skills at the Culinary Institute of America in New York’s Hyde Park (with honors), is certified by the American Sommelier Association, and has a degree in pastry arts — and also taught at — the French Culinary Institute (now the International Culinary Center) in Manhattan.

He’s managed at places you’ve probably heard of:

And since then, he’s been upping Tampa’s food game with these places:

Apparently, Noel’s not content to rest on his laurels, because he’s helping out with the food at two more places here in Tampa — one that’s just opening, and another scheduled to open this summer…

Open now at Armature Works: The rooftop bar, M. Bird!

Armature Works, the historic factory near downtown Tampa turned into a food hall, market, co-working space, and generally fun place to hang out, now has a rooftop bar: M. Bird., which takes its name from the Florida state bird, the mockingbird.

You can see a photo of the new bar from the outside above, and a view from the bar below:

Armature Works co-owner Taryn Bruck told the Tampa Bay Times that the restaurant company behind Steelbach and local eateries like Boca and Ciro’s Speakeasy & Supper Club joined forces with Noel to design it, and he described the pairing as “worlds colliding in the best way.”

There’s more:

Tropical craft cocktails drive the menu of M.Bird. Playfully named options include I Left My Wallet at La Segunda (Smith & Cross rum, Gosling’s black rum, guava-coconut cream, pineapple, lemon, orgeat) and Afterthot (Reyka vodka, Montenegro, Aperol, lemon, kiwi compound, prosecco), plus punch-style “social intoxicants” that accommodate three to six patrons.

“We wanted to take the inspiration of a classic tiki bar, remove all the kitschiness of it and show the fresh ingredients,” said beverage director Jay Wells. “These are great cocktails that are spirit-forward, but still refreshing and fun.”

For the benefit of the financially-but-not-socially-secure, they also have bottle service.

The menu is mostly small plates of all sorts, and includes vaca frita tostones (fried plantains with beef short ribs), shrimp mofongo bites, panzanella, warm marinated olives, steak tartare, jerk chicken egg rolls, and jerk bbq duck confit leg.

Find out more at MBirdTampa.com.

Opening this summer in Seminole Heights: Pink Pineapple, a tiki bar serving Filipino food!

Anitra and I just bought a place in Seminole Heights, Tampa’s hippest neighborhood. For the benefit of my Toronto friends: think of Parkdale circa the early 2000s, a couple of years before The Drake opened its doors. I’ve been frequenting a number of places in the area for years now, but it’ll be nice to be able to walk or bike to them.

One place we’re looking forward to making a regular spot is the Pink Pineapple, scheduled to open this summer:

Kimmy Bruehl and Eric McKinney are a married couple with bartending experience at a couple of Tampa mainstays — the Coppertail Brewing Company near Ybor City and Seminole Heights’ own Independent Bar and Café. They’re taking over The Refinery’s old location on Florida just a couple of blocks south of Hillsborough (across the street from Faedo’s Bakery, home of amazing Cuban bread) to open a tiki bar. They’ll take care of the drinks, and for the food, they’re tapping Noel Cruz.

Here’s what Creative Loafing Tampa has to say about the bar’s food offerings:

As far as tropical bar bites go, they turned to a professional to curate the menu — Noel Cruz, of Ichicoro and former Armature Works resident Chismis & Co.

Cruz plans on serving up traditional Filipino cuisine. “There’s a lot of tiki origins in the Philippines so the food and drinks really complement each other,” McKinney says. “Offerings will be reminiscent of that of Chismis & Co.”

The duo has been plotting the concept over the last year, with heavy consideration toward catering to those in the hospitality industry who get off work late.

“We have so many friends in the industry, so we wanted them to be able to get a drink or grab some food without having to go to Ybor or downtown late at night,” Bruehl says.

We’re looking forward to being regulars!

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