ST. PETERSBURG — A dinner at Bin 6 South might look something like this: Pull up a chair at the communal table, and get to know your neighbors.
If instead you choose a seat at the tiny, six-person bar, you’ll get a firsthand look at the action across the pass: conversations with the chefs and glances of pretty much every dish that gets cooked. You will see and smell and hear everything.
The intimate, cozy setup is a big part of the draw at this tiny gem of a restaurant, which opened quietly in November and sits inside a restored two-story building at 330 Sixth St. S.
Chef and owner Bren Ankrum and his wife bought the corner-lot building in 2006, later renovating the 1920s-era structure to house a restaurant and wine cellar downstairs and an apartment up above.
Before relocating to St. Petersburg, Ankrum, 76, spent decades working in kitchens, from Georgia to Philadelphia, but had since left the industry. He had already retired “three times,” he said, when the couple decided to embark on their latest passion project. What was one more stab at the restaurant business?
The couple’s mutual love of wine fueled the other half of the concept (Ankrum says the spot is really more of a “wine cafe” than a restaurant): “We do have a raging wine habit,” he said, referring to the spot’s impressive selection of wines and sake, which are available both for on-site consumption and for retail.
The team is also small, which is fitting for such a tiny restaurant. (There’s just 330 square feet of dining space.) But the caliber of cooking is mighty. In the kitchen there’s Ankrum, David Canady and Freddie Gentile. Local diners might recognize Canady from other higher-end spots, including Tampa’s Rocca and St. Petersburg’s Lingr, while Gentile worked at Rococo Steak in St. Petersburg and in several lauded New York City restaurants, including Gramercy Tavern.
The wine program is helmed by sommelier Danielle McCoy (who is also the primary person greeting and serving guests) along with assistant general manager Colby Myers, who helps oversee operations at the spot.
That intimate model is passed on to diners during a meal here, which can feel a lot like having dinner at a close friend’s home. Overhearing — and participating — in the conversations of strangers is all part of the game. Guests have the choice between a communal six-top table and the six-seater bar, both of which tend to book up quickly on evenings but allow for more flexibility at lunchtime.
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Meals can (and should) start with the spot’s curiously curated Bin Board ($29), a delightful and unique collection of bites, which on recent visits included everything from crispy chicharrones topped with pimento cheese to a creamy dollop of stracciatella cheese with apricots and mint, compressed cubes of watermelon and smoked salmon rillette with fennel and pickled cucumbers.
The board’s ever-changing selection feels a little bit like the kitchen’s overall approach: The menu is always evolving and, depending on what the chefs get their hands on that given day, star ingredients can be fleeting.
Often, those ingredients are sourced close to home: Out front, several all-weather Adirondack chairs overlook a small but verdant plot of dirt — a garden that does double duty as the kitchen’s supermarket. Instead of perusing the grocery aisle, the chefs simply pluck from the tightly packed rows: fennel and tomatoes, basil and lavender, eggplants and jalapeno peppers, sage and scallions.
Dishes here often come adorned with edible flowers: nasturtiums, begonias and marigolds. The latter decorate a delicate starter of charred and honey-glazed Japanese eggplant ($14), which features the smoky, tender eggplant sliced into medallions and batons, nestled in a tangy goat cheese mousse and topped with shaved fennel and a Meyer lemon olive oil.
There are just three entrees listed on the dinner menu, which is always in flux though almost always couples chef-driven technique with beautiful platings. On one evening, a generous portion of salmon mi cuit ($27) was cooked tableside by a server who poured a steaming stream of chamomile tea over the fish. (“Mi cuit” refers to a French cooking technique that renders something partially cooked.) The dish carried a good deal of flavor but felt at odds with the bed of quinoa it was served on (which was unfortunately rendered quite mushy by the amount of liquid on the plate).
A better bet was the duck confit ($32), a colorful and tasty bowl composed of succulent hunks of duck confit paired with glass noodles, kimchi, scallions, crispy shallots, herbs, nori and a smoked soy sauce — each bite delivering layer upon layer of texture and bold flavors.
Also good was the lamb shank ($39), which arrived served on a bed of citrusy couscous flavored with preserved Meyer lemons, plus pickled mustard seeds, mint, shaved raw celery and kalamata olives. Tying the dish together was a deep and flavorful lamb jus.
The approach at dinner can feel slightly more highbrow, with steeper prices to boot. But at lunchtime, when seats are also easier to come by, a short selection of sandwiches carries less sticker shock ($14 each) and includes a tasty jerk chicken version served on a crusty baguette with cucumbers, shaved fennel and a smoky pigeon pea salad.
Whatever you do, don’t skip the kitchen’s take on a banh mi ($14), which swaps in roasted chicken breast for the more traditional pork along with a silky chicken liver mousse, pickled vegetables and cilantro. It’s a fiery combo that gets a kick from sambal oelek (an Indonesian chili paste) and jalapenos, and each bite provides the perfect balance of crunch, acidity and spice. (Yes, $14 is still a lot to charge for a banh mi and, yes, this one is absolutely worth it.)
For dessert, the Lime in the Coconut ($12) provides the perfect sweet and tangy conclusion, fusing a creamy coconut-scented meringue with a bright key lime curd. For an alternate ending, ask McCoy to recommend one of the wine list’s after-dinner selections, which include a number of options, from Sauternes to port and a Hungarian tokaji.
So far, the space appears to have attracted a healthy, if small, local following, both for the restaurant and the wine bar, with folks cozying up to the bar on busy weekends, popping by for a glass of wine outside or grabbing a few bottles to go.
One thing seems clear: This charming little spot is on the rise, and securing reservations for a future dinner are key. Squeezing into this diminutive space on a Friday won’t happen without a little bit of forethought.
If you go
Where: 330 Sixth St. S, St. Petersburg. 727-498-6735. bin6south.com.
Hours: Lunch and dinner, 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Tuesday to Saturday.
Prices: Appetizers, $9.50 to $18; entrees, $27 to $39.
Don’t skip: Banh mi, Bin Board, duck confit.
Details: Reservations for dinner recommended. Credit cards and cash accepted. Indoor dining only. Some gluten-free options. Wheelchair accessible.