Sunday, June 23, 2013

This Little Red Engine #09 is a burgermeister's find

We love driving down Central Avenue, 1st Ave North and 1st Ave South from 4th Street to the east and to the west as far as 28th Street in a zig zag loop between the streets.  You can find many start ups and independents springing up in unlikely places.  Beach Drive may have the movers and shakers with BUZZ but there is food just west of the Drive that is worthy a visit in search of good eats.   It is ever so much more fun in The Mister's blue convertible than our staid coach of yore.  There is something to be said for mid to later life crisis purchases, there are some splurges that please more than others.  A convertible beats a mini-van hands down.
The Van Helsing
Roasted Jalapenos, roasted garlic, bacon crumbles and pepperjack cheese

While we relish our leisurely stroll to memories past, forever connected to our first convertible/cars and linked reverently to American Band Stand appearances, Chubby Checker twist contests, the ever-present greasy spoon diner on the corner with burgers and shakes, long before the ubiquitous Golden Arches or ilk, was our Mothers' milk.

Engine No. 9 on Urbanspoon

The Mister was weaned on Philly cheesesteaks and I was raised on El Cap's, Chattaway's, and Biff Burgers. The Mister and I share a love of burgers, especially good burgers.  I will gladly pay you Tuesday for a burger today.  There is nothing "wimpy" about Engine #09 and their offerings.  The restaurant is oddly shaped and the frontage seems to face the wrong direction from the parking, but that matters little once inside and comfortably ensconced in the clean bright red booths.
Golden fried wings in sriracha sauce

The menu is long on inventive burger combinations and a fine selection of brews.  There is a creative mind behind the burger creations.  Some are drool inducing just upon reading and equally as delicious when consumed.  Fresh beef patties cooked to order and topped with a myriad of toppings that sing in Epicurean harmony. I tried the Van Helsing and it was a mess to eat but oh so good.  Next one I want to try is the Borderline, avocado, smoked pancetta, roasted cherry peppers, pepperjack cheese and chipotle mayo.  Wowser!  The Mister can't resist the lure of a burger named the Wine-o, 8 ounces of prime beef, topped with red wine barbecue sauce, white cheddar, bacon and fried onions  .Hot dogs and Wings fare equally as well with inventive pairings.  The wings with a Sriracha toss were delicious. The Calamari Fries were just awesome. cut differently than the ubiquitous rings and fried delicately!  We were delighted with the many menu options, chili to gumbo and Sriracha Salmon to Chicken Pasta. There are entrees that will warrant inspection, the braised short ribs and  a veggie mushroom risotto.  The Brew menu did contain enough of The Mister's favorites and allowed me to venture forth with new pairings.
Calamari Fries

We had a delightfully wonderful late lunch and while the numerous TV's were visible but they were  muted for lack of a game, thankfully, allowing convivial discourse.  We could see the positives for prime Sports viewing, premium noshing and drinking at Engine #09.  You won't see me trying the Ghost Burger Challenge anytime soon.  Yes, I AM TOO WIMPY but you can count on a repeat visit for the many other options offered and we will gladly pay today for the burger in front of us.

Bacon cheese burger

Fine service, delicious offerings. clean bright decor, all in all a positive.
Caprese Salad

Notyourmomma's Kitchen Tampa Bay restaurants

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Scallywag Journeys - Tampa Bay and Beyond: Witches BBQ Den - downtown Saint Petersburg, FL

Scallywag Journeys - Tampa Bay and Beyond: Witches BBQ Den - downtown Saint Petersburg, FL: The Witches BBQ Den just opened in April, but I have been back many times to try out the menu.  Obviously, repeat visits mean I ...

Monday, June 17, 2013

Meet our unsinkable Molly Brown

It is long well past time to introduce you to our newest family addition.  Molly Brown, a new companion to our irrepressible Charlie Brown.   Miss Molly joined us a year ago December.  She is a rescue pup from Pet Pal Animal Shelter.  I had been scanning the dog photos for months after we lost our Ollie, and Molly's face was haunting me,  I was so hoping that The Mister would not object to a new furry friend and we could give Molly a good home.

Molly is about 55 lbs and was one and a half years young when she joined our family.  She is a Hungarian Vizla mix.  She is a smaller lighter version of Charlie Brown.

We kept the moniker given by the Pet Pal staff.  Something about a rescue dog named Unsinkable Molly Brown tickled my fancy.

Our Charlie Gibson Brown is a gift from a dear family friend, who had to find a home for a tiny pup because of family allergies.  Charlie Gibson Brown (yes, I picked his middle name after my longtime imaginary affair with the esteemed Charles Gibson of GMA fame).  He is soon to be four years old and is a dear mix of Labrador, Vizla and a smidge of Dane.  Yes, I did a DNA test on him, only because of his unfortunate coloring that screams Pit bull to people.  He is a strong dog weighing about 85 lbs. at present.  

Chsrlie and Molly did not have a love fest in the first few weeks of companionship.  As a matter of fact, I have a damaged nail bed and The Mister had to have seven stitches when we found out how possessive Charlie could be over a toy.  The Mister was the unfortunate recipient of a bite.  We have since learned to keep toys and bones apart with no ill effect to dog or family.  
This is a joint picture of the culprits who managed to snag two full boxes of peanut butter cookies and eat every single one.  
Obviously conspiracy between furry friends is an issue.
Molly came to us scared and terrified of noises and affection.  She did not like looking you in the eye and she avoided direct eye contact for long time.  Eventually she came around and has become the sweetest dearest dog...with a penchant for stealing food.

Nothing is sacred left on the counter and she can stretch those limbs and neck to snag whatever she fancies.  It is harder to train the humans in the house to put the food out of her reach than it is to prevent her thievery.  

Shoes have become another victim of her puppy years and shoes have been punctured with teeth marks and some including those never out of the box have met their demise in her effort to calm herself.   She does not like to be alone and longs for her human companions.  
Charlie ate remotes and cell phones and she has a penchant for leather.  Eventually the humans in the house have learned to crate the dogs and put desirables out of reach.  

Pet Pal Rescue is a wonderful organization and they do so well with their adoptees.  Please visit Pet Pal and do a furry one a favor and give it a forever home.

Mollycita as we affectionately call her now, is a cherished family dog.  She and 
Charlie have a blooming love affair and are inseparable.  They wrestle, they run, they cuddle, they lounge together and they sleep side by side, mirroring breaths and snores.  They are wonderful dear dogs.  

Skippy and friends begging for a treat from The Mister.  No way Jose, it is pulled pork.
Got to love her.

Ollie (RIP) kept me alive after our son Tyler died.  Ollie never stopped loving me and licked away all my tears.  He never left my side for two years, and his steadfast gaze into my heart kept me sane when grief was too much to bear.  His loss was huge and I needed a dog to love me as unconditionally as Ollie did.  Thank goodness Molly joined our crew.
Charlie and Molly wrestling away caused me to hit my head hard enough on the book case to end up with a bad concussion.  I was laughing and trying to avoid all 120 lbs. of tumbling dog and got hurt.  That injury revealed the tangle of blood vessels and possible brain tumor.  I am grateful for their rambunctious play, because I got the right treatment and am no worse for the wear and tear.  I am truly grateful for their play and exuberance to keep me smiling and enjoying my furry loves.  Amazing how the love of a dog can be a spiritual healing in so many ways.  They are forgiving and love unconditionally, a trait that humans would be urged to emulate.  

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Pining for Ricky P's New Orleans Bistro

The Mister and I decided to do lunch instead of dinner, just because of the tales of unruly crowds and bad service.  Lunch was a perfect preview of the food and ambiance without the stress of overworked staff.  We had the most relaxing meal and it was paced to perfection. We don't like to be rushed, any more than feeling neglected. Our server was competent and friendly.  We have loved the building and interior of the New Orleans Bistro since it was Savannah's (RIP).  Our most unfortunate very bad experience at Savannah's did not color our expectations of Ricky P's.  The colors of Mardi Gras are evident, but it isn't so overwrought to be tacky.
Ricky P's Orleans Bistro on Urbanspoon

We decided to start our meal with our favorites, using a standard favorite to rate their efforts.  The Mister ordered his stuffed mushrooms, and they delivered as promised "a shrimp crab filling dressed with a Louis sauce."   Now, you need to know that The Mister does NOT like spicy food of any kind.  He will complain mightily if the food is too "hot".  The seafood stuffed mushrooms were right up his alley.  Not spicy hot, but flavorful and tasty, he declared them "as one of his favorites."  Praise from The Mister is good enough for me.

Our server was generous enough to bring a "tasting" portion of the Cajun corn crab bisque.  It was wonderful, crabby, corn and just spicy enough to make me very happy.  It was a creamy, not too thick concoction that I was still thinking about days later.  It was that good.  I love soups.

Our other starter was the crab cakes with a dill sauce.  They were remarkably similar in flavor to the stuffing in the mushrooms and perhaps we would have been better off trying a different starter, but I'm a sucker for crab cakes.  I enjoyed the flavor of the dill sauce. I find dill an underused herb in the culinary world and the sauce was a nice foil to the crabby cake.  The cakes were not crispy fried but done on a flat top griddle and they were nice.  Not too much breading or filling to make them gummy.  The taste was brightened considerably with a generous squeeze of lemon.

On to the lunch entrees we had a bit of a dither trying to decide between sandwiches or one of the lunch specials.  I decided to try the blackened catfish with dirty rice ($9.00) and The Mister decided on the Ricky P's version of the famous Ferdi.  Sloppy roast beef, with ham, melted cheese in honor of 'Mother's' in New Orleans.  He also chose dirty rice as his side.  Both of our plates were served with the cajun slaw.

The blackened catfish was moist, flaky and nicely spiced.  I did not find it too spicy, a nice representation of a blackening preparation.  The cajun slaw did not fare as well to critique, the cabbage was chopped coarsely and many of the pieces were very tough to chew.  The dressing was not "cajun" and it seemed almost warm in temperature.  I felt it could have used a good second chop of the knife and a deep chill.  Now, I like dirty rice but the hamburger version at Ricky's seemed to suffer from a definite lack the New Orlean's trinity.  Where were the peppers, onions, and celery?  And what happened to the seasoning?  I make a dirty rice at home that starts with chicken livers, a boat load of minced veg and generous amounts of spice.  The plus side of the Ricky P's version of dirty rice did nothing to offend The Mister and it was bland enough to please him.

His Ricky P's version of the Ferdi was declared one of the messiest sandwiches he ever ordered.  That said, he loved every single morsel.  It dressed with lettuce, tomatoes, the aforementioned sloppy roast beef, ham and melted cheese.  The bread was soft and it absorbed enough of the drippings to be hazardous to the shirt front.  And yes, our server was kind enough to supply us with multiple napkins.  He did enjoy his dirty rice side and eschewed the cole slaw.

The Mister had his beverage of choice, a beer.  He chose not to partake any of the New Orlean's microbrews that were offered and stuck to his favorite on tap.  I did try a lovely citrus vodka libation that was much too smooth for the afternoon.  It went down way too fast and it was very yummy.

We were as stuffed as the mushrooms and nothing could tempt us to try dessert.  The choices looked so tempting but alas, there was no room.  I do want to try the famous bread pudding, bananas foster or lime pie on another visit.  Of course, there are other items on the menu that beckon with the lure of New Orleans, red beans and rice, etouffe, jambalaya and smothered pork chops.  Yes, a return visit is in order and the Sunday Brunch is enticing to the both of us.

Quote of the Day
I come from a family where gravy is considered a beverage.

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Friday, June 14, 2013

Grateful for Gratzzi

Our celebratory meal for the Mister's birthday was at Gratzzi's Italian Grille.  We were quite lucky to get a table for his dinner, downtown St. Petersburg was beyond packed with movers and shakers.  It was a squeeze in reservation but the Maitre-d and hostess was most accommodating in getting us a booth along the wall.

We were greeted promptly by our server and our cocktails were quickly brought to the table.  Despite the bustle of many diners, we did not have to wait at any point in our evening.  Service was seamless, proficient and timed beautifully to match our pace.

The Mister had a fine appetizer of stuffed mushrooms, filled with fontina and parmesan.  My daughter and I chose two appetizers to share, the Carciofini ala Romana and the Calamari Steak Agrodolce.  The artichoke was delicately battered and dressed with a superior Asiago cream sauce.  The filling of mascarpone and goat cheese was light and deliciously oozing.  The grilled calamari steak was tender to the tooth and the slight smoke of the grill married beautifully with the hot cherry peppers. figs, garlic, honey and balsamic drizzle.
A very fine start to an outstanding meal!  My apologies for no glamour shots of the appetizers, we scarfed them down like wolves on the open plain.  Me, bad.  There is a distinct hint of heat in the grilled calamari steak that I adored!  Those hot cherry peppers made it yummy for me.

The Mister as the guest of honor was enamored with the option of the Chef's Mixed Grill as his entree.
He was thrilled when presented with a filet mignon, a strip steak and two lovely gorgeous lamb chops.  He was in carnivore heaven.  He ignored his finely made house salad to save room for every bite of meat and companion sauces and the smooth garlic mashed potatoes.

Our darling wee one chose the Zuppa Di Pesce.  A jam-packed bowl of mussels, shrimp, scallops, clams, calamari and the Chef's catch in a zesty marinara sauce over linguini noodles.  It was a bowl of steamy fresh seafood that was well appreciated by our girl.  And she ate her wonderful salad, clearly a girl who matches her mother's taste in a well made, well dressed green. There was a lovely assortment of goodies tucked into the fresh greens, including cucumber slices, marinated artichokes, ripe tomatoes, olives (be still my heart).
I tried the Chicken Isabella.  I love the idea of grilled chicken, proscuitto. sage, asparagus and goat cheese.  It was a nice enough combination but it was not mind blowing in execution.  I, too, enjoyed the house salad with the nice mix of greens, cici beans and tart house dressing.

Since it was The Mister's big birthday, he was treated to a lovely serenade of Buona Fortuna and a SLAB of chocolate cake!!  See the joy on his face. Um, he was unwilling to share.  Oh well, I found my favorite on the menu.  Darling Daughter was too full to try the Tiramisu.  Another time, perhaps?

I can not resist a lemon dessert and had a lovely piece of lemon cake.  Oh so wickedly good. Last special treat of the night was a shot of limoncello, a great end to a lovely meal.  We spent $220.00 for three appetizers, three entrees, bottle of wine, the lemon cake and 2 splits of champagne, including a generous tip for the most excellent service.  Darling daughter paid for cocktails and contributed to the tip.

A lovely time for the family.Gratzzi Italian Grille on Urbanspoon

Quote of the day:

Fettucini alfredo is macaroni and cheese for adults.

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Thursday, June 13, 2013

To TacoSon or Not? That is the question?

Emphatically yes, if you are into a casual tasty meal that is cut above the standard of usual TacoBells in the world.  (There is a place for a Taco Bell, and it usually falls well after midnight and 4 a.m.)  Our food at TacoSon was delicious.TacoSon on Urbanspoon

Sonoran dog, wrapped in bacon and fried potatoes

The Mister and I stopped by TacoSon after a visit to our local Home Depot.  The trunk of the convertible was stuffed with greenery and items for the entry re-do.  After all that laborious shopping we were in no mood to go home and cook.  Fortunately, the TacoSon sign beckoned.  I think the idea of a cold beer enticed the Mister to stop.  Needless to say, if he can't have a cervesa, he will not stop for food.   I was just happy he agreed to stop.
That is our appetizer of shrimp and octopus in a ceviche tomato lime sauce.  It was served with fresh hot tortilla chips and wedges of lime.  It was fresh, spritely, and delicious.  We ate every single bite.

You order at the counter and the staff will bring the food to your table.  There is a nice mix of banquettes, tables, tall bar style tables and a few tables with umbrellas outside.  All is spotless and the staff is quick to clean a table and sweep the floor.  The staff was also quick to answer questions and offer a taste of the "meat of the day" should you desire a try before you buy.    The Mister had a huge wet burrito covered in the signature cheese sauce, it was stuffed with rice, beans, chicken, salad and avocado.  Rolled and topped with the fresco cheese sauce.  It was enormous and The Mister took half of it home for a late night snack.

I want to give the tamales a try soon.  That burrito haunts The Mister's dreams.  Yes, in answer to the question, To TacoSon or Not?  Emphatically YES!

A little personal pampering never hurt a indulgent addiction

I'll admit it.  Life is stressful.  I get stressed.  I don't do much for myself to unwind.  I work hard for my money and my splurge in life is.....besides the semi-infrequent lovely dinners or lunches out is getting my nails done bi-weekly.  Angie, nail artist extraordinaire, is my therapy.  My hour and a half every two weeks is spent in total ladylike comfort, gossiping, and getting my finger tips decorated.  Angie is simply the best.  I love her fun look on life, her non-stop cheerfulness, her talent and her ability to make this old fat lady feel special.  I am worth a little pampering from her talented hands.  I don't get my hair cut, my clothes are slightly out of style, I have shoes that are older than my daughter (really).  Angie is cheaper than pyschotherapy and is just as effective in my eyes.  Here are some of her recent works of ninja nail art.

Charcoal and Silver

Baby Pink and Blue bows

Stripe effect

Teal and Copper Freehand

Dots, Cherries and Corsets

Isn't she talented?  
Aren't they just fun to look at?  
It makes me smile daily just looking at them.  
Totally worth every single cent.

Quote du jour
A successful man is one who makes more money than his wife can spend. A successful woman is one who can find such a man.

Divinely Inspired Dinner at Cafe Ponte

Okay....let's say Cafe Ponte will forever be my favorite spot to dine.  Honestly from the service to the decor to the food, it was wonderful.
Cafe Ponte on Urbanspoon

First, all of us were wearing black or navy.  Jeff, our waiter (very cute) asked if we wanted bottled water to drink, and we picked the sparkling.  While sipping our cocktails, he came by and changed out our white napkins to black, so that our clothes would not get any lint on them from the white cloth.  (Little does he know that I wear my food, a little white lint never hurt anybody)  LOL   But it impressed Fred and Olivia to have that special touch.   She had a citrus mango martini and I had my frothy cucumber lime martini, Fred had a glass of wine,.  Then the bread came around.  The waiter had a long basket of tempting fresh from the oven choices.  There was a asiago cheese bread with a generous sprinkle of sea salt on the crust (Fred's), a puffy generous square of onion focaccia (Liv's choice) and olive and rosemary dense loaf (mine).  All were sublime.  No foil wrapped patties of butter....there was a lovely dish of fresh softened butter for spreading.  The focaccia didn't need butter it was olive oil rich and Liv loved it.

Jeff presented us with three spoons of an amuse-bouche, complimentary "tickle the palate" from the chef.  It was a wonderful goat cheese foam/mousse, topped with a sprinkle of chives and candied walnut.  It was a perfect bite, of light as air goat cheese and savory mild onion.   Our first glass of wine arrived, Pineridge-Chenin Blanc Viognier...a dry white, light and crisp.
Next to arrive was the deep bowl of mushroom soup with black trumpet mushroom "dust" and a truffle cream.  We all swooned from the aroma and deep creamy mushroom bisque.  If allowed I think Fred would have licked the bowl.   Jeff said "we have a private curtain pull just for that purpose, sir".   It was velvet in the spoon, deeply earthy and rich with mushroom.  Best ever.  A lovely glass of Chateau de Sancerre served next with our salad course.  The salad was a lovely cup of Bibb lettuce (organic and locally grown) filled with delicate supremes of ruby red grapefruit and mandarin oranges, diced jicama, perfectly ripe rich avocado, tiny globes of tomatoes, toasted almonds and a orange champagne vinaigrette.  It was chilled and perfectly dressed with a vibrant zingy light dressing.   Our next wine was a Pozzan-Pinot Noir.  Wonderful nose, great legs and delicious.   The next course was a squash mascarpone agnoletti (like a ravioli) two to a plate with a lemon foam sauce, a chive oil, and dusted with chopped nuts, and herbs.  Okay now it was my turn to lick the plate..."where is that privacy curtain, Jeff?"  The lemon sauce was the lightest Hollandaise ever, lemon and butter, whipped up to a froth.  We were really into the wine pairings with the delicious food and sterling service.  The dinner is paced beautifully.  Jeff swept away the agnoletti dishes and presented us with an "intermezzo".  Cunning little spoons filled with an orange gelee and topped with ruby red grapefruit pearls....they took ruby red grapefruit juice and made into large caviar spheres or bubbles of freshness.  They popped in your mouth and flooded it with citrusy cleansing juice.  They were fun.  Next wine is a lovely glass of red, Troyson-Cab-Meritage, rich enough for the next course.  Fred and Olivia opted for the rib eye cap "spinalis" rubbed with espresso rub, roasted shallot sauce, a wedge of perfect potato gratin and mushroom ragout.  It was a gorgeous plate...meat was beyond tender and the potato was the best ever from Olivia.  The flavors were harmonious and earthy.  I had the black grouper, served with a leek risotto, the fish was a perfect filet crusted with coriander, the sauce was a browned butter infused with chardonnay, tiny perfect carrots and a tuile topper with sesame seeds.  Simply delicious.
Next up was the cheese course with another lovely red, a red zinfandel, Jinzin.  The cheese plates were gorgeous works of art.  There was a small cube of smoked gruyere, a drizzle of organic honey, fig jam, some candied walnuts...crisp toasts studded with fruit, another piece of cheese that Jeff described as the "Bermuda Triangle of goat cheese"  It was frankly, scary was triangular, the outside was veined in black and grey and the interior was a deep creamy yellow.  It had a puddle of apricot jam and a bacon crusted nut next to it.  It was an explosion of tastes...each bite was intense, fruity, cheese, sharp and creamy combined.
Another pour of wine, this time 7 Sisters Moscato to match our mini trio of desserts.
A tiny carmelized walnut tart, a flourless chocolate cake topped with a light chocolate mousse topped with a perfect chocolate tuile, and an orange creamsicle pannacotta.  The cooked cream was topped with more caviar pearls of orange juice. It was fun but not our favorite,  The tart was our hands down best dessert, the lovely caramel filling and sugar dusted nuts in a buttery crust was perfection.  It wasn't that we each chose one dessert each, we were served tiny portions of each dessert,
After we were finished moaning, Jeff arrived to deliver the coup de grace, a trio of delectable chocolates from the fancy chocolatier William Dean in Dunedin.
We went to the piano bar after dinner and had an espresso and after-dinner martinis, Fred had his beer.
We dine anonymously and pay for our meals in full.  Dinner for three tasting menus, with a Groupon coupon and three wine flights, 3 pre-dinner cocktails, bottled water and extra tip for superior service by Jeff was 350.86.