ST. PETERSBURG, Florida - Joey Brooklyn's is a restaurant best known for its amazing pizza. Located next to Janus Live in downtown St. Pete, it's popular with both the late night crowd and corporate customers for lunch.
"What I'm most proud of is our ingredients. We're very, very choosey," said Joey Brooklyn's co-owner, Jane Aberro. "Everything is fresh. And I spend a fortune on cheese! I have to have the best cheese."
But on February 27, a state inspector with the Division of Restaurants documented 11 violations, six considered critical. Among the most serious problems were pepperoni and mozzarella cheese held at 47 degrees, 6 degrees above the limit.
"We didn't do so well. This time it was a particularly thorough comb through," said Aberro, who admits the inspection results were disappointing.
Last week, Jane agreed to take us into her kitchen. She showed us the refrigeration unit in question with a thermometer indicating the pepperoni was now being kept at a chilly 40 degrees.
"Every single thing we've addressed and fixed," said Aberro of the previous violations.
But it was actually a bizarre customer complaint filed with the state that triggered Joey Brooklyn's February inspection. On February 21, an employee from nearby Progress Energy reported ordering a salad for lunch. According to a complaint filed with the state and obtained by 10 News, the customer took a bite and spit out what appeared to be a finger tip mixed in with the lettuce.
The discovery resulted in nausea and vomiting and, according to the complaint, the customer went to Bayfront Hospital requesting "the restaurant employee be tested for various diseases."
"We can't really comment on something that is speculation, or fiction, or anonymous tips," said Aberro when asked about the finger tip incident.
But a state inspection from less than a week later substantiated the customer's complaint. The report states "employee, Nick, has a band aid on his left index finger" and that the injury occurred "while prepping a salad." A separate investigation by Progress Energy indicates that same employee "apologized for the incident," according to the complaint.
"When it comes to complaints filed with the health department, this is our first, and it's being investigated," said Aberro, who stresses her restaurant has a good track record of clean inspections.
She says she looks forward to her next visit from the state and is aiming for a perfect score.
"You don't want to serve your customers anything but the finest food. I take it personally. If you take your food out here and a leaf blows on it, I want to replace it and I want to make you happy."
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Take a look at some of our past Restaurant Red Alert reports:
Classic Homestyle Buffet, Tampa 1/11/12
Frank's Family Restaurant, Hernando 1/18/12
Big Easy Cajun, Brandon TownCenter 1/25/12
CiCi's Pizza, Kenneth City 2/1/12
China Express, Brandon 2/8/12
Daiquiri Deck, Maderia Beach 2/15/12
Athenian Garden, Tyrone Area, St. Pete 2/22/12
Bob Evans (Ulmerton Road), Pho 97 (Pinellas Park), Kobe Japanese Steak House (New Tampa) 2/29/12
China Jade, Carrollwood, 3/7/12
Nicki's West 59th (Bradenton), Top's China Buffet (Brandon), 400 Beach (St. Petersburg) 3/14/12
Hamburger Mary's Bar & Grille (Ybor City) 3/21/12
Sandy's Restaurant, Indian Rocks Beach 3/28/12