ST. PETERSBURG AND TAMPA — The Obama inauguration, MJ's death, Taylor Lautner's first shirtless scene in New Moon — notable moments in 2009, sure. But in some circles, the announcement that Westchase's megapopular World of Beer was coming to St. Petersburg and New Tampa was cause for equal shock and awe. • The original is a sweet formula: 500 beers, live music, a largely professional crowd and servers that know an Ayinger Brau-Weisse from a Weltenburger Hefe-Weizen Hell at a squint.
Tampa natives and childhood friends Philippe Theodore and Jason Rappaport bought the franchise rights to Hillsborough, Pinellas and Pasco counties. They opened a pub in St. Petersburg on Nov. 4 and in the Tampa Palms area of New Tampa on Nov. 24, in both cases adding food to the original concept (Westchase offers no food, but has a delivery agreement with nearby restaurants).
The gigantic beer list at all locations is the same: Refrigerator cases divide bottled options by country, alphabetized by brewer. There are two beer menus: draft and bottled, and these encyclopedic lists are alphabetized A to Z. This can make things tricky if you know styles or even countries that you like but not brewers' names. For this reason, servers at both new locations underwent weeklong beer school, culminating in a final exam. So, say you walk in with a vague notion that you like hoppy IPAs, servers quickly get a bead on which way to steer you.
At first glance, food options are weird. Theodore explained it to me over the phone. The rule of thumb, so to speak, is finger foods. Nothing requires utensils or even plates unless you're persnickety. Pizzas will be added in a few weeks, but for now there's a pleasant red pepper-tinged hummus served with toasted flatbread swaths ($5), another very nice artichoke/bacon/leek dip served with those same warm flatbread crisps ($6), a slightly sludgy cheese dip served with a soft pretzel ($7.50) and something that grew on me bite by bite: good-quality kettle chips drizzled with barbecue sauce and little clods of blue cheese ($5). Salty, sweet, rich and crunchy — a fine accompaniment to a beer or two.
The mojo wings ($9.50) are the single best item on the short menu, also the most meal-like, greaseless and with a good amount of heat. I had the braised beef slider called a WOBber ($6) at both locations and was unimpressed (also, classic smaller sliders would be easier to share sans silverware). A cheese and sausage platter ($14) was sunk by sweaty, inferior quality cheese cubes and the use of cellophane-wrapped saltines. Those flatbread toasts or baguette slices would improve it, as would a wedge of better cheese or even a spreadable like Boursin (either way you'd need a knife). I'd also suggest adding a veggies-and-dip option. Finger food for the more health-conscious.
Both new WOB locations are attractive and contemporary, full of hard surfaces and volume ceilings (shorthand: phew, the noise level), both are 21-and-over after 7 p.m., and neither serves dessert. Which is why it is advisable to finish things up with a lovely Lindemans framboise, served, as are most beers at WOB, in its appropriate glassware.
Laura Reiley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 892-2293. Her blog, the Mouth of Tampa Bay, is at blogs.tampabay.com/dining. Reiley dines anonymously and unannounced. The Times pays all expenses. Advertising has nothing to do with selection for review or the assessment.