An 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 directions back to the highway and are gone.
And then it is quiet, 4 a.m. at 2nd & Second, the new 24-hour diner precisely where its name says it is. The floor is being mopped efficiently and fragrantly by a middle-aged Hispanic woman; two young men in the kitchen can be heard kibitzing about a customer who left a $60 tip; the manager slowly restocks the bar with a satisfying rhythm of pings and clinks. A red-haired waitress makes me a cappuccino. It takes her a while and it’s not the best cappuccino I’ve ever had, but maybe the best one I’ve had at 4 a.m.?
Tampa Bay has very few 24-hour options. Denny’s, IHOP, Joe’s New York Diner in Tampa — that’s about it. Applebee’s will take you until 2 a.m., but we’ve been underserved in the wee hours after that, the hours where half the patrons are running on fumes from evening revelries and the other half has recently brushed their teeth in anticipation of an early start. These are the hours when the insomniac throws in the towel and the runaway comes in out of the cold, both finding succor in bottomless mugs of coffee and those pull-tab half-and-half creamers.
With its dense nightlife scene and growing status as a fun-times destination, St. Petersburg needed a 24-hour diner. Clearly a bunch of people had this same epiphany in 2017. Still, Diner24 DTSP on First Avenue N lasted just a couple of months. 2nd & Second is the effort of pros, a collaboration between Kahwa Coffee owner Raphael Perrier, Tryst owner Renaud Cowez and chef Jeremy Duclut of Cassis and the Wooden Rooster.
In a space that was most recently a RE/MAX real estate office, it doesn’t look particularly dinery. Yes, there are leatherette booths and a long lunch counter with round stools, but way too many cool light fixtures, shiny concrete floors and chic wooden ceiling beams to make it the backdrop for one of cinema’s great diner scenes (in order, Five Easy Pieces, Heat, Pulp Fiction, Muppets Take Manhattan, Coffee and Cigarettes).
No biggie if they’re doing things right. I’m going to say the kitchen is still getting its bearings — corned beef hash too salty, adjacent eggs not salted at all, that kind of thing — but there’s still plenty worth checking out. My biggest question about 2nd & Second is why there are so many employees. Dozens of them, young and old, the manager loudly organizing and chastising in the manner of a summer camp counselor. Paradoxically, all of these people milling around, all of this vociferous direction from management, does not yield solicitous service. Very few check-backs, things get forgotten, refills are not offered, bills are dropped with no offer of dessert.
Offerings on the all-day single-page menu are largely classic breakfast staples with slight upscale twists: You can have your eggs "truffled" ($2.50 extra) with a squirt of truffle oil and a sprinkling of Parmesan; omelets ($9.25) are offered with fillings like roasted tomatoes, arugula and basil pesto; quaffs include a flight of Bloody Marys ($10), a froze (a rose slushy, $10) and a signature cocktail with Boodles gin and St. Germain elderflower liqueur. But I think the dinner-entree foods are even more interesting.
About 10 times a year someone calls or writes to ask where to get liver and onions, nearly extinct. This place has it, a lovely pan-fried version with caramelized onion, bacon, a poached egg and a pan sauce lifted by the zing of sherry vinegar ($13.50). There’s also a competent sandwich version of Nashville-style hot chicken ($9.25), its toasted white bread nearly irrelevant as you dive into the salty-spicy breaded chicken juxtaposed with dill pickle stackers.
Appetizers make yeoman’s use of the deep-fryer: a duo of skinny potato and sweet potato fries freckled with smoked paprika, a nice touch ($4.75); dill pickle spears with a Dijon-inflected breading ($4.25); pretzel-crusted artichoke hearts (that taste strangely of nothing; $4.75). And desserts either emanate from the classic diner pie case (Red velvet cake with Nutella frosting? Now there’s an invention on a par with the wheel; $4.25.) or are milkshakes ($4.25) whizzed in the noisy diner blenders.
Are there enough St. Pete denizens in need of 4 a.m. scramble skillets to support a diner that never sleeps? It remains to be seen. But at least for me and the four other patrons on a recent Thursday, 2nd and Second was a welcome intersection.
Contact Laura Reiley at [email protected] or (727) 892-2293. Follow @lreiley. She dines unannounced and the Times pays all expenses.