“Z” marks a lot of spots for this chef
Zack Gross is not your typical chef, in appearance or approach.
Gross, who is covered in tattoos and forgoes the classic white chef's coat, white apron and toque for casual clothes while he is at work, is the owner and chef of Z-Grille in downtown St. Petersburg. The restaurant opened on April 1, 2005, on Central Avenue but then moved to Second Street S. in 2008.
The establishment was originally set to open in Pass-a-Grille, which is where the name Z-Grille originated. He decided the beach was too far from home, so he moved it to Central Avenue, keeping the name.
"After changing locations, I had no more money to change the name so we just left it at Z-Grille. Then it kind of turned into a name after Zack. Then I had a daughter named Zen, so now I just say it's named after her," Gross said.
Before starting up Z-Grille, Gross went to culinary school. He then came up with the idea to start his own restaurant.
"I didn't want to work for anyone else. If I was gonna go ahead and do it, might as well just go and try it and do it myself," Gross said. "It took all my credit cards and the mortgage of my house to open up this restaurant."
The food served at the restaurant, according to Gross, is contemporary American style with a splash of a California theme and Mexican flavor.
A majority of the dishes are ideas Gross came up with off the top of his head.
"Some of my least-thought-of dishes would sell the most," Gross said. "I'd just write something down, not thinking anything of it or that anyone would order it, and someone would order it. I'd make something up to put on the plate and serve it, and they would love it."
He points to the restaurant's two most popular dishes as examples: His Deviled Eggs with an unusual variety of fillings, and Dr. Pepper Ribs.
"I don't have a least popular dish. I see everything on the menu to the point where if I take it off, people will get mad," Gross said. "To be a really successful chef, you can't have dishes that are really bad."
The menu at Z-Grille is not the only thing that's original about Gross.
About 80 to 100 hours of tattoos adorn his arms, legs and chest. There are so many he doesn't even remember his first. Some of them are designed by his 8-year-old daughter, Zen.
She would draw a picture for Gross, and he would take the drawings to Evil Don Tattoos on Central Avenue and get them inked on his body.
"The first tattoo of my daughter's drawing is the green and blue "Z" on my right wrist with her name under it. The guy who did that tattoo did it exactly like the drawing," Gross said. "The spots that don't look filled in actually match the original drawing, and now all the tattoos of her drawings are like that. Unedited."
Like many of the popular dishes he creates at Z-Grille.