Last week I had the chance to grab lunch one day in Ybor with a friend at the Laughing Cat, an Italian restaurant on the corner of 8th Ave. and 15th St. (several doors down from the old Tampa Bay Brewing Company location). While I had never been to the Laughing Cat before, this friend was a fan and I'd also read that it offered a lunch buffet that was worth checking out.
According to Laughing Cat co-owner Franco LoRe, the name of his restaurant comes from the name of the cafe in Venice, Italy ("Il Gatto Cheride" in Italian) where he met girls as a younger man. The Laughing Cat is tucked into a relatively small corner space, but feels comfortable inside. We arrived towards the end of the lunch crowd for the day and both decided upon the lunch buffet. It seemed hard to go wrong at nine bucks per person; everyone else seemed to be doing the buffet too.
The buffet isn't large, but offers several hot and cold Italian dishes, ranging from ravioli and pasta dishes, both in a vodka sauce, to mozzarella caprese (I'm a sucker for big fresh chunks of mozzarella) and a delicious salad filled with plump shrimp. The only mildly disappointing dish was meatballs in a red sauce that was almost gone when we got there. Again, this wasn't a big buffet, but it was certainly of a higher quality than I expected and a real deal at nine bucks each.
The lunch buffet is only available during the work week. Service was fine last week for lunch, but I don't know what the little place is like at night on the weekends when it gets busy. I'm also curious what ordering off the menu is like. I plan to add Laughing Cat to our rotation of Ybor restaurants that we like, which includes the original location of The Columbia, sandwich shop La Tropicana and the at-times-maligned Big City Tavern. I've previously panned for the most part my experiences with Samurai Blue and La Creperia. I haven't tried Carmine's, Acropolis or Bernini.
I'll try to get off this new buffet mini-kick. So what's your favorite Ybor restaurant?
Bottom-line: If you happen to be in Ybor for lunch during the work week, and you're in the mood for homemade Italian cuisine, the Laughing Cat's lunch buffet is worth giving a try.
Inspection Scorecard: Last Inspection: January 2007 violations - Critical (8), Non-Critical (2).