ST. PETERSBURG — Joggers and cyclists on Bayshore Drive craned their necks. Was it a wedding, a bar mitzvah? Set squarely in the middle of the street, the fancy white-clothed dinner tables adorned with aqua blue runners were part of the first-ever Longest Table event Thursday evening to benefit WUSF. Masterminded by Brian James Wiggins of Mixon and Wiggins public relations in Bradenton, the event brought together three restaurants and 135 diners for a multi-course dinner alfresco along St. Petersburg's waterfront.
"Brian came to us about a year ago with the idea," said WUSF general manager Joann Urofsky. "We typically don't do events like this. But for our 50th anniversary we knew it was time to be a little more visible."
Wiggins didn't invent the idea: For the past six years Delray Beach has hosted Savor the Avenue along Atlantic Avenue every spring. This year 1,015 guests showed up for dinner.
Starting small, Longest Table included four-course dinners made by St. Petersburg's 400 Beach Seafood and Tap House ($100 per person) and Parkshore Grill ($150) and Tampa's Mise en Place ($175), with 75 percent of the proceeds benefiting WUSF.
For St. Petersburg residents Phil and Jennie Crane it was Mise en Place's seared duck breast with foie gras that lured them waterside for dinner. And for James Spencer, president of Core Investment Management in Clearwater, it was affection for WUSF, as well as a friendship with restaurateur Steve Westphal that brought him and friends to the Parkshore Grill's table.
Westphal, who owns both Parkshore and 400 Beach, says he has always dreamed of hosting dinner along St. Petersburg's Bayshore Drive, and he hopes next year's event will bring more Beach Drive restaurants and diners together. While his executive chef Anna Davis plated red snapper crudo with avocado puree, sweet lime and a tangle of cucumber salad, Westphal expressed enthusiasm for WUSF and an increasingly vital downtown St. Petersburg.
"I'm happy to give back to a city that gives so readily to us."
Gulls wheeled overhead and champagne flutes clinked.
Laura Reiley can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 892-2293. Follow @lreiley on Twitter.