Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Stillwaters Tavern, St. Petersburg, FL

St. Petersburg’s Beach Drive “restaurant row” has a new jewel in its crown. The eagerly awaited Stillwaters Tavern opened in mid-June under the direction of Executive Chef Jeffrey Jew, a former Top Chef contender. Here, escalated classic American tavern dishes are being dispensed in a relaxing, industrial-chic and vaguely nautically-themed environ (sans portholes and fishing nets).

My two visits during Stillwaters’ first three weeks in business provided me a lot to be excited about. The service staff was already poised, knowledgeable and attentive on both occasions and management personnel were highly visible and diner-engaged.

Now to hit the high notes of dishes sampled:

The hearty, creamy Cedar Key Clam Chowder is some of the best New England style clam chowder that has ever passed my lips. Clams are freshly steamed in-shell (no “rubber bands” in this chowder). And it’s topped with shards of house-made saltines! To whom does the idea of making their own crackers even occur? My hero, that’s who. The $9.99 bowlful is practically a meal in itself, so order a mug if an entrée is also in your future.

Fried oyster nirvana was achieved via Chicken Fried Oysters with tangy whole grain mustard aioli for dipping. Served in a generous, piping hot mound, their golden, crunchy coats shattered on the tooth to reveal the succulent, briny treasures within. But wait…there’s more! Here and there, special guest appearances of deep-fried, house pickled veggies were interspersed to add interest.

My decision to order the Airline Chicken was based more upon the lure of the accompanying jalapeno and cheddar bread pudding than any thrill I expected a breast quarter to impart. Brined and pan-seared to perfection, the juicy and flavorful meat forced me to rethink every preconceived notion I had about chicken breast. All but separating into ribbons at the touch of my fork, it was stunningly presented propped alongside triangles of dense, cheesy bread pudding and accented with baby grilled veggies. 

Shrimp and grits is a dish I can seldom resist, so ordering Stillwaters' Key West Pinks with cheddar grits, “mustard q” wine butter and scallions was a no-brainer. The coarse, stone-ground cheese grits were off the chain, but I found the Carolina barbecue-esque sauce to be bit overpowering (an opinion that was vehemently contested by different dining companions on separate occasions), so let your palate be your guide. Purists may request the sauce served on the side - everybody wins.

Dark Chocolate Crémeux layered with Peanut Butter Pretzel and topped with Chocolate "Caviar” is a study in textural decadence that would probably cheer up even the saddest person you know. This little jar of heaven is not a dessert you want to approach with dainty dips and nibbles. Rather, you want to plunge your spoon to the bottom of its depths so you can dredge out a sample of every strata of its luxurious chocolaty, nutty, crunchy and salty layers in each bite. 
Chocolate cherry brioche bread pudding is also no slouch in the "happy endings" department, acting to effectively channel those cordial cherry candies we all loved as kids, only with a decidedly grownup, boozy bourbon vanilla ice cream topper.

With its eclectic menu and wide selection of beers (many regionally crafted) wine and cocktails, Stillwaters’ menu offers something for everyone – vegans, burger mongers, late night nibblers, sippers, lunchers and fine diners alike.

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My blog entries contain the unmitigated, and sometimes unforgiving, dining truths and perceptions I experience as an ordinary restaurant patron. Every meal I post about has been fully paid for by one of the participating members of my personal dining party. I do not engage in the gratis blogger freebie dining events I'm constantly invited to attend and never will. If I ooze font-like love for a restaurant in my blog, it's because they totally earned it…not because they gave me free food or knew I was going to share the experience on the internet.


  1. Oh my heavens. I think I gained weight just reading this and seeing your pictures. I'm a HUGE fan of shrimp and grits - drools - JUNE

  2. I love a good clam chowder. Everything looks really good.