The Library: A culinary love story (Photos)

Stepping into the Library in St. Petersburg, you will immediately notice the stylish interior space, abundant in natural light and furnished with modern fixtures and a deep-blue color palette. As you look further, you’ll realize each one of the hundreds of books that line the shelves has a blue, and only blue, spine. It is one of the many delights at the Library, but the greatest delight is the culinary experience that awaits.

Chef Rachel Bennett creates menus for brunch, lunch and dinner that deliver inventive flavor combinations, diverse textures and beautiful presentations. Dining here is a feast for the eyes and palate that draws you in and commands your attention.

The Cocktail Curriculum

Start with a signature cocktail from an extensive beverage menu. The Peabody Jalapeno Margarita is created with charred jalapeno-infused tequila. It takes on an earthy flavor that brightens with fresh lime.  Rimmed in Aleppo cilantro salt, its color pops and its tart flavor jumps forward. In contrast, the Title cocktail is more subtle, made with lavender, rosemary and lemon. It’s made pretty in pink by adding lavender, simple syrup and served in stemware that adds a touch of elegance. This is a memorable cocktail in both taste and presentation.

Snacks in the Stacks

Small plates and sharable snacks, like the fried Brussels sprouts, are featured on all three menus at the Library. The sprouts are crowned with a lemon agrodolce. It’s a perfect balance of tart and sweet with a subtle tang from lemons, cut into paper-thin ribbons. The colors are vibrant, while the taste is bright and earthy. If you are not a disciple of Brussels sprouts, order these and be ready to convert. The bene cauliflower awakens your palate with its Thai chili sauce and crispy garlic. Each bite takes you on a flavor journey, starting with sweet on the tip of your tongue, then a bloom of spice at the back of your throat.  And just when the heat starts to build, it’s cooled by a sambal ginger aioli.

If you need a little comfort, order the warm burrata. It arrives bubbling in a little crock, filled with tomato confit, cheese and drizzled with an arugula pesto made with pumpkin seeds. Dip the grilled sourdough into the crock, close your eyes and let the flavors take you back to your grandmother’s kitchen, where you tasted her sauce every Sunday afternoon with a little torn piece of crusty bread.

Novel Ideas for Brunch and Lunch

The brunch menu offers a variety of breakfast favorites and a southern twist on eggs Benedict. At the Library, the eggs nestle into strips of pork belly and fried green tomatoes. Biscuits provide the base and everything gets topped with a Creole fondue. This Benedict is less salty than the traditional version, allowing nuanced flavors of tomato and pork to shine. Plus, the crunch from cornmeal breading on the tomatoes delivers great texture. 

For lunch, grilled cheese and tomato soup might sound a little ho-hum, but don’t be fooled. The Library’s version is special and anything but “by the book.” The soup is an earthy arrabiatta-accented with basil oil, while the sandwich combines three savory kinds of cheese, a little roasted red pepper and pesto. You could also build a custom salad for lunch with every option a rabbit would love, but you’ll never forget your first bite of this grilled cheese.

Dinner

Entrées on the dinner menu appeal to everyone and feature a selection of pasta, poultry, meat and seafood. Stand-alone protein items and a constellation of side dishes allow you to build the perfect entrée to satisfy any dietary regimen. The jumbo sea scallops offer an indulgent treat. Perfectly seared scallops nestle in a cluster of roasted Brussels sprouts and pork belly. Gouda cheese grits and a corn puree rim the plate for a beautiful presentation. The corn is slowly roasted, in the husk, to coax out every drop of natural sweetness from the kernels. Then the corn is sliced from the cob and blended with heavy cream to create a puree that is smooth as silk. The blend of flavors and textures here is sublime and absolutely delicious.

Desserts, Coffees and Happy Endings

The best books have happy endings and the same is true for dining experiences.  The tiramisu with housemade espresso marshmallows gets a fresh twist from the graham cracker crust. It is a great balance of sweet and bitter, reminiscent of s’mores. Pair this with a dirty chai or rosemary latte. The dirty chai latte presents warm spices, mingling with espresso and steamed whole milk for a cup full of comfort. Enjoyed alongside the tiramisu, it’s a rich and satisfying happy ending that’s better than anything you’ll read in a book.

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