Resort dining takes new direction
The Compass Grille replaces Durango's Steakhouse, which left this summer.
By PAUL SWIDER, Times Staff Writer
Published November 11, 2007
[Times photo: Scott Keeler]
Server Mark-Alan takes customers' orders at the Sirata Resort's Compass Grille, which recently replaced Durango's Steakhouse.
ST. PETE BEACH
Losing a Durango's Steakhouse this summer left the Sirata Beach Resort without a major restaurant but the departure also created an opportunity for the property's further evolution, owners said.
"We've had to go project by project," said Gregg Nicklaus, president of the family-owned hotel complex, who will host a grand opening in December for Compass Grille. "This is a natural succession."
From the family's 1962 purchase of the humble 46-room El Sirata Motel to its transformation into the 380-room beachside resort and conference center, Nicklaus said the family has had to pick and choose which phases to develop itself. When it swallowed the neighboring Holiday Inn in the 1980s and later combined the two properties, the Sirata had to focus its energies on keeping rooms full and guests happy, so was only too willing to let Durango's take over the on-site restaurant.
When Durango's began its own transformation, the Sirata property was one of the first to go. The 10-year-old steak restaurant never rebounded from the tourism dip after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and never lived up to either party's aspirations.
"We expected better and so did they," Nicklaus said. "We went our separate ways."
But the parting was opportune, said Sirata food-and-beverage director Scot Hall.
"We needed the space," he said, comparing the Sirata's 50-seat Mangrove Grille to the 200-plus seats it has now in Compass. "Now we're better equipped to take care of all our guests."
The old restaurant had more than $250,000 worth of remodeling before reopening in October. The interior is lighter and less western, with a map-related motif to match its name.
Hall said the menu is not too niche so as not to exclude a diverse clientele with exotic fare. Its compass reference is aimed at visitors from all parts of the country and world, and the menu aims to mimic cuisine characteristic of different regions, from Columbia River salmon to North Platte prime rib to South Carolina pork chops.
"We can't get too far out there," Hall said. "We still get folks with their kids looking for hot dogs and pizza."
The Compass will be the only restaurant on the property; the Mangrove Grille will be converted to offices. After an extensive kitchen upgrade, the Compass will be able to serve finer dishes at the three bars in the resort, including the popular Rum Runners Bar and Grill.
"We really want to develop an outdoor-type atmosphere," Hall said. "Nothing would be nicer than for folks to sit outside in the morning for breakfast or have a sunset dinner."
Hall said the restaurant is still getting its legs for now, with mostly new hires to fill the staff after the months-long lapse from Durango's.
The goal is to create a destination for tourists and locals alike, reminiscent of the Crow's Nest that used to do landmark business in the Holiday Inn during the 1970s.
"We're hoping to bring this facility back to prominence," Nicklaus said.
Paul Swider can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 892-2271.
Where: Sirata Beach Resort, 5300 Gulf Blvd.
Hours: Open 7 a.m.-10 p.m.
[Last modified November 10, 2007, 22:04:46]
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