Worldwide tastes land in Gulfport

The owners of Elements Global Cuisine looked around Florida before settling on Pinellas.

Published January 10, 2007

After moving several times over the years, Catherine and Jose Luis Pawelek say they've finally found their place.

"I think this is our last move," said Jose Luis, an Argentinian immigrant who, with Dutch-born wife Catherine, moved to St. Petersburg a month ago after selling a business in New Hampshire.

"Thirty degrees just stopped appealing to us," said Catherine. "Being on the water, we feel we are in our own element."

Not coincidentally, the couple last week opened Elements Global Cuisine, the culmination of decades in the hospitality business. The new restaurant at 3121 Beach Blvd. S in Gulfport is multicultural in its offerings, but the couple's experience of opening three Botticelli Trattoria restaurants in Miami made getting started easier.

"We took a week off and went on a cruise," Catherine said of the time between choosing their site three weeks ago and their Jan. 5 opening.

The pair met 26 years ago on a cruise, she a blackjack dealer, he a bartender. Both in their 20s, they married and opened a travel agency in Coral Gables. Then one restaurant, and another, and another. They caught the wave of South Beach rising, but had enough of it by 2000, sold out and bought the Beal House Inn nestled in the White Mountains near Littleton, N.H.

They said they enjoyed the calm, but it was a little too quiet. They searched for a buyer and then spent the last 18 months trying to choose where in Florida to call home. After finding Naples, Sarasota and Marco Island too pricey, they visited Pinellas County and found the ingredients for the kind of growth they enjoyed in the beginning.

"This reminds of Coconut Grove," Catherine said. "It's artsy, close to the water, has a small-town feel but also has big-city happenings."

The restaurant reflects the same idea, she said.

"It's fine dining without the stuffiness," she said. The 56 tables show off white tablecloths, but are covered with copper-colored butcher paper to make them homey. Prices range from $16-$25 for dinner.

Jose Luis is the chef and blends his Argentinian-Polish heritage with years of learning from others. Entrees include flank steak with chimmichurri, lobster ravioli with curry and raisins, or a roast duck in a berry sauce. He also bakes bread daily from scratch using the recipe he learned as a child in his uncle's bakery.

Catherine runs the front of the house but also handles desserts, which include a different cheesecake every day. Choices might be dulce de leche or white chocolate/Bailey's cheesecakes, or a creme de menthe/girl scout cookie creme brulee. A sampler is available to go along with 13 different flavors of cappuccino.

The couple is planning special events, including a dinner with five courses and a wine for each. They'll do the same for champagne, offer cooking demonstrations, and plan to reach out to the community through fundraisers and other activities.

Jose Luis said he has high hopes for their business and the community. Once sleepy Gulfport is gentrifying and moving upscale in eclectic ways he's seen before and the area generally is ready to blossom.

"Five years from now, you will hardly recognize downtown St. Pete or even Gulfport," he said. His wife agrees.

"Hopefully we're on the cusp of something here," she said.

Paul Swider can be reached at 892-2271 or pswider@sptimes.com or by participating in itsyourtimes.com.