Restaurant review: 10 unbelievable facts about Locale Market

Locale Market's magic kingdom in downtown St. Pete sets a new standard for the Bay area.

click to enlarge CULINARY FANTASYLAND: The From the Sea kitchen features an enormous grouper head with a carrot in its mouth, referencing Locale's logo, perhaps? - Meaghan Habuda
Meaghan Habuda
CULINARY FANTASYLAND: The From the Sea kitchen features an enormous grouper head with a carrot in its mouth, referencing Locale's logo, perhaps?

Chef Michael Mina calls his new brainchild with chef Don Pintabona a curated “culinary Disneyland.” Indeed, Locale Market, at downtown St. Pete’s Sundial complex, is a magic kingdom.

There’s less “market” than at Mazzaro’s, but more fantasyland kitchens where you can snatch up fresh, local ingredients, or let one of the 11 stations display their culinary theme park wizardry. Here’s this food critic’s review of Locale, following CL’s Year in Lists format.

1. You need a “Tomahawk” regardless of your opinion about the Washington Redskins.
Despite the obvious nod toward the Native American weapon, when I first caught a glance of these enormous hunks of dry-aged prime beef, all that I could think was “Flintstones, meet the Flintstones!” If ever there was a chunk of meat that looks like it came from the brontosaurus down the block, this is it. At $40 a pound these are indeed a specialty item, but I can just imagine pulling one off the grill and enthralling my guests with a hunka burning love.

2. Liquid nitrogen could kill you, but it makes yummy ice cream.
At -330 degrees, ice cream is frozen in seconds in a display of theatrical smoke that might as well be Disney. The dairy molecules stay very small and the water particles don’t crystallize, so you get the smoothest, creamiest ice cream possible. Locale’s “normal” gelato is simply delicious, too. Plus, for $1.50 they offer three toppings from a list of 16, including warm sauces, nuts and cherries.

3. Sodium chloride must also be used with care.
NaCl is the chemical formula for table salt. But it needs to be handled just as carefully as liquid nitrogen. The fries are made to order and tossed at The Grill kitchen before your eyes. They have a creamy center, but I’d like them crisper. They are piping hot and served with green herbal specks as well as salt. Unfortunately, mine have too much of a good thing. The same is true of the perfectly cooked Brussels sprouts that accompany the salmon below. Balance, please.

4. Blueberry-lemon basil pops will make your eyes roll back into your head.
Don’t miss Pop Craft’s premier frozen confections from Sarasota. These are gourmet popsicles with thrilling flavors for the adventuresome palate: roasted banana with candied pecans; white chocolate mint pistachio; citrus coconut ginger; and on and on.

5. Fresh fettuccine with sausage ragu can peacefully coexist with truffle butter.
Luckily, all of you are tall enough to go for a ride on the fettuccine roller coaster. The pasta is homemade perfection with your choice of pomodoro, sausage ragù or truffle butter. If you ask nicely, the friendly staff will make a killer combo.

6. Market research shows that a gargantuan fish head munching on a carrot will entice you to buy fish.
The whimsy with which the pristine fish fillets are displayed not only makes me chuckle, it makes my mouth water.

7. Composed salmon has nothing to do with Beethoven or Taylor Swift.
Each kitchen has a monthly seasonal menu. The From the Sea and Butcher kitchens carry five composed offerings each with complementary sides, all under $16. There’s crab with red quinoa and pickled tomato, amazing ribs with guava barbecue sauce, and grilled salmon with crispy Brussels sprouts, Fuji apple, grapefruit and quinoa. The flavors dance on your tongue and are superbly balanced even if my salmon is a bit past perfection. Still, the availability of food this diverse and well thought-out is exciting.

8. Organic pumpkin seed cheddar crispbreads are not “Florida crackers.”
The walls of the more than 20,000-square-foot market are lined with many carefully chosen and enticing foodstuffs. Among them are deliciously crunchy products from Doctor Kracker.

9. A nori wrap the size of a grande burrito may also contain spicy surprises.
These enormous sushi wraps are made to order with spicy salmon, tempura shrimp, crispy Florida avocado or (my choice) “Michael’s tuna.” The succulent fish is joined by Asian pear, mint, some pine nuts for crunch, sesame oil and chili that adds a punch of heat. This is sushi on steroids with enough flavor to blow your head off.

10. We have a St. Petersburger and Vladimir Putin does not.
The burger station features turkey, salmon and even a fava bean falafel. But the star is an aged-beef patty with double smoked bacon, mushrooms, Gouda and shredded romaine tossed in a “secret sauce.” It’s juicy and gooey enough, so I miss the crunch that the dressed lettuce lacks. But this burger says, “Take that, Putin. Your St. Pete might have the Hermitage, but even Catherine the Great would stand in line for this bit of Western decadence.”

Have no doubt that Locale Market sets a new standard for the Bay area. Shop early and often. We need to show the world that we have the taste to make this gastronomic theme park soar.

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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