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400 Beach Seafood and Tap House is the way a restaurant should be run

For a few months there, I was really shaking my head at the prospect of Steve Westphal now having several independent restaurants in the greater St. Petersburg area. The economy, I think most would agree, is not great. Several independents that have not made it in the last year have blamed closings on economic factors. But when you look at Parkshore Grill, 400 Beach, The Pub (out at the beach) and the Hangar Restaurant and Flight Lounge, one can’t deny that Steve Westphal seems immune to seasonal shifts and changes in the economy.
Believe me, I have thought about this and I’ve swung back and forth between thinking maybe he was overextending himself to wondering how he does it. It’s really a good case study about hospitality and independent restaurants. The success story comes down to a few factors. Chef Tyson, his partner in the restaurants, is an artist when it comes to managing food cost, and it really is an art. He manages to walk that fine line between serving quality ingredients in a creative way and keeping the costs to the restaurants in a manageable range. How do I know that? When I look at a menu, I am always calculating possible food costs in my head and I see a good balance between a couple of higher food cost items with a very moderate range overall. They wouldn’t be operating four restaurants successfully if they weren’t doing that.
Interior 400 Beach
Factor number two is the way they treat their staff. I’ve talked to Tyson about this issue before and he is all about taking care of his employees. I think that is the difference between some restaurant owners who just own their place, and the ones that actually work (or have worked) in the kitchen or the front of the house. I’ve talked to several members of their staff over the past few years, and overall, they seem very happy with not a lot of stress or dysfunctional management you find in many independent ventures. The drama is left at the door and you hear the loyalty to management for taking good care of them when you speak to the people working there. This translates into good service to customers. Walk into any of the four restaurants and you will be immediately greeted in a friendly, Florida-hospitality kind of way and taken to your table. Factor number three is they are using some great suppliers for the food. I’m sure they probably use a large distributor for some things, but on a couple of occasions I’ve seen suppliers that I’m familiar with dropping off food, and they are respectable, in-state businesses.
Steve does a few key things that have contributed to his success. He spends time cultivating relationships with the condo folks on Beach Drive and he also has good relationships with the hotels. A surprising amount of his time is spent on charitable events; more than any other local restaurant owner, I would say. No, he doesn’t make a big deal about it with massive publicity and invitations all over town, but the word does get out. And at nearly every event they participate in, he is personally there with his staff working right alongside them. He gives a lot back to the community.
Cheddar biscuits – They were yummy
In my opinion, it took a while for 400 Beach Seafood and Tap House to reach a comfortable stride. The restaurant opened about nine months ago (very quickly from the time of its announcement) in a beautiful, sunny, very large space. The space has an updated Chart House kind of feel to it, along with some earth elements like the pebbles on the wall in the bar and elegant lighting. It doesn’t look big and expansive because of the way it was designed, but it’s huge.
I’m a big calamari fan, but being half-Italian, I was totally dumbfounded by the idea of serving something other than marinara or a scampi sauce with calamari. They use Jamaican Pick-a-Peppa with thinly sliced hot, but not too hot, peppers (the menu says pickled onion, but it has the texture of peppers) on top. It seems different from the sauce they used when they first opened, which I was not really big on. This looked interesting and fun. The sauce with the perfectly breaded, tender calamari and the little bite from the peppers (or onion, I suppose)  is really good and I do tire of the same old marinara that’s served other places. Great dish. ($8.95)
The Jumbo Lump Blue Crab Cakes ($11.95 appetizer, $17.95 lunch entree, $23.95 dinner entree) have always been the star of their menu. Large, tender pieces of lump crab with the tang of goat cheese served with sweet corn, charred lime aioli and braised greens. The flavors are spot-on, the crab cakes are cooked perfectly with no hint of grease and the corn with the lime aioli is a beautiful balance. If I had to pick one dish off the menu and eat it every day for a month, this would be the one. In fact, this dish was highlighted on a tasting tour of Beach Drive restaurants I did back in December.
Rock shrimp Lettuce Wraps ($8.95) on the appetizer menu were a refreshing blend of shrimp, bacon, tomato, avocado and blue cheese. It was a little zesty from some lime and the tiniest touch of cilantro. The slight saltiness from the bacon and the blue cheese with creamy avocado made it all a taste of Florida happiness.
I don’t eat much mahi just because it never usually sounds exciting, but I have to say the Baja Fish Tacos ($8.95) with blackened mahi, tomato, avocado, lettuce and a little mango salsa disappeared from my plate before I knew what happened. I’d forgotten how meaty the texture of mahi can be and it was very fresh.
The Clam Chowder ($4.95 cup, $5.95 bowl) was pretty good. There was a decent amount of clam in it. It was slightly thick for my liking and I’m a little biased when it comes to clam chowder because I either like the thinner, New England version or the award-winning one from the now largely defunct Shell’s restaurant. I’m always curious what tourists from the north think of our clam chowder here.

The Seafood New ‘Burg ($18.95) was a pleasant surprise because no corners were cut making this dish as you see many times in restaurants. It is rich sherry-cream sauce (it was really hot which made the sauce “break” a little), filled with fresh dayboat scallops, large shrimp and lump crab over linguine. I truly felt I received my money’s worth for this dish and I had to take half of it home because the portion was so large. It could be split between two people

The Seafood New ‘Burg
Herb-Roasted Chicken ($16.95) is a half-chicken and comes with smashed potatoes and braised greens. It’s really hard to keep chicken moist in restaurants because it has to be held for service, and this one was a bit dry. The flavor of the herbs was pleasant and the skin was nice and crispy. It’s just difficult to get the same results with roast chicken in any dining establishment like you would have fresh out of the oven at home. Hope springs eternal.
My son (who is six) wanted me to let you know, specifically, the kid’s menu at 400 Beach is his favorite of all he has had lately. He ordered the burger sliders which come with fries. Being a picky eater, I was surprised when he completely devoured the sliders. All their children’s menu items are made in-house and there is no processed anything.

The Seafood New ‘Burg
Herb-Roasted Chicken ($16.95) is a half-chicken and comes with smashed potatoes and braised greens. It’s really hard to keep chicken moist in restaurants because it has to be held for service, and this one was a bit dry. The flavor of the herbs was pleasant and the skin was nice and crispy. It’s just difficult to get the same results with roast chicken in any dining establishment like you would have fresh out of the oven at home. Hope springs eternal.
My son (who is six) wanted me to let you know, specifically, the kid’s menu at 400 Beach is his favorite of all he has had lately. He ordered the burger sliders which come with fries. Being a picky eater, I was surprised when he completely devoured the sliders. All their children’s menu items are made in-house and there is no processed anything.
Kid’s Sliders
Entrees come with your selection of a salad or clam chowder and include cheddar biscuits (very tasty) at lunchtime. Dinner entrees include the biscuits and salad. 400 Beach Seafood and Tap House is located at 400 Beach Drive (of course) in downtown St. Pete. They are open from 11am to 11pm each day. (727) 896-2400

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