A glance through the window gives visitors the impression that Prohibition Kitchen is something extraordinary, even in a city filled with quaint hangouts and historic gems.
The owners of the St. George Street eatery/bar, the Sheltra family, are determined to deliver on the promise implied in the design, decor and theme.
The expectations are set high because the dining room/bar is so striking. The whole space is filled with repurposed wood that gives the feel of going back almost a century. A sprawling bar has been formed from wood estimated to be 400 to 500 years old.
Wood from behind the bar is maybe 100 years old, recycled from a barn in Ocala. Other parts of the public area use wood that is 200-300 years old. And it all sits under the building’s original roof tin stamped-metal ceiling.
The setting all but guarantees a unique experience. But owner Tom Sheltra, who started Pizzalley’s and the Chianti Room next door with wife, Carol, said the look is just the beginning.
Along with help from sons Shane and Travis, as well as numerous staff members, Tom Sheltra said he thinks Prohibition Kitchen is a place that already has a great vibe. And even though the place just opened a few days before Christmas, it’s already developing a following from tourists and locals alike.
“I want them to feel satisfied, with obviously the food, but then that we did things right,” Tom Sheltra said. “If we can do the food spot on, serve it in a timely fashion and with a good spirit and a smile, and have the drinks come in the same way and then have that music top it off with that ambience we have, we can create a little magic.”
Sheltra knows something about the magical draw of food.
He said he learned to cook as a young man while working at an amusement park in Maine.
He made burgers and pizza good enough that it drew visitors to that park over rivals.
“Sometimes food sticks in the brain,” Tom Sheltra said.
Shane Sheltra said the goal absolutely was to create an experience that will leave people thinking Prohibition Kitchen is among the best restaurants they’ve ever visited. He wants it to be compared favorably to other local hotspots like the Ice Plant Bar, which has garnered a lot of regional attention.
“I think it’s a true place that people can come back to every time they’re on vacation — and locals, as well,” Shane Sheltra said.
He knows it starts with the look of the place, which is why he and his brother spent hours piecing together about 90 feet of metal pipe for a light fixture in the upstairs dining area.
And it will continue with the food from executive chef Bradford Smith and chef de cuisine Joshua Day. That will be complemented with regular live entertainment that Shane promised will go well beyond one guy with a guitar singing Jimmy Buffett songs.
“We want to definitely maintain that service and make sure everyone is always happy, keep everything consistent,” Shane said. “The two chefs here are trying to capture memorable food.”
The Sheltras spent about a year traveling to various places around the country trying different burgers before choosing which meat to buy.
And their approach has been similar with other ingredients. They have partnered with local farms for fresh lettuce, beets and brussels sprouts, among other produce.
“If we can’t make the food memorable, then we haven’t done our jobs,” Tom Sheltra said.
If the food is partially forgotten by some of the customers, it might be because of the drinks. The restaurant has a huge variety of beer on tap and offers many specialty cocktails.
And just like the food, Prohibition Kitchen works with local brewers and distillers to offer visitors something unique.
Philip McDaniel, co-founder and CEO of the St. Augustine Distillery, said he was glad to see his company’s products offered at Prohibition Kitchen. He said the restaurant is a nice addition to the city.
“Prohibition Kitchen is amazing,” McDaniel said in an email to The Record. “The Sheltra family has set a new standard for dining, ambience, great cocktails and live entertainment all under one roof. We are thrilled that they choose to promote hometown local talent, local beer and local spirits.”
Sheltra and the rest of his family are hoping everyone will share McDaniel’s assessment of Prohibition Kitchen. It’s something they all worked hard to create.
Perhaps it will affect people just like those burgers in Maine did for amusement park customers.
“We think if we put our hearts and souls into it and keep the food scratch and unique, good luck to somebody who wants to try and emulate it because, man, it’s a lot of work,” Tom Sheltra said.