Saturday, September 11, 2010

Better Than Ezra?


Are there places I like Better than Ezra? Yes. But it does hold some promise for another try next time I am down in Bradenton. My first trip to this little place, hidden off one of the main drags was a study in contrasts and irony. I decided to give them a try based on my research on Urbanspoon and a conversation I had with one of the Marriott foodies who knows the area very well and actually lives on Anna Maria Island, the lucky dog.

So off I went and less than ten minutes from the Marriott I found the place, well hidden of the main road. Looked pretty much as expected from the outside and really when I got inside, it was a bit better than my mind had it pictured. It had a nice bistro feel with bar up front and the dining room spread out over the rest of the place. No separation but that suits the space fine.

I chose to sit over against the wall at a two top. The restaurant had a nice crowd at just before 7 PM and I was greeted promptly by my friendly server. I asked her the beer selections and as we chatted I learned that HH was still on for a few more minutes and one of the specialty cocktails was a Lolita......Margarita with chili pepper honey as a finish to it. Be still my beating heart. Beer? Not when this is available. Rather than cover service piecemeal I will handle it near the end as it was a major part of the yin and yang of the visit.

The menu is pretty varied and lots of the items looked great. I was told by my source at the Marriott to try the Calamari salad but was not in the squid mood tonight. Two other salads really caught my eye and I started trying to put together an app and salad meal. Nice start on my diet. So when the server came back with my drink I asked her about a few things I was considering and found out they were out of oysters so the Po-Boy was not an option and they were also out of one other menu item which I had no interest in.

Once I ordered I chose the Caesar salad, smaller portion and an app that could have been called Crabcake Sandwich as it was two lump crabmeat cakes with a fried green tomato "sandwiched" in between and a couple of nice complementary sauces too. They had bread and butter but I politely declined since once I start on bread I tend to finish. My server told the crabcakes were MARYLAND approved, meaning no fake crab or snow crab meat,ONLY the blues were good enough.

This is where it really gets to be a contrast. Two things, one was connected to the owner or someone high enough up in the eatery to have a table eating and carrying around two cute little children all over the restaurant. In and out the doors, sitting in the elegant front "lobby", at the table. Not obnoxiously loud but enough that even a Jimmy Buffett personality began to notice. It did take away some from the dining. Second thing was interminable waits in between everything during the meal despite what appeared to be a normal crowd and ample staff to cover it all. More on that later.

Crabcake & Fried Green Tomato "Sandwich"
The food arrived and I enjoyed my salad and the bits of fried green tomatoes that were interspersed in the dish. Hearts of palm too and the dressing was tasty and not too heavy on this one. I did  not finish it though as I waited on the app. It came and it was by far the star of the meal. I think I ate it in about five minutes and scraped some of the sauce up too. The tomato was not mushy and had some bite to it in contrast to the lush softness and sweet taste of the crabcakes which were nicely blended with herbs and spices. They were a decent size as well making this the perfect entree for a single diner.

After the meal I waited........and waited.........and waited.......for the server to come by so I could get the check and be on my way. When she appeared I handed her my card and she said, be right back.

I waited......and waited.......and waited....................and waited some more only to have her show up and say, I will take this when you are ready, only to be informed I had already given her my credit card. Ooops, sorry.

So.....I waited.....and waited.....and waited and she finally showed up and let me reclaim the balance of my life here on God's green earth.

On my new five starfish rating scale, here goes......ATMOSPHERE 3.25(dinged for the children all over), DRINKS: 3.75, FOOD 3.75, SERVICE 2.25 ( Friendly but being there for one hour and 23 minutes to eat a salad and app is unacceptable) OVERALL 3.25.

A return trip is warranted.

Redeeming The Shrimp

 I finally succumbed to taking the exit to Ybor City after terrible traffic detoured me once again here in fabulous driver Tampaland. And it led me down 22nd to a place I had tried once before and where we had some issues. I let some time go by to let the place work out some of the kinks and the shills tire out on giving glowing reviews that seemed out of place.

 Here I was, back at Shrimp and Co., a seafood purveyor caddy cornered to the famous yet food poor Columbia Restaurant. As I walked in I felt like it was someplace in the French Quarter in New Orleans, kind of like a mini Acme Oyster although sparser in terms of the ambiance and offerings. I was heartened by the place being almost half full before 7 PM. In fact during the meal the coming and going was good and when I left they were more than half filled.

On to the meal. I was told to sit where I wanted and chose a four top near the front off to the side. Good place to see the whole restaurant.
I was greeted promptly by my server and asked about beers available and decided on a Stella knowing it's crispness would go well with the seafood to come. Interesting menu and it actually took me some time to decide what I would order and I peppered Jose with a few questions before finally deciding. NOTE: Some of the items that show up on the website menu are not on the one in house and vice versa. I was trying to choose between a shrimp/oyster platter, a steam pot or one other entree that escapes me now. After the questions and info exchange I went with the Steam Pot, a melange of clams, shrimp, blue crabs( the clincher this evening), cob corn and new potatoes. One thing they do point out on the menu is that when you order is when they bread it, cook it and bring it out hot and fresh.
My Steam Pot

It took a little while to get the food out and I was plenty hungry when it arrived. Very appealing on the appearance at the table as you can see and I immediately dug in. I asked for some drawn butter to dip in and was also informed that the whole platter was swimming in butter. But I like putting copious amounts of hot sauce in mine to spice things up even more and in this case it was Crystal doing the honors. Ok, now on to the meat of the piece, the review of my dining experience here at Shrimp & Co. I will be debuting my new rating scale of Five Starfish and will rate each aspect of the platter since it is all I ordered....unless you count the Key Lime sliver I took home.

Pardon me right upfront if this gets a bit long and involved but since my less than satisfactory visit I want to give them some constructive feedback of value to them and their customers. Right off the bat I will say service was much better than before BUT........

DRINKS: Not a huge selection and they were out of two brews that the table of fun loving ladies tried to order. They seem to push the Sangria as the go-to in the alcoholic genre, maybe due to the Columbia behemoth next door. I ordered a Stella and it came out cold sans glass. RATING: 3.00 of out 5.00

ATMOSPHERE: As I said before, it was a nice atmosphere and matched well with the expectations of the food and overall experience. The place is not huge inside BUT I believe that to be a good thing as you could still hear yourself speak yet there was good energy around. RATING: 3.75 out of 5.00

ENTREE: For $19.99 I was pleased with the amount, even as a HUGE fan of seafood, especially when it is boiled or steamed spicy. I feel I need to rate each food on the platter since they varied widely in my opinion. I started with clams so will rate them first. They were small but that is most always the case with steamed. One small annoyance, the clam shells were almost all empty and I had to fish for the clams under all the other food. RATING: 3.00. Blue Crabs should have been the star here and they were fresh and the meat was sweet and tender as it should be BUT the crabs were almost obscenely small and the meat hard to get to as a result. And the smallness meant the claws were really just a garnish and I hate it when I cannot eat the entire crab. RATING 2.50. The shrimp were the most plentiful seafood on the dish and came out cooked head on. This is a plus in my book since flavor comes from the heads when cooking. A few were a bit difficult to peel but overall they were tasty morsels. RATING: 3.75. Potatoes and corn were REALLY really good and the potatoes not overcooked mush and the corn sweet and tender. RATING 4.00. Overall the dish was cooked well letting me know the guy in the kitchen does know how to prepare it. RATING 3.50.

Nice Ambiance and Right Size Dining Room
DESSERT: Took what was supposed to be a piece of Key Lime pie, housemade, to go. It was a good rendition but hardly could be called a piece of pie in the deep south. It was more like two bites. RATING: 2.75

SERVICE: Again, much improved BUT I have some suggestions. For this dish the discard plate was a small saucer when either a bucket or another platter of the same size should be brought out. Also, the napkins given were inferior and with this dish you need a roll of paper towels for the table at a minimum or a stack of napkins. The after dinner wipes were a joke, seriously, get a new supplier. Once my beer was brought I was checked back with on beverages after 45 minutes. Also, bring out water without being asked, it adds class. To the defense side of things on service, I think the coverage may have been a bit overwhelming for the number of servers on hand. RATING 3.50

I WILL however make another trip in with my wife, the goal of the restaurant. I will ask more questions and try some of the other good looking dishes on the menu. For now, on my new 5 Starfish rating scale I am giving Shrimp & Co. a solid 3.33 out of 5.00.

And by the way, THEIR food is much better than the food at Columbia. Next time I will try some Sangria "Joda".

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Best Thing I Ever Ate

From The Mr. B's Website
Best thing I ever ate? It gets a "B"!

As in Mr. B's Bistro in New Orleans. A place I have dined in over 50X in my life and that I look forward to visiting each time I have the opportunity to travel to the Big Easy.

Mr. B's is the benchmark, or should I say, a benchmark restaurant for me as I eat in other cities and the total experience here has almost always been one of the best in my vast culinary cruise. I have been stopping in here since 1978. I have had many celebrations here, many business meetings here, many meals alone here and every now and then just stop in over at the bar for a Bloody Mary, B's style. I have been known to eat one day for lunch and the very next day come in for dinner here. It is THAT good. I have had reservations for other new places on the scene countless times and while out and about somehow stumbled into B's and called the other place to cancel my reservations. And yes, I am one of the ones who will actually call to cancel reservations.

Back to the subject at hand, the BEST thing I ever ate. Not surprising it was here that I ate said dish. I mean when they have some of the best gumbo, oyster apps, BBQ Shrimp, Rabbit and Steak to name a few, how can you go wrong. But it was none of those that made the BTIEA top rank.

It was on a business trip. It was one time I dined alone for dinner. It was a defining moment in my dining life. This trip in they had a special on the menu which I eagerly ordered not knowing what awaited me when it came out to my table. It was on the menu as a "Free Form Ravioli w/ Lump Crabmeat". Of course being a lifelong fan of anything fresh crab I had to try this one. I do not even remember the other items I ordered that night and they do not matter at all for this piece.

THE dish came out and was two huge handmade pasta sheets draped around a filling of lump blue crab meat, chanterelle mushrooms, other herbs and spices and then lovingly drenched in a delicate yet assertive lemon butter sauce. I will never forget the first bite....or the second....or the last. It was heaven on a plate and I had the Chef show up at my table after I commented endlessly to my waiter that night about how good this dish tasted. I have had the pleasure of having this dish one more time on a trip in with my wife to celebrate my birthday a few years back. The dish was a tad different BUT still the best thing I ever ate. My wife ordered it as well and agreed and we never order the same thing so we can share. I had already told her if she wanted some to get her own because I was likely not going to share much if any.

So the favorite overall restaurant in my life is Mr' B's and they also lay claim to serving me the BEST THING I EVER ATE!

Friday, September 3, 2010

Anna Maria Eats!

.Ok, so I am heading back to my secret little place..... taking you with me..........Shhhhhhhh, remember, all this is just between you and me. Don't want the whole world to know what we do now do we? ;o).

This time to broach the subject of a few of my fave places up on the north end (only place to stay IMO) of the Island to grab a bite or make an evening of it. There are some good choices for both from breakfast to dinner and everything in between. All within a bike ride or a walk of each other. This will not be all inclusive but I will re-visit again as we unveil the little gem of Anna Maria Island's North End.

Now, where do we begin this little jaunt? Let's go with the Ginny And Jane E's coffee shop/gift shop/internet cafe/breakfast and lunch eatery. This is the old IGA store and has undergone a change in ownership in the last year or so BUT the mood is still beach relaxed and a MUST stop on any visit to AMI. Bring the dog and bring the family, all are welcome here. They serve some good breakfast baked goods and also have some tasty items for your choosing for lunch and maybe even early dinner too. Pick up some gourmet snacks here for the rental cottage. Check emails and let the pooch relax here as well. Oh, and pick up some AMI gifts and souvenirs. Crowded at times so be patient and relax in a chair that is for sale too. Great spot to grab some liquid energy before heading out on your morning walk on the beach in the sunshine.

Now that we have covered the AM hours let's get you to a place for lunch. How about a fresh grilled Grouper sandwich and a cold Corona while sitting on the water? Ok, just a few short minutes by bike is the Rod and Reel Pier. Here, you walk out to the end of the pier and plop down in the bar or upstairs in the dining room and order up some fresh seafood and a good cold one. I suggest the bar since the action is in there and right outside people are fishing for their dinner. And the company there is always friendly. If you like oysters you can also order an Oyster po-Boy although it is not on the menu.

These two are a good start but we have much more for you in future posts on the AMI eateries. Relaxing? yes. Pretentious? No way. Flip Flops may be too formal for these places but I think they will still let you in.