You stand up. You show your ID and get a wristband. A server walks you to the wall and through the options: more than 50 taps, grouped by style, mostly local (Tampa Bay Brewing Company, Green Bench, 3 Daughters, etc.) and regional craft, plenty of ciders. You tap the screens for a little more detail. And then you pour. As little as a tenth of an ounce; a max of 40. You take a sip. You sit back down. You take more sips. You stand back up.
Oak & Stone is the second location of a concept launched by longtime friends Joe Seidensticker and Brett Decklever, whose first is in Sarasota on University Parkway. (There’s another on the horizon at the Marriott SpringHill Suites in downtown Bradenton.) Even in the face of a monster amount of craft beer already (from other self-serve tap rooms like Pour Taproom to new iterations of craft beer longtimers like the Independent), the duo were drawn to St. Petersburg for its great reputation as a craft beer and food destination, as well as its blossoming downtown.
I had a bad attitude about self-serve beer walls (and wine walls and iPad ordering) because it takes away a lot of the customer service and sharing of institutional knowledge that come from kibitzing with a bartender or server. But after a couple of visits to St. Pete’s new Oak & Stone, I have been won over. People have fun with it. They taste a bunch and learn a bunch. If they are really immature, they make a blend, opening a whole bunch of taps in succession like we did at 7-Eleven as kids at the soda fountain. (We called it a suicide, but maybe that was a regionalism.)
It is possible that you will become a beer widow(er), your tablemates zombie-ing over to the wall at intervals. No matter, because there’s loads at Oak & Stone to entertain you. It’s a sprawling place, hundreds of seats at hightops, the bar, booths and lowtops, a huge outdoor seating array to be added when the weather cools. Television screens are everywhere, depending on the day broadcasting a different hypnotic array of men in spandex. It feels upscale and contemporary, but with prices that won’t ruffle your feathers.
For a restaurant that opened July 9 (after many delays, which seems almost inevitable for new restaurants in St. Pete these days), it is already firing on all cylinders, the menu an interesting duality of indulgence — a jumble of nachos and chili brought in a No. 10 aluminum can and extravagantly upended tableside, $13; Philly cheesesteak egg rolls, $10; fried bread-and-butter pickles, $6 — and things that seem downright healthy — a truly excellent Hawker chop salad with a crunchy seven-veggie slaw in a peanuty dressing topped with perfectly cooked spicy shrimp and a frizzle of wontons, $14; and a series of bowls offered on a bed of sesame-inflected kale or a lovely quinoa pilaf with nutty ancient grains that lend satisfying tooth resistance, $10 to $14.
Still, the anchor is pizza, each a generous one-person or a slightly small two-person pie, its crust thin but not cracker thin, with good chew (triple-filtered water and a 36-hour fermentation process for the crust, they say). Combinations are imaginative but not gimmicky. My favorite might have been a sturdy sausage and meatball pie, the third element surprising breaded mozzarella balls sliced in half, their molten centers adding to the party, the base tomato sauce sprightly with high notes of basil ($13). There’s no doubt in my mind that I’ll zip back over for a Fun Guy (mushroom puns, you’ve got to love them; $12), a pie marrying a couple of kinds of mushrooms with a white sauce, Parm, herbs, a gloss of truffle oil and a pouf of fresh arugula ($12). Luscious, and if you really want to gild the lily, preface it with an order of pork cracklings, the big ruffles of pork rind blushed with chili oil and given a lime half as accompaniment ($5).
Oak & Stone also has a short but well-reasoned wine list and a lineup of very respectable house cocktails: While my tablemates were shuffling back to the beer wall, I turned my attentions to one called Jam You pairing Bulleit Rye, Orange Curacao, a house sour mix and a spoon of orange marmalade ($9), a smart assemblage of flavors I hope to re-create at home.
Oak & Stone brings a lot to an already thriving downtown dining and craft beer scene. I guess I won’t get sniffy that they attribute the quote "beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy" to Ben Franklin. He said something vaguely like that about wine, but even the Franklin Institute issues a firm nope on that quotation. Surely, though, if Franklin were witnessing the Tampa Bay beer scene circa 2018, he might agree?
Contact Laura Reiley at [email protected] or (727) 892-2293. Follow @lreiley. She dines unannounced and the Times pays all expenses.