The Chihuly Collection is the new jewel in a years-long makeover of Beach Drive NE on St. Petersburg's waterfront. It hasn't been just a nip and a tuck, either. Weekend nights practically bustle along the once tranquil drive snaking along historic Straub Park. Sidewalk tables fill up, tiny lights twinkle in the park and a horse-drawn carriage adds a romantic touch. In this brief restaurant guide, here are some notable places for food and drink within a short stroll of the Chihuly gallery. All are open for lunch and dinner, except for Ceviche, which is dinner only.
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Ceviche St. Pete
95 Central Ave., (727) 209-2299
Ceviche, in the historic Ponce de Leon Hotel, quickened the pulse of downtown dining five years ago. It's still going strong. The tapas menu ($4 each on Tuesdays) encourages sharing, and the convivial atmosphere draws diners from their 20s into their 50s. Yes, they have ceviche, but also Serrano ham, Manchego cheese, hummus, house-cured salmon, smoked mussels, fresh anchovies. The basement bar features flamenco music on weekends and the sangria is among the best around. For breakfast and lunch, or a more casual dinner, Pincho y Pincho on the ground floor shares Ceviche's kitchen and much of its menu. Pretend you are in Barcelona and linger over a big bowl of milky coffee and Spanish eggs.
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300 Beach Drive NE, (727) 896-9463
Chef Tyson Grant and business partner Steve Westphal livened up Beach Drive's fine dining scene nearly four years ago with their showcase restaurant in the base of the Parkshore Plaza condos. A recent Saturday night found a youngish crowd filling the curved mahogany bar, happily feasting on crab and avocado salad, beef carpaccio, grilled cobia and Niman Ranch sirloin strip, while a slightly older crowd filled the dining room near the open kitchen. Nightly specials keep things interesting and Grant still hovers over it all, a sign that this is the main big star in the pair's growing constellation of restaurants.
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Marchand's Bar & Grill
501 Fifth Ave. NE, Renaissance Vinoy Resort, (727) 894-1000
The grande dame at the historic Vinoy hotel, this is a stunner of a space with a dinner menu whose prices soar as high as the hand-painted plaster ceiling. But the classic dining menu is a true bargain, recently changed for the summer. It's three courses for $19.25 (an homage to the year the Vinoy opened) and is available 5:30 to 7 p.m. every day. A recent offering included a soothing carrot and ginger bisque, generous pan-seared trout with rock shrimp and key lime pie with macadamia brittle on the side. And a bonus for Chihuly fans: a gorgeous chandelier in a nearby ballroom titled Isla de la Luna.
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300 Beach Drive NE, No. 128, (727) 498-8978
A good choice for a New Orleans-style breakfast, one block from the Chihuly Collection. The beignets, three to an order and sprinkled with powdered sugar, are made fresh and authentic, and the coffee has the distinct flavor of chicory. The lunch and dinner offerings include tame versions of New Orleans staples like gumbo and shrimp po'boys.
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400 Beach Drive Seafood & Tap House
400 Beach Drive NE, (727) 896-2400
The closest restaurant to the Chihuly Collection, next door in the base of the condo towers of the same name, shows the importance of location. The crowds continue to fill the outdoor tables, despite the uninspiring menu (blackened tilapia?) and beer offerings (at a tap house, no less). A $24.95 Sunday brunch is popular, featuring traditional big-buffet offerings along with raw oysters, sushi, Key West Pink shrimp and $4 bloody Marys, mimosas and screwdrivers.
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Fresco's Waterfront Bistro
300 Second Ave. NE, (727) 894-4429
A lively, casual restaurant and bar with a sublime view of the sailboat basin. Indoor and outdoor seating, and a new menu by Chef Jason Esposito. The oysters Rockefeller is enlivened by chipotle cream, bacon and a touch of Herbsaint. Seafood choices include escolar and blackened swordfish. Fun is served in equal measure, so note that happy hour runs noon to 7 p.m. Tuesday through Friday.
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Moon Under Water
332 Beach Drive NE, (727) 896-6160
In the beginning - circa 1996 - long before Beach Drive became a dining destination, this was the place to tuck into some ethnically diverse pub food and wile away an evening at an outdoor table. From the looks of things, nothing's changed and that's good. Try the signature chicken tikka masala or the regular chicken curry, accompanied by a bowl of saffron-hued basmati, curry, a peppery pappadam and some naan. Add some mango chutney, onion pickle and cuke-spiked yogurt as you take in the view of the downtown waterfront. And ask yourself, what's not to like?
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Cassis American Brasserie
170 Beach Drive NE, (727) 827-2927
It's the bright new kid on the Drive, a buzzy, tile-lined brasserie with a see-and-be-seen vibe. The zinc-topped bar adds to the retro Paris look, tucked into the curving base of a Florida modern condo tower. A summer menu lightens things up a bit, but the emphasis remains on simple French classics - streak frites, duck confit, bouillabaisse - and some American staples done with flair, like fried chicken with pan gravy and hamburgers with caramelized onions topped with a sunny-side egg. Sidewalk tables beneath sprawling umbrellas add a tiny South Beach touch.