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Revisionist thinking could help Gatsby's Restaurant make history

By LAURA REILEY

Times Food Critic

ST. PETERSBURG

Dale Grayl and his wife, Mary, bought the 1922 hotel formerly known as Lantern Lane back in 1994. He had big ideas, aiming to take the three-story building up to nine stories and opening a private Prohibition-themed social club.

Economic realities revised things somewhat (the expansion bids came in around $10 million, for starters). So, to supplement the income from the 20 hotel rooms, Grayl's Hotel has opened Gatsby's Restaurant. The toughest part was getting the sidewalk seating cleared by the city — the outdoor seats from Moon Under Water segueing into that of the hotel, very South Beach on a small scale.

An all-day menu was launched two months ago, the handiwork of Michigan native Tony Skerjance. Overall, the offerings don't coalesce in any particular idiom: an array of mayonnaise-intensive wraps, sandwiches and workhorse thin- and medium-crust pizzas. There are some pleasant dishes, but the menu suffers from the kitchen's constraints. Because it is a historic building, it doesn't have a big hood system, which would allow a grill, flat top and other kitchen equipment. Instead, food is produced in space-age Turbo Chef ovens that use impinged air and radiant heat and require no venting.

Still, the sidewalk tables have a great view of the boats bobbing on the water and service is warm and attentive. One afternoon's white pizza ($9.99 small, $15.99 large) made a tasty shared nosh, a mantle of mozzarella, ricotta and Parmesan hiding garlicky sauteed spinach and a few bits of sun-dried tomato (the tomato sauce on another pizza, though, was cloying). A different day's chicken salad wrap ($9.50) and tuna wrap ($8.95) were both awash in mayo, then served with even more mayo-spiked macaroni salad and potato salad.

Better were the house Cuban sandwich ($9.95), with the right ham-to-roast pork ratio and the real-deal bread from La Segunda, or a pulled pork number on a Kaiser roll ($7.95, although its coleslaw topping was again too mayo-lush). A spinach salad with hot bacon dressing ($6.95) was carefully executed and equipped with little matchsticks of jicama, a surprisingly successful addition.

In general, Gatsby's isn't yet great. It will have to refine the menu a bit to compete effectively with the other successful restaurants along Beach. But certainly F. Scott Fitzgerald himself wouldn't turn his nose up at a sidewalk table here on a lazy afternoon.

Laura Reiley can be reached at lreiley@sptimes.com 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.

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Gatsby's Restaurant

340 Beach Drive NE, St. Petersburg

(727) 896-1080

Cuisine: American casual

Hours: 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. Sunday to Thursday, until midnight Friday and Saturday

Details: Amex., V, MC, Disc.; reservations accepted; full bar

Prices: Sandwiches $7.95-$9.95; entrees $10.50-$14.95; desserts $5.95

Rating out of four stars:

Food: ∂∂

Service: ∂∂

Atmosphere: ∂∂

Overall: ∂∂

Revisionist thinking could help Gatsby's Restaurant make history 07/22/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, July 22, 2009 5:30am]

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