I had the pleasure of sitting down with Executive Chef Lee Aquino of Birch & Vine at The Birchwood in Downtown St. Pete recently for an interview. Aquino is originally from Amelia Island. The restaurant and hotel owner, Chuck Prather, is also making moves to soon expand into the new St. Pete Pier that is opening in 2020.
Here is the interview:
Q: What’s new on the menu at Birch & Vine?
A: Birch & Vine is updating all facets of our menu. We’re updating the face of the building and our scratch kitchen with fun, awesome, but also approachable food. Our style is French rustic with an American twist.
Our diners are a variety of people: hotel guests, passerby customers, and people who see our menu in the front of the building on the first floor.
On our top floor at The Canopy, it’s a little different. We have retired folks and a variety of young people as well. Our menu is mainly bar food and we are looking to update the flatware and menu items. Lighter and fresh vibes. Food that is easy to eat.
No caviar here.
Q: What trends do you see coming in 2020?
A: Towers. I’m sure you’ve seen them in old school tea parties.
Smaller portions with more variety and more choices. Multiple appetizers and hors d’oeuvres with in-between price points.
Q: Do you think plant-based meat will join the menu in 2020?
A: We are not using plant-based meat at Birch & Vine. My main concern is cross-contamination issues, which has been a concern as some of the big concepts and chains that have deployed it.
We try to be as conscious as possible about our imprint at Birch & Vine.
Seasonality is a thing in Florida, even though there’s one season things don’t grow the whole year. If a party orders a fig salad – it can be a tough thing to find when a farm runs out of it. Sourcing can be difficult and we try our best to get ahead of it.
We never want to mislead the clients. Be honest.
Q: What’s your history and background?
A: I have been at Birch & Vine for 2 years as Executive Chef. I started at the Tampa Yacht & Country Club as an Executive Sous Chef for 6 years in the past. I bought a house in Downtown St. Pete and made it my home and that led me here.
Q: Where do you like to eat on your day off?
A: Somewhere I haven’t been. I like to be provoked and taste the town. I have no favorites though (laughs).
The Birchwood is located at 340 Beach Drive Northeast in Downtown St. Petersburg, Florida. The hotel features Birch & Vine restaurant, an 18-room boutique hotel on the second and third floor, conference, event, and entertainment space in The Grand Ballroom on the fourth floor and a rooftop lounge, The Canopy.
It is a Spanish Mission-style building originally built in 1922 and underwent historically correct renovations in 2013. It is listed in the National Registry of Historic Places.
Visit them online at thebirchwood.com.
Birch & Vine. 340 Beach Dr. NE, St. Petersburg, FL 33701. (727) 896-1080.