When my family asked where I wanted to go for my 60th birthday, I said, “Let’s go to St. Pete — St. Petersburg, Florida.”
“Really?” said my daughter. “You want to go to Florida?”
Having visited the Pass-a-Grille area of St. Pete in January 2017, I enjoyed it so much I wanted to return. Pass-a-Grille is a small inlet on the Gulf Coast of St. Pete, about 20 minutes away from the downtown districts.
“I can’t wait to take you and your brother to all the great places to eat in Downtown St. Pete,” I said.
From fine dining to casual fare, craft beers to coffee brews, gourmet pops to delectable desserts, and best-ever Cuban sandwiches, I knew my foodie companions would revel in the revitalized Downtown St. Pete and its fabulous food scene.
Dinner at The Mill
On Thursday evening, we dined at The Mill, voted by Florida Trend Magazine as the “Best New Restaurant” in Florida in 2015. The menu offers consistent favorites as well as seasonal specialties. The service is top-notch and so is the food.
We took the waiter’s recommendations and ordered “The St. Pete O.G.” Watermelon bruschetta and maple butternut squash hummus appetizers. My boyfriend and I shared phyllo feta salad and seared diver scallops for our main course. My daughter had her own serving of scallops and my son selected the crispy roast duck. It was all so good, so good, so good!
Oompah! Time for Greek food
The next night, we made reservations at Acropolis Greek Taverna, where on Friday and Saturday evenings, the waitstaff sings, dances, throws napkins and breaks plates, just like at a taverna in Greece. There’s even a belly dancer to serenade.
Popular Greek fare on the menu included tzatziki dip with pita; Greek salad with cucumbers, tomato and chunks of feta cheese; souvlaki and gyro platters; as well as many traditional Greek fish and seafood dishes.
A feast at FarmTable Cucina
Saturday was my honorary birthday dinner. My boyfriend and I had already eaten at FarmTable Cucina last January and liked it very much. The restaurant, run by celebrity chef Michael Mina and his partner Don Pintabona, is located on the second floor of the gourmet Locale Market (run by the same team, too) at the Sundial St. Pete shopping, dining and entertainment complex. As chef Mina says: “It’s casual, family-style with sharing plates and authentic dishes that combine the highest quality ingredients to bring flavor to every bite.”
Every dish at FarmTable Cucina is carefully curated. The delicious fried cauliflower starter was like a work of art with finger lime, golden raisins, guanciale, and sea urchin aïoli. Equally impressive was the ragu of wild mushrooms. Main courses range from freshly made pasta dishes, such as gnocchi Romana and hand-cut pappardelle to a variety of wood-fired grilled steaks. There’s also a daily Florida Catch. We opted for the oak-fired Faroe Island salmon with borlotti beans, white wine saffron broth and fresh basil (we ate every last bean). How good was dinner? It was all so good, so good, so good!
No room in our tummies for dessert, we decided to take home a few cupcakes from the Locale Market to celebrate with candle lighting and wish-making for later in the evening.
6/25/20 Thanks to a reader, we learned that both FarmTable Cucina and Locale have closed permanently.
Best-ever Cuban sandwiches at Bodega
Ever since I saw the movie Chef, where lead actor Jon Favreau starts up a food truck making Cuban sandwiches, I have been searching for authentic Cuban sandwiches whenever I travel south.
I even went to Versailles Restaurant the last time I was in Miami. It’s the mainstay of Cuban sandwiches in Little Havana.
To my delight, my hunt was over after eating the best-ever Latin Street Food at Bodega on Central Avenue in Downtown St. Pete. It’s a tiny storefront that makes the juiciest, most flavor-packed, cheese-oozing, pickle-topped Cuban sandwich. My trio and I shared three sandwiches, slaw, and fried plantains.
More good eats and treats
There are many more great places to eat in Downtown St. Pete. Ooh, ooh, ooh, I’ll just name another few—and leave the rest for you to discover on your own visit to this vibrant city.
If you’re in town on a Saturday morning, I suggest you stop at the Saturday Morning Market, held at the Al Lang Field parking lot. It’s an outdoor market with local produce, an array of food trucks and eateries, and arts and crafts pavilions. It’s not too far from the Dali Museum and the harbor, so you can go to the museum afterward. (The Dali Museum has a nice restaurant, too.)
To satisfy your sweet tooth, walk back to Central Avenue and check out Hyppo for gourmet popsicles with unique flavor combinations like avocado dark chocolate, mango mojito, and cherry key lime. Or stop at swah-rey for a treat, offering both a full-service dessert bar and quick to-go location. Per swah-rey’s Instagram account, “You haven’t seen true beauty until you’ve seen our cakes…and pies…and coffee…and dogs.”
One thing’s for sure, you won’t go hungry in Downtown St. Pete!
What’s appealing to the over-50 luxury traveler?
- The fabulous food scene offers great places to eat in downtown St. Pete—whether it’s breakfast, lunch, dinner or a snack.
- In addition to great dining, cultural attractions such as the Dali Museum, the Chihuly Collection, and the Fine Arts Museum are nearby in the Downtown Districts.
- If you are staying along the coast, the downtown area is not far from the beaches.
- If you drive downtown during the day, parking lots are inexpensive.
Make dinner reservations in advance. Some of these spots, like The Mill and FarmTable Cucina, book up weeks in advance.
Parking during the evening can be challenging and street parking is scarce. If you’re going for dinner, you can always Uber instead.
All photo credits: Judy Freedman, except lead photo, Visit Florida