Two weeks ago, Proper: Kitchen & Cocktails quietly fired up the smoker and began serving their southern-influenced cuisine at 344 1st Ave. South in Downtown St. Pete. It was a great day for Stephen Schrutt, owner of Proper, as his new restaurant became jam-packed with friends and family eager to experience the new downtown eatery.
The journey to opening day wasn't an easy one though. The concept for Proper was originally conceived before KINGS Street Food Counter, a modern-style diner specializing in grilled cheese and street food that Schrutt opened in 2015. Proper ended up going on the back burner while he looked for the right location. "I didn't want to do Proper without full liquor. It's a southern kitchen and cocktail bar. To me, those went hand-in-hand. However, I can say that the concept and talent in that building today is amazing," says Schrutt.
The building that Proper now resides in is sandwiched between two of Schrutt's other concepts, theAvenue: Eat+Drink and Park&Rec, a social gaming bar that will be opening later this week.
While Proper offers many southern staples such as shrimp and grits, fried chicken, and skillet cornbread, the menu has a large emphasis on BBQ as well. Executive Chef Joaquinn Alcocer Jr. of Houston, TX uses a 12-foot custom-built smoker for Proper's pulled pork, St. Louis style ribs, brisket, sausage, and chicken.
Even a New Orleans favorite, the muffaletta, found its way on to the menu. Executive Sous Chef A.j. Lambden, previously of Cassis American Brasserie, had just come back from The Big Easy when Proper's menu was being developed. Inspired by the muffuletta in NOLA, Lambden's muffaletta includes ham, mortadella, pepperoni, capicolla, spicy pepper jack, red pepper and olive spread.
It may be too early for favorites, but for Schrutt, the Grilled Pork Tomahawk is an early contender. It is served with braised cabbage, pickled stone fruit compote, crispy poblano straws and pork jus. The plan is to seasonally rotate the stone fruit that accompanies the tomahawk.
Heading up the cocktail program is former Mandarin Hide bartender Tony Finotti. Proper's drink menu features fourteen cocktails at $12 each. Every recipe has been expertly crafted with unique ingredients; some rarely found in common cocktails. For instance, Duke of Suffolk is made of gin, English breakfast tea, sugar and cream. Something In My Rye is a rye whiskey concoction featuring coffee infused aromatic bitters and chai tea syrup.
Additionally, there will be four cocktails served on draft, similar to theAvenue's popular Tito's Mule. For beer, look for six rotating draft selections and another eight to ten beers in cans. Also, nitro coffee by Michael Rideout's Made Coffee will be available on draft. As an aside, Made Coffee is currently in the buildout stage of its one-of-a-kind coffee brewery and cafe in the Grand Central District of Downtown St. Pete, which should open in 2017.
To keep the food and drink menus fresh and creative, Proper plans on rotating through three menus per year. The current menu options represent their Fall/Winter menu. In early 2017, a southern-style Sunday brunch will begin, as will their new Spring menu. Then in June, the menu will shift to Summer-inspired items.
Proper: Kitchen & Cocktails is now open at 344 1st Avenue South. Their hours are Tues-Sunday from 11:30am - 3:00am. For more information, visit their website and be sure to follow them on Facebook and Instagram.