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Restaurant review: At The Dewey in Pass-A-Grille, you’ll find elevated beach food and seaside charm

The Mise en Place team brings modern seaside cuisine to this part of St. Pete Beach.
 
At the Dewey in Pass-a-Grille, menu items include oysters, a guava mascarpone semifreddo Parfait, jumbo shrimp and grits, and cocktails.
At the Dewey in Pass-a-Grille, menu items include oysters, a guava mascarpone semifreddo Parfait, jumbo shrimp and grits, and cocktails. [ SCOTT KEELER | Times ]
Published Sept. 3, 2019|Updated Sept. 4, 2019

ST. PETE BEACH —When it comes to opening a beach restaurant, there are a couple of must-haves.

Is there a bar? There had better be a bar. How about a fish sandwich? Oysters on the half-shell? A view of the sunset is always a plus. A seaside spot sans fried seafood is anathema to me. And please let there be a fish taco or two.

Of course, beach food is largely regional. Try opening a waterfront spot in Nantucket or Cape Cod without a lobster roll on deck, and all I can say is: Best of luck to you. So let’s make this last tenet Florida-specific: There absolutely must be a smoked fish spread on the menu. Otherwise, I’m out.

Masa crab cakes served with celery root chow chow and ahi amarillo lime crema.
Masa crab cakes served with celery root chow chow and ahi amarillo lime crema. [ SCOTT KEELER | Times ]

New Pass-A-Grille restaurant The Dewey isn’t just ticking these items off the list – it’s ticking them off and turning them up, giving diners an upscale take on modern beach cuisine that feels elevated and yet still deeply evocative of the seaside culture it seeks to recreate.

Part of the newly opened Berkeley Beach Club, the restaurant and boutique hotel is the latest joint endeavor from Mise en Place team Maryann Ferenc and chef Marty Blitz, and partners Russ Alba and Tony Bruno.

The restaurant isn’t beach-adjacent, and this isn’t a toes-in-the-sand kind of a joint. But one would be hard-pressed to find a rooftop view as beautiful as the one here, which to the west overlooks the Gulf and to the east peeks over Pass-A-Grille Channel.

The interior dining area at the Dewey in Pass-a-Grille. The restaurant offers rooftop dining with a bar and a view of the Gulf and the Intracoastal Waterway.
The interior dining area at the Dewey in Pass-a-Grille. The restaurant offers rooftop dining with a bar and a view of the Gulf and the Intracoastal Waterway. [ SCOTT KEELER | Times ]

Downstairs, the dining room brings to mind an East Coast seaside chic with beige wicker chairs, dark banquettes, tall ceilings and white walls outfitted with black-and-white photographs of Alba’s border collie (the restaurant’s namesake).

There’s nary a trace of seaside kitsch, but there’s plenty of old-Florida charm when it comes to the menu, which starts with plump Gulf oysters served both raw and roasted with a harissa butter ($14), and an exceptional smoked Mahi dip ($10), the bronzed hunks of fish loosely bound with cream cheese and sprinkled with red Fresno chiles for brightness and a little heat. The dip is served with warm, puffy pieces of flatbread and sweet pickles, which lend a little acid and crunch.

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Smoked mahi fish dip is served with sweet pickles, pickled fresnos and grilled flatbread.
Smoked mahi fish dip is served with sweet pickles, pickled fresnos and grilled flatbread. [ SCOTT KEELER | Times ]

Beyond the fish dip there really isn’t anything that feels overly Floridian, and the menu settles comfortably in a globetrotting oceanside setting.

Some dishes have a Caribbean spin, like the colorful masa crab cakes ($15) served with an aji amarillo lime crema and a tangy celery root chow chow, which adds a punchy element. There’s also the Latin-leaning accoutrements accompanying a seared hanger steak ($26): fried plantains in a syrupy sweet sherry molasses glaze, garlicky mashed yucca, pickled shallots and thick planks of cumin-rubbed grilled summer squash.

A fried chicken sandwich made with bread and butter pickles, pimento cheese, avocado lime aioli, all on a brioche bun.
A fried chicken sandwich made with bread and butter pickles, pimento cheese, avocado lime aioli, all on a brioche bun. [ SCOTT KEELER | Times ]

Fish tacos ($18) carry a West Coast vibe and on one evening featured grilled mahi mahi, and arrived on warm flour tortillas topped with crisp radishes, pickled Fresno peppers and the same lime crema and chow chow. My only gripe with these was that the fish could have been seasoned a little more aggressively, and the lukewarm tortillas didn’t match the quality of the other ingredients.

There are a few curious dishes that don’t exactly fit the coastal mold, like black eyed pea hummus ($9) topped with crunchy nibs of bacon and framed by soft pieces of flatbread and a bouquet of pickled vegetables. I loved the creamy consistency of the hummus punctuated by the crispy bacon, but on one of the evenings I dined here a few of the vegetables tasted pickled way past their prime.

A Dewey Cobb Salad made with barbecue pork shoulder, corn, Applewood bacon, tomatoes, egg, blue cheese, and poblano buttermilk vinaigrette dressing.
A Dewey Cobb Salad made with barbecue pork shoulder, corn, Applewood bacon, tomatoes, egg, blue cheese, and poblano buttermilk vinaigrette dressing. [ Times (2019) ]

And I’m not sure if there is anything beachy about flash-fried Brussels sprouts ($10), but who cares when they’re as delicious as the ones here: Topped with thick slivers of shaved Parmesan, the sprouts are paired with Granny Smith apples and marcona almonds for crunch and coated in a sweet and sultry brown butter sherry vinaigrette.

Many of the dishes feel light enough for a swimsuit-wearing snack, but there are a few heavier items, like a delicious slow-roasted cumin- and chili-laced pork shoulder that appears in both a decadent Cobb salad ($14) and a Carolina-style pulled pork sandwich ($13). Also good is the fried chicken sandwich ($15), which succeeds in taking on the current food craze of the moment while upping the ante with creamy wisps of pimiento cheese, avocado lime aioli and bread and butter pickles on a brioche roll.

RELATED: 10 places to get a fried chicken sandwich in Tampa Bay

Dessert is a short and sweet list of gelato (from local gelato pro Roberto Mori), a rotating selection of pies from Mike’s Pies, and a few treats made in-house, like a guava mascarpone semifreddo parfait topped with buttery graham cracker crumble ($9).

The Dewey is part of the Berkeley Beach Club.
The Dewey is part of the Berkeley Beach Club. [ SCOTT KEELER | Times ]

Keeping with the theme, the wine menu is designed to highlight wines grown in coastal regions with seaside access, like an inky Tempranillo from Spain ($14) and a light and refreshing Alvarinho from Portugal ($10). In an additional twist, the list is organized by the country or region and its corresponding sunset (in case you were wondering when the sun sets in early July in Lisbon, it’s 9:05 p.m.)

It’s a thoughtful tie-in to the Dewey’s most endearing asset — the rooftop deck, from which a stunning sunset should not be missed. Watching the orange glow fade into pink and then purple over Pass-A-Grille isn’t just the best possible way to cap an evening here, it’s a reminder of why we love the beach, and why we keep coming back.

Freund's Fork
Freund's Fork [ Tampa Bay Times ]

Food: 8

Atmosphere: 9

Service: 8

What the ratings mean

1-2: Don’t waste your time

3-5: Fair, but could be better

6-8: Pretty darn good

9-10: What are you waiting for?


If you go

109 8th Ave., St. Pete Beach; (727) 228-1000; berkeleybeachclub.com

Hours: Dinner: 5 to 10 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday, 5 to 11 p.m. Friday-Saturday. Brunch: 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday-Sunday.

Prices: Appetizers $9 to $16, entrees $13 to $16.

Recommended dishes: Smoked mahi dip; fried chicken sandwich; hanger steak