Red Mesa's downtown Cantina will have a menu that knows no borders

ST. PETERSBURG — Peter Veytia claims he has the secret ingredients for making a new restaurant successful in these depressed dining times: variety, convenience and a stone's throw to a hot nightclub.

The space that his new Red Mesa Cantina will call home, a historic corner lot at Third Street S and First Avenue S, not long ago housed DeSanto Latin American Bistro, which recently closed. Within a few blocks, a handful of other once promising restaurants have also shut their doors.

The solution? Offer the late night party crowd at Push Ultra Lounge tasty morsels that are certain to cultivate the palate. Foods like Mexican tortas (a hamburger-like sandwich), Peruvian ceviche (a citrus-infused seafood dish), Venezuelan arepas (savory corn cakes), Puerto Rican mofongo (mashed plantains and pork), bombas from the Dominican Republic (potato fritters), Zigoron from Nicaragua (mashed yucca and pork crackling) and empanadas from Honduras (stuffed savory pockets of meats and cheese).

What all those Latin American foods have in common is that they are comfort foods, they are relatively quick and easy to prepare, and they are generally single servings, sort of like Spanish tapas. At Red Mesa Cantina, they'll grace the same menu and be called lunch and dinner.

Veytia, the longtime owner of Red Mesa Restaurant at 4912 Fourth St. N, frowns upon the concept of fast, affordable food. He prefers words like "inviting" and "spontaneous."

"We don't want to be seen as expensive or special occasion," Veytia said of Cantina. "We want to make it so that our food is inviting at any time of day."

The restaurant, which will have a bar emphasizing Latin American beers and drinks, is to open seven days a week starting in mid to late January. Salads and vegetarian versions of the Latin American classics will round out the menu.

Veytia describes his new venture as family-run, with a twist, in that Thursday through Saturday nights the kitchen will stay open until 2 a.m. or later, serving those exotic comfort foods to hungry clubgoers.

Overseeing the concept of the new restaurant is Veytia's wife, Shawn. In the management will be his son, Peter III, and in the kitchen will be chef Chris Fernandez, who also oversees the kitchen at Red Mesa.

Veytia said the new restaurant will have a different feel than the Mexican-dominated cuisine at Red Mesa, which offers more entrees and traditional platings.

His family didn't want to confuse the two concepts, he said. The Veytias also wanted to stay true to Red Mesa and keep their businesses local.

The restaurant is keeping a no-cover agreement that the owners of DeSanto had with Push Ultra Lounge. When you dine in the outdoor patio section, you can walk into the club upstairs free of charge, Veytia said.

The two spaces are intertwined. The three-floor building is laid out as one continuous space, so that the Red Mesa Cantina will share an upstairs bathroom, elevator, staircase and one entrance with the club. Veytia is subleasing the downstairs portion from the owner. The new restaurant will also have its own downstairs bathroom and main entrance on Third Ave. S.

This is not Veytia's first foray into downtown dining. He also owned Adobo Grill, which operated in BayWalk for five years before closing.

"We could just not get the sales volume up to a level that justified staying longer than our five-year lease," Veytia said of Adobo Grill.

Of course, he wasn't serving Mexican tortas back then.

"I think that the way the economy is, our timing couldn't be better," Veytia said.

Luis Perez can be reached at Lperez@sptimes.com or 727-892-2271.

Red Mesa's downtown Cantina will have a menu that knows no borders 12/16/08 [Last modified: Thursday, December 18, 2008 12:02pm]

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