Locale calls recent market, restaurant changes 'an evolution'

FarmTable Kitchen at Locale morphed into a full-service eatery with new lunch and dinner menus.

click to enlarge Butternut squash cappelletti, Michael's Mother's Falafel and wild mushrooms. - Meaghan Habuda
Meaghan Habuda
Butternut squash cappelletti, Michael's Mother's Falafel and wild mushrooms.

Over the weekend, Locale Market's upstairs restaurant, FarmTable Kitchen, debuted new lunch and dinner menus to patrons, as well as its transformed, full-service look.

Unlike when downtown St. Pete's Locale launched last year, the second floor — formerly part market, wine bar and reservations-only communal dining experience — is almost completely dedicated to FarmTable. Though the cake program and highly curated "Locale at Home" display remain, retail items like wine, charcuterie and cheese were moved downstairs, as CL reported back in September.

According to Vice President of Operations Michael Cohen, having the market's retail selection spread out over two levels didn't seem functional to him when he joined the Locale team in March. Plus, he says, the crew quickly learned that demand exceeded the wine bar's capacity; they'd have to turn people away on Friday and Saturday nights.

With nearly 150 seats inside and out, spread across banquettes, bar spots and high-top tables, that's no longer an issue.

"I see it as an evolution," Cohen says. "In a way, it's just listening to what customers want."

The wine bar used to serve one menu all day, but FarmTable Kitchen, which still mixes up tasty wine-based cocktails and attracts the late-night crowd, now offers larger main plates, extra sandwiches for lunch (a popular Florida grouper BLT with pickled green tomato among them) and an expanded appetizer section. As the restaurant's becoming more known for its dry-aged steaks, the lineup also features veg-friendly offerings such as kale salad, falafel with roasted carrot hummus, two pizzas and sides like wild mushrooms and miso butter (order this, seriously).

"We learned people really wanted an elevated experience upstairs," executive chef Jeffrey Hileman says, adding that the restaurant can accommodate patrons looking for a four-course meal alongside those who just want to snack.

And the old FarmTable? It's called The Chef's Table at FarmTable Kitchen. Highlighting an interactive, eight-course tasting menu, The Chef's Table will continue to be hosted in the 10-seat private dining room upstairs on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights.

Despite the changes, which have included more grab-and-go eats on the first floor, FarmTable Kitchen's farmhouse-style dishes continue to showcase raw ingredients sold around the market, and Cohen says people seem to love the food.

"Trends change and you've got to evolve. If you aren't open-minded, I think you're gonna have problems," he says. "It's been pretty exciting to see the response."

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