Taste of Pinellas returns

The local food festival gets updated and reacquainted with downtown St. Petersburg.

Posted by Meaghan Habuda on Wed, May 7, 2014 at 12:14 PM

Taste of Pinellas 2011 at Vinoy Park in downtown St. Petersburg. - JULIETTE CASSISTRE
  • Juliette Cassistre
  • Taste of Pinellas 2011 at Vinoy Park in downtown St. Petersburg.

After a hiatus in 2013, Taste of Pinellas, which benefits All Children’s Hospital, will return to downtown St. Petersburg’s waterfront Friday, May 9, and Saturday, May 10, with a few changes.

The three-day Taste used to feature signature flavors and fare from about 40 Bay area restaurants. This year, 20 are slated to serve for just two days in Albert Whitted Park, across the street from the Mahaffey Theater and Dali Museum.

There will still be live music, including acts like Pat Benatar and Loverboy, but the tasting portion of the festival will no longer call for food tickets. All vendors are accepting cash, and some will take debit or credit cards.

According to Dan Casey — Taste’s restaurant captain and owner of Snapper’s Sea Grill, MadFish and 1200 Chophouse (all three are participating in the event) — the tickets were “always a lose-lose for restaurants.”

Casey has been involved with Taste in the past, and as restaurant captain, he organized this year’s vendor lineup. Under the festival’s former framework, he said eateries were able to showcase their dishes, but didn’t do well “on the cash side.”

All Children’s used to receive half of what Taste food vendors made, yet it wasn’t benefiting from the setup either.

Booking bands for the event was so expensive that the hospital didn’t make money, Casey said. In 2012, the last time the festival was held, he said that Bill Edwards, whose live entertainment company produces Taste, ended up writing All Children’s a check.

Edwards will do the same for the hospital this time around, according to Casey. That way, the restaurants offering tastes get to keep their revenue.

Unlike previous years, restaurants will also determine how many dishes they want to provide, and how big the portions are.

Helena Josephs, owner of Island Flavors and Tings, will make her 11th appearance at Taste. She said these changes give food vendors a sense of relief — they’re able to control prices based on the value and amount of product they’re serving.

The festival’s restaurant lineup includes Crabby Bill’s, the Hangar Restaurant & Flight Lounge, the Hideaway Cafè, Pipo’s, Seabreeze Island Grill and more.

Josephs said she’s keeping much of the menu that Island Flavors has used before. It will reflect what the restaurant offers during the Saturday Morning Market, too.

People have dined at Island Flavors in Gulfport after sampling its Caribbean fare, such as jerk chicken, Jamaican patties and mango bread, at Taste. As a vendor, this keeps Josephs coming back each year.

Casey, who opened his first restaurant in 1986, said his St. Pete Beach eateries try to use unusual flavors that will leave impressions on Taste-goers, prompting them to pay his restaurants post-festival visits. He said one dish will consist of fried Brussels sprouts and crispy fried onions with a ponzu glaze, which is typically used in Japanese cuisine.

Although restaurants won’t be serving alcohol, a full bar will be available, along with wine and beer booths.

Family-friendly activities will be hosted at the Mahaffey Plaza as part of the festival, and a fireworks show is set to begin around 10 p.m.

Taste tickets may be purchased online in advance as well as through the All Children's gift shop, the Mahaffey and local Rally stores. They will continue to be sold at the Mahaffey box office for $25 Friday and Saturday, but Casey said he thinks the event will reach capacity on both days. 

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