Make us your home page
Instagram

Restaurant review: Chief's Creole Cafe full of homey food, hospitality

ST. PETERSBURG

Good manners can be taught. But graciousness? That stuff is tucked somewhere along long strings of DNA nucleotides. Elihu and Carolyn Brayboy drip with it. Visit their 6-month-old Chief's Creole Cafe and they greet you warmly, slide into easy conversation, make you feel special and expertly attend to your needs. It's like being in someone's home for dinner, someone adept at keeping track of a thousand pesky details while maintaining a beatific calm.

The Brayboys are real estate entrepreneurs, renovating and revitalizing buildings in "the Deuces" (a.k.a. 22nd Street S), a historically African-American neighborhood. They painstakingly restored what was once Sidney Harden's corner grocery store and searched for a restaurant tenant who never came.

So they decided to do it themselves.

Two years ago this effort might have been seen as tilting at windmills. Now, though, it feels like straight-up prescience. Sylvia's, 3 Daughters, art spaces, design and retail businesses have popped up along the Deuces, with more on the horizon.

However, once ensconced at one of the ornately appointed tables, restored crown molding and pressed-tin ceilings overhead, one gets the impression that Chief's Creole Cafe is still somewhat underappreciated. The place merits bustle every bit as much as spots along Beach Drive or Central Avenue, but St. Pete diners haven't discovered it yet.

Outside is a lovely courtyard centered with a tinkling fountain and draped with strings of lights; inside features gleaming carved wooden furniture and shimmering golden charger plates. It's formal, but not stiffly so.

The restaurant is named in honor of Elihu's mother, Mary Brayboy Jones, a Louisiana native affectionately nicknamed Chief. And many of the recipes are Chief's: soft cheese grits topped with pan-sauteed shrimp and a ladle of cheesy sauce ($6.95 lunch, $9 dinner), gently spicy Creole gumbo ($7.95, $15), sturdy red beans and rice studded with andouille rounds ($7.95, $12) and tomato-tinged jambalaya capped with a beady-eyed bright red crawfish ($7.95, $12).

Presentations are homey and simple, most dishes arriving in low bowls with a pouf of steam rising from their centers. Despite the fancy setting, this is food that you don't mind getting dirty for: Creole chicken wings ($7.99) are fried and then doused with a sauce that is herbal, salty and seriously spicy, the crunchy chicken skin softening under its ministrations.

There are fat onion rings ($4.99), butter-drippy rounds of garlic bread and the classic pineapple upside-down cake bejeweled with maraschino cherries ($4). These are all best washed down with a sweet tea ($1.99; no liquor, but it's BYOB if you want) or housemade tropical punch ($1.99), a punch we emphatically were told tasted good because "it was made with love." That's a description that fits quite a bit at Chief's Creole Cafe.

Contact Laura Reiley at lreiley@tampabay.com or (727) 892-2293. Follow @lreiley on Twitter. She dines anonymously and unannounced; the Times pays all expenses.

.

Chief's Creole Cafe

901 22nd St. S, St. Petersburg

(727) 498-8979

Cuisine: Creole

Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday to Sunday

Details: AmEx, V, MC, Disc.;

reservations accepted; no alcohol

Prices: Lunch $4.99-$8.99; dinner appetizers $4.99-$8.99, dinner entrees $9-$15, desserts $4-$5

Rating, out of four stars:

Food: ★★ Service: ★★★

Atmosphere: ★★★

Overall: ★★★

Restaurant review: Chief's Creole Cafe full of homey food, hospitality 05/11/15 [Last modified: Monday, May 11, 2015 2:58pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Who is really making 'Chihuly art'?

    Visual Arts

    SEATTLE — More than 40 years later, Jeffrey Beers still vividly remembers what it felt like to have Dale Chihuly call up to convene a pre-dawn glassblowing session. You felt flattered and inspired, he said, jazzed by Mr. Chihuly's caffeinated freight train of energy and the idea of making art with him while most …

    The artist Dale Chihuly in his Seattle office, which holds some of his collections. [Kyle Johnson | for The New York Times]
  2. Frozen pops for breakfast? A perfect recipe for summer

    Cooking

    In the heat of the summer when you trade your hot coffee for iced, why not add some extra chill to your morning smoothie, too? That's essentially what these fun breakfast pops are: a frozen smoothie on a stick.

    Strawberry Almond Breakfast Pops are essentially a frozen smoothie on a stick, perfect for the heat of summer.
  3. Recipe for Chicken Wings with Coconut Sweet Potato Puree

    Cooking

    This dish is an homage to one of my favorite Epcot International Food and Wine Festival dishes: Grilled Beef Skewer With Chimichurri Sauce and Boniato Puree from the Patagonia kiosk. A boniato is a sweet potato with whiter flesh and a typically sweeter flavor. I use standard sweet potatoes in this recipe, plus a little …

    Chicken Wings with Sweet Potato Puree. Photo by Michelle Stark, Times Food Editor.
  4. The 'Total Eclipse' song from the '80s you never knew you loved

    Blogs

    Depending on when you read this, you are eagerly awaiting the eclipse or have seen all the commotion come and go for the first total solar eclipse across America since 1918. Without any doubts, sometime today you will probably have a chance to hear Bonnie Tyler's Total Eclipse Of The Heart, but here at Stuck in …

  5. Hollywood lost a serious filmmaker in Jerry Lewis

    Movies

    The day the clown died, Hollywood lost a serious filmmaker in Jerry Lewis.

    Jerry Lewis in 2005. Lewis, the comedian and filmmaker who was adored by many, disdained by others, but unquestionably a defining figure of American entertainment in the 20th century, died on the morning of Sunday, Aug. 20, 2017, at his home in Las Vegas. He was 91 (New York Times)