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The Half Baked Potato is a new St. Pete gem

“Just tell them they’re awesome,” Ozzy Castetter instructed me at his Central Ave. restaurant, The Half Baked Potato. “Just say: Potatoes. They’re awesome. That’s all you need to know.”

“Okay,” I replied. “That can be the whole article.”

“Yeah, that’s good.”

The tatted-up chef folded his arms with a nonchalant confidence. Over his left shoulder of him, an episode of Hey Arnold! played silently on a nearby TV.

“Or you can tell them that we’re an ’80s and ’90s gourmet stoner comfort food restaurant with a baked potato twist,” he added. “Whatever you want.”

Potatoes with a side of nostalgia

Yesterday was my first visit to The Half Baked Potato, though it had been on my radar since Ozzy and his wife, Chelsey, opened the spot last year. Between the retro-themed concept and the massive, Instagram-worthy portions, everything about the new restaurant seemed straight-forward and no-frills. It was exactly the type of hole-in-the-wall, I figured, that my friends and I might visit at midnight for some hefty grub and a side of nostalgia.

Turns out, I was exactly right about the atmosphere. The food, however, was much more than just “hefty grub.” In fact, Ozzy and Chelsey’s potatoes were so creatively crafted that I hesitate to call them comfort food at all. With complex flavors and ingredients such as hoisin, smoked gouda, and black lava sea salt, I’d almost consider them upscale, innovative millennial food—but at the price and size of comfort food.

Ozzy’s refined potato craftsmanship is owed in part to his background in culinary arts school and decades of experience working on the New Orleans food scene. The rest of his talent, though, can be chalked up to natural instincts and ingrained knowledge.

“I have 20,000 recipes in my head,” he said. “And I know what tastes good on what. I’m always thinking of flavor combinations, of things that would go well together.”

The menu

Curious what some of Ozzy’s best baked potato creations entail? Here are some menu standouts:

  • The Half Baked Potato: The young restaurant’s namesake creation, this potato features all of the classic toppings; house cheese sauce, cheddar, bacon, green onions and sour cream with a subtle horseradish kick.
  • The Drunken Cowboy: With pulled pork, BBQ sauce, house cheese sauce, Cheeto-infused ranch drizzle, and cheddar shreds, this is the restaurant’s best-selling potato.
  • Feelin’ Krabby: My personal favorite item on the menu, this innovative creation comes loaded with Krab Rangoon cream cheese stuffing, sweet Thai chili sauce, scallions and kettle cooked voodoo chips (which I suggest using to scoop the gooey filling like nachos).
  • Bringing Mexico Back: This is Chelsey’s potato of choice, and–with birria taco sauce, tender sliced ​​brisket, shredded mozzarella, lime and more–it’s easy to see why.
  • Buffy the Potato Slayer: In an age of spicy chicken-obsessed youth, this dish, which comes topped with buffalo shredded chicken and a bunch of creamy fix-ins, is another best-seller.
  • The Mardi Gras: An homage to Ozzy’s culinary home, this potato features andouille sausage, shrimp, Cajun crème sauce, peppers and onions, cilantro, scallions and voodoo chips.
  • The Pretender: Any vegans in the house? With impossible crumbles, “creamy garlic and artichoke purée” and everything bagel seasoning, this is the plant-based comfort dish you’ve been looking for.

Hot dogs, ramen, mac and more

Now, even though the name implies that The Half Baked Potato is a potato restaurant, one must recall Ozzy’s aforementioned vision for he and Chelsey’s spot: An ’80s and ’90s-themed munchies restaurant. The pair’s menu, therefore, includes many other non-potato offerings that fit this description.

For example, who can picture the ’90s without thinking about instant ramen? Or hot dogs? What about Cheetos? Or—a childhood favorite—the “dirt cup”? The Half Baked Potato’s menu has gourmet, innovative plays on all of these things.

The menu—again

Want a glimpse at Ozzy and Chelsey’s nonpotato, throwback-inspired offerings?

Here (for the first time ever) is a part-two breakdown menu:

  • Mini Mack Hotdogs: Combining three ’90s favorites; mac and cheese, hot dogs, and potato stix; this dish is nostalgia on a plate. If you want to transport it to 2022, however, try asking for the “Devil’s Mini Mack”—a spicy version in which the house cheese sauce is infused with sriracha.
  • “…And a baseball bat”: Another hotdog, this 9-inch link is charred to perfection before being topped with peanut butter, strawberry jam, and bacon. If you were the kid that always carried a PB&J in your Invader Zim lunchbox, this is definitely the meal for you.
  • Sausage Ramen: None of Chelsea and Ozzy’s six ramen dishes are your average Cup of Noodles, but this one is particularly tasty. The best way to order it, in my opinion, is topped with a soft-boiled “ramen egg.”
  • Pulled Pork “Parfait”: This dish epitomizes the munchies, while also creating a savory take on the “dirt cup” (if you know, you know). At the bottom of the parfait is a layer of garlic mashed potatoes, followed by sequential striations of brown sugar pepper sauce, bourbon caramel pulled pork, and mozzarella cheese, all finished with a topping of Flamin’ Hot Cheetos and—of course—a gummy worm.

Rad, munchy-inspired decadence

Ready to indulge in some munchy-inspired decadence? The Half Baked Potato is open weekdays from 12-10pm, and Fridays and Saturdays until midnight. The restaurant is closed on Wednesdays.

Also, make sure to keep up with the spot on Instagram for some hidden promos.

If there’s anything more rad than the ’90s, it’s a surprise discount.

The Half Baked Potato is located at 1626 Central Avenue in the Edge District. To place a takeout order, or explore the restaurant’s full menu, diners can click here.

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