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Review: Go-to lunch spot Apropos returns to downtown St. Pete (with, yes, tomato basil tart and tarragon chicken salad)

ST. PETERSBURG

It was a go-to spot for lunch in downtown St. Petersburg in the late 1980s, with everyone in the know singing the praises of the tarragon chicken salad and the tomato basil tart. But all good things must come to an end. Suzy Johnson and her partner/husband Ron Lees divorced, and he got custody of their beloved Apropos Restaurant.

He moved it from its original First Avenue NE location to a corner spot on the approach to the Pier and kept it going for a number of years while Johnson spent time catering at the Ringling Museum and then opening restaurants in Hawaii.

She moved back to the area in the new millennium and worked at the St. Petersburg Yacht Club, but, as she says, "I always wanted to recapture my baby." Her wish came true three months ago when a little space that housed G's Rotisserie became available.

Apropos, named after Johnson's old sailboat, was reborn in June.

It still has the tarragon chicken salad, it still has the tomato basil tart, and it still has its devoted fans. The space is modest, a handful of tables set on a cheery checkerboard floor, an intimate lunch counter overlooking the cramped quarters of the kitchen (not unlike a sailboat galley, in fact, with induction burners and a heavy-use baking oven). Johnson and fellow cook Gary Merron jockey back and forth in a tricky ballet, slicing and plating and chatting with what already seem like regulars.

Muffins emerge from the oven around 7:45 a.m. Not monster sized, they have crunchy tops that, when lifted in a pouf of steam, reveal a tender crumb. Delicious and homemade, with an eye to health, they embody what Johnson is trying to do.

Most lunch plates come with a muffin and a spoonful of fruit salad and a choice of sides. The best side is the tarragon green beans, crisp-tender and bright green, a simple citrus vinaigrette with a hint of the herbal aroma of tarragon heightening their flavor.

New potatoes with dill and sour cream is another side, very simple, but its creaminess seems like too much of a good thing when set up against some of Apropos' other mayo-intensive dishes. The tarragon chicken salad ($7.95 on greens, $8.50 in a delicious club sandwich with bacon) and the shrimp and artichoke salad ($8.95) are unabashedly mayonnaise-heavy, a nod to the restaurant's genesis in the late 1980s. (Hey, I'd take that kind of nostalgia over acid-washed jeans or big shoulder pads any day).

The chicken salad sandwich seems like the way to go, real-tasting tomatoes, thick bacon and lettuce stacked up with crusty dark bread for a sandwich with heft that necessitates a napkin or three.

Two other sandwiches are every bit as good: house-roasted pork loin sliced to order and piled on Cuban bread with a spicy-sweet ginger mustard ($8.25), and the rosy-rare beef tenderloin on French bread with a slick of horseradish cream ($9.75). Each is a raucous party of flavors and textures.

Still, it's the tomato tart ($8.25, served with the green beans) that has brought old Apropos fans out of the woodwork.

A delicate, flaky crust cradles an ooze of provolone, mozzarella and Parmesan, upon which rounds of just-soft tomato perch, a landing spot for the subtle basil. It's a healthy and brightly flavored lunch with a side of green beans and accompanying fruit salad (fresh and tasty, it often quells the urge for one of the house blondies or Grand Marnier brownies, $2.50-$2.75), not too much salt, not too much fat, a sensible portion.

As with most new restaurants, Apropos is still finding its groove with service. Servers may occasionally forget a refill or a spoon, but they are unflaggingly friendly.

Johnson aims to do catering and private parties in the evenings, keeping the restaurant's focus on affordable and quick breakfasts and lunches for downtown workers. Even if Johnson's "baby" is a child of the 1980s, her mission still seems apropos, indeed.

Laura Reiley can be reached at lreiley@sptimes.com or (727) 892-2293. She dines anonymously and unannounced. The Times pays all expenses. Advertising has nothing to do with selection for review or the assessment.

Apropos Restaurant & Catering

8 Fourth St. N, St. Petersburg
(727) 823-8899;
aproposrestaurant.com

Cuisine: American, breakfast

Hours: 7:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday to Friday, until 2 p.m. Saturday

Details: AmEx, V, MC, Disc.; reservations not necessary; no alcohol; free delivery downtown

Prices: Breakfast $1.75 to $6.95, lunch $6.50 to $9.75

Rating out of four stars:
Food: ★★★ Service: ★★ Atmosphere: ★★

Overall: ★★1/2

Review: Go-to lunch spot Apropos returns to downtown St. Pete (with, yes, tomato basil tart and tarragon chicken salad) 08/09/11 [Last modified: Friday, October 14, 2011 11:19am]

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