proper dtsp
Proper Kitchen and Cocktails (monikered Proper DTSP) is the most frequently praised love child of King of 1st Avenue South, Stephen Schrutt – the trend-savvy owner of Proper’s equally successful neighbours, The Avenue and Park & Rec (the latter of which offers its retro game-playing patrons a micro pickup menu from both siblings).

While opening three restaurants in a competitive row hardly sounds like a stairway to entreprenerial heaven, each hot spot’s respective identity keeps the crowds returning night after night. To celebrate my last evening in St Pete before heading to the Midwest, it only seemed – for love of a pun – proper to end up at the craft cocktail beacon of Schrutt’s epicurious trifecta.

Not to say Proper is all drank and no play. Far from it. Their culinary calling card is their wood-burning smoker and the idiosyncratic creations inspired by it.

To kick things off, my dining companion and I loaded the table with wood-fired oysters (stuffed with chorizo & chili garlic butter on the half shell), gator bites (a Floridian specialty pumped up by cilantro crema and chili garlic aioli), and a grilled sweet watermelon salad (blending arugula, gargantuan feta chunks, candied pecans & cornbread croutons under balsamic vinaigrette).

Individually, each dish was incredible and only intensified by the arrival of an Old Man & The Sea (Mount Gay Black Barrel, Benedictine, Banane Du Brasil, Tiki Bitters & Angostura) and 10 Lords A Leaping (Monkey Shoulder Scotch, honey, fresh lemon, and St. Elizabeth​ All Spice Dram).

Do not visit Proper without planning a tour of the cocktail menu.

As one can only go meat or go home in such an establishment, we then turned to taste tests of their four signature sauces (classic, gold, sweet & spicy, and the killer smoked habanero) before settling on ribs and lean-cut brisket. The latter, in all its ample Angus glory, lacked the punch I expected after throat-tingling my way through the smoked habanero but worked perfectly with the accompanying cornbread and ‘slaw. The half rack of St Louis cut (read: rectangular) ribs, however, blew me away; phenomenally meaty, tender, and seasoned to perfection. Even for a woman who avoids meat on the bone.

Though we struggled eating half of what we ordered, our waiter Josh waxed so genuinely lyrical about their Nutella bread pudding we decided dessert (which changes daily) couldn’t be desisted. A decision worth every gooey, bouncy and naughty spoonful.

Do cocktails. Do chill vibes with a strong – albeit nostalgic – playlist. Do enough food to feed you for weeks. Do it proper.

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first friday st pete
St Pete and Clearwater are renowned as holiday destinations for sun and sand. Rightfully so. But after spending a month in St Pete and living like a local, I learned the so-called ‘Sunshine City’ has as much – if not more – to offer as its sugar sand-covered coastlines.

Read on for the 411 on block parties, local trends, some of the best food anywhere in America, and more.

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z grille
Z Grille is a bit of a ‘blink and you miss it’ destination in downtown St Pete (or DTSP, as the cool kids call it). From the corner of 1st Avenue South, its an unassuming stretch of al fresco tables that have nothing on the grind-rail lined interior and sophistication whipped out of its open kitchen.

Z Grille’s chef and owner, Zach Gross, is a creature of constant experimentation. Though there are a few items that would cause an uproar if removed, the menu is as improvisational and creative as the Grille can get away with. It is a daring take in a competitive area and something they’re doing very well.

It is the type of place you want to bring all your friends so you can try a little bite of everything. Especially the Shrimp ‘Nachoz’ (crab queso, corn salsa, Pico De Gallo, avocado Salsa, queso fresco, cilantro crème, and pickled onions) and the gargantuan Foie Burger (house ground brisket & Ribeye, grilled onions, grilled tomato, applewood bacon, foie gras & garlic mayo), which is served with the most addictive manchego and chive-sprinkled truffle fries I have ever had the pleasure to taste.

Pro tip: save room for a few killer cocktails – they are as aptly named (ie Skinny “Beeyotch”) as they are delicious.

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sea salt st pete
It’s time to judge a book by its cover, my treasured foodie friends; Sea Salt is every bit as exquisite as its 22-foot tall wine tower, marble-topped raw bar, and general sweeping sumptuousity.

Naturally, I walked in skeptical. I have visited (and generally refused to review) a number of restaurants with a severe imbalance in style and substance. The meretricious disappointments are part and parcel of food writing.

Sea Salt is one of those glittering, infallible exceptions.

The chef and owner, Venice-native Fabrizio Aielli, is committed to excellence across the board – quality ingredients, quality staff, and quality menu curation that changes by the day.

It is perfection with a soul and – as the name would suggest – an international destination for all things sea and salt (the restaurant sells and serves 130 varieties of the latter).

Perusing the menu over a glass of Schramsberg Vineyard’s sparkling Chardonnay-based Blanc de Blanc, it almost felt rude to feign refusal of the oyster menu so my date and I kicked things off with the raw bar’s Tartufata (black truffle, burrata & leeks) and Kona Kampachi (avocado, red onion, capers & sweet chilli truffle sauce).

They were, without a doubt, the most flavourful oysters I have ever had and the start of a truly unforgettable culinary adventure.

Entrusting our uber knowledgable sommelier with all subsequent liquid decisions, we soaked up an inadvisable amount of Sriracha & truffle-infused salts into olive oil-soaked sourdough and settled in for the night.

Everything on the menu, defying logic and seeming possibility, tasted even better than it looked. From
Diver Sea Scallops (with cauliflower puree, apple, fennel, radichio & an incredible vandouvan curry nage), to Octopus (with smoked paprika, beluga lentils, chorizo & tomato marmalade), to Saffron Cavatelli (with Maine lobster, green peas & an ingenious mascarpone-prosecco sauce), to homemade ravioli (pack with tender braised veal and ricotta in a black truffle sauce), every flourish mattered.

By this point, the sommelier’s phenomenal choices (highlights of which included Delaporte Sancerre with the scallops and Caparzo Brunello di Montalcino with the Cavatelli) settled in and had me waxing lyrical – a tad too vehemently, perhaps – about my love of surf and turf.

Before I knew it, the chef had sent out an off-the-menu ode of his own; their yellowfin tuna (atop seared Hudson foie gras, black venere rice, wasabi pea aioli & a carrot-white soy emulsion) and the most unbelievably tender black Angus fillet mignon (cushioned by burrata-whipped potatoes and a Cabernet Bordelaise). Paired with a glass of Bootleg’s luscious Merlot/Petit Sirah/Cabernet Sauvignon/Syrah/Zinfande red blend, I reached ecstasy’s inevitable breaking point.

From start to finish – hostess to waitress – I could not have asked for more from Sea Salt.

But I suppose since my takeaway box of gourmet, silken chocolates from Norman Love (I live for the “Hot Dark”) lasted all of 24 hours, I’ll have to return at every opportunity over my final two weeks in St Pete to do exactly that…

YOLO and then some.

sea salt st pete
sea salt st pete
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