Nov 232008

Friday evening Lay and I ate at one of my favorite restaurants in downtown St. Petersburg, The Central Avenue Oyster Bar. This is one of a number of small storefront places in the 200 block of Central Avenue in downtown. We have not been there in a while, but have eaten there several times, and find the food, service and atmosphere excellent.About three years ago we were just walking downtown looking to find a place to eat before going to a movie at Baywalk. We are both fans of oysters, so the name was enough to convince us to give it a try.

I think I love the atmosphere most. It’s a rustic look with exposed brick walls and a dark oil stained wood floor. The restaurant is very deep and narrow with on long continuous bench down one wall with a comfortable cushions and pillows, and the expected row of tables. The place is basically divided in half by a less than head high divider wall separating the dining area from the bar. We have eaten at the bar, and the experience was OK. It has an atmosphere of relaxed charm, without being pretentious. There is changing art on the wall over the bench, and there are always interesting pieces. They generally play very nice jazz at just the right level, and I believe they have live music on Sunday’s.

The wait staff wear long aprons with shirts and ties, and we have always enjoyed very professional service. The wait staff seem very familiar with both the menu and special items, and generally show up at just the right times. They have almost always struck that important balance between being friendly and pleasant without trying to be too “familiar.”

We have had a number of their seafood dishes and steaks, and each has been very good. Sometimes flavors can be a tiny bit bland, but we’ve never had anything bad, and all the food has always seemed fresh. We almost always get a dozen oysters on the half-shell, and they are excellent…very fresh and flavorful. Just a note here, their cocktail sause has a bit more horse radish than some sauces, so test the heat before “swabbing” it on. They serve fried and baked oysters in an assortment of preparations, and we’ve tried most of them. They are excellent, but then what would you expect from a place with “oyster” in the name.

They almost always have a crab-corn chowder, and we always get a bowl of that instead of salad, as it is excellent. This is worth the trip by itself. It is creamy without being too thick, and it has just a hint of spicy heat to it as part of finish. It’s loaded with crab, but in nice smallish pieces, so you get a lot of flavor.

Oysters, soup and two dinner entrees will run you about $70 with tip, so it’s not the least expensive place to eat, but well worth the occasional splurge. Park in the dirt parking lot in the 100 block of Central, and you can just leave your car there and walk through the parking garage to go to Baywalk for a movie. (By the way, we went to see The Boy In the Striped Pajamas Friday night, and you can read my review of this excellent movie here.)

We have never tried desert, as we are always full. In fact, we often get a dozen on the half, the chowder, and then maybe a Calamari and one of the other baked oyster appetizers and let that be the full meal. It’s always been plenty of food.

We have never experienced much of a wait, but they do take reservations, and it might not be a bad idea if you are going at peak time on a Saturday night. Also, they booked solid for Valentine’s Day a couple of years ago when we went, so be sure to call for reservations for those sorts of evenings.

We heartily recommend the place.

Central Ave Oyster Bar
249 Central Ave
St Petersburg, FL 33701
(727) 897-9728

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