ST. PETERSBURG -
As a vegetarian, I sometimes feel as though I'm tilting at windmills, trying to find spots with that perfect mix of good food, atmosphere and nightlife. Being something of a food and booze snob — leave the beer and pass the Jack, I say — doesn't help matters much either.
So I was really thrilled to be reintroduced to the menu at Three Birds Tavern on Fourth Street, where you can get a good meal and a real drink, and you don't have to go somewhere else if you're also in the mood for late-night fun.
I've been here before — even going back to the days when Three Birds was Limey's. With an outdoor bar and pool tables, a large covered deck and courtyard under the shelter of several imposing oaks, Three Birds has always been a great place to grab a drink; but I never gave the menu much thought. After hearing Three Birds has one of the best grilled cheese sandwiches in town, though, I was ready to try something off the "solids" menu.
We started with the Vegan Three-Bean Chili and (for my carnivorous wife) the Short Rib Egg Rolls.
The chili really showed how a well-seasoned, hearty vegetarian dish can make you feel OK about not eating meat. Los tres frijoles (pinto, kidney and cannelloni) were tender and flavorful, and the chili had a little kick.
The egg rolls (both of them) came filled with shredded short-rib meat, which my wife found tender but a bit bland. The accompanying warm gorgonzola dipping sauce had just enough blue cheese flavor without being overpowering.
As good as Three Birds' Grilled Herb Goat Cheese sandwich sounded, I could not say no to the Vegetarian Risotto, which was cheesy enough to seem decadent, even though the dish was filled with diced zucchini and cooked with vegetable stock. The rice was cooked well, the zucchini firm, and the dish had a subtle tangy flavor that kept it from getting boring.
The sautéed fresh spinach I ordered as one of my two sides was simply the best I've ever had — even better than my own. Cooked with olive oil, shallots, garlic and lemon, the baby spinach leaves were wilted but still retained their shape. The side salad came with especially fresh greens, tomatoes and other veggies, which were brightened by the maple-ginger dressing — one of several options. The maple and ginger flavors were a good combination that held my interest all the way through.
My wife ordered the Grand Marnier Duck Sausage sandwich. Cooked with onions, the sausage was rich, sweet and savory and came cut in rings on a hoagie roll and generously dressed in sauce. The report: The sandwich was tasty but would have been less messy had the sausage been left intact. She upgraded to the fries with parmesan cheese and truffle oil; they were crispy, flavorful and a terrific accompaniment.
For dessert, we ordered the Chunky Monkey Bread Pudding, flavored with bananas, chocolate and coconut. For $5, you get a thick piece served warm on chocolate sauce and topped with whipped cream. At least, it's supposed to be served warm. Ours was refrigerator-cold in the middle. We were also disappointed by the lack of banana flavor; and neither the name, which makes you think of Ben and Jerry's eponymous ice cream, nor the menu description would lead you to believe this dessert has coconut in it. And for someone who absolutely hates coconut (like me), that's crucial information. Despite the problems, though, the rest of the table loved the flavor of this dessert. It would have been even better warmed all the way through.
The service at Three Birds was generally good but had some shortcomings. Our entrees arrived almost immediately after our appetizers, leaving us with a crowded table and in a hurry to finish plates before they cooled. And our waitress didn't tell us we'd incur a shared-plate charge by asking for an extra, which we didn't end up using. But she was friendly and did what she could to mitigate problems — comping our dessert and not charging us for a soft drink that nearly canceled out the extra-plate charge. Nice recovery.
Despite a couple of missteps, we had a great meal and will be adding Three Birds to our rotation of favorites.
Three Birds Tavern
Bottom Line: Great atmosphere and yummy food more inspired than you'd expect from your neighborhood pub
Where: 1492 Fourth St. N., St. Petersburg
Hours: 11:30 a.m.-2 a.m. Monday-Thursday, 11:30 a.m.-3 a.m. Friday, 11 a.m.-3 a.m. Saturday, 11 a.m.-2 a.m. Saturday
Credit Cards: All major
Children's menu: Yes
Alcohol: Wine and full bar
Wheelchair access: Yes
Price: Entrées range from $14 to $22.
Contact: (727) 895-2049