Fresco’s: An Unforgettable Waterfront Dining ExPIERience
When Fresco’s Waterfront Bistro opened in 2004, it was at the gateway to a very different St. Pete Pier — a 31-year-old attraction that featured an “inverted pyramid” building at the end of a long stretch of pavement, with little else in between.
Still, for 16 years the restaurant persevered, flourishing during tourism season thanks to good food and a great waterfront location.
When the new St. Pete Pier opened in July 2020, a good situation got considerably better. “It’s been a massive benefit to be part of this Pier,” says Diamond Wohlfelder, who’s been the restaurant’s manager for seven years and has worked there for 10. “We’re doing record business.”
“It’s the busiest summer we’ve had so far,” she added during an interview in mid-July, “and we hope it’s going to stay that way. I think we’re trending toward being a year-round restaurant rather than a mostly seasonal one. Our clientele is a healthy mix of locals and tourists.”
That kind of good fortune tends to happen when a restaurant is attached to such a vibrant, multi-tiered attraction as the Pier. Fresco’s seats 200, with a capacity of 60 inside an air-conditioned dining room. The remaining seats are outdoors — some of them open-air, some shaded — with lovely views of the beautiful boats in the St. Petersburg Marina and Tampa Bay beyond.
Folks flock to the eatery for Chef Gilberto Bustos-Lorenzo’s poke tuna bowl, a newly introduced seafood platter and highly regarded lobster roll and bisque. “We get people coming in here from Maine who tell me that it’s the best lobster roll they’ve had,” Wohlfelder says with a chuckle. “It’s hard to believe, but I do hear it.”
Of course, the restaurant also serves tasty old standbys like the grouper sandwich and grouper tacos, as well as an array of salads, sandwiches and starters. Wohlfelder says that favorites from the full bar are Fresco’s Signature Ultimate Margarita (with Patrón tequila) and Strawberry Lemonade: Tito’s Vodka with fresh strawberries, lemon, house-made simple syrup and a dash of lemonade.
Fresco’s is also prized for its popular Saturday/Sunday brunches (the omelettes and benedicts are a hit), which run from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. “We do our highest volume during those times,” Wohlfeler says.
For many years, Fresco’s was the only waterfront restaurant in St. Pete, aside from a few that came and went in the old inverted pyramid building (with none at all for several years). Fresco’s is literally on the water — sitting on stilts that jut up from the Central Yacht Basin.
In 1910, the City of St. Petersburg earmarked its shoreline as public land. The 23-block stretch currently includes a network of parks, Albert Whitted Airport, University of South Florida St. Petersburg, and the Pier, which dates back to the late 1800s.
You won’t see high-rise hotels and condos lining and obscuring the Bay. The spacious and open waterfront is a big part of what makes St. Pete unique. And that’s why for years the city had only one waterfront restaurant — on property that it owns and rents to Fresco’s.
The new St. Pete Pier features four new restaurants: Doc Ford’s Rum Bar & Grille; Teak, Pier Tiki and Driftwood Cafe in the Pier Point building; and the outdoor Spa Beach Bistro. That means Fresco’s had to relinquish its status as the city’s exclusive waterfront eatery.
This does not concern Wohlfelder and her staff. “I think in the early stages of the new Pier’s development there may have been some worry about a bunch of new competition coming in,” she says. “But ultimately I always thought the new Pier would help us, and that’s definitely how it’s turned out. We’ve got a hard-working staff that wants to please all of our customers as they start — or finish — their Pier journey.”
Fresco’s does not take reservations or call-aheads. It has a waitlist system where you give them your name and receive a text when a table is available.
Management says that for waterfront dining on weekends, groups of up to four will usually have a 15- to 30-minute wait time; groups of five or more can expect to wait 45 to 90 minutes. Inside dining is available immediately.
The restaurant serves to-go drinks in special St. Pete Pier cups, which allow you to take your drink along with you on your Pier trek.
300 2nd Ave. NE, St. Petersburg