Annata, the tony wine bar nestled in the plaza level of the Parkshore condominium building along Beach Drive in downtown St. Petersburg, is a superb addition to what has become one of the best restaurant rows in all of Florida.
How could it not be, considering its pedigree? In this dining era of artisanal this and hand-crafted that, Annata is literally a hand-crafted restaurant, lovingly built by Mary and Kurt Cuccaro, owners of Mazzaro’s Italian Market. The executive staff — general manager Justin Chamoun (former owner of St. Pete Brasserie) and chef de cuisine Nate Bohn — is as A-list as local talent gets. The restaurant is both beautifully modern and invitingly warm.
As for the most important parts, the food and wine, Annata gets it right with smart cheese and charcuterie selections, as well as an array of small plates that reminds Beach Drive visitors what Ceviche was like before that restaurant’s fall from grace in 2013.
Tampa Bay Times food critic Laura Reiley really likes Annata, awarding it three stars for food, service, and atmosphere, as well as for its overall rating. Reiley can be conservative with her stars, so earning three stars from her is a coup. “Annata may only be a few weeks old, but it’s operating at full tilt with effective service and a resoundingly full house, especially on weekends,” wrote Reiley in her review.
I liked Annata, but I was not overwhelmed by it. Part of this is owed to the fact that I was managing wine bars in New York just as the wine bar trend took off at the end of the last decade. But I also took issue with Reiley’s assessment that Annata offered the best charcuterie board in St. Pete. That was the first time Annata was overrated by a critic, but apparently it won’t be the last.
Florida Trend food critic Chris Sherman has elevated Annata into rarified air, recognizing it with a Golden Spoon award, which honors Florida’s best restaurants. In the Sunshine State’s underappreciated food scene, a Golden Spoon is one of the few common denominators by which the thousands of restaurants in this sprawling state can be judged. Serious food criticism is in short supply in Florida, so winning this award is a BFD.
And Annata just doesn’t deserve it. Not yet at least.
I won’t quibble with a wine bar winning a Golden Spoon. Small restaurants can achieve big things, as everyone from the Masa Takayama to the local food truck owner can tell you.
But I don’t think its fair to award such a lofty designation on a place that has only been open for a quarter of a year. Especially one located in a tourist-heavy section of town like Beach Drive. Let’s see how Annata fares in the full thrust of the season. Will it be able to maintain the standards Reiley and Sherman suggest it holds? Or will the throngs of up-North tourists break the back of the restaurant, as they (and the Great Recession) did to the highly regarded De Santo? Or almost to Parkshore Grill during its first year of operation.
Obviously, if there are Golden Spoon awards for best new restaurants, the recognition has to go to, um, a new restaurant. And Annata is a great new restaurant. But to suggest that it is one of three best restaurants in town, as Sherman has by only awarding Spoons to Annata, Marchand’s, and Parkshore Grill, is an exaggeration.