If you think dining on Florida’s Gulf Coast is all about Early Bird Specials for Seniors, you’re in for a surprise. During the 3 days or so that I spent in St. Petersburg, I had trouble fitting in all the restaurant options available, but I gave it my best shot and ended up with these 9 suggestions for the best places to eat in St. Petersburg.
Beachside Breakfasts at Beverly’s
If you’re a breakfast lover, as in diner-style breakfasts that are plentiful, well-cooked and served in a flash, then you’re going to love Beverlys La Croisette on Gulf Blvd. A short distance north of the other ‘pink lady’ on the beach (the Don Cesar hotel), this local restaurant has been one of the favourite places to eat in St. Pete for locals and visitors since it opened in 1989, and consistently ranks high as a Best of the Bay breakfast spot. Besides the croissants and omelettes for which it is best known, all the classics are served here, along with a few variations (like the croissanwich I had with bacon and Brie – yum!).
But better than the breakfasts is the personal service provided by Beverly herself, who mixes and mingles with her customers, chatting them up like a saloon keeper cruising the room, with a coffee carafe in each hand ready to refill the bottomless cups of her guests. Say hello if you get the chance, and be sure to check out the pencil sketches on the walls – done by Beverly herself – that are inspired by old Hollywood studio headshots.
Coffee and More at the Banyan Cafe
You know when you’re looking for that perfect funky cafe that offers that perfect yogurt parfait and that perfect cup of tea to make your morning perfect? That’s the Banyan. One look at the reclaimed decor and live edge tables in the interior and I decided to try out the Banyan, only learning later that it is one of the Arts District’s favourite places for delicious freshly-made breakfasts and lunches. I would go there again in a heartbeat. There’s even a danger I might become healthier as a result!
Chill for Lunch
There’s a bit of a story behind the ‘accidental restaurateurs’ Ruthie and Paul Buxbaum, who run Chill on Corey Avenue in St. Petersburg. What began in 2011 as a little coffee shop called Steam quickly grew into a breakfast spot within weeks of opening. And by 2012, Chill had not only become a full-fledged restaurant, but had been voted Business of the Year. Growth meant a move to the new larger location, and a new Executive Chef, who (if the extraordinarily tasty grilled cheese sandwich with pear and applewood bacon is any indication) knows her stuff. Chill is the kind of unpretentious, approachable, affordable place you could take anyone, anytime and enjoy a good meal. Which makes it one of the best places to eat in St. Pete – at least in my books.
A Vegan Virgin No Longer
Shopping on Central Avenue downtown in the Arts District one day, I got to chatting with the owner of Cozette’s, a small women’s boutique, and asked her where to go for lunch. Without skipping a beat, she suggested the Cider Press Cafe, a new vegan restaurant that had opened recently. My raised eyebrows must have given away my reluctance at the word ‘vegan’ because Cozette was quick to assure me that as a carnivore herself and an ex-NYC foodie, the food still impressed her even without actual bacon in their version of a BLT.
So I took her at her word, and went to Cider Press and ordered their AvoBLT (avocado, eggplant ‘bacon’, tomato sandwich with sun dried tomato pesto). Friends who know me would be surprised to hear me say that I actually liked my healthy lunch (even though there is absolutely no substitute for bacon, period. Sorry vegans everywhere.) But for healthy options, even if you aren’t vegan or gluten-free, this restaurant is a good choice. Cool, modern space, too.
Cuban Sandwiches, Anyone?
If you’re just looking for a quick bite so you can get back to shopping Central Avenue, Bodega is a one-step-above-a-food-truck sidewalk cafe in the heart of the Edge District that has neighbours-in-the-know lining up every day for tasty Latino fare. From Cuban sandwiches to vegetarian plates with rice, beans and salad, if the locals line up for it, it’s definitely worth a try!
Loco for Locale
If you’ve ever been to Eataly in Manhattan, you’ll appreciate the kind of market-to-table scene that is happening at St. Petersburg’s Locale Market in the Sundial Centre downtown. In fact, farm-to-table is more than a promise here, it’s a reality. Where else, for example, can you can actually pluck your own greens growing in pots at a salad bar, and then garnish them to your liking with the toppings of your choice? Or shop for a free-range turkey to take home for your dinner party, served with one of over 100 varieties of craft beer, more than two dozen of which are locally-brewed? It’s no wonder this is a hot spot for the downtown business crowd to go for lunch, as well as the foodies looking for that special gourmet cheese or charcuterie selection to take home.
But venture upstairs to Farmtable Kitchen, and you’ll get to experience the best of downstairs in a restaurant experience where Chef Jeffrey Hileman has done all the work for you, and all you have to do is enjoy the results. In fact, the menu items are sourced as locally as it gets – from just downstairs! Whatever pasta is made downstairs that day in the Italian Food Co., is what is served upstairs at Farmtable. Likewise the local catch, choosing from the Fishmonger’s daily offerings.
We decided to put ourselves in the hands of the chef for his recommendations for an antipasto of charcuterie and cheese (deliciously fresh and varied), and I went for the pasta (naturally!) as my main course. The Cavatelli with Italian sausage ragu and herbed ricotta was so good I forgot to take a photo of it! Fortunately, I was able to regain my composure for the decadent chocolate dessert.
Where’s the Beef [Wellington]?
At Parkshore Grill, is where. There aren’t many restaurants that even offer this old-school entree, and for good reason. Making the pastry in-house is a labour of love, and having the skill to cook the beef perfectly without ruining said pastry is an art. Fortunately, Chef Tyson was voted Best Chef from 2013 – 2015 for a reason, and his Beef Wellington is one of them. But don’t let ‘old school’ fool you: the menu here is contemporary and varied, and if you are feeling adventurous, you can even go for the culinary tour which changes daily and offers a start-to-finish menu created by the chef. Whatever you decide, you’re sure to find something at this top-rated downtown restaurant.
Dining is Fine at the Birch & Vine
I’ll finish this culinary tour of St. Pete by returning to the meal I began at the Birch & Vine – my creative amuse bouche was followed by an equally imaginative entree of grouper crusted with rock shrimp and served with popcorn mashed potatoes (not a euphemism, there was actually popcorn incorporated into the potatoes – and no, it wasn’t weird, it was playful and delicious!) Flavoured with herbs from their very own living wall, the tarragon dill reduction drizzled on top of it all was as fresh as it gets.
Even though the generous portion for my main had me second-guessing a dessert course, the savvy waiter had me at “creme brulée”, so I relented and accompanied it with a 20-year old port – because, wine not? (In for a penny, in for a pound – or two – and right where I don’t need them!)
And speaking of wine, with over 450 wines to select from the Birch & Vine’s cellar, wine aficionados who come here might have difficulty choosing just one.
Choice, in fact, is what dining in St. Petersburg is all about, and these 9 restaurants are only a few of many options the city has to offer. Whether your style is casual cafe or refined restaurant, burgers on the beach or biscotti by the bay, this city offers something to satisfy every taste.
Special thanks to Visit St. Petersburg/Clearwater who hosted my 3-night stay in the area and introduced me to some of its attractions, including several of these restaurants.
Jane Canapini is a member of the Travel Media Association of Canada and the North American Travel Journalists Association. She established GrownupTravels.com in 2014 to share information and tips based on personal experience so her readers could get the most out of their travels.