Traci Bryant Ferguson knows all about the hustle.
In March 2019, the chef and restaurateur opened Caracara, an Asian and Latin fusion restaurant in downtown Dunedin. Ferguson, her husband Kurt and their business partner Shane Bittaker already ran a successful hospitality group that included a catering business, the tiny walkup taco spot Taco Baby and the (since shuttered) European street food-themed restaurant Coattails Kitchen.
Then came 2020 and a lot more got piled on: They opened Jack Pallino’s, a casual sports bar and Neapolitan-style pizzeria a few doors down from Caracara. But first came Jack’s Bottle Shop, a boutique wine, beer and gift store attached to the restaurant. Somewhere in the middle of it all, a pandemic was underway and the team jumped through the usual hoops: takeout pivots, construction projects to allow for more outdoor seating and bureaucratic back-and-forths with the city over permitting.
This month, Ferguson will open the Nest at Caracara, a French colonial-themed cocktail bar and lounge tucked behind Caracara in the same building at 730 Broadway.
It appears that Ferguson, 36, is just getting started.
The name of the new lounge is a play on the sister restaurant’s theme. (Caracara is named for the South Florida bird of prey.) A golden light fixture emulating a bird’s nest dangles from the ceiling near the entrance. The space is outfitted with plush banquettes and cozy, ornate armchairs. Ferguson, who studied architecture in college, said the space was outfitted with items salvaged from estate sales and plenty of “deep, dark Craigslist hunting.”
“This is like my playground,” she laughed.
A wraparound bar anchors the space in the far corner next to a brightly lit sign of the bar’s name against a dark green tropical foliage backdrop. Plants hang throughout the space, and curtains provide a sultry and intimate atmosphere.
Before the pandemic, Ferguson was an avid traveler, gathering inspiration for her restaurants while globetrotting across Southeast Asia and Latin America. While the menu at Caracara sways Asian and pan-Latin, the menu at the Nest is heavily rooted in French technique with Asian influences. The chef lived in France for several months and says her love for the cuisine there is reflected in the dishes, which she described as a more “elevated” version of the menu at Caracara.
Bar snacks, which range from $14 to 22, include the Saigon Snails, which feature escargots in puff pastry with a chile and lemongrass compound butter; turmeric-spiced gougeres with goat cheese mousse and Indian “everything” spice; steamed pork dumplings with chile crunch; and the Devilish Duck Eggs, which include duck prosciutto, chiles and fleur de sel. A crudo selection features salmon gravlax with a Vietnamese herb salad, laab dressing, toasted rice powder and chiles; cold-smoked cobia with shiso oil, creme fraiche and tobiko; and a beef carpaccio with ponzu, sesame brittle, fried shallots and truffle oil.
Ferguson, who will be helming the kitchen here most nights, is still at work figuring out the late-night and dessert menus, she said.
The French theme extends to the spot’s bar program, where the wine list is 100 percent French and spirits are either French, “France adjacent” or heavily influenced by French processes. (There’s a tequila aged in French cognac barrels, for example.) Brenda Terry, a “spirits specialist” for local distributor Johnson Brothers Liquor, consulted on the cocktail menu, which is rooted in the classics and includes a Vieux Carre, Sidecar, Vesper, Sazerac and Death in the Afternoon. Cocktail prices run from $12 to $18. There will also be a selection of champagnes available by the glass and bottle.
Following a two-year hustle, Ferguson says the Nest feels like a chance to spread her wings and experiment a bit. The food menu speaks to the kind of cooking she loves the most, and in the coming months she hopes to expand with themed dinners and wine tastings at the bar. And after that? Who knows what she’ll get up to next. Hopefully a nice, long break.
When the Nest at Caracara opens, the bar will be open Wednesday through Friday from 5 p.m. to midnight, Saturday from noon to midnight and Sunday from noon to 5 p.m.
The Nest at Caracara, 730 Broadway, Dunedin. caracaratapas.com.