ST. PETERSBURG — Did Dan Casey have plans for those fish heads? This was the question Ziggy Marley and his band asked upon being served fresh grilled grouper at the 2012 Taste of Pinellas.
Casey, owner of Snapper's, Madfish and 1200 Chophouse in St. Pete Beach, likes to serve the festival bands some of the Gulf of Mexico's bounty. But fish heads aren't usually on the menu. Still Casey was happy to hand over what he wasn't planning on using to Marley and crew, who headed off in their tour bus to make a batch of Jamaican fish head soup.
It's all in a day's work when you're feeding both the masses and the entertainers at a large-scale food event.
The Taste of Pinellas took a hiatus in 2013 but is back this year in a new venue. Pat Benatar, Bruce Hornsby, Loverboy, KC and the Sunshine Band and the Blues Brothers will be the acts at this year's event at Friday and Saturday at Albert Whitted Park in St. Petersburg.
We caught up with Casey, who has been involved with the festival's organization for almost all of its 25 years, to find out what's in store for hungry festivalgoers this year.
What's going to be different this year, now that it's under the direction of Bill Edwards?
We're in a different park this year and it's going to be a great venue. (Former St. Petersburg mayor and now president of the Edwards Group) Rick Baker put that park together anticipating some shows. Because it's a smaller footprint it's going to be fewer restaurants this year, but we're focusing on local and independents. And we're not limiting people to little tastes. We're leaving that up to the restaurants, and we've done away with tickets this year. In previous years if you needed more tickets for food, you had to run back and get in line again.
The festival started out right across from (what is now) Parkshore (on Beach Drive NE) under a big banyan tree in 1987. But what started out as a very small event then morphed into a giant event at Vinoy Park. This year we've gone back to the original smaller footprint.
What are some of the best foods you remember from Taste of Pinellas in years past?
Years ago when Salt Rock was involved, they did lobster tails and that was a big wow. Scott Bebell at Guppy's did whole coconuts and chopped the tops off and put a straw in them. Those went like hotcakes. And one year we had strawberries and balsamic vinegar — that was 15 years ago and unusual then. This year you'll see things like fried brussels sprouts with whiskey onions and ponzu sauce served with chopsticks. That's from chef Chris (Burghart) at Snapper's.
What do Taste of Pinellas goers not know about what goes on behind the scenes?
We have to entertain the bands and accommodate their (contract) riders. What we do for them is we go out of our way to bring in our local seafood. We're going to have grouper, oysters and stone crab this year. A couple years ago Sheryl Crow was incredibly nice and really happy to see fresh fish and veggies. These stars are generally pretty health conscious.
Do you have any advice for first-timers on how best to enjoy the festival?
Bring a blanket or chair and get a spot along the water. There will be ATMs, but bring cash because I'm not sure if all the vendors will be taking credit cards. And this year it looks like parking is going to be adequate.
Laura Reiley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 892-2293. Follow @lreiley on Twitter.