ST. PETERSBURG — I was prepared. I’d been to the Maple Street Biscuit location in Tallahassee in our circuitous escape from Hurricane Irma. The woman behind the counter was going to ask me my favorite childhood television show so it could be called out when my order was ready. Gilligan’s Island, I would say smoothly. Or, if I had a last-second wild hair, The Brady Bunch.
"Your favorite band?"
Wait, I wasn’t expecting that. I froze. The Beatles? Too obvious. She would judge me. Something hip and new. CupcakKe or Amber Mark? No, trying too hard. Relax.
No judgment, just one nod as I proffered a credit card to pay for my Reinhold (flaky biscuit, all-natural fried chicken breast, thick-cut crunchy rounds of dill pickle, little slather of honey mustard; $6) and an iced chai latte ($4). I milled around for a bit in the airy space that opened today at 662 Central Ave. in St. Petersburg, in what until recently was the slightly grungy Local 662. Ordering counter up here, biscuit bakery and prep area behind it, a whole bunch of individual and communal tables and plenty of outdoor seating.
While my Reinhold was being engineered, I decided to take the temperature of the place. How was it doing on its debut day? Tim Sanders of Tampa comes from a Southern biscuit tradition. His dad makes them at home. Maple Street pronouncement: A great biscuit, really homemade tasting.
Quinton Rouse of St. Petersburg got the BAM! YoYo ($10), embarrassing to order, yes, but in his estimation a fine exemplar of what chicken and waffles can be. But that price?
"It’s chicken and waffles, so you’re going to pay a little bit more. It’s worth it."
Aaron Morales of St. Petersburg sat nearby, over crumbs of what had been the Chicken Club biscuit (biscuit, fried chicken breast, pecanwood bacon, spinach, tomato, honey mustard; $7).
"The chicken was amazing: juicy, crispy outside. The bacon and spinach were great, and I thought the price was appropriate."
I had to cut him short. I heard it: "The Beatles!"
Tampa Bay is not biscuit country. A few months ago Garden & Gun magazine called me: What’s the best biscuit in your area? I froze (I guess I do that a lot). I muddled through, named Ella’s in Tampa, but realized that Pinellas County is biscuit impoverished. Many people say this is because Florida, especially the further south you go, isn’t the South. Just the Panhandle has a twang.
And look back to those early Florida pioneers: White flour was a luxury encountered only infrequently, butter nearly like gold. There were corn cakes, coontie flour concoctions, but not a whole lot of white flour biscuits.
But Maple Street is an all-Florida invention, started by Scott Moore and Gus Evans in Jacksonville in 2012, with four locations there now, one in Jacksonville Beach, two in Tally and one each in Gainesville, St. Augustine, Fleming Island and Oviedo, branching outside the state with five in Tenn. (two in Knoxville), two in South Carolina and four in Georgia. Notice anything about this list? Lots of college towns. College kids like biscuits: Portable, customizable, not too expensive and exceptional as a hangover remedy.
How was my Reinhold? Hard to pick up, more a fork and knife affair, but really satisfying, the pickle rounds providing a salty counterpoint to the sweet buttery biscuit and plush fried chicken. The Food Network has praised the place on its show Guilty Pleasures, singling out the Squawking Goat as of note (biscuit, fried chicken breast, fried goat cheese medallion, house-made pepper jelly). That’s what I’m getting next. And I’ll have a better band idea by then.