Downtown St. Pete’s bar and restaurant scene is exploding. From the hip craft cocktail bars with the best of the best bartenders mixing it up, to the exceptional dining options created by some of the finest culinary experts up and down Beach Drive, the Burg is officially becoming a town for foodies. Specifically, downtown St. Pete has something to offer for every discerning palate. According to TripAdvisor there are 726 restaurants in the St. Petersburg area. In downtown St. Pete, there are just over 100 dining and imbibing options alone. That means 100 types of different cuisine, different prices points, and all different atmospheres for anyone to sift through. One thing that is for certain about downtown St. Pete is that we are truly becoming a force to be reckoned within the world of culinary arts.
First things first, when I walked in from the familiar glass door right on Central Ave, I recognized the space. It was Jo Jo’s Citta, longtime local favorite Italian restaurant. Though the address was the same the entire vibe inside was radically different. I felt transported back to some of the lower Manhattan bars and restaurants I used to visit back in my Broadway days.
My friend and I grabbed some prime real estate at the corner of the front bar. From that vantage point we witnessed the kitchen staff through a peekaboo window. The delicate dance of each kitchen staff member, weaving around hot pans and ovens, was theatrical and entrancing. I couldn’t take my eyes off them as they plated each dish elegantly in a calm quiet roar.
First, we started with a bottle of their very refreshing Chateau Minuty, Rosé Cotes de Provence…. During the summer I like to sing to myself, “Deck the bar with lots of rosé. Fa la la la la. La la la la. Tis the season to drink rosé. Fa la la la la. La la la la.” Alas, my continued romance with rosé was reborn and all seemed right again in the world.
Once our first glass warmed our bellies, we moved on to some delicious appetizers. Enter the watermelon bruschetta: A thick triangle shaped toasted crostini topped with juicy heirloom tomatoes, crisp European cucumbers, crunchy candied pistachios, and a chef knife’s full schmear of whipped goat cheese. Bruschetta is an all time favorite for my ‘go to’ restaurant appetizer musts. The Mill, knocked it out of the park and then stickball punted it into the next field – IT WAS THAT GOOD!!! The crostini withstood the weight of fresh ingredients, layered flavors, and the crunch of something sweet and salty (the candied pistachios). Let’s just say for that, “I’ll be back.” (said in Ahnold voice)
Another option for the lite bite crowd is their Cheese and Charcuterie Plate. This dish is unlike any other platter I have seen. It accommodates palettes craving the dairy option, the carnivorous choice, both, and then some. The artisan cheese selection is seasonal with generous portions of each kind. Some meat options include, but are not limited to: foie gras torchon, pork cracklins, pickled shrimp, smoked salmon, to name a few. But wait… there’s more. Then there are the accoutrements like baby zucchini pickles, malted rye mustard, and bitter chocolate chunks. Let’s just say, my mind was blown.
A couple of stand outs for me were the brussel salad topped with sugar snapped peas and oven dried baby heirloom tomatoes, the perfectly pan seared diver scallops atop curried cauliflower puree, and the supremely juicy pork tomahawk, one of the biggest dishes I have ever seen. For the hungriest of diners, go for the tomahawk solo, but it can totally be enough dinner for two. The imaginative menus created by Chef Ted Dorsey, formerly of Castille Restaurant at Hotel Zamora on St. Pete Beach will give every discerning diner several options to choose from. One can visit for lunch and dinner dozens of times and find plenty of new satiating possibilities each time. Mill menus change according to season and availability, which will certainly draw Burg foodies back for many years to come.
Now for my favorite part: the cocktails. The Mill’s cocktail list created by the illustrious bar manager Ryan Pines, formerly of Edison: Food + Drink Lab and Ciro’s Speakeasy (to name a few), and his talented bar staff has flavor profiles for every liquor enthusiast’s palate. The night I came by to check everything out for myself, Jaime Salas, Milagro Tequila Ambassador for the US, popped in with a friend of his to check out the place. Jaime is a bit of a celebrity nearly everywhere he goes. Two years ago, I had the fortunate opportunity to take a Milagro Tequila mixology class from Jaime at The Canopy Rooftop Lounge at The Birchwood. He taught us how to muddle, mix, and master Milagro Tequila cocktails. We learned so much on that hot and humid evening from his vibrant tutelage. His electric personality and joyful spirit is why he is so popular and an Instagram sensation. That night at The Mill we sampled the Tahona, a sweet and spicy Milagro Reposado Tequila based drink. It was a multi-layered mouthgasm that kept getting better and better with each gulp.
Perhaps the most noticeable thing about The Mill is the design. This restaurant approached notable interior designer, Amanda McMahon to turn their vision into a reality. Amanda was raised in the Bahamas by missionary parents. She moved with her family to Oklahoma at 16 years old to graduate high school. As a young girl, one of three children, she was always interested in art. It was her place to escape and explore her creativity. Her vibrant imagination was awakened during a trip to Paris as a young adult. While she was there absorbing the architecture and art, she found her calling as an artist.
Back here in Tampa Bay in her 30s Amanda owned and operated her own franchised design firm out of Tampa. She thrived and did incredibly well for herself. But she still yearned for something more, something different, something unique. Recently she found her way to St. Pete and says about it, “St. Pete is beautiful and funky and organic. I love St. Pete!”
How The Mill came to have her one of a kind pieces and truly gifted eye involved in their space, is truly a downtown St. Pete story. Amanda was a visitor of The Cask & Ale, where she met Jason Griffin, former startender (among many other roles), now part owner of The Mill. Jason and Chef Ted heard about her incredible skill as a designer and brought her in for an interview. Half way through showing them her portfolio, they hired her on the spot. Her style is custom-made, out of the ordinary, unlike many other designers in 33701, exactly the look they were searching for. Amanda says of booking the job so quickly, “We just clicked. It was organic.”
To create this “one-of-a-kind” feel for the space, she found some of her materials from such places as the Brocante Market, a vintage street market with several different types of vendors located right off of 2nd Ave S. The tiny vintage bathtub located in the women’s bathroom was found on a truck, at the Broacante Market, as they were about to ship it off to another market to sell. She found it just in time and repurposed it for the ladies’ room as a clever wash basin. Amanda’s foresight and fearlessness coupled with the genius artistry of Istvan Torok has brought a breath of aesthetic life to Central Ave. Amanda is not only a great interior designer, she is also a dedicated mother to a teenaged daughter, Mia. The two of them are very close and have a special bond. Check out Mia as a hostess at The Mill in her first job.
So that’s it. Long-winded? Yes. But I had to get everything in that stood out to me in such a profound way. I am excited for the fresh coat of paint The Mill brings to Downtown St. Pete. It’s impressive to see the transformation of the space, the attentive and friendly vibes the entire staff exudes, and the delicious and imaginative menus The Mill has to offer. I’m looking forward to what is next in our neighborhood for us Burg-er foodies.
200 Central Avenue, Saint Petersburg, FL 33701, USA
Tuesday – Thursday: 11am – 11pm
Friday: 11am – midnight
Saturday: 10am – midnight
Sunday: 10am – 10pm