By Laura Reiley
Times Food Critic
When Stann Cherniack left San Diego on his motorcycle in the summer of 1969 it was him and a couple of other guys. And by the time he got to Woodstock he was 400 strong (apologies to Joni Mitchell on the lyric tweak). Cherniack, by his own admission, was "without a doubt a hippie." Since that summer of love, he has collected Woodstock-obilia, pulling it all together for the launch, in March, of Woodstock on Fifth.
A copyright infringement issue caused him to swiftly change the name to Stann's on Fifth. But the concept remains: Tie-dyed doodads, a staff that lets its freak flag fly and live music Tuesday to Sunday out on the patio, often of the 1960s and 1970s ilk. It all takes place in a little bungalow that most recently housed Crepe-ology. It's not glamorous, but Cherniack is nudging it toward what he calls "casual fine dining." There are tablecloths and nice napkins and a pleasant wine list, but most dishes don't tip past $17 and diners will feel comfortable wearing most anything.
Safety Harbor has had an exciting spring, with loads of new restaurants opening to fill a bunch of welcome niches. Stann's fits in well — there's a warmth and charm to the place that makes it a natural hangout. But it's Paul Tavares' work in the kitchen that makes this newcomer especially noteworthy. Most recently at Basque in Clearwater, Tavares has an interesting California sensibility. Dishes have slightly goofy peacenik names, but what's on each plate is sophisticated.
A meal may start with a daily special soup of gazpacho, a cup ($3.95) of smooth puree with a bright acidity and just a touch of garlic. For something a little more decadent, a duo of corn fritters (really more like zeppole, those sinful Southern Italian doughnuts, $5.95) come riding atop a shallow pool of sweet, creamy corn puree. A little tough love on the "time for love" bruschetta: The dish yielded a gorgeous jumble of tomato, red onion and herbs with a rich slick of ricotta underneath, but their toasted baguette round perches had suffered under too much liquid. With saucy liquid, successful bruschetta seems all about timing.
The most drop-dead gorgeous entree was salmon (really, look at that photo), called cryptically "the Sunflower." The plate gets a swipe of roasted tomato vinaigrette, then there's a pile of gently sauteed spinach surrounded by a succotash of fresh corn niblets, zucchini and red bell peppers, and on top of all this gorgeousness is a perfectly cooked salmon fillet with a crisp cap of skin. Hard to find other entrees around here to rival this one for $15.95.
I was also smitten by the "Route 66," a low bowl of wide pappardelle with a ragout of shiitake and crimini mushrooms with a touch of chive-dotted cream sauce and just a hint of truffle oil (seriously, there have been too many heavy pours of truffle oil in this area recently). A few shaves of Parmesan and the finished dish was homey but stylish, for $14.95.
Since Parts of Paris opened in 2012, Safety Harbor has added a half dozen notable newcomers downtown. Stann's on Fifth is up there with the best of them, getting extra high marks for being groovy for not a lot of bread.
Laura Reiley can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 892-2293. Follow @lreiley on Twitter. She dines anonymously and unannounced; the Times pays all expenses.