ST. PETE BEACH — Sea Grapes, a St. Pete Beach destination for wine, is expanding its menu under the helm of chef Alex Rodriguez.
Julie Featherston and John Barkett opened the wine lounge last year, offering light food along with drinks. It reopened with a new menu and name, Sea Grapes Eatery + Wine Lounge, on March 9.
Featherston and Barkett opened Sea Grapes because they live on the beach and saw a void for elevated offerings. They had always wanted Rodriguez to be the chef, but things didn’t line up until now.
With his wife Kelly Rodriguez-Laureano, Rodriguez owns Lolita’s Wine Market in St. Petersburg. They also own Sammy + Paco’s, which now functions as a catering venue for Lolita’s, but Rodriguez said there are more plans in the works for that space on St. Petersburg’s Fifth Avenue N.
Rodriguez said he and Barkett talked about filling a niche on the beach in terms of food, service and value. He hopes Sea Grapes becomes a destination where people still feel comfortable, but with a more “sexy” experience.
Sea Grapes shares space with Barkett’s real estate firm. Featherston said the idea was to show potential home buyers what a luxury experience on the beach feels like.
The space has been reworked to allow for more comfortable dining with the full menu. A glass-encased room with a handmade monkeywood table and a wall of high-end boutique wines is available for reservation.
A sommelier will be on staff to guide guests through wine varieties.
“We’re staying true to our roots,” Featherston said. “We’ve always been very driven by trying to encourage people to open up their palate. So we are keeping the varietals that are a little bit more unique and uncommon to be able to offer people as well.”
Rodriguez is from Puerto Rico, and worked under celebrated chef Jose Andres in Miami. At Lolita’s, the fare is Spanish-Mediterranean tapas, but at Sea Grapes, he wanted to incorporate tropical Florida ingredients and Latin and Caribbean flavors into the menu.
The new menu includes small plates of shrimp ceviche, Wagyu beef carpaccio and crab cake croquettes. Shareables include a coconut green curry paella, guava-chipotle pork belly and jerk lamb lollipops. For dessert, key lime brulee and a chocolate tres leches cake round out the menu.
Also new is a menu of wine-based cocktails, including a margarita, mojito and the ever-popular espresso martini.
There will be weekly specials to mix up the menu and Sunday brunch in the future, Rodriguez said.
“This is more like my roots ... I really am passionate about cooking this style of food,” he said. “There are so many things to explore.”