A new chapter, a new chef for Peg's Cantina in Gulfport

Chris Perotti's restaurant experience ranges from Philadelphia to Spain.

click to enlarge Dozark, Dodson and Wesselink on the front steps of Peg's Cantina & Brew Pub. - Heidi Kurpiela
Heidi Kurpiela
Dozark, Dodson and Wesselink on the front steps of Peg's Cantina & Brew Pub.

Peg's Cantina & Brew Pub, popular Gulfport purveyor of beer and Mexican-influenced cuisine, welcomes a new executive chef tonight, Chris Perotti. 

Peg Wesselink and Tony Dodson opened Peg's in a small shopping plaza on Gulfport Boulevard 10 years ago and moved the restaurant to a gracious bungalow on Beach Boulevard in 2007. In recent years, Peg's has been as much about beer as cuisine. Wesselink's son, Doug Dozark, did so well with the brews he created for the restaurant that he was able to establish a separate business, Cycle Brewing, in downtown St. Pete.

His mother and stepfather considered selling Peg's and partnering with Cycle to buy warehouse and brewing space, and even created a website to promote the sale (buyacantina.com). But none of the prospective buyers for Peg's felt like a good fit, says Wesselink, and a deal that almost came to fruition on a building in the Warehouse Arts District ultimately fell through.

Now Cycle is looking at leasing rather than buying extra space, while Peg's has found a new lease on life with the arrival of Perotti.

Though he's only 30, Perotti has had experience as a sous chef and general manager in Philadelphia's booming restaurant scene, and spent time cooking in Spain and working on an organic farm in Portugal. Before long, customers will see those influences on Peg's menu, which will expand its Latin emphasis beyond Mexico to include Central America, parts of South America and influences from Perotti's European travels — paella, Portuguese fish stews, tapas and the like — "everything from bar snacks to high-end entrees," says Perotti. 

For now, he'll just be getting to know the kitchen. "This being my first night, I’m essentially just learning their food," says the chef. "I'll go in with Tony and learn the core of the menu with him." Perotti will be making his own additions to the menu over the next few months.

The new chef came upon the opportunity serendipitously. During a visit to Gulfport with his fiancee, who has family in Tampa, he ate at Peg's and was so impressed with the ambiance and the beer that he sent Peg an email. That led to a conversation with the owners, who felt like they'd finally found someone they could partner with — "someone who shares our value system and can turn [Peg's] into something more."

After that first meeting, says Wesselink, her husband turned to her and said, "You know what, Peg? This may be the guy we’ve been looking for."

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