Friday, October 29, 2010

A Simple Meal Of Beauty And Taste!

              Seafood. Fresh. Simple. Delish. Waterfront. Pictures tell the rest. Enjoy.
A must hit spot when visting the little Island of Anna Maria Island is the Rod and Reel Pier. They are actually out in the bay on the end of the pier. An upstairs dining room and a downstairs bar where you can also eat. I submit, can anything be better than sitting in the seabreeze, watching the blue green waters roll in, the fisherman catching sharks off the pier and enjoying a good fresh plate of seafood with a cold cold Corona? I think not. The oyster Po-Boy above is not on the menu and is a request only dish. Request it. Now.
The Seafood gumbo here is creditable but of course mine is better. Mainyl due to the overload of seafood I put in mine and leaving out non seafood like chicken, sausage, etc. Mine is a delicate roux I spend 45 minutes to an hour on before moving on to assembling the rest of the dish. Okra is another key ingredient in my recipe.
Gumbo, Grouper, Oysters.......Fruiti De Mare Indeed!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Stone Crab Season On The Island

Expensive and Tasty
The search.....I mean chase is on to try and find the restaurant(s) not OUT of the seasonal and succulent Stone Crab claws that are actually harvested right off the west coast of Florida where they reside.

Tonight we ended up visiting three different places and did not actually eat any of the coveted claws BUT we did have an enjoyable evening nonetheless and will resume the quest tomorrow beginning with the lunch hour.

Our Table For The Evening Meal!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Seafood: Hole In The Wall Number Three

 For now, this will be my third and final entry into the Seafood Hole In The Wall Hall Of Fame. For now.

After hitting Harbor Seafood over in Kenner, La. and then stopping in for some oysters at Hunt's Oyster Bar in Panama City, Fla., we head south to another Florida locale for a fresh out of the water Grouper sandwich or Oyster Po-Boy in Anna Maria Island, my new favorite beach getaway spot.
This one is a part of a three restaurant group and is maybe just a bit more than Hole In The Wall but I believe it qualfies based on the simplicity, the locale and the at least some of the food.

My last entry for now.......Mar Vista in Longboat Key. Truth be told, not much in Longboat Key I do like but this find is now one of them. Sitting on the water but not the gulf it looks like a shanty as you walk in from the seashell parking lot. The bar is beach rustic as any HITW should be and the outside dining is expansive and under trees and on the waterfront. I will only consider eating outside in the cooler months so the quaint and fairly cozy bar area and a few tables are where I hang.

Bud and Old Bay Shrimp Bowl: Delish
  The drinks are not necessarily cheap here although they do have a Happy Hour and a couple of decent brews along with beachy drinks. But you get the feel of relaxing when you enter and perch on a stool or grab a table for some eats. The OTHER big thing that puts this one on my current list is one dish. One appetizer dish. I loved it so much I went back the next night and then the next trip JUST to order this dish.

The Bud and Old Bay Shrimp Bowl. Wow. It is not cheap but two people could make it a small meal with bread. It is large, jumbo shrimp in a nice spicy, buttery broth that is sweet, salty, rich and begs to have bread swimming in it. I think this may be THE best seafood item I have eaten in my time in this area. This is sad to say somewhat because we have been somewhat disappointed in the culinary treats from a seafood perspective in the Tampa Bay area.

So, the combo of the very laid back and relaxed mood the place sets, the drinks and then the one app I have had now three times straight make Mar Vista an entry on my HITW Seafood Joint list.

Must learn to make this dish at home soon. Happy Eating Folks!

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Put a steak....I mean stake.....I mean fork in it!

 Yeah, that's the ticket! I'm talking about some grilled cow. A steak. A big one or a small one. A medium rare one or a medium well one. (Others are really not steak anymore if they are raw or shoe leather). Filet, Strip, T-bone, Ribeye, Porterhouse and Prime Rib. One of life's simple pleasures is sitting down to a nicely cooked, sizzling steak brought out with some complementary sides and begging to be eaten.

Steak sauce? Not if the place is any good. Maybe some fresh horseradish for the Prime or even one of the other cuts but A1 and Heinz 57 do not belong on my steak. Steak Oscar? Ok, I guess I can allow that one as long as the seafood is right out of the Gulf fresh and does not overpower the red meat.

Favorite steak places? Oh, let me see, there are many. I will highlight just a few here in this column. Some will be from days past and some will be from my current culinary life. I will also try to hit across the spectrum from fine dining to casual eats and anything in between. I may have to do a follow up at some point as this is a broad category with myriad good choices.

From their website: My choice is the filet
 So, first I will extol the virtues and consistency of one, Ruth's Chris Steakhouse. My adventures in eating have taken me to many locations of this fine chain. I began the RC journey in New Orleans, then Mobile, on to Atlanta, up to NY, a stop off in Denver and then to Tampa. Out of all these only one has not been up to par, the one in Denver, and it was something about ownership as I recall. Other than that the steaks are top choice, the atmosphere and service remarkably consistent and the menu everything a steak lover could imagine and maybe a little more. Usually a filet man but have ventured into other territory as well for some change of pace. Some meals consist of just an app, salad and a glass or two of vino. The sides are always enough for at least two and spinach and fries fresh from the oil are two faves. They have great stuffed mushrooms, BBQ Shrimp, Crab Cakes and Ahi Tuna, a mouth watering chopped salad and the desserts always look fab but I am always already satisfied so it goes unordered. The sizzling platter and the sumptious sides are enough for this meat lover. If I had to rank the locations I would have to say the NY location is #1, maybe purely based on it's location in the Marriott where I stayed on business all the time. It was hard to only eat there once per trip up but I did it. Always a great meal here. Always. Save the Denver location where I hosted a group dinner.

From their website: Florida Style Steakhouse
Staying local here in the area, Charley's Steakhouse is on our list of favorites. This one is also on the top end of the scale pricewise and we always start in the bar for a cocktail before heading to our table for dinner. This is a nice spot for business dinners and have had more than a couple here. This location has a nice Florida feel and is upscale and laid back all at the same time. Aged steaks are presented at the table for your choice before you order. I have had the filet here often but have moved into other cuts as well as Lobster depending on whether it is on the expense account or not. The service is usually great here as well. I have had a couple of instances where the cuts of meat were not quite as I would like and once some rubbery (frozen?) lobster tails but for the most part Charley's delivers.

Other good steak places I have had the pleasure of frequenting are Del Frisco's in Ft. Worth, Seegars at the Sandestin Hilton, Smith and Wollensky along with Gallagher's in NYC, Chops in Buckhead and I am sure I will come up with more as we go.......

Also, will report in on some of the more inexpensive steak places and chains in another story.

For now I need a nap after all that red meat talk.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

It's in da hole......

Hunt's Oyster Bar, Panama City, Florida
As Carl, our friend from Caddyshack once screamed....."It's In Da Hole!"......the best seafood places are usually just that, in a hole...... in the wall.

We started over in New Orleans on our HITW Seafood journey and now we travel east a bit to Panama City, Florida to stop in at #2 on my list of seafood delights in a humble space. The place? Hunt's Oyster Bar!

Never knew about this place for years and years. My brother, who used to come in with his family for Christmas to Destin, would always take one afternoon and do a Hunt's Oyster bar trip. Now I know why.

The place I am talking about is NOT the original one downtown as it burned down a while back BUT it still is the hole in the wall type place that serves up some delish vittles in the form of fresh seafood, namely Oysters.

My first time in was for a workday lunch alone and as I pulled in I had a feeling I was going to like this place immediately. I have this affinity for HITW's so I was already halfway there before even eating their food.

It did not take long before I was ALL IN and planning my next visit in as soon as possible and with my wife who I knew as going to go bonkers over this one as well.
Hole In The Wall Hall Of Fame

I sat at a table the first time in and had a seafood basket, scallops I believe and a 1/2 dozen raw. The oysters were divine: cold, large, juicy and salty. And cheap. Cheap. Cheap.

On subsequent trips with wife and without we ordered raw but also began to choose from the large variety of baked oysters as well and they were just as good as the raw ones. Sitting at the bar waiting on baked while someone shucks fresh raw ones and places them in front of you one shell at a time is something I miss.

People are friendly and sometimes colorful too here and it goes with the territory. If you leave here hungry or in a bad mood then I feel sorry for you. The bill will also keep you smiling too since they are reasonably priced.

This is one of those places I think about how to get to by making up a trip I "need" to take for some other reason. Any reason.

So, if you are near Panama City, Florida, I suggest you hunt for Hunt's and enjoy a memorable HITW Hall of Fame experience. Tell 'em Gulf Coast Guy sent you and save me a few dozen too!

Christmas Eve at Waffle House

It all started rather simply. A meal at a Waffle House in a Florida town. My son and I on Christmas Eve almost 9-10 years ago now. I really do not know what started it except that we did buy a meal fairly often for a military table or for someone anonymously to pass on a blessing to them.

But on this occasion it was decided that we would buy the entire restaurant their meals in the spirit of goodwill and charity that the Birth Of Christ brings. I barely can recall now whether we were in for breakfast of dinner on this day since many have passed since. I do recall though the warmth and the blessing that is created for everyone who was there.

Not only did the people who were represented there appreciate the sentiment but we were on the receiving end of blessings as well that Christmas Eve. The Waffle House gang always gets a kick out of it too.

My fave: Omelette
As always (Or almost always), I ordered my ham and cheese omelette and some coffee for you see I order it for breakfast and dinner, sometimes lunch too. My only other order might have been two over medium with grits and sausage. The son either goes waffle or hamburger but always gets his hash browns. Waffle House omelettes are always good, always fluffy and always tasty. I do not remember a bad one in all my years of frequenting them.

Are they going to appear on Food Network or gain critical acclaim from the venerable NYT? I think not but who cares I say. They are part of American lore and will be here long after many other high end places have come and gone. They have loyal employees as well as loyal followers who search for the yellow sign off the highway.

Since that first Christmas Eve blessing we have repeated it every year since and each time at a different Waffle House location. So far all have been in Florida. Last year I went alone and as I drove into the parking lot said a little prayer that the people inside the one I would visit would be blessed and see the true meaning of Christmas in the gesture. Well, blessings it was as the place was jammed with folks and although this year had been lean for us financially, I received much more in blessing here than the people who received their food free. I met some great folks who came by table by table to express thanks, introduce themselves and exchange Christmas wishes.

Three years ago I remember meeting a Pastor who happened to be in the one we chose that year and he was signing his Christmas cards to send out. He sent one to our table. I also was asked by one of the couples there if they could take a picture with me as they were visiting locally on vacation and had never seen this happen before. Again, I was the one who was blessed that day.

This year, blessed as we are by God, we will again venture to a new to us, Waffle House, and enjoy a Christmas Eve meal with some folks and celebrate in the tradition of love and charity.

I invite you to share in this fun with us and next time you are at Cracker Barrel, pay for the elderly couple sitting three tables over in secret. At the drive thru, pay for the car behind you and tell the cashier to tell them Merry Christmas when they drive up and are surprised.

Adopt an Angel tree child, a needy family, volunteer at Met Ministries and serve others Christmas dinner, support a foreign child through Compassion and on and on and on........

YOU will be the one who is blessed.