5 things to know about Bonu’ Taverna, St. Petersburg’s newest Italian restaurant

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ST. PETERSBURG — Bonu’ Taverna, St. Petersburg’s newest Italian restaurant, is now open inside the old Cider Press Cafe location, at 601 Central Ave. Boasting a casual, traditional Italian menu and a bar that doubles as a late-night lounge on weekends, the spot has already attracted plenty of buzz. Here’s everything you need to know before you go.

The new restaurant takes over the corner building formerly home to vegan restaurant Cider Press Cafe at 601 Central Avenue.
The new restaurant takes over the corner building formerly home to vegan restaurant Cider Press Cafe at 601 Central Avenue. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times ]

The team

Parli Italiano? Pretty much everyone that works here does.

That includes co-owners Lamia Maccarrone and her husband Mario, longtime restaurateurs who own several Atlanta, Georgia, eateries, including the long-running Midtown restaurant Baraonda, which recently relocated.

Several years ago, the couple were en route to Miami when they decided to visit St. Petersburg and instantly fell for the city’s laidback atmosphere, ample access to water (Mario is an avid sailor) and small-town neighborhood charm.

“It was love at first sight,” Lamia Maccarrone, who goes by Mia, said. The couple bought a vacation home in St. Petersburg in 2017 and moved to the area full-time in 2020.

The couple pulled together a few friends, and six of them run the restaurant together, all as partners. It’s an international bunch: Lamia Maccarrone is originally from Marrakech, Morocco, and her husband is from Catania, Sicily. Luca Antonio, Luca Martucci and Luca Bizzari are all from Italy and Marcello Rodriguez hails from Uruguay.

The space

The restaurant takes over the former home of vegan restaurant Cider Press Cafe, on the corner of Central Avenue and Sixth Street — a prime slice of real estate in downtown St. Petersburg’s competitive market. Terracotta seating and whitewashed tables provide a Mediterranean vibe outside on the sidewalk, where bougainvilleas frame the entryway to the restaurant.

Inside, the space is split into two, with a small dining room on the left, overlooking a partially open kitchen. The larger bar area is anchored by a long quartz-top bar and a mural from local artist Leo Gomez. Italian newspapers hang from a wooden dowel rack and there are reclaimed, hewn wooden accents throughout the restaurant — behind and along the bar and framing the windows — lending the space a rustic charm that still feels airy and light.

The restaurant features a small, cozy dining room and a bar that doubles as a late-night lounge on weekends.
The restaurant features a small, cozy dining room and a bar that doubles as a late-night lounge on weekends. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times ]
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In order to secure a license to sell liquor, the owners had to expand the restaurant, which can now seat roughly 160 people. Now, a space that was once just used for storage features two additional small rooms, one with seating overlooking Sixth Street “for people who want to hang out and work on their laptops,” Maccarrone said, and another private room, which can be rented out for dinners or business meetings. The space will also be used for future wine tastings and cooking classes.

Though billed primarily as a restaurant, on weekends, the bar area will double as a late-night lounge with DJ sets until 2 a.m.

The food

The traditional Italian menu features dishes like chicken Milanese  with arugula and shaved Parmesan.
The traditional Italian menu features dishes like chicken Milanese with arugula and shaved Parmesan. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times ]

Why open another Italian restaurant in St. Petersburg? Bonu’ Taverna seeks to fill a certain niche the owners felt was lacking in the area: A place that offers a traditional approach while straddling the line between high-end, fine-dining restaurants and the more casual pizza and pasta spots.

“We studied the market for five years and saw what St. Pete was looking for,” Maccarrone said. “We felt it was in need of a true Italian restaurant — a casual setting for a casual city.”

The majority of the menu consists of small plates designed with sharing in mind. Dishes include polpetta, a grilled octopus served with pistachio pesto ($18); a grilled romaine Caesar salad, with croutons and shaved Parmesan ($14); acciughe, aka marinated anchovies ($8); and a watermelon, goat cheese and pistachio salad ($14). Customizable tagliere ($24) — large format charcuterie boards — feature assortments of imported Italian cheeses and meats (bresaola, ‘nduja, mortadella, soppressata) along with pickled vegetables, olives and marmalades.

The menu features a long list of small plates, designed to be shared, including a fried gnocchi appetizer with prosciutto di Parma.
The menu features a long list of small plates, designed to be shared, including a fried gnocchi appetizer with prosciutto di Parma. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times ]

Anchoring the menu is a list of pinsas, a Roman-style pizza made with a wet dough that ferments anywhere from 48 to 72 hours before getting topped and baked. The end result features a crust that is crispy on the outside but still soft and chewy on the inside. Toppings include a version with smoked salmon, stracchino cheese and frisee ($16) and one made with tomatoes, mozzarella and spicy salami ($16).

Roman-style pinsa feature thin, crispy crusts with varied toppings.
Roman-style pinsa feature thin, crispy crusts with varied toppings. [ Courtesy of Bonu’ Taverna ]

Larger dishes include a selection of pastas, including a fettuccine with porcini mushrooms and truffle oil ($29) and a ricotta- and spinach-filled ravioli with tomato and basil ($18). A short list of entrees (known as piatti grande), include the grigilata, an assortment of grilled short ribs, sausage and skirt steak, served with chimichurri ($38) and a chicken Milanese topped with fresh arugula and shaved Parmesan ($22).

For dessert, there’s tiramisu ($8), cannoli ($8) and a ricotta and Nutella tart ($8).

The Miuccia dessert features a tart topped with orange marmalade spiked with Calabrian chiles.
The Miuccia dessert features a tart topped with orange marmalade spiked with Calabrian chiles. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times ]

The drinks

An evolving bar menu is central to the restaurant’s late-night program, and Maccarrone said they’re still in the process of finalizing the cocktail list. All of the spot’s signature drinks are $12 and so far the opening menu includes a Salina Spritz, made with Galliano L’Aperitivo, Campari, La Zona prosecco and soda water; the Basilico, made with Milagro tequila, lemon basil syrup and soda water; and the Buona Notte, which features WhistlePig PiggyBack rye, Foro amaro and Bitter Truth bitters.

The wine list is roughly 80 percent Italian, with an emphasis on smaller producers, though there are still some crowdpleasers on the menu from California, France and Spain.

Acciughe, marinated white anchovies, are among the many small plates designed to be shared.
Acciughe, marinated white anchovies, are among the many small plates designed to be shared. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times ]

The extras

Maccarrone said she hopes the restaurant will become a true neighborhood spot, a place that emulates and recreates the Italian approach to hospitality and entertaining.

“Italians do it best, for me,” she said. “The culture, their flamboyance and their lifestyle.”

She also envisions a space that feels more all-day bistro, where neighbors can pop in for a glass of wine and a snack while working on their laptop (the restaurant offers free WiFi), a casual weeknight meal or a weekend night out with friends — preferably, all three.

“I’d prefer to have the same customer come three times a week than the one person who comes once a month,” she said.

Tagliolini with zucchini and shrimp and a plate of PEI mussels are on the menu at Bonu' Taverna.
Tagliolini with zucchini and shrimp and a plate of PEI mussels are on the menu at Bonu’ Taverna. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times ]

The restaurant has been operating in a soft-opening mode. Starting Wednesday, Bonu’ Taverna will be open seven days a week, for lunch, dinner and late night. The restaurant will open at 11 a.m. and stay open all day, till 10 p.m. on weeknights (Sunday through Wednesday) and till 11 p.m. Thursday through Saturdays, with the bar and lounge staying open till 2 a.m.

601 Central Ave., St. Petersburg. bonutaverna.com

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