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Tucked inside the lively (and gorgeous) JW Marriott Tampa Water Street lobby lounge you’ll find the entrance to Driftlight Steakhouse: one of the best steakhouses in Tampa you didn’t even know existed. An evening at Driftlight makes for an elegant, yet surprisingly unpretentious experience.

If Tampa’s fine dining scene were a family unit, Driftlight is the sibling that came back from a semester abroad invariably cooler and more self-assured.

I was invited to enjoy one of their special events tasting menus and left feeling thoroughly impressed. Read on to see why I think you will be, too.

Before I jump into the good stuff, though, let’s take a moment to get acquainted.

Driftlight Steakhouse entrance is within the lobby of J.W. Marriott Tampa Water Street

Driftlight Steakhouse: Location, Layout and Ambience

Right on the corner of Water Street and S. Florida Avenue, the JW Marriott Tampa Water Street has a prime location literally steps away from Amalie Arena in one direction and the Convention Center in the other. Just inside and enclosed by 4-story tall glass walls you’ll find the Driftlight Lounge, a classy and bustling hotel lobby bar pouring meticulous cocktails perfect to start – or end – the night with.

Step through the doors into Driftlight Steakhouse and you’ll be greeted by a welcoming and contemporary dining room that showcases an impressive floor-to-ceiling glass-enclosed wine cellar. Rich leather booths and marbled table tops add to its appeal, meanwhile, the lighting and décor were inspired by downtown Tampa’s lit bridges.

A mix of booths and tables are arranged throughout the open space and there are even a couple of high-tops where you can overlook the action happening in the kitchen. There’s also an outdoor terrace available for seating during the cooler months.

The vibe is “relaxed modern elegance”, and matches the ebb and flow of hotel guests.

Driftlight Steakhouse: Food & Drink

Now for the reason we’re all here. Driftlight’s dinner menu is short and sweet and to the (well-made) point.

The courses I tasted were part of a 5-course Glenfiddich scotch pairing event and were either twists on existing popular menu items or completely new plates. They were each prepared and presented to a T from beginning to end, starting with the mind-boggling French Onion Soup Dumpling.

French onion soup dumpling at Driftlight Steakhouse in Tampa
French Onion Soup Dumpling at Driftlight Steakhouse

Starting the service with a Wow factor, the Chef somehow contained soup inside of a hand-crafted dumpling. Cut the delicate bundle open and perfect French Onion soup pours out and mixes with a gruyere foam providing a creamy and unique finish to a classic favorite.

Next up, the Hearts of Palm Salad with Wild Arugula, Pink Grapefruit, and Avocado Espuma was beautifully plated and refreshing. I loved the peppery bitterness of the arugula and grapefruit and the hint of salt at the end to finish it off.

Heart of Palm salad
The Hearts of Palm Salad at Driftlight Steakhouse in Tampa

For the third course, we were served Scottish Salmon Crudo, cured in bourbon for 6 hours and then torched to create just the right touch of caramelization. It was a bright and delectable dish, mixed with the sweet and salty Misoyaki Glaze and pickled carrots.

Salmon Crudo
Scottish Salmon Crudo at Driftlight Steakhouse

The Dry-Aged Bison with Smoked Tallow Butter and Confit Potato (featured image) came next to everyone at the table’s delight. It’s hard to beat steak and potatoes when they’re done really well and Driftlight did not disappoint.

Markedly different tasting than the wet-aged bison I’ve had elsewhere, this dry-aged bison was full of flavor and paired deliciously with the smoked tallow butter, which was similar to a bearnaise sauce.   

The cherry on top of a delicious evening was a Dark Chocolate Torte infused with Golden Raisins with Roasted Apricots and Crème Fraiche. Talk about decadent. The pop of golden raisins added a touch of moisture to the exceptionally rich dessert while the crème fraiche balanced the texture.

Driftlight Steakhouse Tampa chocolate torte
Dark Chocolate Torte infused with Golden Raisins with Roasted Apricots and Crème Fraiche

Reasons to Go Back

Planning my next meal at Driftlight includes two words: Oyster Lobsterfeller. Their twist on the classic includes lobster, bacon lardon, and local beer. Enough said. Driftlight also apparently serves killer carrot cake for dessert, which you don’t see too often anymore.

Related: Everything you need to know for a perfect date night on Water Street

The Perfect Private Room

Need a great place to entertain? Driftlight Steakhouse can accommodate breakfast meetings and lunch and dinner receptions in its beautiful private dining room which can seat up to 18 guests. It even has an adjoining outdoor patio for indoor/outdoor flow.

I’m thinking of baby showers, bachelor/bachelorette, and birthday parties, with tons of nearby entertainment down the street at Sparkman Wharf or along Water Street to keep the celebration going.

There’s also the option to rent the entire restaurant (capacity: 100 guests) for larger events like weddings.

Driftlight Steakhouse Tampa Private dining room
Driftlight’s private dining room seats up to 18

The Nitty Gritty

Driftlight Lounge and Steakhouse
510 Water Street
Tampa, FL 33602
(813) 314-6611

Daily from 6:30 am to 11 am (12 pm on weekends)

Limited Daytime/Lunch Menu
Available at the Driftlight Lounge (in the hotel lobby), daily from 11 am to midnight.

Monday – Saturday from 5 pm to 10 pm (11 pm Fridays and Saturdays).

Parking Info

There is street parking all along both Water Street and S. Florida Avenue, plus the Water Street public lot is right around the corner. Guests receive complimentary valet for up to three hours when they spend $40 or more at Driftlight.