WOB is, apparently, a game-changer. If you're saying "what's WOB?", you need to get out more. World of Beer, now 21 strong with eight more locations in the works, is spreading across the country, taking its no-food, encyclopedic-beer-list concept to suds fans everywhere. They've tried offering food, but it just wasn't what WOB does best. Here's what they do instead: order out.
Allan Galeano knows this. He came to St. Petersburg from Park City, Utah, where he owned a small group of restaurants called Buona Vita. He tried one here, on First Avenue S in the ramshackle-yet-charming space vacated by St. Pete's Finest Coffeehouse. It puttered along, always suffering from being just slightly away from the action of Central Avenue or the restaurant destination that Beach Drive has become. Then he heard WOB was moving in next door.
Galeano retooled, added partners Stephen Schrutt, Chris Dorsey and Jason Levine, giving the space a lovely ski lodge/rec room remodel, and reopening (on 11/11/11) as the Avenue. It's upscale burgers, a notch above nearby Five Guys, aimed to compete with Tampa's Square 1 Burgers or Burger 21. But more importantly, it's aimed to feed the hungry beer drinkers at WOB. Tampa restaurateur Peter Taylor has the same idea, hoping to open Wood Fired Pizza in the tiny space between the Avenue and WOB later this month. This triumvirate could prove a potent lure for St. Petersburg's party people.
They will deliver a burger or wrap directly to your bar stool at WOB, but there's plenty to entice WOBblers to take the 20 steps east on First Avenue. On weekends, the Avenue serves a late-night burger menu all the way until 3 a.m., with some very crafty breakfast burritos and scrambled-egg bowls thrown into the mix. There's live music on weekends, 25-cent wings and $2 Bud Light drafts on Mondays, $2 build-a-burger nights on Wednesdays, two-for-one happy hour specials between 4 and 7 p.m. and numerous flat screens for all the games.
Galeano and crew have installed big double doors that open onto the sidewalk; there's a fireplace at one end and a homey set of bookcases at the other end for tchotchkes and doodads. The Avenue, named with the clear intent of making this stretch of First Avenue S a destination, is much warmer and more inviting than any of the space's previous incarnations. Servers are speedy at lunch and unswervingly friendly (if not always on top of every detail).
And the burgers are pretty good. The kitchen works with a decent Angus chuck (which they maddeningly won't seem to cook any rarer than medium-well), with solid alterna-burgers like bison and ahi. The accoutrements (bun, lettuce, tomato, onion, pickle) are middle-of-the-pack, and the accompanying fries (also offered in a Cajun-spiced version or a sweet potato fry for $1 more) are nicely done, not too greasy and sensibly portioned. Most of the specialty burgers (from a bacon-blue cheese burger to a "reuben" style) hover around $9, which starts to creep into the high-expectations zone for me. If they could nail down the meat temperature issue and season the beef a little more aggressively, I'd be more comfortable with the price point.
That's not to say that Galeano et al aren't detail-oriented: Drinks are served in nostalgia-sized Mason jars, for dessert they bring in a range of enticing cupcakes, and finger-foods like onion rings ($4) and jalapeno poppers ($5) are carefully coddled in the fryer. They've made it a comfortable place for a quick lunch or a more leisurely chill with friends, with or without a pit stop at WOB.
Laura Reiley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org 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.