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Restaurant by Pier re-emerges as Fresco's

After a two-week break, the former Black Opal on the waterfront offers a new menu and plans to open for lunch.

By WAVENEY ANN MOORE, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published September 18, 2002

ST. PETERSBURG -- Phil Smithies wants everyone to know he still is in the restaurant business. True, his Black Opal, on the Pier approach, has been closed for a couple of weeks. That, said Smithies, was only so the restaurant could be revamped with a new name and a new cuisine.

Tuesday was opening night for his new Fresco's Waterfront Bar & Grill at 300 Second Ave. NE, which features Mediterranean and Italian cuisine as well as seafood. Fresco's menu includes antipasto, steamed mussels, prosciutto with melon and fresh gulf shrimp with feta cheese.

Smithies, 53, had operated Fresco's predecessor for about two years. He opened Black Opal in June 2000, after Apropos Bistro & Bar, a downtown favorite for a number of years, closed. The property is leased from the city of St. Petersburg.

The St. Pete Beach resident, who has been in the restaurant business for 30 years and owned both a 350-year-old English pub and a Sardinian-style restaurant in his native Britain, said he became concerned when he learned that people thought his spot on the Pier approach had been closed for good.

"There's so many rumors about restaurants around town," he said. "At the end of August, we closed down for staff vacation and cleaning."

It was time for a change, Smithies said about the Black Opal, which served mainly seafood.

"Basically, the economic climate is changing and we need to change with it. Last year was very hard for all the restaurants in St. Petersburg, he said, pointing to the declining economy and the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

"It was a hard year for everybody, but we survived and one of the reasons for changing is to carry on surviving. We're here for the long haul."

The new Fresco's Waterfront Bar & Grill will have a relaxed feeling, said Smithies, an accomplished sailor.

Former customers of the Black Opal will not see any change in decor, he said. One of the major attractions of Fresco's is its waterfront location overlooking the marina. There are two slips for customers who arrive by boat, Smithies said.

The restaurant will be open for dinner from 5 to 10 p.m., except for Mondays. No reservations are required. It will also begin serving lunch, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., in two weeks.

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