Tuesday, September 25, 2018
Dining

Review: Kings Street Food Counter offers updated diner menu in a hip St. Pete spot

ST. PETERSBURG

It's like that old quote about not being able to define porn but knowing it when you see it: You walk into some brand new restaurants and feel certain that pros are behind it; others that they're the wobbly projects of amateurs. It's not any one thing, but the cumulative effect is unequivocal. I stopped by Everything Dolce last year in the spot that once housed Cafe Bohemia and thought, "Oh, honeys, this is never going to fly." A couple of weeks ago I wandered onto the beer garden of the new Kings Street Food Counter, which opened on Halloween in Dolce's place, and thought, "Stephen Schrutt knows what he's doing."

The space has been totally reinvented as a 21st century diner — lots of winky nostalgia, gorgeously painted a color I'm calling minted celery, with matching subway tile and archetypal round diner stools. Outdoors there is a shipping container that has been welded into a cool open bar (all local craft beers on tap), pet-friendly Astroturf and white metal-edged communal tables fitted with rustic wooden slats. The patio is fronted by rolling wooden doors that can be closed to the street, there are huge red sun umbrellas that can be angled for maximum shade, and for now there are outdoor air-conditioners that keep things reasonable. (It's November. Enough with the 85 degrees!) A zany Vitale Brothers mural outside is echoed by retro graphic wall art in the charming dining room.

But I need to set aside my enthusiasm for the adorable decor to tell you a few things.

Like, on the weekends Kings Street is serving food until 4 a.m. Also, they have a whole poutine menu and the best corn dog I've had in recent memory. 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. (You may have to, like I did, enlist the assistance of strangers to finish the thing, but it's always nice to make new friends.)

I sat, trying not to sing along to Boston's More Than a Feeling, and scrutinized the menu. It's weird: a few stunt breakfast-all-day options (tacos with scrambled eggs, an egg sandwich on a cronut), four styles of poutine, a few salads, extravagant milkshakes, 10 grilled cheeses and 16 hot dog styles. In short, this is like no 1950s-era diner menu ever. But it works.

It is the vision of someone who is paying attention to what St. Pete hipster-foodies are grooving on in 2015: a smart beer list (wines are a little perfunctory), glass-bottle old-timey sodas, Kahwa coffee, over-the-top milkshake combinations. Does chicken curry poutine play nicely with fancy Gorgonzola and caramelized onion grilled cheese? Why not.

The weakest link thus far, especially if you read the Yelp reviews, is slow service. (But I call foul on a Yelp reviewer who slams a new restaurant for having an hour wait. Wear your big-boy pants; that's the price of patronizing a hot new restaurant.) On two lunch visits the proceedings were indeed overly slow for those on a time budget, but on both visits servers could not have been sweeter. And general manager Pete Boland has the breezy assurance of a longtime restaurant professional.

Now, what to order. The aforementioned corn dog ($7.50) comes blistering hot and enrobed in a sweet, crunchy wafflish batter, a ramekin of grainy mustard adjacent and a small cuke and tomatoey salad, very puckery, a nice foil. (All dishes come in brown cardboard to-go containers with plastic silverware.) The Blue Pig Grilled Cheese ($10) is a lovely marriage of sharp cheddar, zingy black pepper bacon and a swoosh of blueberry jam. These sandwiches are crunchy, not too fat and without so much filling that things squish out.

The basic poutine, Double Denim ($6.50, named for, you know, the Canadian tuxedo), features creamy-bouncy Wisconsin cheese curds, a pale but flavorful gravy and crinkly fries I would have liked to have seen crispier and better seasoned. The poutines seem suitable as a shared app (or perhaps a postrevelry late-nighter). I also really enjoyed the Mex-I-Can salad ($8) with crisp romaine, swaths of avo, softly roasted jalapeno rounds (fruity, not super fiery), fluffs of queso fresco, a few cherry tomato halves and five or six fat, crunchy chicharrones (it would be easier to eat them if they were broken up a little smaller), the best dressing for this salad the excellent smoked bacon ranch.

Schrutt has been wise to snap up this space in the increasingly desirable EDGE District, but also to focus on foods that bring something new to the area and don't compete with his other restaurant, the Avenue (and possibly with his third, which may go into the POW space). Kings Street is named for Schrutt's own canine, but fancy hot dogs within a rogue throw of the ballpark seems like a royal idea indeed.

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

     
Comments
Restaurant review: Elevage has made some smart changes to its restaurant and Lobby Bar menus

Restaurant review: Elevage has made some smart changes to its restaurant and Lobby Bar menus

Checking out the changes at Elevage, which opened five years ago as the first Bern's sibling to offer breakfast and lunch.
Published: 09/25/18
Joe and Son's Olive Oils, a legacy Ybor business, finds new roots in Carrollwood

Joe and Son's Olive Oils, a legacy Ybor business, finds new roots in Carrollwood

Andrea Gebbia grew up in Carrollwood, and now she is bringing the family business to the neighborhood of her youth.In late fall, Joe and Son’s Olive Oils is slated to open a second location."I feel so blessed having the ability to grow my...
Published: 09/21/18
Updated: 09/22/18
Chi Chop + Kung Fu Tea looks to succeed where others failed

Chi Chop + Kung Fu Tea looks to succeed where others failed

RIVEVIEW – Amy Lin knows that her newest Chi Chop + Kung Fu Tea store is in a location where previous businesses have not lasted.The short-lived Tap’s Brewhouse & Deli and even shorter-lived Top Shelf Sports Bar and Grill tried to r...
Published: 09/21/18
New restaurants: Olivia from Chris Ponte, Crabby Bill’s Off the Hook

New restaurants: Olivia from Chris Ponte, Crabby Bill’s Off the Hook

COMING SOON: OLIVIA Chris Ponte, right, has been a steady and notable culinary leader in our area for more than a decade with his flagship restaurant Cafe Ponte in Clearwater. A couple of years ago he mixed things up a bit by debuting On Swann in Hy...
Published: 09/19/18
Restaurant review: The Local doesn't stand out enough above its Tampa neighbors to make an impact

Restaurant review: The Local doesn't stand out enough above its Tampa neighbors to make an impact

TAMPA Do you have this debate? "Florida is not in the South." "Um, look at a map." I guess I am in the former camp: It seems Florida gets more Southern the more north and west you go, accents only creeping in as reliably as boiled peanuts up on the ...
Published: 09/17/18
Updated: 09/18/18
Chefs offer up a taste of what’s coming to Sparkman Wharf

Chefs offer up a taste of what’s coming to Sparkman Wharf

TAMPA — On Wednesday night, about 60 people got a sneak preview of what Tampa diners soon will experience at Sparkman Wharf, part of the $3 billion Water Street Tampa neighborhood that Jeff Vinik and Strategic Property Partners are developing in what...
Published: 09/14/18
What’s new in food: Clearwater Beach Restaurant Week, National Cheeseburger Day

What’s new in food: Clearwater Beach Restaurant Week, National Cheeseburger Day

DINE AROUND: CLEARWATER BEACH RESTAURANT WEEKPromoted by the Clearwater Beach Chamber of Commerce, Clearwater Beach Restaurant Week is celebrating its ninth year Friday through Sept. 23. The culinary celebration offers foodies an opportunity to exper...
Published: 09/12/18
Restaurant review: Part fish shack, part high-end cocktail bar, Trophy Fish in St. Petersburg thrives on a fresh approach

Restaurant review: Part fish shack, part high-end cocktail bar, Trophy Fish in St. Petersburg thrives on a fresh approach

ST. PETERSBURGI value restaurants and people the same way, I suppose. I like those with a take. They don’t have to be the smartest or the prettiest, but the ones I like have a unique perspective, something that differentiates them from everybody else...
Published: 09/10/18
Updated: 09/11/18
Tampa’s Fly Bar and Restaurant will move locations

Tampa’s Fly Bar and Restaurant will move locations

TAMPA — Restaurant announcements for Sparkman Wharf and Strategic Property Partners’ 50-acre Water Street Tampa project have come fast and furious the past couple weeks. With a price tag of more than $3 billion and reading like a who’s who of Tampa B...
Updated one month ago
James Beard winner Anne Kearney to open Oak & Ola in Armature Works

James Beard winner Anne Kearney to open Oak & Ola in Armature Works

TAMPA — It was always part of the plan for the 22,000-square-foot Heights Public Market at Armature Works to have two anchor restaurants in addition to the fourteen quick-serve vendors. The developers debuted Steelbach, a sprawling steaks and chops b...
Updated one month ago