Jacksonville staple brings diner favorites to St. Pete next month

St. Pete's Fourth Street will see the launch of the newest Metro Diner location.

A growing Florida restaurant brand is introducing jazzed-up comfort food and a feel-good atmosphere to St. Petersburg.

Known for its service and award-winning fare, the St. Pete location for Metro Diner, based in Jacksonville, marks the brand's first foray into the region at 5250 Fourth St. N., where the Hiro's steakhouse and sushi bar used to be.

“We’ve just always loved it down there,” said founder and chef Mark Davoli. “[St. Pete is] really great for a diner.”

Opening at 6:30 a.m. June 27, the diner will serve favorites like chicken and waffles, a meatloaf plate and Yo Hala on the Square — two thick slices of challah stuffed with bananas, brown sugar, cream cheese and hazelnut syrup (it's prepared like French toast and topped with a blueberry-strawberry compote).

Davoli recommends the shrimp and grits, served on grit cakes rather than traditional cheese grits, or the popular huevos rancheros.

“It’s just a great mess of food,” he said.

The cozy neighborhood diner, among the dining spots visited by that Food Network host with the spiky bleached tips, also plans to carry a daily specials menu.

An open kitchen and indoor seating for 125 will be highlights of the 3,770-square-foot St. Pete outpost. With the average cost per person at $12, it will serve breakfast, lunch and dinner with “blue-collar portions” from 6:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, and 6:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday.

According to Davoli, it’s most important for his team to make people feel like they’re at home. He says the diner embodies values like comfort and friendship, and truly is “Where the Locals Eat.”

For those who want to dig into the menu before the opening, two pre-launch fundraisers are planned for June 24 and 25.

Guests will land a meal and beverage for a $10 donation to the Children's Tumor Foundation one day, and the Junior League of St. Petersburg on the other. Seatings will take place between 9 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. or 4 and 7:30 p.m.

With the addition of St. Pete and a recently opened Ponte Vedra Beach branch, Metro Diner will have a dozen Florida spots in all, and is looking into other communities in the Bay area as well. The chain is not confining its expansion to the Sunshine State; look for Metro Diners to open in North Carolina, Indiana and Pennsylvania, too.