Renzo’s Steakhouse in St. Petersburg offers a Latin American twist on tradition

Its a meat-cute story for beef lovers.

click to enlarge FLAVORFUL AND AFFORDABLE: Renzo’s parilla, a sampler for two people, is a bargain at $39. - NICOLE ABBETT
NICOLE ABBETT
FLAVORFUL AND AFFORDABLE: Renzo’s parilla, a sampler for two people, is a bargain at $39.


Renzo’s Steakhouse

3 out of 5 stars

104 2nd St. S., St. Pete. Appetizers: $3-$20; entrees: $6-$49; desserts: $6-$8; beer/wine/cocktails: $3-$14.

727-851-9983; renzoeats.com.


Foodies across Tampa Bay were sad when Zack Gross shuttered the popular Z Grille at the peak of 2017’s summer heat. But now, that well-placed space in downtown St. Pete is home to Renzo’s, where Argentine asado reigns supreme. It’s less formal than a northern hemisphere steakhouse, which can sport white linen and thick filet mignon topped with béarnaise sauce. The decor is sleek, with brushed aluminum table tops. Sadly, Z’s wonderful Last Supper mural made from skateboards is gone.

But, like Bern’s, Renzo’s worships beef. They hand-select, clean, and cut each of their steaks. The meat is seasoned only with salt, then placed on a parilla (grill) and cooked until “al punto” — to the point where the steak's marbling is about to melt.

But, to begin, the menu offers empanadas with four different fillings; however, the spinach and ham-cheese aren’t available when we inquire. We’re limited and choose chicken over beef. The crust is baked, not fried, and it’s more doughy than flaky. The minced chicken filling is lightly spiced with flecks of green pepper. One taster finds it bland because it lacks the chili spice often present in empanadas, but it strikes me as just being a different style. So much depends on expectations.

Certainly, the provoleta is more surprising. Grilled balls of cheese are melted in a ceramic dish like those used to serve escargot. As you lift out a soft molten ball of cheese you can see the light sprinkling of Uruguayan adobo spices, which provide subtle grace notes.

Most unexpected is the cachapa, a giant, fresh, fat seared corn pancake stuffed with artisanal queso de mano from Venezuela — it’s reminiscent of mozzarella, only built up in layers. I’m unprepared for the sweetness and the size of the dish. It’s like a giant quesadilla had a puffed-up allergic reaction, but the combo is seductive indeed and quickly disappears.

Renzo’s menu offers sandwiches, salads, and paninis — but my focus is on the Argentine asado, the mixed grill so popular way, way down south. Borrowing from the gaucho’s need for conservation, an asado doesn’t necessarily include the best cuts of meat. Traditionally, nothing is wasted so there are potentially dozens of different tidbits served during the meal. But don’t expect a filet mignon. I’ve got fond memories of visiting a friend in Buenos Aires who guided me through a wonderful asado at his favorite neighborhood haunt.

So there’s no question that we’ll chow down on Renzo’s parilla, a sampler for two people. The cuts are more about flavor than texture and are simply grilled after that sprinkle of coarse salt and presented on the parilla at your table. There’s vacío (flank steak), which Renzo’s calls the “chicken breast of beef”; it’s one of their most popular cuts — a juicy, but also lean Argentine favorite. It’s joined on the grill by a series of meats all thinly sliced for equal cooking: asado de tira (beef short ribs), Brazilian picanha (top sirloin cap), pounded chicken breast, boneless pork chop and spicy chorizo sausage. The asado serves two, which is a bargain at $39. You just need to recalibrate your expectations; this is not North American style. The accompanying chimichurri is mild on the garlic and vinegar with an emphasis on a mix of herbs and oil. It’s a light, rather than assertive, condiment.

They also offer a Achaval-Ferrer (the Mondavi of Argentina) malbec blend from Mendoza by the glass, which balances fruit and tannins to be the perfect wine match for our asado. The wines by the glass are somewhat limited, but they have a great bottle selection from South American vineyards if you’re so inclined.

Glazed grilled salmon is billed as a house favorite. The wild-caught steak has beautiful grill marks and glistens from basting with a maple syrup and soy reduction. It’s a nice alternative to the full asado array if you’d prefer seafood.

We chose sautéed leaves of fresh spinach, yucca fries, and tostones as our sides. The spinach is just barely wilted, which is fine for me, but turns off one of my tasters. The large, hand-cut yucca fries are nicely done — warm, crisp, and lightly seasoned. The tostones, twice-fried, pounded, green plantains, are usually salted and eaten much like potato chips. Renzo’s version is, to us, surprisingly bland. My tasters whine that we should have chosen the maduros — the ripe, sweet plantains they see delivered to an adjacent table.

Next comes the desserts, which are delightful. The flan is a fine example of that classic Spanish custard. In our case, we choose the one infused with dulce du leche, which only highlights the deep caramel sauce that surrounds the flan. It’s wonderful if you’re a fan.

More surprising is the chajá, a mini round dome looking like a snowball that is Renzo’s signature dessert. Sponge cake is layered with dulce du leche, peaches, walnuts, and topped with square meringue crumbles. My tasters want more filling and less meringue, but I’m a fan of the lightless of texture that the chalky bits bring to a mouthful. Certainly I can’t argue with the flair that comes with cake, caramel, fruit and nuts, but it seems to me that the topping is what sets this sweet apart. Clearly, your reaction will depend on what floats your boat.

All told, Renzo’s offers a flavorful, affordable alternative for beef lovers right in the middle of the continuum from burgers to chateaubriand. 

CL Food Critic Jon Palmer Claridge dines anonymously when reviewing. Check out the explanation of his rating system, or email him at [email protected]

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About The Author

Jon Palmer Claridge

Jon Palmer Claridge—Tampa Bay's longest running, and perhaps last anonymous, food critic—has spent his life following two enduring passions, theatre and fine dining. He trained as a theatre professional (BFA/Acting; MFA/Directing) while Mastering the Art of French Cooking from Julia Child as an avocation. He acted...
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