by Rona Gindin
Hop in the car anytime except rush hour and you’ll be in St. Pete in an hour-forty-five. Divvy up your time between downtown — a food and cultural boondoggle, and the resorty beaches beyond. It’s a quick getaway that’s practically like foreign travel even though it’s so close.
Dig the designer duds out of your closet for your time in St. Pete’s spiffy downtown, a polished area with stylish folks dining at outdoor cafes and sipping coffee drinks in independent espresso shops. The food and java bursts fortify visitors for jaunts to the downtown fine arts and Chihuly glass museums, plus the Dali museum nearby. The sweets at Paciugo Gelato & Caffe (pictured below) are a must, with flavors like blue lavender chocolate chip. Pick up gifts and home decor items at Shapiro’s, loaded with distinctive American- and Canadian-made collectibles. Make time for a glass-making demonstration at the Morean Glass Studio on Central Avenue in the nearby, edgier Central Avenue, filled with galleries and funky boutiques.
All that eye candy, and candied gelato, is time-killing stuff before an excursion to Locale Market and its in-house restaurant, FarmTable Kitchen. Located in the dramatic new Sundial restaurant/retail plaza, the crux of the combo is a bi-level food-fest owned by celebrity chefs Michael Mina and Don Pintabona. At the emporium, chefs age meats, stuff sausages, bake cakes and do way more from scratch, then sell it all at multiple stations.
Around the wine bar upstairs, Chef de Cuisine Jeffrey Hileman uses those foodstuffs as his personal pantry for the newly expanded FarmTable Kitchen. Sit in the rustic-chic dining room or on the terrace while sharing small plates or slicing into dry-aged steaks. It’s all about scratch cooking. A simple clam dish is flavored with hot Italian sausage made on the premises and served with garlicky sourdough baked by the staff. The butternut squash cappattelli’s pasta is rolled and stuffed right in the Locale, just as fungi pizza’s crust is hand-tossed and the burger’s dry-aged beef is ground daily. Pastry Chef Alicia Sherrill’s Sheneekers dessert, a play on a Snickers bar, has flourless chocolate cake, fudge, nougat, ganache and caramel popcorn, all from her station.
Rather than lodge nearby, consider embracing the St. Pete Beach experience while you’re on the Gulf coast. Hotels, condos and timeshare resorts from value-priced to luxury line the wide shoreline. Go barefoot-casual at TradeWinds Island Resorts, a duo (TradeWinds Island Grand and the Guy Harvey Outpost) located near one another other along the strip. Together, the colorful hotels encompass seven pools and 14 restaurants on 25 acres. Suites include kitchens, and some accommodations will even welcome your pooch. Kids’ programming, hammocks, cabanas, and inflatable slides and surf rides provide a true escape. Be sure to grab a meal at RumFish Grill, where you’ll watch fish swimming in a 33,500-gallon aquarium while you eat.
The trip back? You’ll be so full, and so relaxed — likely with a bag full of Locale groceries in the trunk — that the hour-forty-five jaunt won’t phase you.