pit stops: AROUND the Grand Prix
This weekend brings the 12th annual Firestone Grand Prix to St. Petersburg, and after a full day of watching the IndyCar cars you'll need to refuel. Since the Grand Prix was last zipping through the 1.8-mile circuit of downtown streets, new restaurants have opened in what was already a vibrant dining scene. You can find a full list of our picks for where to eat along the Grand Prix route at tbtim.es/fu0. Here's what's new since the last time more than 100,000 racing fans, volunteers, workers and visitors converged on downtown St. Petersburg.
Kings Street Food Counter
937 Central Ave., St. Petersburg, (727) 914-2111
The space has been totally reinvented as a 21st century diner with lots of winky nostalgia. On the weekends, Kings Street serves food until 4 a.m. with a whole poutine menu and the best corn dog around. And for dessert, it would be unwise to forgo the flaky, crispy cronut topped with molten deep chocolate ganache and a flurry of really good bacon chunks. With four styles of poutine, a few salads, extravagant milkshakes, 10 grilled cheeses and 16 hot dog styles, it's like no 1950s-era diner menu ever. But it works for St. Pete hipster-foodies with a smart beer list (wines are a little perfunctory), glass-bottle old-timey sodas, Kahwa coffee and over-the-top milkshake combinations.
Sea Salt at Sundial
179 Second Ave. N, St. Petersburg, (727) 873-7964
This is traditional fine dining with a far-reaching wine list and a sumptuously appointed dining room. The salt thing is a bit of a gimmick: Bread comes with a trio of exotic salts and a cruet of oil. Oyster service is the best thing about Sea Salt with oysters that are pristinely fresh and served simply on a round metal ice-filled tray with horseradish, cocktail sauce and a lovely mignonette; they are memorably good. The rest of the menu splits between elegantly simple seafood preparations and glamorous spins on traditional pastas. Standouts include a rich and smooth tomato bisque, a salad pairing roasted beets with sweet peaches, a gutsy wagyu beef Bolognese or a rosy Jackman Ranch Akaushi tenderloin gussied with cocoa nibs and a foie gras sauce and paired with broccolini, and a textbook black grouper set atop a fava and pea puree.
Cider Press Cafe
601 Central Ave., St. Petersburg, (727) 914-7222
The fresh, contemporary space is a fitting setting for the vegan food coming out of the kitchen that hits the right tone of inclusivity, with an educational bent that never seems preachy. You can enjoy an order of Three Amigos, a trio of thick and sturdy dehydrated corn tortillas with a walnut and sweet potato filling topped with cabbage, guac, pico de gallo, poblano cream and some seriously spicy pickled jalapenos even if carne asada is your regular go-to. This exploration of vegan-raw certainly proves that animal-free food can be vibrant and exciting.
Hofbrauhaus St. Petersburg
123 Fourth St. S, St. Petersburg, (727) 898-3333
Opened last fall, the epicenter of Munich-style revelry has thus far been a mind-boggling success. People dance, people sing, people spank each other vigorously with wooden paddles. But here's the thing about all this fun: It's noisy. So bring along the earplugs you might have purchased for the Grand Prix. The beer is as authentic as it comes, and the food is German dishes such as sauerbraten, sausages from the tender poached weisswurste to the frankfurter-style dogs, and slender roast pork Nurnberger rostbratwurstl. All are pleasant and hearty without putting anyone in a giddy Teutonic trance.
Engine No. 9
56 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. St. N, St. Petersburg, (727) 623-0938
Opened at the end of 2012, Engine No. 9 quickly established itself as a go-to place for serious burgers. Serious in the sense of fancy bells and whistles, but also in the sense of sheer size. It is also a draw for craft beer zealots with 65 kinds in bottle and a bunch on tap, and has televisions at every table for sports fans. Aside from the burgers, try the tater tots and the skillet of fresh corn mixed with roasted red peppers and jalapenos, not too hot and topped with chipotle cream, rendered extra obsession-worthy with andouille added in. A basket of fried green beans and their cucumber wasabi dipper is perhaps the best part.
The Mango Tree
445 Central Ave., St. Petersburg, (727) 914-7280
Downtown St. Pete has been awash in Thai restaurants and Asian fusion, often with a sushi component, but there is very little non-sushi Japanese. The menu is a long romp through bento box lunches, sushi rolls, donburi, Japanese fried rice dishes, tempura, soba and ramen. A menu this extensive tends to be hard to execute expertly. What's nice about it, though, is that Mango Tree offers a wide range of ramen styles.
179 Second Ave. N, St. Petersburg, (727) 523-6300
Set on the second floor of Michael Mina and Don Pintabona's Locale Market, it is a restaurant that, while casual, is among the most polished and ambitious to open in the area this year. The steaks — from a 13-ounce Creekstone Ranch prime bone-in filet to a 16-ounce Niman Ranch 45-day dry-aged-on-site Kansas City strip — are the best served in the Tampa Bay area, period. Other ingredients follow suit, many sourced locally. From clams grown right under the Sunshine Skyway that appear as an appetizer in a buttery, winey sauce with Locale's own spicy sausage and rusks of sourdough to local lettuces and greens to show up in the build-your-own salad and dayboat fish.