Heidi Butler’s childhood dream of becoming the cruise director for the Love Boat played out in real life when she and her husband, Michael Butler opened The Helm: Provisions & Coastal Fare on February 22, 2022. The original meaning of helm is associated with the equipment used for steering a ship or boat. Now taking the helm has come to mean a position of leadership. Captain of The Helm, Heidi , explains, “This restaurant isn’t the anchor of St. Pete Beach, it is the helm of the community.” As a family endeavor, the Butlers make it their mission to be fresh and welcoming, while serving the local community. After meeting at a country club in South Carolina, Heidi and Michael use their combined hospitality background to create a welcoming space, striving for each patron to feel like they are part of a club where the staff knows exactly where they prefer to sit and what they drink and eat.
Stepping into this gem on Blind Pass Road, you notice the modish nautical touches carefully curated by Heidi. Her passion for interior design is evident, blending the deep maritime blues, rich woods and seafaring details throughout. There isn’t a bad seat in the house, with choices to dine at the bar, dining room or expansive patio. Keep in mind the hours are currently Tuesday to Friday 10:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Saturday 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Sunday 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Indeed everyone is eager for The Helm to have dinner hours, however, that is a different story which deals with the challenge that many establishments face, parking. Until there is a solution, they have special supper club and speakeasy events, typically on the third Thursday of each month. The speakeasy dinner showcases tapas from a different country, each month, such as Italy, Ireland and Jamaica. Reservations are limited to fifty people and require a $20 deposit, applied to the dinner. Be sure to book in advance for these posher events.
Chef Michael, trained at Johnson Wales, executes his vision to “bring the flavors of the East Coast to the West Coast of Florida.” One of his favorite dishes is the lobster roll, adding his Florida twist with the key lime butter aioli. The menu changes several times a year, incorporating seasonal ingredients, and seafood is always a shining star. The Butlers source items from local vendors including homemade rum cakes and hand-churned ice cream.
Having the world shut down for a pandemic changes the way business owners operate across all industries, especially in the restaurant world. Besides dining there, The Helm has multiple ways to enjoy their food including a market with daily delicacies or the option to order a beach basket ahead of time to include your favorites to take on the go. A unique way they are helping visitors, and locals, is the Stock the Fridge program. A concierge stocks vacationers’ refrigerators with pre-made dinners, groceries and drinks based on specific requests. At the end of the stay, the remaining groceries that are not used are picked up and repurposed into meals for the homeless in St. Pete Beach.
All the libations at The Helm are hand-crafted with seasonal ingredients so it’s challenging to choose a favorite among the delicious options. Their version of the Bloody Mary, The Fog Cutter, is a meal within itself garnished with shrimp, okra, celery and blue cheese-stuffed olives. The seasonal margarita Old Salt has sweet heat from blackberries and jalapenos. In a nod to The Masters, they include the ever-refreshing John Daly, however since that is a seasonal option, the Barrel o’ Sangria is an elevated sangria including lavender and photo-worthy flowers.
For the refined bourbon connoisseur, Jefferson’s Bourbon Voyage 24 ties the nautical theme to the posher palate. The collaboration between the founders of Jefferson’s Bourbon – Trey Zoeller and OCEARCH – Chris Fisher, tested out the theory of what happens to straight bourbon when it’s aged at sea, at the mercy of the elements along the route as it visits multiple international ports. This batch of Voyage 24 has hints of vanilla as it traveled through the Caribbean, Costa Rica and Panama.
Oh wait, should we talk about the food? While the menu is seafood-forward with an extensive selection of eco-friendly sourced oysters, there are dishes to satisfy any palate starting with the delectable hush puppies. This southern classic is taken up a notch with the addition of goat cheese, crispy prosciutto and honey butter for dipping pleasure, melting in the mouth. The whipped feta drizzled with wildflower honey and covered with balsamic-basil strawberries is almost too pretty to eat but so delicious, on the toasted crostinis, for that perfect bite.
The entrees are as picturesque as they are tantalizing to the tongue. The crab cakes benedict combines with an arugula salad with berries to keep it light and fresh, while the peach jam and bourbon syrup atop the chicken and waffles satisfies the more decadent craving. The salmon is perfectly seasoned for the crisp Nicoise salad with homemade dijon vinaigrette. The quiche of the day receives rave reviews for the creativeness of using hash browns for the crust. Of course, the meal isn’t complete without diving into the homemade rum cake, sourced from a local vendor, topped with seasonal berries and fresh cream. And that’s just a brunch review!
A visit to The Helm market provides a chance to pick up that quippy gift to take for any occasion. Who can resist a hand towel that starts with “Now that I’ve lived through a plague….”? Also make sure to catch a glimpse of the octopus mural on the side of the building, painted by their daughter, Madison, who is an integral part in the marketing. The entire Butler family, including son Brendan, have planted their roots in St. Pete Beach and they look forward to sailing forward as part of the community, creating memorable meals and giving back one bite at a time. ♦
Follow Barbara Lynch at @posherpalate @ambassadorbarb