La Taverna Costale by chef Fabio Viviani opens this week in Saint Petersburg

ST. PETERSBURG – Chef Fabio Viviani is once again heading for the town.

When news broke in 2019 that the celebrity chef and Excellent chef competitor was planning a restaurant in downtown St. Petersburg, it created a big buzz.

At the time, Viviani was involved with several notable spots in Tampa, including the famed Osteria Bar + Kitchen and the Latin-inspired Mole y Abuela. A new Italian restaurant across the bay was welcome news for many St. Pete residents.

This restaurant, La Pergola, never saw the light of day.

Viviani cut ties with Tampa Bay in the summer of 2020, following a widely publicized scandal involving Nocturnal Hospitality Group, the local management company that runs three of her restaurants. All of these restaurants have been closed and future plans for La Pergola have been cancelled.

Viviani parted ways with the group after screenshots shared widely online showed company co-owner Lanfranco Pescante commenting ‘Just shoot ’em all’ on social media in reference to the scale protests of the city after the death of George Floyd. There were also screenshots of text messages allegedly from Pescante that included racial slurs.

Now Viviani is back in downtown St. Pete with a new restaurant and new partners.

Same space, different name.

The restaurant occupies 6,000 square feet of floor space at 200 Central Ave. and has an open-air cocktail bar right across from the Craft Kafe. [ MARTHA ASENCIO-RHINE | Times ]

Taverna Costale, a coastal Italian restaurant, opens Jan. 16 inside 200 Central Ave., the towering office building at the corner of Central Avenue and Second Street.

Viviani, 43, said he was drawn to St. Petersburg’s location for its bustling downtown restaurant scene and wide access to foot traffic. With a handful of projects slated to open this year, its current portfolio numbers just 40 restaurants, with locations across the country.

“We love being on a busy street in a busy corner of a busy downtown,” Viviani said. “If you look at St. Pete’s Market, other than a few small Italian restaurants, there really isn’t a place like this.”

The restaurant’s proximity to the water is reflected in the overall concept, which Viviani says has a strong focus on fish and seafood, both imported and local.

Viviani said the restaurant will also offer homemade pasta and craft cocktails and he described the space’s aesthetic as industrial, with a rustic look and a “refined but not stuffy vibe.”

Roman pizzas are topped with arugula and prosciutto.
Roman pizzas are topped with arugula and prosciutto. [ MARTHA ASENCIO-RHINE | Times ]
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The restaurant, which seats approximately 235 people, occupies a 6,000 square foot space inside the office building. The unique footprint of the place, which once housed Raymond James & Associates, includes an indoor-outdoor zinc bar with seating along Central Avenue.

Drinking and socializing is half the appeal here, and the accessible wine list (heavy on Italian labels) offers around 35 different wines by the glass. Signature cocktails include several creative twists on Italian classics, including the Spritz Veneziano – made with Aperol, Prosecco, watermelon and mashed strawberries.

The restaurant's craft cocktail program includes the Elderflower Bolla, made with tequila, Cointreau, elderflower liqueur, mashed avocado and cucumber and a
The restaurant’s craft cocktail program includes the Elderflower Bolla, made with tequila, Cointreau, elderflower liqueur, mashed avocado and cucumber and a “flavor bubble” that dissolves in smoke when it bursts. [ MARTHA ASENCIO-RHINE | Times ]

Although Viviani designs the menus for all of her restaurants, Executive Chef Cristian Ruiz and Executive Sous Chef Marcella Milillo run the day-to-day culinary operations for the St. Pete newcomer. The dinner menu offers a selection of antipasti (small and shared plates), salads and pizzas, pastas and main dishes.

Entrees on the opening menu include grilled marrowbone served with balsamic onions and citrus gremolata; charred Spanish octopus with herbed potatoes and celery salad; and a burrata with smoked pancetta, pistachios and tomato jam.

Roman-style thick-crust pizzas arrive with toppings like homemade pancetta, Italian sausage, ‘nduja and mozzarella, while salads include Caesar romaine heart tossed with sun-dried tomatoes and pumpernickel croutons grated.

The cocktail menu features versions of Italian classics like the Spritz Veneziano, made with watermelon and strawberry puree, Aperol and Prosecco.
The cocktail menu features versions of Italian classics like the Spritz Veneziano, made with watermelon and strawberry puree, Aperol and Prosecco. [ MARTHA ASENCIO-RHINE | Times ]

The house-made pasta is a highlight, and includes rigatoni bolognese, squid ink paccheri with seafood, and a bucatini dish served with meatballs and ricotta.

Entree-sized plates are much larger and feature grilled salmon served with tomatoes in a white wine sauce, crispy potatoes and Brussels sprouts; a marsala chicken leg with mushrooms, potatoes and broccolini; and a giant chianti-braised pork knuckle served with parmesan polenta and pistachio gremolata.

Grilled salmon is served with tomatoes in white wine sauce, crispy potatoes and Brussels sprouts.
Grilled salmon is served with tomatoes in white wine sauce, crispy potatoes and Brussels sprouts. [ MARTHA ASENCIO-RHINE | Times ]

For Viviani, who is flying from her home in Chicago to attend the grand opening of Taverna Costale this weekend, the restaurant’s launch signals a welcome return to the Tampa Bay area.

Related: Fabio Viviani withdraws from Nocturnal Hospitality Group restaurants in Tampa Bay

Viviani did not want to discuss the breakup with her former partners.

“It was what it was – we had to move on,” he said. “We built and have built a business based on inclusivity, love for everyone and respect for everyone. I’m not going to comment on what happened…but you had to be quick to take a stand And although it cost us a lot of money… I believe that some things are more important than the actual business.

Viviani’s new partners at Taverna Costale – Anthony Sandstrom and Brian Henry – have worked with Viviani in the past on several restaurants, including Chuck Lager’s American Tavern in Wesley Chapel. They are expected to open two more Chuck Lager locations in the Tampa Bay area this year, in the new Westshore Marina District and in Oldsmar.

A chianti-braised pork knuckle is served with parmesan and herb polenta.
A chianti-braised pork knuckle is served with parmesan and herb polenta. [ MARTHA ASENCIO-RHINE | Times ]

Taverna Costale is not a chain concept. But Viviani said the St. Petersburg restaurant will serve as a testing ground for the brand’s potential expansion into other areas.

“We think it’s a concept that has legs,” Viviani said. “It’s a concept that lends itself very well to other cities.

Taverna Costale is located at 200 Central Ave., Suite 165. Beginning Sunday, Taverna Costale will serve dinner from 3 p.m. to 11 p.m. Sunday through Wednesday and 3 p.m. to midnight Thursday through Saturday.

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