The Reading Room is a new, innovative restaurant specializing in garden-inspired and wood-fired cuisine. Their philosophy is to create and cultivate a space that promotes the love of food from start to finish—from seed to plate. They source locally whenever possible, including ingredients from a garden in their own backyard, providing rare and exciting edibles found on their menu like eggplants, mizuna, lacinato kale, cilantro, thyme, nasturtium, borage, beans, carrots, beets, tomatoes, and “spicy lettuce” mixes. If they don’t grow it in their own garden, they source from other local farms.
Executive Chef Lauren Macellaro’s motto is to source locally whenever possible, and if not, then ensure the quality and practice are up to par (as always). Chef Lauren feels like nostalgia is a seventh taste bud, and this is prevalent in her cooking and The Reading Room’s menu. She pulls inspiration from childhood taste memories and their garden’s seasonality.
Currently, ingredients at The Reading Room are sourced from the following:
- Worden Farms, Hunsader, Watercress, via Saturday Morning Market and Suncoast Food Alliance
- Basil and lettuce varieties supplied from Brickstreet Farms
- Asian ingredients, sweet potatoes and banana varieties supplied by Wagon Wheel
- Rare ingredients that appear sporadically on The Reading Room’s menu (like jujubes, kaffir leaves, galangal, etc.) grown by farmers in Orlando
- Meats come from Niman Ranch, Creekstone, Pasture Prime, Joyce Farms, Manchester Farms and Heritage
- Eggs supplied by Lake Meadows
- Fish sourced with Sammie’s Trace System (so they can identify where it comes from). The Reading Room uses seasonal catches that are not from farms, unless it is a particular shellfish they are looking for.
- The Reading Room’s very own garden is an incredible work in progress. It has the capability to source a small portion of their produce, and provides rare and exciting edibles found on their menu.
More on the garden:
Chef Lauren: “Margo, our gardener, follows the biodynamic method of farming, loosely. She plants based on lunar cycles, and grows things together that benefit from being co-residents. The methodology here is to maximize the space by packing in crops and planting things that create shade and pest deterrents and bee attractants all in the same bed.”
Their goal with the garden is to expand throughout the space and eventually offer full-on tasting menus from the garden.
To create and cultivate a space that promotes the love of food from start to finish – from seed to plate. The menu is garden-inspired and wood fired, in a nutshell. Everything, from the food to the ambience and cocktails is chosen with intention.
The Reading Room recently opened in between downtown St. Pete and Treasure Island at 6001 Central Avenue.
LocalsDISH Q&A with Chef Lauren:
LD: How did you find yourself at The Reading Room? What was the inspiration behind this unique concept?
LM: Finding the Reading Room was serendipitous! I went to Hype Group to talk about a concept my partner Jessika and I wanted to do, and Brooke suggested I meet with Kevin, who had a space and land that he was looking to fill with a restaurant and a chef! The type of restaurant that Jessika and I had in mind took shape in the form of the Reading Room.
LD: Tell us about your culinary background.
LM: Going on 17 years now! While I attended culinary school in Manhattan, I was working at Tabla, which was part of Danny Meyer’s Union Square Hospitality Group. They operate under some of the highest standards of hospitality I have ever experienced. Although I had restaurant jobs before, I truly learned how to cook there. The menu at Tabla was driven by the Union Square Green Market, and the Chef’s own personal garden. The menu changed seasonally, and really showcased how certain ingredients peaked in particular seasons. I also come from a family of Italian immigrants who spent 80% of their lives cooking, growing, and eating! My last job in Asheville really helped me find my voice as a chef. Plus, I had incredible ingredients to work with and an amazing chef to work next to, Brian Canipelli.
LD: Where are you from and how did you land in St. Pete?
LM: I am originally from Queens, New York. I spent most of my young life in New Jersey, and then moved back to New York as a young adult. I traveled from NYC, to Philadelphia, and then Asheville, staying a few years in each city and working with some young and incredibly talented chefs. We had been in Asheville for seven years when we decided we wanted to do something on our own. We also knew we wanted to be closer to the beach. Allegiant’s ultra affordable flights made it possible for us to take a weekend getaway that ultimately changed our lives. The Dalí Museum, beautiful beaches and the overall vibe of St. Pete got us!
LD: What inspires you as an Executive Chef?
LM: Finding a new exciting ingredient!
LD: Has a specific person influenced you?
LM: Floyd Cardoz. His kitchen was my foundation for cooking. My mom also planted the culinary seed at very young age.
LD: What is the most difficult part about being a chef and what is the most rewarding?
LM: Balance is the most difficult: Long hours, lots of stress, creativity on the line for public consumption and judgment. It’s hard to find time to deal with all that. The most rewarding part of being a chef is when people get what you are trying to do. We are trying to create an experience for diners through food and service and drinks.
LD: What is your favorite menu item at The Reading Room?
LM: The Salt & Peppered Quail!
LD: Do you change your menu often?
LM: The plan is to change the menu as much as makes sense. I think there is something to be said about perfecting the execution of a dish, but being creative people, we like to make things difficult and keep it fresh and exciting. That mindset also speaks for the wine list, cocktails, etc.
LD: What are some of the challenges of coming up with new menu items?
LM: Sourcing. This is the biggest challenge I have faced here in Florida, especially since we are trying to find the very best of what we can. I’ve found that I have ideas that work so well in my head and one test batch, but then we you try to execute it for service and it doesn’t quite work. That trial and error is a big part of learning, though.
LD: If you had to describe your restaurant style in one sentence what would it be?
LM: The style is modern but comfortable, thoughtful and inviting (we hope!).
LD: Do you eat at other restaurants often? What are some of your favorites?
LM: Oye! This is a tough one. I don’t eat out often. We like to cook at home, but my favorites are Tasty Pho & ABC Chinese, oh and Ichicoro!
LD: What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever eaten?
LM: The answer you are looking for here is probably anbug or offal of sorts, but those are not that strange to me. I would have to say Canistell, or egg fruit. It looks like an apple of sorts but is custardy, like egg yolk fruit inside. Very strange.
LD: What was your most memorable meal?
LM: Toughest question ever for someone whose life revolves around food! Quick answer: Alinea in Chicago, just because I ate a helium balloon of green apple.