The tide is rising and it is foam-capped, sometimes a little malty, sometimes a little hoppy. A thirst in St. Petersburg can be quenched at dozens of purveyors of craft beer. One of the newer ones is the Tap House at the reincarnated Hollander Hotel. Built in 1933, the Hollander went through several reinventions (as a Travelodge, the Bond Hotel) and then sat empty for nearly 13 years until it reopened last year as a hip boutique hotel, complete with a full-service spa, coffee shop and tap room.
Michael Andon, owner of the recently refurbished North Sunrise Motel on Clearwater Beach, bought it, restored it and reopened as the Hollander Hotel at the end of November. Redoing floors, plumbing, electrical and the works, his team built the Tap House and the charming Brew D Licious Coffee Shop.
Why a tap house?
Well, says general manager Nick Harring, "Craft beer was a given, because it's such a popular thing to have." With it is a short menu on which everything is under $10, and live music six nights a week (from piano man night to an acoustic guitarist doing Americana to a somewhat punishing saxophonist).
Chef Jimmy McConnell, a veteran in Pinellas County having spent years at Pepin in St. Petersburg and Jeff Knight's Kitchen in the Jannus Live complex, has designed a short, smart menu that goes well with the local-heavy beer lineup (from Dunedin Apricot Wheat to Swamp Ape IPA from Melbourne). At the very top of the heap is a rock-solid, super-fresh grouper sandwich ($10), which I had fried perfectly, on a kaiser roll with crisp lettuce, rounds of real-tasting tomato, red onion and a dab of lemony tartar sauce. Served with hearty, greaseless waffle-cut fries (or equally good barely-spicy jalapeno coleslaw), it's rib-sticking enough to be a respectable dinner.
For now the menu is the same at lunch and dinner, but McConnell is in the process of adding a handful of new dinner entrees (pork loin with asparagus tips and homemade mashed potatoes, a couple pastas, a steak). Weekend breakfast is also in the mix, with omelet and waffle stations with sides and accouterments.
The wine list seems to be an afterthought after all the good craft beers (Harpoon UFO white, Green Flash double stout, the list goes on). I'd like to see the wine options expand as the dinner menu does, and the live music may have to turn down the volume if dinner is going to thrive.
But still, there's lots to applaud. The quirkiest is the "stuffed meaty ball," a huge housemade meatball stuffed with gooey mozzarella sitting astride focaccia and accompanied by tangy marinara ($7). It's a shirt-wrecker, but tasty, as was the hand-pattied house burger (single $5.50, double $7.50).
An appetizer list offers easy, beer-friendly familiars, from chips and salsa ($4) to daily-changing hummus flavors ($6) to bang-bang-esque chili-sauced fried shrimp ($8.50). One that stood out was squares of housemade mac and cheese which are then wrapped in bacon, breaded and fried ($6.50). Talk about gilding the lily, but it works.
Desserts are still a little lean, but here's a tip: Look at the desserts at Brew D Licious. One day, a gorgeous dulce de leche cake stood on its counter, and I have it on good authority from Harring that they will ferry over desserts if you ask nicely. Come to think of it, that cake might have been mighty fine with a pint of Cigar City Jai Alai.
Laura Reiley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 892-2293. Follow @lreiley on Twitter. She dines anonymously and unannounced; the Times pays all expenses.