Make us your home page

Review: The Oyster Bar in St. Pete is improved but true to its past


There are three components to describing an oyster: saltiness (as a rule, the colder the water, the saltier the oyster), texture (delicate, firm, etc.) and its sweetness or finish (descriptions range from metallic to cucumbery, grassy and watermelony). Kumamoto is a Pacific oyster, quite small, with a deep cup, a frilly fluted shell, buttery texture and a smooth, fruity flavor. The bigger Malpeques is an Atlantic species with a brinier, almost cucumbery flavor. Still, Florida consumers tend to prize size, having been weaned on brawny Eastern oysters from Apalachicola and elsewhere in the Gulf of Mexico.

"They have a deep cup and firm texture; they're balanced and good sized. I'll take a good winter gulf oyster over any in the world," said Rui Sousa, the manager for the past five years, for three different owners.

These days, because of fears of the vibrio vulnificus bacteria — which can be transmitted through raw oysters — he's sourcing Eastern oysters not, as usual, from Apalachicola, but from Galveston Bay, Texas. Generally, they always have a gulf oyster on the menu, one or two from New England (maybe Blue Points or Riptides from Massachusetts) and one or two from the West Coast (Penn Coves or maybe Gigamotos). These you can have freshly shucked on a bed of ice with just a squeeze of lemon and a splatter of hot sauce. Or you can heat 'em up and dress 'em up: classic Rockefeller, bacon and barbecue sauce, Parmesan and herb crusted, blue cheesed, chipotle Cajun or with a Buffalo spin that involves sriracha butter.

The bivalves are what has made the oyster bar a stalwart downtown for the past 12 years. But not all is status quo. The Central Avenue Oyster Bar was purchased last year by a dynamic young Aussie named Josh Cameron, who liked downtown St. Petersburg and the oysters but thought everything else needed a little work. So he hired a new chef and set to work updating the menu, relaunching the place in November as simply The Oyster Bar. Changes are still coming: He's rebuilding the bar to accommodate 20 taps of Florida craft beer, and he's blowing out the front doors to create more of an open, indoor-outdoor feel.

It's a perplexing thing, but that block of Central Avenue has a perennial boozy, Key West feel to it. You're likely to see someone sidewalk weaving, maybe someone else trying to rustle up a little change. The Oyster Bar has always fit in fairly seamlessly: It's a good times kind of place that gets raucous later in the evening — where, earlier in the evening, it feels totally acceptable to sing along to the delicious early 2000s soundtrack. If Cameron gussies things up too much, who knows? But thus far, it hasn't been Beach Drive-ified.

Beyond the oysters (about $18 per dozen, depending on the kind), it's a good lunch bet for a pair of mahi mahi soft tacos ($12), served in a fun metal taco holder with shredded cabbage and a little lime aioli and paired with workhorse, greaseless fries. Or maybe a blackened grouper sandwich ($14) on a plush ciabatta roll with nice rounds of tomato and onion and crisp lettuce, maybe paired with a healthier side like the sprightly onion and cuke salad.

Led by chef Matthew Smith, kitchen team Nick Forrester and Brad Rix get more inventive at dinnertime, with items like a smooth puree of corn bisque studded with lump crabmeat (and a lot of shell, sadly) and a swirl of chili oil ($7). Or seasoned flour-dredged fried shrimp surrounded by red andouille gravy, the plate centered with a disk of (too firm) grits ($17). It's good and, with a little tinkering, could be great.

The bar offers silly-cheap happy hour specials — I paid $2 for a perfectly acceptable glass of house wine, and different nights of the week feature specials like half-off bottles of wine. With veterans like Sousa on hand, new owner Cameron is taking the Oyster Bar in a positive direction without departing from its good-times past.

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


The Oyster Bar

249 Central Ave.,

St. Petersburg

(727) 897-9728;

Cuisine: Seafood/American

Hours: 11 a.m. to midnight daily, later on the weekend

Details: AmEx, MC, V, Disc.; reservations accepted; full bar

Prices: Lunch $8-$12; dinner entrees $9-$30

Rating out of four stars:

Food: ★★ Service: ★★★ Atmosphere: ★★

Overall: ★★½

Review: The Oyster Bar in St. Pete is improved but true to its past 08/11/14 [Last modified: Monday, August 11, 2014 7:01pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. 5 things to do under $5: Type artists, shuffleboard, toy train show, Wildflower Walk


    1 Letterheads Typefest: The muralists who run Illsol Space, a gallery in Tampa Heights, said their respect for handmade fonts and sign painting techniques moved them to curate this exhibit featuring type-based muralists, hand-style lettering designers, sign painters, letterpress studios and type designers. …

    Colm O’Connor, a Dublin sign writer, is among the 22 artists featured in the Letterheads Typefest exhibit at the Illsol Space gallery.
  2. Top things to do in Tampa Bay for Aug. 23


    The Art of the Brick: An elaborate display of more than 100 pieces of Lego artwork including the life sized sculpture of a man ripping open his chest, a 20-foot-long T. rex skeleton, a giant skull and replicas of famous works including Vincent Van Gogh's Starry Night and Leonardo Da Vinci's Mona …

    Nathan Sawaya with a sculpture from his The Art of the Brick exhibition coming to Tampa June 23- Sept. 4. It will be open for free Wednesdays through Sundays,  from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. at 802 E Whiting Street, Tampa. No tickets are required.[Courtesy  of the Art of the Brick]
  3. I give you a fish, you give me back my man


    The B-52s are a band with such a distinct visual look that you could tell it was them with just a glimpse of a picture. But was it always beehives and bright clothes for the hipsters from Athens? You can find the different looks of the B-52s in their video for the irresistible Give Me Back My Man.

  4. Joss Whedon's ex-wife accuses him of cheating, being 'hypocrite preaching feminist ideals'


    Joss Whedon made his name directing cult television shows such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer and big-budget action movies, which often featured women in empowering roles. Many applauded him for being a champion of women, a feminist in an industry accused of misogyny and sexism.

    Joss Whedon at the screening of "Much Ado About Nothing" in 2014. Whedon's ex-wife Kai Cole alleged in an essay published by The Wrap on Sunday that Whedon had multiple affairs during their 16-year marriage. (Associated Press)
  5. For James Blunt, life is still 'Beautiful,' especially on tour with Ed Sheeran

    Music & Concerts

    Here's how much You're Beautiful still weighs on James Blunt: He specifically references his biggest hit twice on his new album, The Afterlove.

    ISCHGL, AUSTRIA - NOVEMBER 29:  James Blunt performs live on stage during the ‘Top Of The Mountain Concert’ on November 29, 2014 in Ischgl, Austria.  (Photo by Jan Hetfleisch/Getty Images)