ST. PETERSBURG — Our server warns us the kitchen might be out of the lion’s mane mushrooms. They’re a special this week, and so she has to go check.
When she returns, we’re in luck: The mushrooms — and a few other star items on the menu — are still up for grabs.
Like most specials at Sol St. Pete Bistro, a new health-conscious restaurant in St. Petersburg’s Warehouse Arts District, certain ingredients are fleeting, making guest appearances for sometimes as little as a few weeks out of the year.
Owners Debbie DeVico O’Neil and her husband Ron O’Neil opened their petite but ambitious farm-to-table restaurant in January, taking over the pale yellow building formerly home to Puerto Rican restaurant WEPA.
By partnering with a small but growing group of local farmers and producers, they’ve managed to carve out a cozy niche, where no night ever looks the same. Each evening, a “weekly spotlight” list of ingredients is displayed at the top of the menu and could include anything from chanterelles to elderberries, figs or green tomatoes.
The variability and element of surprise are an integral part of the restaurant’s ethos — sourcing local and organic ingredients whenever possible, until they run out. The other part of the equation hinges on the restaurant’s unique, allergen-free approach.
For owner DeVico O’Neil, it’s a tactic rooted in personal experience: Since childhood, she has suffered from food allergies and a laundry list of ailments including hives, migraines, digestive disorders and arthritis. After learning to identify her food triggers, she launched a private chef and catering business. That eventually became the impetus for opening Sol, the couple’s first brick-and-mortar restaurant where even those facing the most austere dietary restrictions won’t feel ostracized or left out.
It’s a refreshing take for the Tampa Bay area, where gluten-free and vegan dining is commonplace but attention to allergens still feels lacking. For a growing portion of the population dealing with food allergies or autoimmune conditions, the most popular approach has been the so-called auto-immune protocol, or AIP, diet. It’s a strict regimen that excludes any foods that could be considered inflammatory, ranging from gluten and dairy to alcohol, caffeine, eggs and nightshade fruits and vegetables — including tomatoes, eggplants and most peppers.
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DeVico O’Neil doesn’t go to those extremes, but the worst offenders — gluten, soy, peanuts, corn and refined sugars and oils — are absent here.
Here’s the thing: Dining at Sol doesn’t feel restrictive at all. And that’s kind of the whole point.
A nice start to an evening (the restaurant is only open for dinner) is the nibble board ($26), which features an assortment of cheeses made with either sheep or goat’s milk, paired with charcuterie from the Boozy Pig in Tampa, breadsticks, crostini, olives, radishes, peppers and pickle spears. The vegan board ($26) nixes the charcuterie and substitutes several vegan cheeses — from Englewood-based Dairy Free Creamery — which are also offered as substitutions on most dishes.
Other good appetizers include a crispy fig and beef bacon flatbread ($14), which arrives topped with delicate, barely pickled figs, crispy bits of beef bacon, chevre and micro arugula. The lion’s mane mushrooms — from Tampa’s Cactus Hat Mushrooms — come diced and seasoned with herbs, spread across tasty millet and flaxseed crostinis ($13) and paired with a salty, creamy vegan chevre, garlicky vegan pesto and cherry tomatoes.
Though much of the menu changes frequently, there are always a few pasta dishes present, made with a brown rice pasta that holds up surprisingly well against its wheat counterpart. A hearty turkey Bolognese ($25) is rich with warm spice, featuring thick strands of spaghetti dusted with a salty Pecorino Romano cheese and served with a warm dinner roll. A generous portion of turkey lasagna ($29) stars that same Bolognese and comes paired with sheep and goat milk ricotta cheese — more crumbly than creamy — and wide, flat noodles.
A small side salad accompanies all entrees — a bright and delightful medley made with greens from nearby Brick Street Farms.
TrailBale Farm provides the restaurant’s poultry products — turkey and chicken — and beef is sourced from Providence Cattle. The argument that local, grass-fed beef just tastes better is hard to argue with when a glistening 14-ounce ribeye steak ($45) arrives, perfectly seared and cooked to a medium rare, oozing flavor and juices into the accompanying cauliflower mash and meaty king oyster mushrooms.
Seafood and fish is sourced from Key West Seafood and includes an excellent seared tuna steak ($35), served alongside garlicky sauteed spinach and cherry tomatoes. A punchy green pesto sauce pools over the fish and onto a creamy, bright marigold pumpkin puree, which serves as a colorful anchor for the plate.
Though refined sugars are a no-no here, a short dessert selection includes some decadent selections, including a fudgy flourless chocolate cake ($12) and a chocolate mousse parfait, which arrives layered in a coupe glass topped with coconut cream, almonds, coconut flakes and berries.
It’s a small, tight-knit crew running the show at Sol, with Debbie and Ron running the kitchen and one or two servers mostly handling the front-of-the-house. With an operation like this, there are bound to be tiny hiccups from time to time: Service might be a little slow on evenings when the dining room gets packed, and some dishes might take longer than others to arrive. At moments, a heavy hand with salt might toe the line — as was the case one visit with a side of sauteed spinach and a bruschetta special — but never to the point of overkill. The kitchen will run out of some ingredients and no two visits to this restaurant will be the same.
But that’s just part of the charm of dining here, where there’s always a little something in flux and plenty of small surprises along the way.
If you go
Where: 2149 Third Ave. S, St. Petersburg. 727-289-7598. solstpete.com.
Hours: Dinner, 5 to 10 p.m. Wednesday to Saturday.
Prices: Appetizers, $9 to $26; entrees, $24 to $43.
Don’t skip: Fig and beef bacon flatbread, tuna steak, flourless chocolate cake.
Details: Reservation only. Credit cards and cash accepted. Vegan, gluten-free and allergen-free dishes available.