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Articles Interviews

Interview: Executive Chef Lee Aquino of Birch & Vine at The Birchwood St. Pete

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.

Photo via Birchwood

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.

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Articles Events

NEWS: World’s Largest Christmas Light Maze and Market coming November 22nd to St. Pete

St. Pete will host the World’s Largest Christmas Light Maze and Market presented by Enchant Christmas starting on Friday, November 22nd at Tropicana Field and run through Sunday, December 29th. St. Petersburg is joining 2 other cities as destination this year including Washington D.C. and Seattle.

Enchant Christmas guests taking a photo.

The event will run Monday through Thursday from 4PM to 10PM and Fridays and Saturdays from 4PM to 11PM from November 22nd to December 12th. From December 13th to December 29th the event will run from 4PM to 11PM.

Santa's Landing with Santa Clause at Enchant Christmas

Guests will enjoy:

  • World’s Largest Light Maze: Enter a living storybook of larger-than-life light sculptures, a light-adorned ice skating trail, and decadent delights as snow gently falls all around you
  • Christmas Market: Filled with over 40 local artisan vendors
  • Dining: Savory and sweet scents will pull you into the Christmas Market where you can feast on specially selected seasonal food and drinks as well as holiday treats
  • Carolers sing your favorite holiday tunes
  • Santa’s Landing: Santa Clause is re-invented for Enchant, guests will need to pass through trees, tree tops, and pillow-like clouds to get to Santa.
  • Kid’s Zone: Plenty of activities will be available for kids including toys to play with, coloring, group activities, and more
  • Nook and Cranny: Pinellas Countyโ€™s Nook and Cranny pops up nightly for engaging craft workshops where guests can get creative and make ornaments, home decor, and more.

Adult General Admission starts at $19.99 with children’s tickets starting at $14.99 for ages 4 and older. Military, emergency services, and students receive 10% off with ID shown at the door. Family packages are also available.

Tickets are on-sale at EnchantChristmas.com.

Event Name: World’s Largest Christmas Light Maze and Market

Neighborhood: Downtown St. Pete

Venue: Tropicana Field

Address: 1 Tropicana Dr., St. Petersburg, FL 33705

Dates: November 22nd to December 29th

Cost: $19.99+ for adults, $14.99+ for kids ages 4 and older.

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Articles News Restaurant News

NEWS: Locale Market and FarmTable Cucina exiting Sundial St. Pete, Armature Works entering

After years of working to bring a mixed food concept to Downtown St. Pete, Celebrity Chef Michael Mina has sold Locale Market and FarmTable Cucina in the Sundial to Tampa-based Armature Works group BE-1 Concepts, which plans to change the space and surrounding businesses into a food hall with plans to open by late 2020.

Chef Michael Mina shared, “With so many other projects and opportunities in front of me, I felt now was the right time to pass the torch. I am beyond excited to see what Chas and his team have cooked up for this community.”

Chef Michael Mina is thought to be a powerhouse restaurateur with over 40 restaurants opened worldwide in large metropolitan cities such as San Francisco and Las Vegas.

Chef Michael Mina and Chef Don Pintabona at Locale Market.
Chef Michael Mina and Chef Don Pintabona.
Photo Credit: Locale Market

Locale Market was founded by Chef Michael Mina and Chef Don Pintabona and opened in December 2014. The concept will close five years later at the end of the holiday season in December 2019.

Former Tampa Bay Times Food Critic, Laura Reiley, reported back in 2015 that Chef Pintabona left St. Petersburg back to New York as soon as his one-year contract expired. Pintabona’s pedigree at Robert DeNiro’s Tribeca Grill was considered to be a big deal when Locale opened, but the concept never really seemed to take off despite many campaigns and changes. The team admitted to struggles between being a restaurant concept and a gourmet, locally-sourced market.

The biggest loss will be FarmTable Cucina upstairs that was recently finding ground with a new chef. Executive Chef, James Kirby, has worked hard to make the menu truly local in recent months as a former farmer himself.

BE-1 Concepts is also taking control of Jackie Z Style Co., Wellness Center at Sundial, D-Gallerie Fine Arts and additional vacant spaces on the lower level.

Armature Works in Tampa.

BE-1 Concepts owns numerous concepts in Tampa Bay and around Florida including Boca, Ciro’s Speakeasy, Atlanta Beer & Oyster, and Sea Critters Cafe. They also own Steelbach, BAR at Armature Works, Butcher N Barbeque, M.Bird, Cress and Stones Throw inside The Heights District.

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Articles News Restaurant News

NEWS: Italy Bottega food market and cafe coming to St. Pete’s EDGE District

Local urban development news site St. Pete Rising is reporting that Italy Bottega, an Italian food market and cafe, is coming soon to 1045 Central Avenue in Downtown St. Pete.

The official website is under construction for Italy Bottega and is located at italybottega.com.

More information as it becomes available.

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Articles Events

New Years Eve Tiki Fest 2019 at The Birchwood (Downtown St. Pete)

The Birchwood located at 340 Beach Drive Northeast in Downtown St. Pete is having a two-level New Year’s Eve Tiki Fest to celebrate 2019. The party will run from 8PM to Midnight.

Guests will enjoy a gourmet buffet and open bar throughout the party. The Grand Ballroom will have a live band with a DJ on the Birchwood rooftop bar. During the event the bar will be private and only open to party guests.

Tickets cost $135 per person (plus taxes and fees) and are very limited, so act quickly if you’re interested. All guests will enjoy a complimentary champagne toast at midnight. Guests must be ages 21 or older.

Buy tickets: http://bit.ly/2SqsDGv

Dress code: Tiki fun.

Categories
Articles Events

Winter Whiskeyfest this Friday, February 9th, 2018

Do you love whiskey? I know I do. Winter Whiskeyfest is happening this Friday, February 9th, 2018 from 6PM to 9PM. The event is presented by I Love The Burg. It will take place at La Florida above Red Mesa in Downtown St. Petersburg (128 3rd Street South St. Petersburg, FL 33701).

Tickets are limited and there are only 250 tickets available. Tickets cost $75 per person for admission.

Use discount code CARLOSDRINKS for $10 OFF until February 7th.

Whiskey glasses.

This includes entry to the event, over 12 different whiskey brands to taste, a commemorative tasting glass, light bites such as steak crostinis and ceviche, as well as live entertainment by DJย Austen Van Der Bleek.

A portion of the proceeds will benefit METRO to support their LGBT, Transgender, and Youth programs.

Participating distillers:

  • Belle Meade Bourbon
  • Coopers Craft
  • Old Forester Signature 100
  • Old Forester Statesman
  • Jack Daniels
  • Michters
  • Whistle Pig
  • High West
  • Kentucky Owl
  • Hillbilly
  • Elijah Craig Small Batch
  • Pikesville Rye
  • Larceny
  • Evan Williams Single Barrel
  • Deanston
  • Bunnahabhain
  • Ledaig
  • Breaker Bourbon Whisky
  • Kozuba Distillery
  • Horse Soldier Bourbon
  • Amador
  • Kentucky Peerless Distilling

Buy tickets:ย https://www.eventbrite.com/e/winter-whiskeyfest-tickets-41520523002

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Articles Reviews

Ichicoro ANE in Downtown St. Pete impresses

I crossed the bridge last weekend for the Distant World’s Final Fantasy concert at The Mahaffey Theater and needed a bite to eat after. Geniabeme raved about Ichicoro ANE when I last saw her at Keel & Curley for U-Pick Strawberries the day before so I had to check it out for myself.

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Ichicoro ANE is located downstairs from Station House in Downtown St. Petersburg. The inside is beautifully done and has plenty of seating both in the bar and in the restaurant which is a huge difference between this location and the original in Seminole Heights.

I can best describe it as an Izakaya or Japanese pub. The best way to think of most of the menu items is similar to the concept of Spanish tapas. Ramen is also on the menu but there are a number of Japanese appetizers and dishes that we decided to try during our visit.

The dim lighting and ambiance is masterful and takes the best parts of the original location’s foundation.

You’ll find wooden decor throughout and an open kitchen that is unlike most restaurants in Tampa Bay. The music sets the mood for a perfect and intimate night out with friends or for a chill date. I was in love with the atmosphere.

The food was also a winner. The meal began with a gyu bao bun. Spicy and flavorful with a gochujang mustard inside. The price was the standard for Japanese and Asian bistros in Tampa Bay these days ($7). I appreciated the complexity of this dish compared to average pork belly bao.

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After that I decided I needed something a little filling since I skipped lunch and went for the Tonkatsu ($10). This dish was cooked practically to perfect. There was a slight chew in the middle, but it was minor enough that is didn’t cause the dish to falter. The ends were perfectly crispy. They used bulldog sauce which I also use at home (the only proper way to serve this dish as approved by Japanese cooking tv shows and documentaries). It was beautifully presented and the cabbage underneath was a nice bit of greens.

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The Smokey Yucca Korroke was also enjoyable a nice starch to be enjoyed during the visit. Many of the dishes on the menu are traditional Japanese pub food and there are also some hard to find items such as Okonomiyaki which I certainly want to try in the future.

Our waitress was chill and friendly and I am happy with all the seating choices at Ichicoro ANE. She didn’t rush us to make decisions and also was quick to put in orders. It’s completely different from the rushed environment at the Seminole Heights location and I like it much more for that. I dine more for experience than because of necessity or because I’m in a rush. I like to savor every moment.

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For drinks it was hard to make a decision and I finally went with The Chocobo Lure (in honor of Final Fantasy). Imagine my surprise when the drink was inside a ramune glass which shook me with excitement. The drink features umeshu, yuzu cordial, Cappelletti, Aperol, Velvet Falernum, Agnostura and plum bitters. I normally don’t like plum wine but this one was enjoyable.

In the future I would like to certainly try more of the Japanese whiskey selections. The matrix charts for spirts seem to be the rage lately in restaurants.

I didn’t even dent the fish or meat menu and I hear the wagyu is delicious, but I’ll have to do that another day. Ichicoro ANE leaves plenty of things to try and an incredible environment to enjoy it in.

I’m impressed and I’ll be back soon and I recommend you also make a trip if you find yourself in St. Petersburg.

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P.S. Make sure to check the photobooth in the entrance. It’s pretty neat!

Restaurant Name: Ichicoro ANE

Cuisine: Japanese, Asian

Neighborhood: Downtown St. Petersburg

Address:ย 260 1st Avenue South, St. Petersburg, FL 33701

Phone Number:ย (727) 300-0281

Website:ย http://www.ichicoroane.com/

Menu: http://www.ichicoroane.com/menu/