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

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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.

Carlos Eats

January 29, 2020 |

NEWS: Miracle at Mezzo coming to St. Pete starting Black Friday 2019

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Miracle at Mezzo is coming to St. Petersburg starting on Black Friday (November 29th) 2019. The event started in New York City back in 2014 at Mace cocktail bar and is now at Intermezzo located at 1111 Central Avenue in Downtown St. Petersburg.

According to the press release, “each Miracle and Sippin’ Santa location will celebrate the season with a festive menu of signature cocktails, décor of lights, garlands, ribbons, and tchotchkes inspired by nostalgic vintage Christmas decorations, and a soundtrack of holiday songs.” Intermezzo is one of over 100 locations nationwide participating in the event.

Owner/GM Jarrett Sabatini has put together a calendar of events to keep the pop-up busy throughout the holiday season:

  • Monday December 2nd – World’s Largest Ugly Sweater Party – Over 100 Miracle locations around the world participating! Don your best (tackiest) garb and join in the revelry
  • Monday December 9th – Holiday Trivia with Santa Claus
  • Tuesday December 10th – Holiday Karaoke
  • Thursday December 19th – Songs Around a Christmas Tree with performer J.T. Brown 7PM-10PM

“In our sixth year, we’re excited to keep making Miracle better year after year while keeping our true love for the holiday season alive,” says Greg Boehm, owner and creator of Miracle.

“We offer a true experience for our guests as soon as they walk through the doors. Our partners across the U.S. and world are all dedicated to delivering exceptional visits with quality cocktails.”

Here’s the menu:

Carlos Eats

November 15, 2019 |

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

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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 County’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.

Carlos Eats

November 12, 2019 |

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

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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.

Carlos Eats

November 7, 2019 |

NEWS: 10th Annual Shopapalooza coming November 30th and December 1st to St. Pete

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More than 225 local businesses are taking over Vinoy Park in Downtown St. Petersburg for LocalShops1’s 10th Annual Shopapalooza Festival on Saturday, November 30th and Sunday, December 1st. The family-friendly event features local art, local music, and the local vibe that makes St. Pete what it is.

Admission is free and open to the public. Guests who register before will be entered in a chance to win a $ 500 shopping spree. The event will benefit Chart 411 and Earth Day St. Pete.

“Shopapalooza Festival celebrates and spotlights the great independent businesses that make Tampa Bay such an amazing place. It gives consumers the opportunity to kick off the holiday shopping season by shopping locally!” says Ester Venouziou, LocalShops1 founder.

Venouziou has made it a mission to support local businesses for over a decade.

Kids being entertained at Shopapalooza.
Vendors at Shopapalooza

Vendor options include gourmet food products, home decor, handcrafted jewelry, clothing and accessories, health and beauty products, fair trade goods, vintage finds, pet treats and toys, books, candles and much more.

Food vendor at Shopapalooza.

The events will have “food hall” that features the following options in one spot:

  • Amy’s Spot
  • Buddy Brew Coffee
  • Callaloo
  • Churrolicious
  • Hot Pursuit Catering BBQ
  • Main Street Boys Empanadas
  • Mookie’s Kettle Korn
  • Pipo’s Cuban Cafe
  • Pop Goes the Waffle
  • Softee the King
  • Tasty Dogz
  • The Best Thai Food
  • The Fishin Chicken
  • The Tea Jug

Food options around the event include:

  • Emmy & J Roasted Nuts
  • Gateau OChocolat
  • iPop Gourmet Popcorn
  • JB’s Sweet Addiction
  • Lynn’s Ice Cream & Belgian Waffles
  • Melonhead Melonade
  • Skoops Italian Ice
  • Sunny Culture
  • Sweet Life Cupcakes
  • The Tea Jug (2nd location)
  • You Are the Hamster

The event is sponsored by the City of St. Petersburg. It’s sure to be a great time so make sure to go out and shop local.

For more information visit Shopapalooza online at shopapaloozafestival.com.

Event Name: 10th Annual Shoapalooza

Neighborhood: Downtown St. Petersburg

Venue: Vinoy Park

Address: 701 Bayshore Dr. NE, St. Petersburg, FL 33701

Date & Time: Saturday, November 30th, 10AM-5PM, Sunday, December 1st, 10AM-5PM

Cost: Free to attend, Register early for a chance to win a $ 500 shopping spree

Registration: http://www.shopapaloozafestival.com/win-500.html

Carlos Eats

November 6, 2019 |

NEWS: Savor St. Pete festival coming November 2nd and 3rd

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Savor St. Pete is bringing their food and wine festival to Downtown St. Petersburg on Saturday, November 2nd and Sunday, November 3rd at North Straub Park.

The event was previously known as Clearwater Beach Uncorked. It will be a showcase of Tampa Bay chefs, restaurants, breweries, and a wide variety of wines.

Savor St. Pete is sponsored by City of St. Petersburg, Publix, and Visit St. Petersburg/Clearwater. The Vinoy Renaissance St. Petersburg Resort & Golf Club is the official hotel partner for the event.

“We look forward to creating an extraordinary level of excitement in the ‘Burg,’” said Tammy Gail, festival founder and producer. “We are bringing elements that will ramp-up the cool factor that SAVOR ST. PETE will feature.”

Tickets are now available for general admission on both Saturday, Nov. 2, and Sunday, Nov. 3. General Admission guests are welcome on-site from 1PM to 4PM. GA tickets are $ 75 per person per day.

All event guests receive a limited-edition wine glass, custom tote bag, and exclusive access to the Grand Tasting Village that is located within a 30,000-square-foot tent. 

Restaurant Partners:

  • Bavaro’s
  • BJ’s
  • Brio Italian
  • Bulla Gastrobar
  • The Library
  • Red Mesa Restaurant Group
  • Marchand’s Bar & Grill
  • Paul’s Landing
  • Roy’s
  • Sweet Charlie’s
  • The Birch & Vine
  • Watercolour Grill & House
  • Teak St. Pete

Wine, Brew, and Spirit Partners:

  • 3 Daughters Brewing
  • 19 Crimes
  • Bacardi
  • Big Storm Brewing Co.
  • Bon & Viv Spiked Seltzer
  • Bonanza California
  • Casamigos Tequila
  • Cayman Jack
  • Conundrum
  • Chateau St. Jean
  • Days of Youth Wines
  • Des Amis Napa Valley
  • Deutsch Family
  • District 7
  • Don Ramon Tequila
  • FitVine
  • Fleurs de Prarie
  • Florida Beer Co.
  • Folktale Winery & Vineyard
  • Four Roses Bourbon
  • Francis Ford Coppola Winery
  • Golden Winery
  • Islamorada Beer Company
  • Josh Cellar
  • Justin Vineyards & Winery
  • Keel & Curley Winery
  • Lakeridge Winery & Vineyards
  • Landmark Vineyards
  • Matua
  • Mer Soleil
  • Metz Road
  • Ole Smoky
  • Pusser’s Rum
  • Ranch 32
  • Ron Barcelo
  • Ryder Estates
  • San Sebastian Winery
  • Scheid Family Wines
  • Sea Sun
  • Shaw
  • Stella Artois
  • Stella Rosa Wines
  • Stephen Ross Wine Cellars
  • Sterling Vineyards
  • Stokes’ Ghost
  • Tito’s Vodka
  • Two Henry’s Brewing Co.
  • Two Henry’s Hard Cider
  • VDR
  • White Claw
  • Ziami
  • Ferrari Carano
  • Vida de Louie Tequila
  • Manifest Distilling
  • Island Grove Wine Company
  • St. Petersburg Distillery
  • Banyan Reserve Vodka
  • Tippler’s
  • Old. St. Pete
  • Tanqueray
  • Washington State Wine
  • Redemption Rye
  • Swamp Head Brewery

Follow Savor St. Pete on FacebookTwitter and Instagram. The event hashtag is #SavorStPete. 

Event Name: Savor St. Pete

Venue: North Straub Park

Address: 400 Bayshore Dr. NE, St. Petersburg, FL 33701

Cost: $ 75+

Ages: 21+

Buy tickets: http://www.freshtix.com/events/savor-st-pete

Website: http://savortheburg.com/

Carlos Eats

November 3, 2019 |

NEWS: Whiskey Business coming May 31st to St. Pete

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Whiskey Business is coming May 31st to St. Petersburg at Nova 535. The event will take place from 7PM to 10PM. VIP guests will enjoy an extra hour of partying starting at 6PM. Enjoy live music, burlesque shows, small bites from local restaurants, interactive seminars, and more.

Participating whiskey brands:

  • American Barrels Bourbon
  • Balcones Distilling
  • Bruichladdich Islay Single Malt
  • Cooper’s Craft
  • Cotherman Distilling Co.
  • Dark Door Spirits
  • FishHawk Spirits
  • Four Roses Bourbon
  • Jack Daniel’s
  • Kozuba & Sons
  • Misunderstood Whiskey
  • Old Forester
  • Old St. Pete
  • Palm Ridge Reserve
  • Sugar Works Distillery
  • Timber Creek Distillery
  • Tomatin
  • Uncle Nearest
  • Whistlepig
  • Woodford Reserve
  • and more

More info: http://whiskeybusinesstampabay.com/

Carlos Eats

May 31, 2019 |
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