Thursday, August 26, 2010

Seafood served from a Hole In The Wall.....

Some of the best places in my memory for seafood, you know the kind, steamed, broiled, boiled and grilled, are those with very little to do with putting on airs. I can count on my left hand (yes we are in our right minds) the number of these little joints that make my "Best Of" list. Of course there will always be arguments for what is and is not a "hole in the wall" but to me these few are currently at the top of my Gulf Coast Guy Seafood Hole In The Wall Hall Of Fame. (Say that five times fast)

First let me define Hole In The Wall from my perspective. Usually you hear of this type place by word of  mouth first for some reason. Then you do your homework and make plans for that first visit. Usually the place is not much to look at from outside and even inside not much of an upscale type dining establishment. This means that they HAVE to be great at one thing.......THE FOOD. And usually price will be a factor as well, at least in my humble opinion. Now don't get me wrong, some places who qualify for HITW distinction can have added bonuses as I have found in my adventures all along the Gulf Coast from New Orleans to Mobile to Destin to Panama City all the way down to Tampa.

My current list contains three places which are most recent in my memory and one is at the top currently due to multiple visits in the past two years. Of course, many places in New Orleans alone could qualify but for the sake of brevity here I will list only one from the Big Easy in this one. And it is not even in the Quarter or downtown as one might think. It is in Kenner and it is called Harbor Seafood. For years and years I came to New Orleans and never had heard of this place. You guessed it, I was told by a friend and business partner about it one trip in and made plans to visit with my wife immediately on our next trip into town.
Boy were we happy we did. This place is right off the main drag in Kenner and not much to look at outside or really inside BUT the menu is a seafood lovers dream and the food, the seafood, is fabulous.

First time in we tried Turtle Soup( with Sherry), Raw Oysters, Boiled Crawfish and Po-Boys. Along with cold cold Barqs Root Beer. The menu has so many choices it is hard to decide. EVERYTHING was good and fresh and tasty. Service was down home style friendly and the place feels like one big get together at someone's house.

The BONUS I was talking about? Receiving the check for one, it is so reasonable for what they deliver and right next door is their seafood market that ships or packs for take home, which I have done more than once.

I have now been back a dozen or so times and waited for a table only once or twice but still enjoy the seafood and have expanded my horizons to boiled blue crabs, seafood baskets, calamari and much much more.

So, Harbor Seafood in Kenner, La where you can eat like a King.......A King Neptune. And still have some green for a New Orleans Sno-Ball or Plate of Beignets later on. And ladies, there is a nice big mall right down the way. In fact, once I stopped to eat and asked the wife to pick me up AFTER her shopping trip.

Next stop, Panama City.......

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Oui, Oui for the Brasserie!

 I am not French nor do I speak the language but this past weekend I did visit a place that reminded me that I do like their food. And one day will sit and eat it on the Champs De Elysee with my lovely bride. I will thank them for the Statue Of Liberty and for Steak Frites.

I digress.

We visited the other side of the bay and stopped in for dinner at The St. Pete Brasserie on Central Avenue. Very unassuming from the outside but when you walk in you do get a sense right away of a nice and lively little bistro with a bar on the right side and ample tables spread throughout. The crowd was buzzing when we arrived and we were shown to a table all the way at the back of the dining room.

A diverse crowd was in house and as we dined we noticed a lot of regulars coming and going based on the interaction with the ownership and staff.

We also had the pleasure of using a gift certificate for our first time here which had us looking at the apps right off the bat. Nice thing about GC's is that you can then add on items you might not normally try and really get a good cross section of the menu. We ordered a Chicken Liver Mousse that came with cornichons, toasts and a ginger pallete cleanser. It was lovely and delish.

I got a beer and ordered my wife a glass of the Clos Du Val Chard to start and we took our time perusing the entree selections before making the call. We decided on the old standby, Steak Frites and also the Duck Confit with a Brasserie Salad and a side of the recommended Mac and Cheese.

The salad was pretty standard fare BUT the lively vinegar based dressing was a real standout in this dish. I asked our server to bring me a good red wine with my Steak Frites and she did choose a nice one, the name escapes me but it was right on for my dinner. The Duck Confit was rich and flavorful and sitting atop braised red cabbage and some whipped potatoes. My steak was perfectly cooked and had a bit of a sweet taste from the marinade and the fries were crispy, hot and perfect with the meat.

The reco of the Mac and Cheese was a GOOD one and the al dente pasta and the rich cheese blend made this a must order for next trip. We could not finish half of it due to our full state.

We did LISTEN to the dessert choices before politely declining them and coffee due to my wife's tired state.

Our server was good for this evening but I felt she was "selling" a bit too much.....I don't know if it was due to the GC or what. Still all in all attentive service though.

Bottom line, we will be back and this one was one of those places where you talk about it the next day and try to dream up a reason to go back as soon as possible.

Tab with our GC and lavish tip was only $65. It was worth it without the GC and they did their jobs so to speak. They will get us back.......and soon. I hope to be able to order in French next time in.

Monday, August 16, 2010

I love Thai and I love Sushi...

So, always a welcome sight when a decent place comes along that caters to both types of cuisine in the same space. Such was the case this past weekend when I ventured down 54 to the shadow of the Sun Coast and found Bangkok Thai and Sushi in a little strip center right off the road.

I was actually fairly surprised at the nice relaxed and almost upscale feel when I walked in and was greeted immediately by the staff and seated in a little two top with a couch against the wall bench to relax on. I noticed a new brew which I had not had before on the table tent so I ordered a Chang as I was pretty thirsty. Similar to Singha in flavor and cold!

After perusing the menu for a few minutes and the variety of sushi rolls and nigiri as well as the Thai salads, I ordered pretty simply. A Yum Squid which is a salad, medium spicy and Red Clam and Escolar nigiri. I asked if they had Uni and was told no....a hard one to come by most of the time. I also ordered a hot sake as is my custom with sushi.

The servers were all in tradtional Asian dress which made the feel of the service that much more authentic and matched the decor nicely.

My Thai Squid salad was really good and presented beautifully on it's plate and the sushi came out looking artistic as well. The salad was pretty spicy and had my water glass refilled about four times as I ate. The sushi was fresh and tasted as good as any I have had in the area.
The original plan was to eat lighter and then head across the way to the International Beer Garden BUT I was too full and getting a bit tired so I saved that treat for my next time out this way.

And that will be pretty soon as I promised the wife a meal there. Real nice place for date night and also for a table full as you can hear yourself talk in this place.

On my four seashell scale I am going with:

Atmosphere 3.25
Service 3.00
Food 3.00
Drink 2.50
Overall 3.00

See You Next Thai!!!!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Tapas are on the Mapas......

Oysters With Shot Of Vodka At Ceviche
(Copyright GCG Vibe 2010)
Little plates. Ceviche. Meatballs. Cheese. Artichokes. All these and more are on the menu at one of the many Tapas places here in the area.

Ceviche, Vizcaya, Cafe Ole, Spain, Sangria, Tinatapas. Ceviche has many locations. I am quite sure I am missing some others.

All of them are primarily Tapas and Sangria purveyors. All have a different take on things which makes the journey more pleasing to take. Out of these named, I have eaten at all but Sangria's to date. So far, I would have to say that Ceviche has been my overall favorite and most frequented of the ones I have had a meal. I suppose we have been there at least a dozen or more times. Have had very few instances where we were not pleased with something. Of course we have found some items we just do not care for on the menu but on the huge menu at Ceviche you will not like them all BUT do not let that stop your culinary adventure.

Our other most frequented Tapas place has been Vizcaya on Dale Mabry. Have been there five times or more and it is a completely different atmosphere than Ceviche. A much smaller place and for that reason alone maybe a little more intimate. The menu here is less varied that Ceviche BUT we have always loved the plates we have ordered here save one or two. I think I found I did not care to their Octopus one for instance.

Salad Vilafranca at Ceviche
(Copyright GCG Vibe 2010)
Ceviche is all about festive and variety and the menu for the newbie can appear daunting. Have always liked the Sangria, especially when they mix it right at your table for you. The Tabla Mixta, a platter of cheeses, meats and yummy accompaniments is one of our faves here. Also Vilafranca salad is awesome and is one to share with a few folks as well. The list of others we like here would be pretty long so I will devote some space for them next time we head there.

For now though Ceviche is our go to for Tapas and Sangria with Vizcaya right behind them. Spain and Cafe Ole will need more to move up on our list. Visit them on Tuesday for $4 Tapas and Sangria......

Happy Small Plating!!!!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Another one bites the........burger

So, I fulfilled one more on my list of to eats this week. I visited the newcomer on the burger block, The Burger Monger on Dale Mabry over in Carrollwood. It was a close call though as I drove right past the Ybor exit and thought about giving Shrimp and Co. their second chance meal.

So, after I actually put Burger Monger on the Urbanspoon map before they opened and followed them from day one, I was feeling a bit conflicted due to the mixed reviews and some issues with shills in the early days. (Over one dozen people voted "like it" before they even opened for instance).

But all that was put to rest when I arrived and walked into the latest burger bonanza here in Tampa.

The atmosphere is actually a bit on the upscale side and nicer for sure than say......Five Guys, who goes after that soda shoppe look. With nice furniture, and decor and some well placed TV's for watching the Rays or something else, the place has a nice comfy feel.

Service was downright cheerful which is uncommon these days and you can tell the mgt has a rigorous training program AND expects his people to treat customers as just that, their guest. Not having been here before, I ordered pretty basic from the menu for my first time and got the 6 oz Kobe burger with pepper Jack, Shrooms, lettuce, tomato and a little mayo. Also the 1/2 lb fries, hand cut. Two of my favorite words, hand cut. Nice to see they had a good beverage selection including beer and wine. I do not necessarily needs a beer with my burger BUT ordered a Sam Adams anyway. One thing I was not asked was how I wanted my burger done. A slip up?

I watched as others ordered and got their food and the servers were very pleasant and polite and when one table asked for their fries crispier there was no question asked, the fries were taken and a serving of crispy ones appeared in minutes.

My brew took a few minutes and when it got there was not icy cold like I would expect went down good nonetheless.

My burger and fries came out hot and ready to eat and the server even went and got me ketchup but alas did not ask if I wanted silverware too. I got more ketchup and silverware and noticed they also have malt vinegar for those who enjoy it on their fries.

So, to the food. The burger was good. Not dry as many have said, but a good solid burger. As I ate I read all about the Kobe beef thing and the health claims and all that. It did not change the burger to anything other than a good tasting burger. The fries were very fresh and a little bit on the limp side BUT to me, any hand cut fresh fries beat most others in burger joints. The plate I had was just enough as well. There were none left on my plate.

So all in all, I will certainly be back to try more items on the menu including the $14.99 Two patty pounder. And when I bring a crew with me we can order the huge chili cheese fries to go with it and a thick milkshake.

I escaped for $13 and change and felt pretty good about that tab.

On my four seashell scale and keeping in mind the place I was eating in comparison to others in the genre:

Atmosphere: 3.00
Service: 3.50
Food 2.75
Drink 2.50

Overall 2.90

Monday, August 9, 2010

Brocato's: Doing It THEIR Way

Since 1948 no less. Been here a few times now and decided to grab a meal to go for the family. Called the wife and orally recited the menu above the counters. She chose, of all things, Chicken Parm....with black beans. I ordered an Italian (medium out of three sizes), two empanadas and a stuffed potato to give us some nice variety.

This place draws from all walks of life and all socio-economic groups. There are construction workers, execs, medical folks in their scrubs, families and you name it in the place when I sit down to wait on my order.

The gentleman at the register looks as if he has been there for years and years and it is fun to watch the whole place working to fill the orders. Kinda reminds me of Willy Wonka and The Chocolate Factory of Cuban food. Everyone has their place and their job to do and it flows nicely in a quirky kind of rhythm. He saves me a few bucks by putting some of my ala carte orders in combos and it gets me chips and drinks as well. Nice touch.

The food takes a while and I watch intently, getting hungry now, as the orders for others are filled. A couple of larger catering orders head out the door too while I wait. Once I get the food, I am able to carry it all out in a box and two bags to the car for the 20 mile drive home at rush hour.

Of course the drive home seems as if it takes a day or two because I am hungry and the food smells fill the car and my nostrils. I do eat a piece of buttered Cuban Bread that goes with the Chicken Parm dish.

Once home and I spread it all out it is a HUGE spread and I sense I did over order just a bit. But hey, we WILL eat it. Funny but one of the best things about the meal was the yellow rice with peas and black beans spooned over it with fresh onions. The Chicken Parm is also a big serving and is fresh pounded chicken breast and not the fake pressed stuff many places serve. The empanadas and stuffed potato are very flavorful as well. The potato is huge and has ground meat stuffing in it.
By the way, this trip I did not buy a Deviled Crab but it too is a famous fixture here at Brocato's. And no less food than the stuffed potato.

Right now I am STILL full from the meal about 3 hours ago and look forward to visiting again soon. Brocato's has personality, tradition and good food waiting for those who find it.


More High End Burger Places Coming

Seems that one of the biggest dining trends out there right now is centered around the All American Classic, the hamburger.

Almost every month we see a new one pop up in our area with the latest entry being Burger Monger in the Carrollwood area. The reviews on it are quite a mixed bag but it seems to be drawing a lot of interest in the area. Lately a few of the more creditable Urbanspoon diners have stopped in for a visit so I feel a bit better about what I am reading about them now than I did before. I have yet to get by there but will make a point of it very soon.

To date, Five Guys has been one of my burger and fries places of choice for a couple of reasons. One, they deliver a pretty good product and their fries are really a big draw for me personally. Two, locations are near us and convenient and their food is much better than Mickey D's, BK and Sonic to name three. I always opt for the smaller burger since the larger size and an order of regular fries qualifies you for an episode of Man vs. Food. I tried one of their dogs for a change once and although it was tasty enough, it was pretty pricey for a hot dog IMO.

Now another entry is opening over at Citrus Park and also being built as we speak in the Shops at Wiregrass in Wesley Chapel. The Red Robin chain is coming to town. We ate at a few of these back when we lived in Ft. Worth, Texas and I recall that they were pretty good. Based on their website though, they do a whole lot more than gourmet burgers. I look forward to giving them a try the minute they open their doors in Wiregrass, right up the road from my home.

So, I have my work cut out for me. Burger Monger and then Red Robin with a follow up on both.


Saturday, August 7, 2010

The Refinery: Third Time Through

Took a drive for a later night dinner foray to The Refinery with my daughter who had never been able to visit before now.

I took a quick peek online to see what this weeks menu held in store for us and we called them before
we left on a Friday night to make sure we could get
a table around 9.

Although the menu does change weekly a pattern can be seen in the offerings most every time.

My two previous visits have been a bit of a mixed bag but overall the food, service and atmosphere have been good quality and made me want to come back and try more of the fare here.

(Pictured left: Flat Iron Steak)

Once we arrived we had a table waiting on us and immediately were seated and ordered a wine and a Downtown Brown dark
brew. The wine was unusual and tasted great.

For our meal we got the Pork Belly app, that came with braised cabbage and included a sliver of cashew brittle with it. I guess my daughter scooped up the brittle because I only saw it in the picture. This one took a while to get out to us and when it came it was sans any discernible pork. The two pieces of pork on the platter were 98.45% fat and the usually crispy outer skin was limp and fatty as well. This dish really should not have been served.

The main entrees were much better as the veggie lover daughter ordered the Grit Cakes with all kinds of "friends" on board......carrots, figs, sweet potato mash.....and I opted for the Flat Iron Steak after asking for a reco between it and the Thai Burger. The three large grit cakes kind of overwhelmed the bowl but all in all it was enjoyed by it's owner. My skirt steak was medium rare and tender and came with a serving of fingerlings and asparagus. Also had a pat of rich herb butter with some anchovies in it. Rather strong but a nice complement. Ordered another dark brew here, The Hooker Liberator which was richer than my first one.

We were really full when we finished and did not have room for dessert yet

again but there are two choices I believe on the menu each week. The service was consistent as always and as a matter of fact I have had the same waiter all three trips now.

I would say we will visit again and see what adventurous items we can discover on the menu. This trip was a bit uneven foodwise but still all in all an enjoyable trip into culinary enjoyment.

Overall on my four seashell scale I am giving this meal a 2.75.

Monday, August 2, 2010

So, when you die please leave me this....

I mean, you have to leave it to someone right? Why not me? I will take great care of it and make sure I also leave it to someone very deserving when my swim is up. Contact me here to make all the arrangements. Thanks a bunch.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Anna Maria Island.........Shhhhhhhhhhh!

Ok, before I wax eloquent here please let it be known this information is on the down low, the QT, confidential. Capisce? Now we have that out of the way. I will actually add more than one entry on this place since there are many things to say and report on here.

For now, as an introduction, Anna Maria Island is my NEW favorite beach haunt replacing the overdeveloped and ultra crowded Destin, located in the panhandle.

Why you might ask? Well, I will tell you why.It is the definition of an old time, laid back, unpretentious, no high rise, Florida beach destination where the beach is the main attraction and along with it, a relaxed vibe, which is EXACTLY what I am looking for when I choose to venture to the beach.

What I DON'T need or want is traffic jams, beaches where you cannot see the sand for the people, crowds of tourists, 3 hour waits at local eateries, high rises as far as the eye can see.......and I think you are getting the picture here.

I stumbled on this place over three years ago as a Google search and the rest is history. I have now stayed on the island about 25X give or take in the last few years. First visit was by myself and co-incided with July 4th and the island parade which was a great start.

More to come and I will highlight certain areas and places along with nearby towns in future posts.For now, North end and Bean Point are calling my name.

Ah, the smell of the salt air, the gentle waves lapping the shell laden shore, the azure water beckoning, the sandbar not too far off shore.