St. Petersburg long ago shed its stereotype as an oversize retirement community, and now as you traverse the city from Tampa Bay to the Gulf of Mexico, you’ll find among the eclectic shops plenty of craft breweries, artist enclaves and bars and restaurants spilling out onto the sidewalks. Show up on a Saturday between October and May and you’ll find one of the state’s most vibrant farmers markets in the parking lot of a former minor league baseball stadium that now hosts soccer and concerts.
After watching the sun come up over the bay, it’s a short walk to the Wooden Rooster (thewoodenrooster.com; 104 Second Ave. NE; 727-822-7373) for crepes. The options early in the day mostly feature what amounts to omelets wrapped in a tender pancake — available in regular, buckwheat or gluten-free. The most interesting is the Burg ($9). The name leads you to wonder what the city’s history with scrambled eggs, mushrooms and caramelized onions might be, or maybe it’s the salty-nutty crust formed by the melted Asiago cheese that’s a sly nod to a sense of place. If you lean toward dessert for breakfast, the Bananella ($9) is a crepe stuffed with bananas and a good glug of warm chocolate-hazelnut spread, then topped with a big scoop of ice cream. Because why not? There is a full program of coffee beverages, but know that the restaurant is open late, and there are deals on wine and beer in the evening. But they’re available all day if you want to turn that crepe into a party.
Miami and Tampa fight about where the Cuban sandwich was invented. Let them argue while you head to Bodega (eatatbodega.com; 1120 Central Ave; 727-623-0942), right at the edge of a parking lot for the Tampa Bay Rays baseball stadium, for one of the better specimens in the Tampa Bay area. It’s a walk-up window with outdoor seating at the side of the building, but you can also grab a seat at the juice bar next door and have the pressed sandwich of roast pork, ham, Swiss and pickles ($8.50) with one of the fresh-pressed juices or smoothies. If you don’t feel like a sandwich, you can get a platter of the pork with black beans and rice and fried plantains ($9.25). The beer list features local brews and others from Latin America and the Caribbean. If you sit inside at the juice bar, try to get a good view of the juicer, so you can watch all manner of vegetation transition into a liquid state to become vibrant and complex juices and smoothies ($6.50).
If there’s one place in the city that qualifies as a destination restaurant, it’s in a seemingly nondescript box of a building on the side of Central Avenue, just a little west of downtown. The Reading Room (rrstpete.com; 6001 Central Ave.; 727-343-0052) is a former Christian Science reading room where chef Lauren Macellaro is composing menus that customers and critics just can’t put down. It isn’t unusual for chefs to say they’re inspired by what’s fresh in the season, but Macellaro takes it a step further, with a garden behind the restaurant, tended by her team, that she can source from. She specializes in big flavors and tiny, meaningful flourishes, like the sweet alyssum flowers that garnish a plate of salt-and-pepper quail ($15) with a sweet-and-salty co-star of onion, caper and raisins. Or the smoky butter that sauces cannelloni stuffed with sheep’s milk ricotta ($22). Or the smear of miso that becomes the inadvertent star of a dessert that’s billed as an almond and orange sundae ($9). The beverage program includes a list of wine-based cocktails ($11 each), many with literary nods in the names. And to carry the theme through to the end, your bill comes to the table in an old library book.