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New restaurants: Saigon Blonde inspired by '60s-era Vietnam, boozy ice cream at Beans & Barlour

A root beer float made with St Pete Brewing\u2019s Imperial Stout will premier early July at the Beans & Barlour, a new craft coffee and ice cream parlour. The alcohol-infused ice cream is a new venture after Story Stuart closed her craft coffee bar The Storybrooke Cafe. [Photos courtesy of Angelina Bruno and Story Stuart]
A root beer float made with St Pete Brewing\u2019s Imperial Stout will premier early July at the Beans & Barlour, a new craft coffee and ice cream parlour. The alcohol-infused ice cream is a new venture after Story Stuart closed her craft coffee bar The Storybrooke Cafe. [Photos courtesy of Angelina Bruno and Story Stuart]
Published Aug. 20, 2018

Inspired by the dark tropical intensity of '60s-era Vietnam, St. Pete local Peri Bandazian has transformed the former Lux space at 265 Central Ave. in St. Petersburg into an immersive bar experience. Her design incorporates commissioned local artwork, custom fixtures, exotic elements, patterns and textures that blend history and fiction into a surreal setting (flickering tiki totems, hanging lanterns, plush leafy-printed furniture). She worked with the local team at Creative Arts Unlimited to bring her concept to life and partnered with St. Pete creative studio Wax & Hive on the design and execution of menus, merchandise and a custom mural.

Saigon Blonde offers a full bar with cocktail service in the lounge areas. Bar manager Jenna Conway and program co-creator Jason Dyer have crafted drinks that boast a serious lineup of tropical ingredients and flavors (rambutan puree, for instance) and mesh together to create light, refreshing cocktails you won't find anywhere else. Served in good old-fashioned barware, tiki heads and even fresh coconuts, these are drinks that feel special but have a price and profile that encourage you to order another.

"It's Pacific Rim cocktails — fun, accessible, colorful — we're incorporating everything in the Pacific Rim and then into California surf culture," Bandazian said.

Oh, and there's an environmental push: The disposable drinkware for the outdoor bar will be a plant-based bioplastic option, and straws will be paper and largely by request only.

Beans = coffee. Barlour = bar + ice cream parlor. Capiche? Story Stuart (of Story Brooke Craft Coffee Bar) will debut something fairly novel in these parts on Friday with Beans & Barlour at 538 First Ave. N in St. Petersburg, next to the St. Pete Brewing Co. Think coffee house, boozy adult ice cream (it's a hipster trend that started in NYC and is sweeping the lands), savory small plates, craft beer, open early and open late.

The Epicurean Hotel has begun the fourth Epic Chef Showdown to benefit Feeding Tampa Bay. The seven-week competition pits eight top restaurants against each other in a friendly cooking competition judged by a panel of local celebrities and notable food writers. Each week, two competing chefs will receive a mystery box of ingredients not commonly prepared together and will be challenged to create two unique dishes. When time is up, each dish will be judged and one restaurant will be eliminated. Remaining dates are July 30 and Aug. 6 (qualifying rounds), Aug. 13 and 20 (semifinals) and Aug. 27 (finale).

Participating local restaurants include Datz, FarmTable Cucina, the Mill, Mise en Place, Noble Crust, On Swann, Parkshore Grill and Rooster & the Till. Each week, the event will be hosted by chef Jeff Philbin of MasterChef fame, right, and I'm a judge the final round. To purchase tickets, visit epiccheftampabay.com.

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