Everything at St. Petersburg’s Rococo Steak strives to live up to its name, calling to mind both an embrace and a break with tradition, as culinary and visual experiences.
The result is as unique a sense of St. Pete as one will possibly ever see; not only in the city’s newest urban eatery’s menu and atmosphere, but also through design and attention to detail.
In a Wednesday evening event attended by 25 members of the local media, Rococo’s owners and staff — in partnership with the St. Petersburg Museum of History — put its best foot forward to take its role as part of the city’s future, while embracing its past.
Named after the turbulent art development of the mid-18th Century “late Baroque” period, the city’s newest upscale eatery is fashioned as a “revolt” against the traditional steakhouse.
As an art and design movement, a group of French painters, sculptors and architects rebelled against the opulent grandeur of the Baroque period. The same holds true for Rococo Steak.
After sensing a lack of “great steakhouses” in “the ‘Burg,” CEO Joe Orsino, who also heads the venerable Ceviche Tapas Bar, wanted to create something here not found anywhere else.
“St. Petersburg, being such a community based city,” Orsino said, “really needed something saying ‘this is our steakhouse.’”
“This was made by people who live here, who work here, and the investment came from here,” Orsino added. “This is our spot.”
The architecture of Rococo Steak falls within its eponymous art movement, as the newly renovated building at 655 Second Ave. South incorporates an element of St. Pete’s history.
Built originally in 1924 as the Endicott Funeral Home, the blonde brick structure then became Palms Memorial around 1940, serving as a funeral home throughout much of its history.
Until last year, 9,500-square-foot had been the home of the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA) as well as an accompanying thrift store.
The three-million-dollar renovation to the Neoclassical Revival historic building is as distinctive as Rococo’s food and décor.
Fully restored were the original double-hung sash windows, bracketed cornice, and a classically inspired front entrance portico, which doubles as a porte-cochere (coach gate). The original Georgian design is taken quite directly from the English Baroque period.
The second floor is capable of seating 200 guests for parties and events.
Rococo’s Art Lounge features a 20-foot ceiling mural by Derek Donnelly of Saint Paint, painted “Michelangelo style” using a scissor lift, and is a modern take on Jean-Honoré Fragonard’s “The Swing,” a classic example of the Rococo movement.
As an urban steakhouse and St. Pete landmark, Rococo takes its sensibilities not from the “overwhelmingly masculine” vibe that of the traditional steakhouse, instead opting for a lighter look and exceptionally non-traditional cuisine.
Chef Richard Potts’ menu, which strives to maintain an “energy, vibrancy and fun,” employs several French/classical techniques clearly designed to be creative and European-influenced. Each steak is served with pommes dauphine. Foie gras pain perdu and chocolate pot de crème brûlée are available.
Included are some fascinating and innovative twists on “comfort foods,” such as free-range chicken “lollipops,” Okinawa Sweet Potato Mash and even an artisan Mac and Cheese.
Adding to the exclusivity is a collaboration with Utah-based Beehive Cheese Co. to create a one-of-a-kind cheese specific to Rococo Steak. Potts, while visiting a 160-acre ranch in Utah, hand-collected wild fennel pollen with a desire to make a cheese that combines it with another of his passions—Slide Ridge honey. The resulting creation is a rare Fennel & Slide Ridge Honey Cheddar of which there are only 20 lbs. in existence.
Potts intends for Rococo to rely heavily on locally sourced, sustainable and fresh ingredients, while noting that Rococo has only one freezer on the premises, and it is only for French Fries.
“We cut all the French Fries by hand,” Potts says, “but they cook better from frozen.”
Since Rococo Steak bills itself as a steakhouse (hence the name) what sets it apart is beef ; the grass-fed beef program draws from small sustainable farms in a 160-farm collective that harvests cattle in “smart and humane ways.” It pairs wonderfully with fresh grilled Tasman Salmon.
“Happy cows make happy cheeses,” he adds, “and happy chickens lay happy eggs. The better an animal is taken care of, the more the rewards are.”
Of course, since this is the 21st Century, Rococo offers alternatives for more “enlightened” clientele, such as vegetarian and vegan dishes, including a “Faux Gras,” Tempah over wild mushroom duxelle, tofu “Scallops” entrées and vegetable “Caviar” with buckwheat blini.
Rococo Steak is now available for reservations:
- Sunday-Thursday: 5:30 p.m. to 10 p.m.
- Friday & Saturday: 5:30 p.m. to 11 p.m.
- Closed Mondays