ST. PETERSBURG — At 1:40 p.m. Monday, St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman tweeted, "Attention, St. Pete foodies! Stand by for some really delicious, big news." His 9,679 followers didn't have to wait long.
Accompanying a picture of the instantly recognizable Ray Lampe, aka Dr. BBQ, Kriseman tweeted, "Got 'em! Welcome to St. Pete & the Edge District and … #SunShinesHere."
To decode: Suzanne and Roger Perry (owners of Datz, Dough and Roux in Tampa) have teamed up with Dr. BBQ, a longtime member of the Barbecue Hall of Fame, and will debut what will be called Dr. BBQ's in the Edge District this winter. Together they will introduce the Tampa Bay area to what they are calling "artisanal barbecue."
Lampe and the Perrys scouted locations all over the area, focusing on Tampa, Brandon and St. Petersburg, but it was St. Petersburg's red-hot Edge District that won out. The new restaurant will be at 1101 First Ave. S.
"We all love the action and energy in urban St. Pete right now, and are excited to be a part of it," Suzanne Perry said. "We love the Edge District, and the size and visibility of this building will be perfect for us."
The mayor, in explaining the area's appeal, said, "I think that what's happening in the city right now is that you see the development headed west along Central. That area of town is really starting to thrive, with a real restaurant scene. That plays a big part in this decision.
"And also the fact that there is an exciting future at the Tropicana site, whether the Rays are there or not, with thousands of potential customers."
Over lunch recently, the Perrys explained that the collaboration with Lampe evolved organically. With a son in college at Texas A&M, the Perrys have been spending a lot of time diligently exploring the barbecue of that state, orchestrating road trips that refined their 'cue-ducation through Little Rock, Memphis, Nashville, Birmingham, Atlanta, Kansas City and Chicago.
"Barbecue is the only truly American cuisine," Lampe said recently, adding that it went from "niche" to being "huge everywhere." We have arrived, he says, at a moment when barbecue is taken as seriously as other more haute cuisines. Proof: This year the much-anticipated World's 50 Best Restaurants list includes a Basque barbecue master, and last year brisket whisperer Aaron Franklin took home the title of Best Chef: Southwest at the James Beard Awards.
With more than 400 barbecue awards under his belt, Dr. BBQ is a natural partner, except for one thing — he has never had his own restaurant. He taught Justin Timberlake's crew all about barbecue at New York's Southern Hospitality. He has consulted on projects all over the country, been on the barbecue circuit for 20 years and authored eight books. He's a Food Network regular. But this will be his first foray as a restaurateur.
For the Perrys, this represents the first time they've sought a partnership. And as far as they are concerned, it will be the first local celebrity chef-owned restaurant in our area.
For Lampe, the new project is proof positive that barbecue has been legitimized as serious food.
And what does it prove for Kriseman?
"Clearly the Edge is becoming less of an 'edge' and more of an epicenter."
Contact Laura Reiley at [email protected] or (727) 892-2293. Follow @lreiley.