Empires of Mystery

Chef David Fisher of the Columbia Restaurant at The Pier recently prepared several traditional Peruvian dishes, including, in foreground, ceviche garnished with sweet potatoes and corn; lomo chorillado, steak served with lima beans and pepita nuts, top right; and a dessert, at left, called no es nada, an ancient Inca pudding.
Times photo: Fred Victorin)
Downtown menus add Peruvian flair

Times staff writer

“First I’ll put flowers in your garden. Then I’ll give you your daily food. (Who am I?)”
-- Quechua riddle

The answer is the one food from Peru found on almost every menu in town. Still don’t get it?

Papa in both the ancient Peruvian language and in Spanish; potato in English.

That’s right. The potato didn’t start out Irish. It came to them, the Russians, the Indians and other potato-loving peoples from the Spanish, who found it in the Andes and took it to Europe more than 300 years ago.

That makes serving a little taste of Peru easier during the “Empires of Mystery” exhibit at Florida International Museum.

Peru has a wide and exotic spectrum of potatoes in all sizes, shapes and hues and a wealth of potato dishes.

You’ll be able to sample some of them at several restaurants that are exploring Peru’s fusion of Spanish cooking with potatoes, beans, corn and other native American foods.

At the Columbia at The Pier, chef David Fisher has found exploring Peruvian food “like a new toy box,” different from the restaurant’s traditional Cuban and Spanish cuisines.

To research authentic flavors, he picked the brains of Peruvian colleagues, ate his way through the menu of a Peruvian restaurant in Miami, tracked down cookbooks and imported purple potatoes, yellow chilies, black mint and fiery panka powder. For lunch, the Columbia will serve arepas corn bread, potato soup, tacu tacu chicken and corn pudding. A special dinner for tour groups will show off Peruvian ceviche (marinated shrimp garnished with corn and sweet potatoes), the famous papas huancaina from the Andes, purple potatoes with goat cheese, and steak topped with lima beans and pepitas and a light pudding called no es nada.

The Renaissance Vinoy will have a different Peruvian entree on its dinner menu each month. Through November it will feature a version of anticuchos, the beef skewers that are a popular street food in Peru, with rice, black olives and raisins. That will be followed by escabeche, chicken criolla, tamal cuzqueno and other specialties of Peru. The Garden restaurant and others also plan to add Peruvian foods for museum visitors.

Visitors not interested in Peruvian foods may find that downtown St. Petersburg is no longer a lost city for dining. Downtown renewal has produced a dozen new restaurants, and a half-dozen others plan to open this fall and winter, from Mike Alstott’s A-Train Pizza to Redwoods, a California-style grille.

Even more restaurants are expected downtown in the new parking garage, the revamped Ponce de Leon hotel and the vast BayWalk project. Here’s what’s on the menu downtown close to the museum and what’s scheduled to open this fall and winter. All phone numbers in St. Petersburg are in area code 727:

(moderately priced)

  • A-Train Pizza, 711 Third Ave. S; 898-7246. Pizza, pasta. Opening fall.
  • AJ’s Deli Cafe, 111 Second Ave. N; 821-4151. American.
  • Alfresco, Renaissance Vinoy, 501 Fifth Ave. NE; 894-1000. Caribbean seafood, water view, outdoor seating.
  • Angie’s Cafe, 200 First Ave. N, 823-6437. Sandwiches, outdoor seating.
  • Apropos Bistro & Bar, 300 Second Ave. NE; 823-8934. Contemporary, water view, outdoor seating.
  • The Bakery at Redwoods, 245 Central Ave. Breads, pastries, light foods, outdoor seating. Opening fall.
  • Bay Gables Restaurant, 136 Fourth Ave. NE; 894-7163. American.
  • Benson’s Antiques & Coffee Emporium, 244 First Ave. N; 823-6065. American, coffees, outdoor seating.
  • Blimpie, 360 Central Ave.; 896-5000. Sandwiches, ice cream, outdoor seating.
  • Blue Moon Cafe, 27 Fourth St. N; 895-1493. Natural foods, outdoor seating.
  • Central Coffee Shoppe, 530 Central Ave.; 821-1125. American.
  • Cha Cha Coconuts, The Pier, 800 Second Ave. NE; 822-6655. Caribbean, water view, outdoor seating.
  • Chicago Deli, 277 Central Ave.; 822-6553. Sandwiches, outdoor seating.
  • Columbia Restaurant, The Pier, 800 Second Ave. NE; 822-8000. Spanish, water view.
  • Courthouse Grill and Pizza, 536 First Ave. N; 821-4164. American.
  • Cullen’s, 330 First Ave. S; 894-2278. Soup, salad, sandwiches, muffins, coffees.
  • Daily Grind, 111 Second Ave. NE; 824-0866. Coffees, wraps, light meals, outdoor seating.
  • The Deli, 658 Central Ave.; 895-9267. Sandwiches, soup, salad.
  • Dome Grill, 561 Central Ave.; 823-5090. Grill, Greek, outdoor seating.
  • The Express Gourmet, 624 First Ave. S; 896-3122. Sandwiches, salads for takeout.
  • Firehouse Bar & Grille, 260 First Ave. S; 895-4716. American.
  • Fruits N Things, 360 First Ave. N, 822-2627. Soups, sandwiches for takeout.
  • Garden Restaurant, 217 Central Ave.; 896-3800. Mediterranean, outdoor dining.
  • Gaslight Deli & Sandwich Shop, 445 First Ave. N; 822-2564. American.
  • The Globe Coffee Lounge, 532 First Ave. N. Sandwiches, breakfast, pastas, desserts, coffees. Opening fall.
  • Gold’s Coffee Shop, 336 First Ave. N; 822-4922. American.
  • Gourmet Bagels and Pizza, 501 First Ave. N; 827-0696. Bagels, pizzas, coffees, teas.
  • Hilda La Tropicana, 320 First Ave. N; 898-9902. Cuban, outdoor seating.
  • JJ’s Subs, Salad and Pizza, 405 Central Ave.; 898-2300. Italian.
  • Jeff’s Desserts, 300 Central Ave.; 896-9866. Desserts, meals, coffees.
  • Jo Jo’s In Citta, 200 Central Ave.; 894-0075. Italian, piano bar, outdoor dining.
  • Judy’s, 208 Fourth St. N; 822-5542. Soups, sandwiches, salads and desserts.
  • Little Fruit Basket, 533 Central Ave.; 822-4475. Yogurt, smoothies, muffins, coffees; outdoor seating.
  • MJ Smoothy’s, 8 Fourth St. N; 821-5084. Smoothies, sandwiches.
  • Midtown Sundries, 100 block of Second St. S. American. Opening winter.
  • Lonni’s Sandwiches Etc., 133 First St. NE; 894-1944. Natural foods, soups, sandwiches.
  • The Moon Under Water, 332 Beach Drive NE; 896-6160. English pub, Indian and Middle Eastern foods, outdoor seating, water view.
  • #9 Bangkok Thai Restaurant, 571 Central Ave.; 894-5990. Thai.
  • Ollie’s Grille, 111 Second Ave. NE; 822-6200. American, water view.
  • The Patio Grill, 270 First Ave. N; 894-4200. Greek, American, outdoor seating.
  • The Pier food court, 800 Second Ave. NE. Hot dogs, pizza, sandwiches, ice cream.
  • Pizza Hut, 333 First St. S; 825-7000. Pizza takeout.
  • Quizno’s, Barnett Bank Plaza, 200 block of Central Ave. Sandwiches, salads, smoothies, coffees, outdoor seating. Opening fall.
  • Sandwich Boutique, 212 Beach Drive NE, 826-3493. Sandwiches, soups, entrees.
  • St. Pete Bagel, 249 Central Ave.; 822-4092. Bagels, bagel sandwiches, coffee.
  • South Gate Coffee Shoppe, 29 Third St. N; 823-7071. American, Greek.
  • Tamarind Tree, 537 Central Ave.; 898-2115. Natural foods, outdoor seating.
  • Tangelo’s Too, 226 First Ave. N; 894-1695. Caribbean, outdoor seating.
  • Telly’s Deli, City Center, 100 Second Ave. S; 896-6175. Delicatessen.
  • Theo’s New York Deli & Bagel Emporium, 689 Central Ave.; 821-8077. Sandwiches, bagels.
  • Wannabe’s Grill and Bar, 140 Fifth St. N; 821-4404. American, sports bar.

Royal level
(more expensive)

  • Bertoni, 16 Second St. N; 822-5503. Italian.
  • Cafe Lido, The Pier, 800 Second Ave. NE; 898-5800. Italian, seafood, water view.
  • Cafe 333, St. Petersburg Bayfront Hilton, 333 First St. S; 894-5000. American.
  • Heimann’s, 1 Beach Drive SE, Bayfront Tower; 827-0200. Continental.
  • Heritage Grille, 256 Second St. N; 823-6382. Contemporary, Floridian.
  • Keystone Club, 320 Fourth St. N; 822-6600. Steaks, chops.
  • The Lobby Bar, 217 Central Ave.; 896-3800. Coffee, tea, drinks.
  • Marchand’s Bar & Grill, Renaissance Vinoy, 501 Fifth Ave. NE; 894-1000. Mediterranean grill.
  • Ovo Cafe, 515 Central Ave.; 895-5515. Contemporary, desserts and coffees.
  • Redwoods, 247 Central Ave. Contemporary American. Opening fall.
  • A Taste for Wine, 241 Central Ave.; 895-1623. Wine, light foods, outdoor seating.
  • Terrace Room, Renaissance Vinoy, 501 Fifth Ave. NE; 894-1000. Contemporary, seafood and pasta.
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