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Royal tastes, not pub grub

ST. PETERSBURG

Lost mountain dwarf saved by Chihuahua. Or so it says on the wall at the Grand Central District's new Queens Head men's room. Both restrooms are lavishly festooned with collages of British tabloid clippings that range from the profound to the profane (and thus, perfect lavatory reading). The work of Darren Conner and Paul Smith, Queens Head is an adorable, cheeky and emphatically stylish addition to St. Petersburg.

It opened June 24 and has yet to have its ambitious outdoor patio with cabanas and loungers completed. But even as is, the small bar-restaurant is a delightful addition, a British pub with a little South Beach glamor and New York club smarts (it's hard not to feel hip while sipping a mimosa and listening to a little of DJ Craig Dirty's chill-out music at Sunday brunch).

Conner worked down the block at Beak's Old Florida, and some of the customer base may overlap, but the approach to decor couldn't be more different. Beak's has that lovable garage-sale-gone-wild motif; Queens Head is sleek and seductive with mirrors and moody lighting.

What has captured my attention more than the pretty furnishings, or even the supernaturally nice servers, is what's coming out of the kitchen. Chris Greer, formerly at MJ's Martini Jazz Lounge in St. Petersburg, is doing great work with affordable, gutsy reinterpretations of pub classics and some freestyling entirely his own. Crispy fried chickpeas just blushed with smoked paprika ($4) are a curiously satisfying bar food (to go with the smallish but carefully chosen beer list they seem to still be tinkering with), and you don't usually associate pub grub and a trio of seared sea scallops served with cherrywood bacon and caramelized Brussels sprouts ($9), but so be it.

He could have a lighter hand with the salt, but I was otherwise smitten by a British-style chicken curry with big corn fritters and a tiny dice of minted mango ($15) and the weekend brunch's "chip butty" bacon, fried egg and french fry sandwich on ciabbata ($11). Greer shows impressive range, able to traffic in sturdy rib-stickers like bangers and mash ($14) as well as delicate dishes like a chilled cucumber and avocado soup ($3) heightened by a swirl of lemon-chive creme fraiche.

A sure sign that a new restaurant is hitting the right notes is when other local chefs keep popping up. Set in a former 1950s gas station, Queens Head is already a regular hangout for hospitality industry folks in addition to the neighborhood's gay merrymakers. Gay and straight seem equally fervent about this newcomer. Long live our noble Queen, indeed.

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.

Review

The Queens Head

2501 Central Ave., St. Petersburg

(727) 498-8584

Cuisine: British/American

Hours: 3 p.m. to 2 a.m. Tuesday to Friday, noon to 2 a.m. Saturday, noon to 10 p.m. Sunday (kitchen closes each night at 11 p.m.)

Details: Amex, V, MC, Disc.; reservations not necessary; full bar

Prices: Starters $3-$9, mains $11-$18, desserts $6, brunch $3-$12

Rating out of four stars:

Food: ★★★, Service: ★★★,

Atmosphere: ★★★, Overall: ★★★

Royal tastes, not pub grub 08/19/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, August 26, 2009 1:10pm]

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