Thursday, February 22, 2018
Restaurants

Lolita's Wine Market in St. Pete is tasty, but good luck deciphering your bill

So much charm packed into so little space.

Lolita’s Wine Market is the latest in a string of endearing cheese-and-charcuterie-centric restaurants to open in St. Petersburg. It’s a tiny, adorable thing. There are grape-purple flower boxes, gauzy white curtains, funky pendant lights and just a few tables including one long, communal high-top. You chalk your name on the board with the number in your party, and then you mill around, check out the cheeses in the case, peruse the wines on the shelves, maybe step outside to escape the hubbub, check your watch, throw yourself in a despond into one of the upholstered lounge chairs, and then your table is ready.

Owners Alex and Kelly Rodriguez have notable pedigrees. Alex grew up in Puerto Rico and started cooking there, moving to New York at age 18 to take a job at Geoffrey Zakarian’s Forty Four at the Royalton New York. The couple owned a 6,000-square-foot restaurant in Powell, Ohio, called Luce Enoteca, an Italian/Mediterranean powerhouse with a 450-bottle wine list. They sold the restaurant in 2012, and Alex continued as a hired gun, working at a number of high-profile restaurants such as Bobby Flay’s Mesa Grill Atlantis and the Bazaar South Beach by José Andrés.

Fatigued of living in Miami and the Bahamas, they fell in love with St. Pete. Alex became executive chef at Castile at the Hotel Zamora in St. Pete Beach, then at Annata Wine Bar in St. Petersburg. And then, they decided, it was time to open their own place. Named after the Rodriguezes’ dog, Lolita’s launched in June.

I have exactly three problems with Lolita’s, and they aren’t small. It’s an assemble-your-own cheese and charcuterie concept with loads of wonderful accouterments and jars of housemade deliciousness. Problem 1: On the long, skinny check-the-boxes menu/ordering chit, the cheeses and many of the meats are "market price." This means your final bill can be an utter mystery and often a shock to the system. Which brings me to Problem 2. You don’t receive an itemized bill at meal’s end, one on which you might conceivably check their math. And they don’t have a printer, so the total bill is email-only (and I never received mine). That is far too loose and requires far too much trust for my comfort.

My third problem is with the wine. There is no written wine list, so once you’re seated, you are flying blind. This really precludes a lot of learning — if I’m going to a wine bar to sample a couple things in a particular varietal or region, I want to be able to see what my options are, memorize the names of the ones I like, and, this again, I want to know what they’re going to cost me. If I like the $9 glass of sauvignon blanc more than the $13 one, then bully for me. It’s difficult to glean this information at Lolita’s without a lot of conversation from the servers, and they seem to be extremely busy all the time.

That out of the way, there are loads of wonderful nibbles here. A small jar of ricotta ($6) is infused with lavender and honey with a swirl of kale pesto and a few heirloom cherry tomatoes, beads of balsamic and microgreens. Eat these with the crusty housemade toasts, then pop a fat olive ($2 for a little bowl) or cornichon ($2), or maybe the more exotic truffled goat cheese-stuffed tiny peppadew peppers ($2). Or combine a swath of the fudgy, sinful Delice de Bourgogne triple cream ($3.65 for a wedge) with a luminous hunk of weepy honeycomb ($2). Or savor a crystalline slice of mimolette ($6.30) by itself, crunching it between your teeth (fun fact: The French cheese was banned in the United States for a while because tiny cheese mites on the crust add flavor — Americans are queasy about mites).

The desserts in jars are a must (especially the gorgeous toasted coconut tres leches cake with pepita brittle, $5, and the triple chocolate decadence with dulce de leche, $6), and there are more small plates that make wonderful juxtapositions to the finger foods, although it’s always fun to eat a whole meal sans fork. We enjoyed one evening’s butternut squash risotto richened with a big puddle of burrata and two mounds of thinly shaved prosciutto, as well as a beet salad, yellow roasted wedges contrasted with raw shaved watermelon radish, peppery arugula, oily marcona almonds and a truffled goat cheese mousse, the salad’s vinaigrette a tangy-sweet quince spin that married perfectly ($9).

Lolita’s stocks a nice array of regional beers and sophisticated nonalcoholic drinks. The wine list thus far is hard to assess for reasons already mentioned, but it appears to be a very Old World-New World mash-up with no particular emphasis, markups fairly standard (it’s cheaper to buy by the bottle). As with all places that specialize in cheese and charcuterie boards, it’s largely food assembling, not cooking, but at Lolita’s the presentations are opulent and attractive. I’m just going to have to butter up accounting before I turn in the receipts.

Contact Laura Reiley at [email protected] or (727) 892-2293. Follow @lreiley. She dines anonymously and unannounced; the Times pays all expenses.

Lolita’s Wine Market

16 18th St. S, St. Petersburg, (727) 505-0503

Cuisine: Wine bar

Hours: 4 to 10:30 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday; until 11 p.m. Friday; 1 to 10:30 p.m. Saturday; 11 a.m. to 2 brunch, charcuterie and salads 2 to 5 p.m. and full menu until 9 p.m. Sunday. Monthly wine dinners always on a Sunday.

Details: AmEx, V, MC, Disc.; no reservations; beer and wine

Prices: Dishes $2-$10

Rating, out of four stars: Food: 2 stars Service: 2 stars Atmosphere: 3 stars

Overall: 2½ stars

Comments
This week food fests celebrate collard greens and Jewish foods

This week food fests celebrate collard greens and Jewish foods

FIELD OF GREEN: COLLARD FESTOn Saturday you can devote your whole day to the beauty of collard greens. Well, that’s the jumping off point. Collards are the "central ingredient" at the Tampa Bay Collard Green Festival at St. Petersburg’s Historic Deuc...
Updated: 4 hours ago
The Simple Greek offering $1 gyros for St. Petersburg grand opening

The Simple Greek offering $1 gyros for St. Petersburg grand opening

ST. PETERSBURG — The Simple Greek restaurant is celebrating the grand opening of its new downtown St. Petersburg location with a $1 lunch special on Thursday. To commemorate the opening, The Simple Greek will be offering $1 build your own gyro from 1...
Updated: 6 hours ago
Where you can trade in your Gasparilla beads for doughnuts

Where you can trade in your Gasparilla beads for doughnuts

Krispy Kreme Doughnuts will be trading old Gasparilla beads for its famous glazed doughnuts.Anyone who brings in 12 pounds of beads to Krispy Kreme on Saturday will be rewarded with a dozen original glazed doughnuts, according to a news release.For t...
Published: 02/21/18
Review: Platt Street Borough is casual Tampa dining with high standards

Review: Platt Street Borough is casual Tampa dining with high standards

TAMPAIt wasn’t that long ago that Platt Street was a bit of a conundrum for restaurateurs: Not exactly downtown, without the dense auto traffic of Kennedy, and far enough off the South Howard main drag that it didn’t entirely qualify as part of SoHo....
Published: 02/19/18
The Reading Room’s Lauren Macellaro and Columbia’s Richard Gonzmart are James Beard semifinalists

The Reading Room’s Lauren Macellaro and Columbia’s Richard Gonzmart are James Beard semifinalists

It’s almost a sick joke. On the morning after Valentine’s Day, the second-busiest restaurant day of the year, chefs all over the country are hauling themselves out of bed early to find out: Did I make it onto this year’s James Beard Foundation list o...
Published: 02/15/18
Blind Tiger Coffee Roasters opens in South Tampa, plus learn how to roll sushi at Kelp

Blind Tiger Coffee Roasters opens in South Tampa, plus learn how to roll sushi at Kelp

LOVE STUNT: SUSHI ROLLSIf you dropped the ball Wednesday and did bubkes for your sweetie, here’s a tip: Through Sunday at Kelp in South Tampa, couples can dive into a reservations-only chef-led art of sushi rolling class that comes with bottomless sa...
Published: 02/14/18
Out of time this Valentine's Day? Five ways to still have a romantic meal

Out of time this Valentine's Day? Five ways to still have a romantic meal

Valentine’s Day is Wednesday, and that means your odds of scoring a reservation at a popular restaurant are roughly equal to the odds of you opening your own restaurant in time for dinner. Thinking about showing up somewhere with no reservatio...
Published: 02/13/18
Review: 2nd & Second will serve you 24/7 in St. Petersburg

Review: 2nd & Second will serve you 24/7 in St. Petersburg

ST. PETERSBURGAn older couple sits at a booth, hunched over mugs of coffee, occasionally murmuring in a way that seems more soliloquy than conspiracy. Outside at a table, two travelers pay their tab, plates streaked with cold yolk. They ask for direc...
Published: 02/12/18
Review: Maybe the Lure can beat the odds at this unlucky South Tampa location

Review: Maybe the Lure can beat the odds at this unlucky South Tampa location

TAMPA - This will be my fourth review of restaurants in this space, all of them more or less favorable: Bistro Bleu (a sophisticated New American charmer), Marrakech (Yay! We have almost no Moroccan food here! Bring on the tagines!) and Catrinas Taco...
Updated one month ago
Here's what you can eat at the Armature Works' new Heights Public Market

Here's what you can eat at the Armature Works' new Heights Public Market

TAMPA — "This project will change the DNA of Tampa." Bold words from Ferdian Jap, co-owner of Zukku, one of 14 vendors who began selling their food and drink to the public Thursday at the anticipated Heights Public Market at the Armature Works...
Updated one month ago