A Chef-Driven Locale

April 01, 2015
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Chef Don Pintabona
Chef Don Pintabona stands in the FarmTable Kitchen portion of Locale, where diners are treated to a multi-course experience including sashimi sliced tableside from a whole fish.

Standing over a wooden counter, Chef Don Pintabona feeds a flat sheet of fresh dough through the metal press of a pasta machine. He tilts his head to watch as the sheet transforms into oblong pieces of crinkled cavatelli pasta. Squinting, he realizes he misplaced his glasses.

In this moment, Chef Don may not be able to pick up the soft impressions made in the dough. But his vision for Locale Market is clear: Support local to serve your family and community well.

That vision began long before Don, a celebrated chef (he was recruited by actor and restaurateur Robert DeNiro to be executive chef at The Tribeca Grill in New York City), and lifelong friend and James Beard-award-winning Chef Michael Mina dreamed of a concept that mixed quality retail with fine dining. It goes back to when Don was a boy. The son of a grocer, he learned about vegetables from farmers who delivered their produce to his father’s store, about cuts of meat straight from the butcher as he cut down sides of beef.

And it became reality in a perhaps unlikely location, considering both chefs have traveled around the world and the Mina Group has restaurants across the country. But St. Petersburg felt like home to Chef Don, a USF graduate who knew he loved Florida and was inspired by the locally focused energy emitting from downtown St. Pete.

The Locale logo (recreated in a sculpture outside the main entrance) represents much of the vision that has come to life. A weathervane featuring a fish with a carrot in its mouth – the offerings from the land and the sea – demonstrates the intersection of the two chefs’ backgrounds: Chef Michael brings Northern California sensibility, organic and locavore ways, while Chef Don adds a strong Italian American, New York influence and flavor. With Locale, they’ve blended the two, then rubbed Florida all over it.

Various scenes from Locale Market
Scenes from the market; the prepared dish is an upscale take on chips and dip, with large pieces of fried pasta served with a foam made from Faithful Farms basil, kale and watercress that serves as a conduit for shaved Bottarga, a salt-cured and sun-dried mullet roe harvested each November by Anna Maria Fish Company and shipped around the world.

STRAIGHT FROM THE SOURCE
 

Open since December, Locale reduces the gap between farmers, fishermen, artisans and us. They source directly as much as possible, creating a self-contained distribution system – no warehouse.

For many of Locale’s sources, this is their first large-scale exposure. Tara Kipp of Faithful Farms explains that Locale allowed a hobby to turn into a viable business for her family. Just south of the Sunshine Skyway in Palmetto, the Kipps, along with another family, the Tomlinsons, have been hydroponically growing herbs, vegetables and fruits for the past few years. What began as two friends waxing poetic after visiting a strawberry farm turned into a sought-after farm providing for high-end local restaurants and markets.

The farm’s specialties are incorporated into all corners of the market and restaurant. For example, you can choose greens to create your own “chop-chop” salad downstairs at the salad station, enjoy Tuscan kale salad with Myakka tomato conserva and quinoa at the wine bar, or experience peppery nasturtium flowers garnishing recipes in the high-end FarmTable restaurant.

Tara gushes over the thoughtfulness and authenticity of the chefs, who she believes are bringing back a more natural and sustainable way of eating and living. “Locale doesn’t fall short of the idea of self-sufficiency that our country was founded on,” she says.

For others, like Mixon Fruit Farms in Bradenton, Locale is a new way to expand their business. Janet Mixon speaks with humble pride when describing how her father-in-law still tractors through the groves checking for the orange in each flower that tells of next season’s crop. The 76-year-old business’ packing plant was built on his old homestead, and the family now not only sells citrus, but gives tours and hosts events in the orange-blossom-scented groves.

To complement the “from the land” component of Locale, there’s plenty “from the sea.” And it only makes sense that 90% comes from Florida waters, though even in a state almost entirely surrounded by ocean, the concept is almost unprecedented. While Locale has direct relationships with fishermen and aquaculturists (see Happy as a Clam, page 20), they also source from Sammy’s Seafood, which uses a custom tracking program to assure they know where a fish was caught and by what fisherman.

Recently, customers were quickly buying up pieces of an arrival from Sammy’s – sandbar shark – almost faster than the fishmonger could fillet it. That’s not a fish you’d typically find highlighted on a menu, but in the spirit of sustainability and introducing new options, Locale often features bycatch (what fishermen accidentally catch when they’re going after something else) to help take the pressure off of “name-brand” species.

Locale is built on a belief that people are craving these connections to their food – whether the stories of where it comes from or having a better understanding of how to prepare it. In a market where everything has been curated by a chef, even cooking newbies are already halfway to success since they’re starting with quality ingredients. No searching and hoping it will be good. It is. “These are the products we use and the way we like to eat,” Chef Don says.

Locale Gourmet Market, 179 2nd Avenue North, St.Petersburg, 727-523-6300, localegourmetmarket.com. The Sundial parking garage is free if you purchase $20 or more from a Sundial merchant.

Beef dry-aging with Himalayan sea salt; the produce section of the market.
house-made pasta and sauce

FARMTABLE KITCHEN
 

A manifestation of the culinary immersion experience that is Locale Market, Farmtable Kitchen highlights the best of the market’s locally-sourced ingredients through an eight-course meal.

You buy a ticket to experience whatever is in store that evening, from sashimi carved tableside from a 70-pound fish (check out the tuna spanning pages 14 and 15) to “pre-dessert” and a chocolate finale. Unless you buy out the whole table, you’ll sit communally with strangers who are very likely to end up friends (pairings of wine, beer, sake and cocktails will help).

After a chef-led, multi-kitchen tour (bubbly in hand) you are escorted to an intimate, casually elegant, 10-seat private dining room. Here, the gourmet menu is presented by the chefs who create each course. They share stories of the food, as well as their own personal journeys.

This isn’t dinner theatre. It’s dinner as theatre. No need to plan anything else, except maybe to sleep in the next morning.

THE LOCALE EXPERIENCE
 

Let’s start by saying this place is a little overwhelming – a true feast for the senses that leaves you a bit hesitant about where to begin. Take a deep breath (what is that aroma?) and commit to exploring a bit. You’ll want to know your options and, with nine open stations where you can interact with culinary professionals, you have quite a few. The great thing is that there’s none of the intimidation factor you might fear. Instead, the staff seem genuinely interested in their customers – whether answering questions about unique ingredients (the butchers spend time explaining that prime cuts of Florida beef are being dry-aged with Himalayan pink sea salt behind the windows across from their station; the ice cream servers frequently describe how they use liquid nitrogen to create their decadent desserts), providing ideas for using those ingredients or serving up dishes so patrons can taste for themselves.

The idea here is that you can get food at any stage: buy a fresh bell pepper to take home and prep yourself, get that same pepper already chopped in a grab-and-go salad, or enjoy it grilled on a burger as you sit on the terrace and people-watch.

A butcher offers a changing array of proteins – beef, pork and poultry from farms such as Seminole Pride, Pasture Prime and Niman Ranch – as well as specialty items such as alligator Andouille sausage, sourced from an NASA engineer turned Cocoa Beach gator farmer. The fish counter is a mix of expected and unique. A fresh fruit and vegetable area offers whole produce, as well as salads made to order, different types of antipasto, cut fruit and fresh house-made juices.

There’s a grill where you can order up the mouthwatering St.Petersburger or a vegetarian-friendly Gamble Creek eggplant and goat cheese sandwich with caramelized onions and fig jam on rosemary olive loaf.

Honoring Chef Don’s roots, under the Italian Food Co. sign awaits fresh pasta – you can watch it being made, then choose a variety (the typical selection includes four types of ravioli with seasonal fillings, pappardelle and tagliatelle) along with one of four ragus and cheese. There’s also an ice cream counter where you can find house-made gelato and ice creams, as well as New York egg creams, smoothies, milkshakes and Italian sodas, and a coffee bar serving all manner of coffee, espresso and tea drinks.

And that’s just the first floor.

Head upstairs and you transcend the market atmosphere, entering a wine bar that offers more than 400 labels, as well as casual but inspiring meals. Think small bites such as cheeses and salumi, served with warm olives and Haines City citrus, or a burrata cheese accompanied by Gamble Creek heirloom tomato jam and Locale olive bread. Or, if you’re hungrier, try entrees such as pasta, pizza or market fish and steak.

This area also offers two bonus stations that aren’t to be missed – one for cheese and another for baked goods – from fresh breads to delicate pastries, pies and artisan chocolate, including the offerings of famed local chocolatier William Dean. In other words, plan to stay awhile. We’re pretty sure you won’t leave hungry.

Article from Edible Tampa Bay at http://edibletampabay.ediblecommunities.com/eat/chef-driven-locale
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