Restaurant review: Feed your stomach, soul at The Hideaway

The Hideaway Cafe in downtown St. Pete pairs its local sounds with enjoyable comfort food.

click to enlarge The Hideaway offers a harmonious medley of eats and music. - Lisa Mauriello
Lisa Mauriello
The Hideaway offers a harmonious medley of eats and music.

Downtown St. Pete’s Hideaway Cafe is a fabulous intimate live music space where local artists have a chance to shine. In fact, it’s already been tapped for Best of the Bay honors because of its open mic night. Despite being carved out of adjacent storefronts, the capacity rounds out at less than 100. There’s a charming old bar and a bunch of saloon tables and chairs that give it a comfy feel.

Tucked in the corner is a tiny triangular stage backed by lush, red velvet curtains with the deck topped by an overlapping medley of Asian carpets. Paper lanterns dangle overhead, hanging just out of reach over the audience. The sound reinforcement is wonderful, with resonant bass and crisp clear highs. The audio engineer knows how to mix the artists to showcase each singer’s strengths and not overwhelm the crowd. With limited resources, the lighting is simple but beautiful.

At the apex of the stage, where two plush curtains merge, is a red atmospheric backlight that gives the performers a crimson halo. There are high-angle side lights that set shoulders aglow and pop the musicians out from the background. The front key lights add visibility and dimension, and conditions are nigh on perfect for artists to shine.

The evening’s headliner for my visit, Brooke Ramel, is a transplant from California, where she was a Laguna Beach regular and developed a devoted following. In time, that will happen in her newly found city, for she’s an experienced performer with a relaxed yet focused stage presence that reminds me of Melissa Etheridge or Bonnie Raitt. Her voice has a distinctive timbre that sets her apart. It’s almost a little girl voice, as if Kristin Chenoweth were a folkie, but there’s plenty of power, whether she’s singing “hostile chick” songs of her youth or more recent positive-message songs (“We can always start again” or “nowhere but here” is where I want to be). She connects with her audiences in a very personal way and alternates between confident, energized strumming and finger-picking guitar styles.

Having spent an early part of her career in Paris, she begins with her perennial opener, a spirited cover of the song that Édith Piaf made famous, “La Vie en rose.” Later she graduates to sophisticated cover-original mashups, showing a breadth of style that captures the audience in her musical web.

Opening the evening is Renee Giaccone, recent winner of the city of St. Petersburg’s casting call.

She’s a fine young singer, and accomplished on the guitar. Her repertoire is a soulful mix of songs about guilt, shame and regret. In other words, the 20-something angst shared by the world as they attempt to soar. But, with a plaintive lack of optimism, she proclaims, “My hope has faded like the setting sun.”

click to enlarge Music enthusiasts gather at the intimate cafe for local, original tunes. - Lisa Mauriello
Lisa Mauriello
Music enthusiasts gather at the intimate cafe for local, original tunes.

She’s accompanied by her “brother in music,” David Daniels, who got more sounds out of his beat box and ankle bells than I dreamed possible. The mesmerizing percussive element adds immeasurably to the set.

Just as the cafe’s musical aspects are straightforward yet alluring, the kitchen turns out comfort food to accompany your jams-filled night.

Pick from spinach or caprese salads that are fresh and clean. The spring mix of the caprese is crisp, and the marriage of mozzarella, fresh basil and heirloom tomato kissed with balsamic vinaigrette is just fine.

You have the choice of stone-baked flatbreads or the larger 14-inch pizzas with a variety of savory toppings that mirror some of the sandwiches. For instance, The Gibson (as a flatbread or “Musical Melts” sandwich) highlights melt-in-your-mouth steak and chef John Kelly’s house-made blue cheese horseradish sauce. The hearty French bread melts also offer turkey or a slew of veggies. The bread is terrific with plenty of crackle and good chew, showcasing the fillings beautifully regardless of your pleasure.

The pizza crust is thin and crisp, and while the pies won’t make you forget CL’s Pizza Marathon winners, they offer plenty of flavor to nourish you through a kick-ass musical set. My crew loved the veggie version with a fine dice of roasted peppers, red onion, tomatoes, zucchini, squash and basil leaves.

Dessert time brings a decent cheesecake that’s creamy with appropriate hints of citrus, but for me, The Hideaway would be better off holding the zig-zag of chocolate sauce used as a garnish. The excellent warm brownie already has that covered with pure flavors and the contrasting chill of vanilla ice cream, which is a lovely finish to the meal. Plenty of wine and beer offerings are also on hand to keep you mellow.

You won’t go out humming the cafe’s food, but that’s as it should be. There’s plenty to treat your taste buds as the music nurtures your soul.

Jon Palmer Claridge dines anonymously when reviewing. Check out the explanation of his rating system.

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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