It's Saturday night, and we're on a tight schedule. We have 50 minutes to eat and perhaps enjoy a glass of wine before the show at American Stage in downtown St. Petersburg.
We head down 3rd Street to Marino's Martini Bar at BayWalk. Big mistake. It's closed. Forever. BayWalk looks like a long-abandoned tourist attraction. We're stumped.
"Starbucks?" we ask. Perhaps not the best ambience, but at least the coffee shop is easy, convenient and close to the theater. Central Avenue feels like too much of a hike, and parking there at night can be a mess.
The last thing we need are hassles and delays before the show. We just want a bite to eat. So we head for pumpkin bread and grande lattes to tide us over. It seems to make the most sense.
But just before we enter Starbucks, a cast-iron lamp shines on a black and white sign above our heads: "International Bistro."
We're saved. We immediately feel welcomed and at home. This intimate space has warm tones and inviting seating areas. There are padded beige and brown chairs around wooden tables, with an L-shaped service bar, high ceilings, white walls and ceiling-to-floor white curtains.
A black counter-top against the wall with a few leather stools is inviting as a coffee bar where customers can pop in for a quick espresso anytime.
Co-owner Amela Aljucik greets us from behind the bar. Her husband, Edvin Aljucik, enters from the kitchen with a glass of wine and pours a glass for his wife, as he says hello.
They both moved from Bosnia to St. Pete in 2000; they've been operating the International Bistro since September 2010.
"We made the decision to start the bistro one night while having a coffee in Starbucks," says Amela. "We were always talking about how hard it is to find a small classy place with reasonable prices. And that night we made a pact to go and see if we could rent the space next door and open up a European bistro."
We have two glasses of Pinot Noir and split an order of hummus with pita. The hummus tastes fresh, tinged with lemon juice and garlic. Olives and grape leaves filled with rice circle the hummus and are full of zest.
This is a perfect repast before showtime. We eat, drink and make it back to The American Stage in plenty of time.
We'll be back to try the signature Cervapi, a Mediterranean delicacy with minced lamb and beef rolls in lepina bread with onions and bell pepper spread.
After that, Amela thinks we'd especially like the Cappucino Truffle, though I may be tempted by Chocolate Molten Cakes with Vanilla Ice Cream to accompany our Turkish Coffee.
The International Bistro is at 229 2nd St. North. The phone number is: 727-498-8627. Hours are Monday-Thursday: 11am - 9pm, and Friday-Saturday until 11 p.m. Closed Sunday