St. Petersburg’s Z Grille Is Delicious By Design

TBO ONLINE | April 2, 2009 | By Jeff Houck

z_grille_bar1Zach Gross’ restaurant on Central Avenue felt like it was bursting at the seams. In a downtown crowded with ambitious concepts, his cozy Z Grille was packing in customers who hungered for his funky take on Southwestern finger foods and salads.

Gross was bursting creatively, too. He wanted to take his food in a more adventurous, upscale direction, but the restaurant’s casual vibe – shorts were definitely welcome – didn’t support the higher prices a new menu would require.

Instead, he found a street-level venue at the new Signature Place condo tower on Second Street and First Avenue South. What he wanted was an urban restaurant on a busy corner that reflected his San Diego skateboard roots, his passion for tattoo art and the love of family he shares with his wife, Jennifer, and their new baby.

To bring the vision to life, Gross hired St. Petersburg architect and downtown resident Tim Clemmons, who worked along with designers Jovica Milic and Kate Cummins of Mesh design studio in St. Petersburg. The goal: to create a warm, hip, timeless dining room borrowing from those seemingly disparate elements without being too obvious.

In November, the Grosses opened the new Z Grille to rave reviews. The dining room’s stylish bamboo half-pipe and industrial flourishes earned as much praise as such approachable menu items as the Dr. Pepper Fried Ribs and deviled eggs stuffed with lobster.

“Z Grille’s hip dining room is both timely and timeless, an appealing mix of a modern urban vibe with Eastern minimalist flourishes,” Tribune reviewer Rommie Johnson wrote. “Imagine the Jetsons gone feng shui.”

Last month, Gross became a semifinalist for a prestigious James Beard award as Best Chef in the South. The original restaurant on Central Avenue? It is now called Zurritos.

The designers and chef recently got together to discuss the new restaurant’s unique design elements.