El Diablo is in the Details
As a Miami native, I take my Latin fare very seriously. Thus when I first heard about Bodega, Central Avenue’s newest restaurant in St. Petersburg’s burgeoning Edge District, I was anxious to see how two Brooklyn expats planned to pull off a Cuban joint. Turns out, they know their coladas from their cortaditos.
When you stand at the window to order your coffee and soak in the neighborhood buzz at Bodega, take notice of this deftly designed less-than-500-square-foot space and its small but fresh, Latin-inspired menu. Because at Bodega, el Diablo is in the details.
The first thing that caught my attention was the reclaimed wood and salvage accents that make this space Calle Ocho-authentic. Next I admired the sleek, white subway tile and rustic pendant lighting, surely a nod to Brooklyn where the couple previously owned three restaurants, two of them Latin.
While the building has no indoor seating, covered seating out back is available for those who choose to sit and chew. However, those who understand what a Bodega is about will have no problem placing their order for take-away or stand-up-and-eat.
Debbie Sayegh, the wife in Bodega’s husband-and-wife team, explains it best in her thick Brooklyn accent, “The style is Cuban, like Miami, Calle Ocho, because you can walk up and get food at a window. There is no table service. You walk up, order a sandwich or coffee, stand there, talk. You are welcome to sit on a stool and stay for a while or hop in and hop out.”
The food at Bodega will be grab-and-go friendly, with a concise menu of Cuban mainstays made from as many local ingredients as possible. Cuban coffee will come fresh roasted from Miami. The perfect Cuban sandwich will be made with bread from Tampa’s La Segunda Bakery. Ceviche-of-the-day will be chopped from fresh catches and produce. Other favorites will include lechón (roast pork) mojo, jerk sandwiches, platanos (plantains) and rice and beans.
“We won’t have tacos,” says owner and chef George Sayegh, “but we will have a mix of Latin and Caribbean foods. We want to serve traditional and make it approachable. We have a small kitchen, so it will be a small menu with lots of daily specials. Why not braise some goat and figure out a way to put it on a sandwich someday? I’m going to try to figure out how to do this Twitter thing to let people know what we’re cooking every day.”
No doubt George’s training at the French Culinary Institute in Manhattan and his years of experience as a chef everywhere from Paris to South Beach to Brooklyn will add flavor to his specials. Also adding flavor to the restaurant? The couple’s banter which will no doubt be served up with ever order.
“Out of all our business ventures, this is the one we’ve agreed the most about,” says George. Debbie quickly responds, “Yeah. Because we’re older and smarter and you know better than to argue with me now.”
Meet HEATHER LAMBIE
Latin Drinks 101
(all drinks will be offered at Bodega, as told by George and Debbie Sayegh)
DEBBIE: Cuban coffee is a culture. You have to know what you're ordering. It's intimidating to order it in Miami, but we don't want you to be nervous. We'll put a sign up to help people.
GEORGE: We're not doing any "mocha-latte caramels." Just good Cuban- and American-style coffees like:
CAFÉ CUBANO (Bucha , Cafecito, Cuban Pull): A type of espresso that started in Cuba after espresso machines first arrived from Italy. It is an espresso shot that is sweetened with sugar as it is brewed.
COLADA: A large cup with five shots of Cuban coffee and a stack of shot cups for sharing
CORTADITO: A little milk added to the Cuban coffee
CAFÉ CON LECHE: Cuban coffee with a small cup of hot milk on the side to mix how you like
DEBBIE: We will serve beer and wine, but my favorite is an ice cold Chelada, which is a beer with fresh-squeezed lime juice and salt, with or without hot sauce. It's very refreshing in the summertime.
GEORGE: We'll be making our own sodas called agua frescas. I make them all the time for my daughter. It's just fresh juice plus syrup from organic sugar cane from Miami with some carbonated water. We'll have four sodas. Two will be standard, two will be specials.
DEBBIE: I'm already thinking about a coffee soda or mango or pinapple soda when those are in season.