Restaurant people spend their evenings watching other people have a good time. On their own nights off, usually a Monday or a Tuesday, they venture out for some good times of their own. Restaurants that are open those nights slap a little hospitality discount on food or drink, and eventually, they become informal clubhouses of off-duty restaurant folk. Curtis and Rebecca Beebe sallied forth on their nights off from Pearl in the Grove in Dade City, failing to find a clubhouse that met their specifications: a good burger, a great wine and beer list, smart snackies, and someplace casual that's just plain fun to hang out. So they built one.
Local Public House debuted at the beginning of July. Residents of San Antonio sniffed around for months as the Beebe team set about transforming the century-old former general store. It's a cavernous space with enough residual rough-hewn folksy charm to be immensely inviting. It's too early to say, but my guess is that it will function as a "local" and "public house" in the truest sense for the tiny town of San Antonio — a casual gathering place rendered magnetic on the strength of its good cheer and stupendous Florida-only beer list.
From granddaddy Cigar City to newbie Pair O'Dice, the beer list is a primer in the state's suds, with a quirky-cool little wine list to boot (plus a couple of very respectable wines on tap, $6 per glass, and nonalcoholic pleasers like tap Abita root beer and Mexican Coke).
Using some of the talent from Pearl in the Grove and some new faces, the Beebes have rolled out a short menu with a strong personality. Start things off with an oh-so-Florida bowl of soft, salty boiled peanuts ($2, think of them as old-school edamame), then plow through a messy po' boy stacked with crispy, cornmeal-dredged chicken livers ladled with a bit of sausage gravy ($12). Don't see that every day, do you?
Public House, unsurprisingly, sources locally, but its menu approach is novel: For folks who don't care about such things, menu descriptions aren't cluttered with farm names. Turn to the back of the menu and you get the credits: chicken from Seely's Ark, pork from Palmetto Creek, greens from 3 Boys and Green Acre Aquaponics, etc. Simple, elegant and without puffery, it still signals a seriousness that can be expected from the masterminds of Pearl.
Best things on the menu: the housemade pecan brittle that comes as an accessory with the regional cheeseboard ($15; oh, and the housemade pickles on that are good, too); the russet-colored, twice-cooked fries ($6; you can get them with gravy or cheese, but then their dreamy crispiness is mitigated); the sweet-tangy kumquat/sweet onion vinaigrette on both salads; and the fried green tomato BLT ($11), with its meaty swath of Nueske's bacon.
The grass-fed burger ($12) still needs a little tinkering — it's a really good idea to include a little pork to add lushness to what can sometimes lack fat, but I wonder if the mix was manipulated overmuch because it seemed dense and a touch dry.
Overall, though, it feels like something fresh. Despite a clear homage to Old Florida (my first visit, I got busy with a plate of crunchy, fried catfish), its focus on food's provenance seems utterly contemporary, without fussiness or frippery. Were it not for all the miles between my house and its front door, it would surely be a top contender for my "local."
Contact Laura Reiley at [email protected] or (727) 892-2293. Follow @lreiley. She dines anonymously and unannounced; the Times pays all expenses.