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Former Rocca, Meliora chef to helm cafe in St. Petersburg’s Warehouse Arts District

Eat Art Love, a new cafe and art gallery, will open Feb. 2.
 
Eat Art Love, a new cafe and art gallery, opens next week in St. Petersburg's Warehouse Arts District.
Eat Art Love, a new cafe and art gallery, opens next week in St. Petersburg's Warehouse Arts District. [ Courtesy of Mario Brugnoli ]
Published Jan. 25|Updated Jan. 25

ST. PETERSBURG — A large white wall will host a selection of artwork, plucked from a rotating cast of local artists that will change frequently. There will be breakfast on some days, and wine by candlelight on others. There will be music, there will be art shows, there will be the occasional dinner pop-ups.

At Eat Art Love, a new cafe and art gallery opening next week in St. Petersburg’s Warehouse District, it’s a unique, hybrid approach to hospitality.

It’s the first restaurant and art gallery for owners Jose and Natalie Martinez, who also run the downtown St. Pete clothing stores Sartorial Inc and Style. For their new venture, the pair wanted a place to showcase local artwork in a space that also celebrated their love for music and food.

Right now, there’s a collaborative piece from artists Shawn Rainey (known as Fabstraq) and The Artist Jones. But in the coming months, the plan is to open the space up to a varying selection of local artists, who will be able to showcase and sell their work.

At a time when big-name restaurateurs and national franchises continue to expand their Tampa Bay footprint, Eat Art Love is taking a distinctly smaller approach: The cafe will seat 25 people inside, and the owners plan to add a handful of tables outside in the coming months. The menu is small, too, and will feature just eight dishes during the day and a small selection of snacks at night. Guests can also pop in for a coffee and grab-and-go items, like Mexican Coke, kombucha and fresh produce bags from Sarasota’s Blumenberry Farms.

Helming the kitchen is Mario Brugnoli, a local chef with an impressive resume whose previous gigs include stints at the since-shuttered FarmTable Cucina at St. Petersburg’s Sundial development, Tampa modern Italian restaurant Rocca and, most recently, Meliora in Sarasota.

This is the first solo venture for Brugnoli, who says the focus at the cafe, to start, will be mainly on breakfast and brunch, with a few lunch items thrown in.

There will be dishes like baked cream cheese in phyllo dough (Brugnoli’s spin on a savory toaster strudel), topped with salt-and-pepper peanuts and spice-infused honey and mint; a poached egg dip featuring poached eggs and creamed potatoes served in glass jars with sourdough toast points; sweet and sour ricotta pancakes with cinnamon whipped cream and blueberry syrup; and the Mom’s OG, a nod to a sandwich Brugnoli’s mother served him growing up, featuring garlic butter bread topped with honey ham, basil and tomatoes.

“I’m just excited for people to get to eat the things I grew up eating and cook my own menu,” Brugnoli said.

Though the menu skews heavily toward breakfast and brunch, a few plates will appeal to a later crowd, including a fried chicken sandwich served on a potato roll with hot honey, mayonnaise and pickled cabbage; a confit duck leg with whipped feta grits, roasted red peppers, garlic and tomatoes; and a charred broccoli salad tossed in a Caesar dressing with panko breadcrumbs.

To start, the cafe will be open mostly for breakfast and lunch, and later in the evening on one night a week, when wine, beer and European-inspired snacks will be served by candlelight. Eventually, Brugnoli says, the space will be open more nights, with the possibility of art shows and dinner pop-ups on the horizon.

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How the space evolves is still very much up in the air, Brugnoli says, and will depend on the community. If there’s enough interest, a more permanent dinner scene could play out. For now, if guests during the day are feeling up to it, the entire breakfast and brunch menu will be available for $95.

The cafe, which is located at 2209 Sixth Ave. S., is soft-opening this weekend, with a grand opening set for Feb. 2. Eat Art Love will be open Thursday nights from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. and for breakfast on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.