Inside Wild Child: St. Pete’s tropical culinary escape

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Wild Child St. Pete is a new culinary escape in the Grand Central District, and it offers some of the best outdoor seating in the city.

Since August, Wild Child has been bringing exquisite global fare to the heart of the Grand Central district. In the months between then and now, this eclectic new cocktail spot has quickly become home to some of St. Pete’s most coveted tables. Last night, I was lucky enough to snag one.

Upon arrival, I was greeted by owner, Matt Kaye, who’s vibrant energy matched that of the colorful interior he had created. Sitting al fresco under the golden hour sun, I listened as he reminisced on Wild Child’s founding days.

“My business partner, Rob Reinsmith, and I both worked in the New York restaurant industry. When we moved down here, we wanted to bring that quality of food with us. Up there, there’s so much passion in the cooking. We wanted to bring that detail.”

He paused for a second as bar manager, Sidney, delivered an icy Mai Tai to the table. A few sips in, my tastebuds were transported to a citrus-filled island oasis. Matt continued his story, tailoring it to the influence behind the fruity mixed drink.

A laidback, yet chic, neighborhood oasis

“While Rob and I definitely loved the food of New York, we also did a lot of international travelling. So, when we decided to open our own place, we knew it was going to have a tropical vibe. We wanted a laidback—yet chic—neighborhood spot that also felt like an escape.”

Sidney presented another fruit-adorned glass as I contemplated Matt’s juxtaposing vision.

“Oh—and St. Pete also has really good seasonal produce and local farms,” he continued. “So we wanted to highlight the best of that, too.”

I looked at Matt, still marinating in my contemplation. He wanted a “local-yet-international, laidback, but still casual, New York—in St. Pete—neighborhood escape.” 

Damn, I thought. That’s an ambitious niche.

Unsure exactly how those contrasting visions were going to present themselves on the plate, I put my trust in Chef Rob to bring me some of Wild Child’s best. For those of you who haven’t yet visited the lively restaurant, I highlight the resulting dishes below.

And—spoiler alert—they precisely epitomize  New York-chic-on-a-laidback-neighborhood-island.

Globally-inspired snacks, shareables, and entrées 

When it comes to the specific origins of Wild Child’s menu influence, the team cites many different countries. The jerk octopus, for example, nods to Jamaica, while the snapper ceviche was conceptualized with Mexico in mind. In the entrée section, diners will find a heavy Asian influence, and—perhaps in an ode to the French—the restaurant’s ever-popular rosemary fries are instead referred to as “frites.”

In short, the Wild Child culinary experience is a culturally explorative one that is incredibly entertaining. But, for first timers, who are hesitant to navigate the unfamiliar (or for foodies who want to avoid Yelp-based FOMO), here are the plates that should absolutely be on your table: 

  • Tuna Tostada- A popular sharing plate, this light and tropical dish is the perfect way to begin a Wild Child meal. Creating a cool contrast of ahi tuna and avocado against a 3 chili salsa matcha, these crisp cracker rounds provide a snack-sized introduction to the complex flavor interplay prominent throughout the rest of Chef Rob’s menu. 
  • Jerk Octopus- As mentioned earlier, this dish pays homage to the picturesque island of Jamaica. Served over a creamy swirl of charred scallion crema, then topped with pickled sweet peppers and fresh grapefruit, this plate has a flavor profile as bright and colorful as the nation that inspired it.
  • Korean Fried Chicken Sandwich- When COVID hit, the Wild Child team recognized an increase in demand for comfort food. Combine that market need with Matt and Rob’s international vision, and you get this bad boy. Stacked high on a warm brioche, the sandwich is decadently dressed with kimchi mayo, shredded cabbage, and house-brined pickles. If you’re into hot, juicy, and crispy (as we all are), this is definitely the dish for you.
  • Market Whole Fish- Moving to the entrée section, I present what would be considered the crème-de-la-crème of most New York—and island—restaurants: the skin-on, whole fish. Prepared simply with a tomatillo lime sauce, and presented alongside a charred corn salad, this dish is Matt’s personal favorite on the menu, thus we highly recommend it.
  • Crispy Brussel Sprouts- Ok, so these brussels sprouts were pretty much the best vegetable I’ve eaten in a very long time. Maybe ever. That’s all I’m telling you (besides the fact that you absolutely must  order them— but I think that’s implied).

A “neighborhood spot” with something for everyone

Whether you’re looking for a full meal, some late night snacks, or a vacation in a glass (for this, I’d recommend the Mezcal-based Tia Mia, featured above), Wild Child prides itself on having something for everyone. In fact, before any of their fancy cultural ideas started flowing, Matt and Rob simply wanted a creative neighborhood spot that St. Pete locals could visit multiple times a week.

Today, in light of their boundless success, visiting Wild Child “multiple times a week” might be a little tricky. But, with a reservation to be safe (or a visit before 7pm), a dedicated foodie could easily make that vision a reality. 

And—with an exciting spring menu in the works—I guarantee it would be worth the effort.

Wild Child is located at 2710 Central Ave, and reservations can be placed by calling (727) 954-7425. To keep up to date on current menu offerings, diners can follow the restaurant on Instagram: @wildchild_stpete.

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Kara VanDooijeweert is a current journalism student at Rutgers University. If you can't find her in the Bay's best restaurants, she's probably off exploring the wilderness. Catch her on Instagram, @karanicolev.