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Restaurant review

Tavern fits the niche on corner

A small piece of the Old Northeast has undergone a renaissance, evolving into a neighborhood pub.

By CHRIS SHERMAN
Published June 29, 2006


 
[Times photo: James Borchuck]
The Old Northeast Tavern at 201 Seventh Ave. N in St. Petersburg has been designed to mimic an old-fashioned tavern with a waiter statue out front.

ST. PETERSBURG

The New Old Northeast now has its own neighborhood tavern.

Yes, the Old Northeast Tavern, where the beers are Tucher and Fin du Monde and the pizza is decked out with prosciutto, brie and artichokes.

No burgers and fries, sad to say. But the wooden booths are warm and dark, the lighting barroom-red.

Seems like old times. And this corner, Second Street at Seventh Avenue N, has seen a variety of times.

For most of its workaday life, it was the home of the N&L diner, then a convenience center and a coin laundry.

Revival began eight years ago in the hands of Lazslo Haarangozo, the visionary emigre who made the old N&L into Ambrosia, redecorated with thrift shop panache and sweat equity, and installed chefs eager to explore the cutting edge of the Mediterranean. The energy lasted about three years, collapsed and the corner evolved into a yoga studio flying prayer flags for a period of rest and self-healing.

Three years later, almost every house in the neighborhood boasts fresh paint in bungalow-friendly tones and/or For Sale signs at prices unfathomable eight years ago when this edge of the Old Northeast was in transition.

And the corner building is a tavern, not a bistro, just a tavern with a sports bar accent, the hard work of co-owners Dan Soronen and Sarah Potter, and another crew of renovators.

As the neighborhood climbed further upscale, the menu moved downscale. The result is a happy medium: beer, bar and Bennigan's fare dolled up with a bushel of artichoke hearts, mango salsa and a river of raspberry syrup.

It's an odd mix, much like the hybrid decor of Bud mirrors and deco images, a light edition of modern salad-sandwich staples with a taste for crusty bread, good greens and creamy Montrachet, brie and feta.

The results can be predictable, like the ever-present chicken-mandarin salad and tuna sashimi. Or they can be fresh like a clever Napoleon (non-Bonapartes would say stack) of thinly grilled zucchini, portabellas, artichokes and spinach with a touch of gorgonzola. The last saved it from purely vegetable penance.

A fern bar mix of jerk chicken, plantains, cheddar and peppers makes a happy mess of a quesadilla. It's available as spring rolls, too, both with mango and raspberry. (You are spared wraps).

The kitchen has made good use of other popular flavors. Cobb salad's feast of lightness - turkey, avocado eggs, bacon and blue cheese - is good sandwich makings, too. Likewise, smoked salmon with onion, capers and Montrachet subbing for cream cheese is well cast for a panini.

Both sandwiches needed the kiss of the grill: the Cobb would have been better set off by a toasted edge if the focaccia had been herb-grilled as promised. Likewise the panini; It takes only modest skill and equipment to press a sandwich on a grill and keep some meaning in the word. Mine had none.

My other complaint is sandwich meats, although I hesitate to call any micrometer-cut protein "meat" no matter how high it's piled. I dream of true taverns and delis of old, where meat was sliced fresh and thick from real roasts and hams.

Much better is the sliced flank steak with puffs of crispy onions. That's what colonial tavern keepers served the weary traveler.

Vegetarians do surprisingly well here, for the kitchen adds zucchini and portobellos to its stock artichokes, peppers, olives and cheeses to make three pies and two sandwiches and salads.

Beer is critical to a tavern and Old Northeast has collected a decent range, a dozen of lagers, ales and ciders on draft, but it's not yet a beer palace. Mine were poured with minimal head, the servers had modest beer savvy and the beer list skipped the locals. You need more to be truly beer-proud nowadays.

Chris Sherman dines anonymously and unannounced. The St. Petersburg Times pays for all expenses. A restaurant's advertising has nothing to do with selection for a review or the assessment of its quality. Sherman can be reached at (727) 893-8585 or sherman@sptimes.com.

Old Northeast Tavern

201 Seventh Ave. N, St. Petersburg

727 821-8070

Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday; 11 a.m. to midnight Friday and Saturday. Bar is open until 2 a.m. daily.

Details: No reservations. Credit cards, beer, wine, darts.

Price: $5.95 to $8.95

[Last modified June 28, 2006, 12:16:31]


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