Exclusive preview: Walking through new St. Petersburg restaurant Stillwaters tavern


ST. PETERSBURG —Chef Jeffrey Jew walked down the line naming what was in each bubbling pot: This is barbecue sauce, that one's gumbo, this is smoked pork and that's beer cheese fondue, he noted, tweaking the flame down a bit.

Nearby, line cook Clint Davis prepped the bean sprouts and Thai basil for what will be "pho" sliders on little housemade steamed bao. Across the room a row of bartenders crammed, committing the long list of craft beers and numbered cocktails to memory. For instance, the No. 22: a cocktail on tap made of Bulleit bourbon, cold-brewed Batdorf & Bronson coffee and house bourbon bitters. (I had one sip during an exclusive walk-through for the Times on Friday afternoon: dynamite.)

The afternoon marked the second full week of intensive training for the staff of 130 at Stillwaters Tavern, the soon-to-open new project from 2B Hospitality, which also owns BellaBrava. Outside 224 Beach Drive NE a construction crew was still in the early stages of setting up a retractable canopy for the patio tables, but inside things looked polished and ready to go (all right, the servers were doing their tastings off of paper plates, but everything else was spiff).

The 2B team — Robert Sanderson, Dyce Craig, Lee Karlins and Top Chef contestant Jeffrey Jew — are still leery of giving a firm opening date, but this week brings two days of staff-serving-staff meals, two days of "friends and family" meals, and then a VIP evening fundraiser for St. Petersburg's Great Explorations on Saturday.

Could this mean doors open to the public on June 22?

The 2B team: stony silence.

About other things, chef de cuisine Joshua Breen, who moved here just weeks ago from Boston (with the thick accent to prove it) is voluble, especially about the six-course meal he made for Jew and team to clinch the job: There were pan-seared pierogies with green apple and crispy hen-of-the-woods mushrooms; another course was a jaunty nod to his years of Italian cooking, a shrimp risotto topped with a quenelle of coconut avocado gelato and a seeded cracker.

"I try to work with temperatures and textures," the chef said, a "damned if I do, damned if I don't" chef-credo tattoo taking up much of his left forearm. And despite Florida's humidity, he's bullish about the move. "I've been involved in Chefs Feed (a smart, chef-driven blog) in Boston. Tampa Bay needs that. I'd like to be part of a foodie revolution here."

The backdrop for Breen and Jew's work is handsome, with a subtle nautical theme and a number of wonderful touches: The restroom doors were salvaged from the old courthouse, their frosted glass insets still marked with the faded room numbers; a wide mirror over the enormous bar is angled slightly to catch the glimmer from dozens of Edison bulbs hanging from thick rope sconces in the dining room. And outside, a service station will be crafted from an early 1900s library cart salvaged from a Florida prison. In short, the team of TWT Construction and T2theS interior design have collaborated on a restaurant space that pushes the envelope, bringing ever-higher expectations to Beach Drive's increasingly dense restaurant landscape.

Now open, so I can order one of those No. 22s.

Contact Laura Reiley at [email protected] or (727) 892-2293. Follow @lreiley on Twitter.