Monday, July 30, 2007

Johns Pass-The Hut; Orlando's Rainforest Cafe; The Brunchery and Hairpsray Movie!

Nice weekend started out with cocktails and listening to my friend Rob from Buffalo Strange play his awesome music solo at The Hut on John's Pass near Treasure Island/Madeira Beach area of the Gulf Coast. It's always nice after a rough work week to kick back on Friday's and listen to the upbeat music from Rob, he plays guitar, flute, bongos, and has a synthesizer to put together all the instruments, and an amazing voice that carries you away to anther place where everything is OK. The Hut was busy this early evening, but we were seated immediately, and glad that Rob was able to join us for great eats after his set ended at 6pm. Afterwards we headed to Debi's house and sat on the Dock, while the cooler than usual breezes blew by, and the almost full moon was peaking through the whispy clouds above. REALXING!!!

Saturday I continued to clean up around the house(having both bathrooms redone-I have an AWESOME handyman helping, more on him when he's done), and then John and I headed to Lakeland to meet his friends and all have dinner together at Rainforest Cafe in downtown Disney. We stopped through Plant City first to run an errand, and I was surprised by the downtown and historic areas of Plant City(I have only been to the Strawberry Festival). It reminded me of Historic Hyde Park but larger, with bricklined streets, large mature trees, wrap around porches, like the old south. I want to go back to Plant City and maybe do some biking around the historic area. Rainforest Cafe seems to be an annual event for John and his friends, and its been awhile since they have all been together, there were 9 of us all together,and we were seated promptly in the bar area at Rainforest, by-passing the 90 minute wait time which is typical. The food was good, but the company was better. Afterwards we walked around downtown Disney, there is alot to see in this area, and lots of people watching as well. Its nice to know that within an hour from Tampa, you can be in one of the largest tourist destinations in the world, and take advantage of all the entertainment/dining/retail, etc. A trip back to Lakeland and I was introduced to the Wii video game player. WOW is all I can say for Wii, not your typical video games,and great with friends to participate, which is what I believe Wii is all about. Forget about board games, Wii is it for lots of laughs and fun amongst a group of good friends or family. We played Tennis together, Golf, Boxing(I got KO'd in two rounds). I should have one within a month.

Sunday was very relaxing, had breakfast at a South Tampa favorite, The Brunchery on MacDill Ave. The service was very prompt and friendly, but the meal was not as I remembered on my last visits, The eggs in the omlets ordered were still runny, and the hash browned potatoes were VERY dry and crubbly, not browned at all, and the meal itself just lacked any flavor. Im not sure I will be back here soon, First Watch and Pach's Place are still my fav independent types in South Tampa for breakfast. I then did some stuff for Mom at her new house while she is still on her cruise in the Nordic Seas, and then headed to Ybor City to my fav theaters, Muvico's Centro Ybor Theaters. We did valet again as usual(only $3 with validation), and saw Hairspray. I barely remember the original movie with Ricki Lake(she makes a cameo appearance), but this movie was some of the most fun I have seen in a film in quite some time. FUN is the word for it, mostly a musical, lots of comedy, and all out "FEEL GOOD" movie. If your feeling a little down, or just need a smile and feel good energy, this movie will definitely NOT disappoint. Westshore Pizza wrapped up the evening, they mistakenly put a Sausage Calzone in place of the Meatball Strombolli we ordered, but it was GREAT none the less anyways.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Tampa Sushi and Gelato

Took a newbie to Yoko's, my favorite spot for Sushi in the Bay area. Located on MacDill Ave in South Tampa, its just around the corner from my house, and a typically a weekly stop. We did the Bucs Roll, of course, Love, Mexican, and Spider Rolls. Fresh, plentiful, tasty! Afterwards to cleanse the pallet, it was La Casa Dolce on Howard Ave in Hyde Park/SOHO for fresh made Gelato. I tried the Carmel and Nut with Kit Kat Gelato, so smooth, creamy and fresh. YUM! Debi and John tried the Chocolate Hazelnut, and Caramel/Nut and Cheesecake Gelato. It was a nice evening to sit out on Howard Ave, and watch the passersby.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Tampa's Friendship Trail and Centro Ybor Premiere Theaters

Took the bike out for a nice long ride from my house in South Tampa to the Friendship Trailbridge Sunday morning. It was actually a little cooler than usual this morning in the low 70's, the thunder clouds were all ready starting to build by 11am. The trail is a great 3.5 mile bridge across Tampa Bay to St. Pete, and runs along side the Gandy Bridges. There were many people out today, roller blading, biking , walking, jogging. I enjoy bringing the iPod because it is just a long open stretch across the wide Bay with one hill, and a bit of a mighty hill at that, but the tunes keep you pumping the trail round trip. There are great views of downtown Tampa, Bayshore, Westshore area and Rocky Point. Now if I can just get out here at least a few times a week.
Afterwards, John and I went to see the newest Die Hard flick at the Premiere theaters in Ybor City. I still find these theaters the best in the Bay area, and the Premiere only allow 21 and up, all the free popcorn, very wide leather seats with large arms rests. We spoke with one of the managers(John's friend), who gave us some more scoop on the Theaters future. It seems now the new developers of Centro Ybor will definitely be using part of the theater for renovations and turn into retail and office spaces, but will leave about 12 theaters in tact. Muvico will keep the "Premiere" aspect since it is so unique to the Bay area with whatever theaters the developer decides to keep, splitting between regular and "Premiere" with a bar area to maintained as well. GOOD NEWS!
One note, for a Sunday afternoon, it was great to see so many people out and about along 7th Ave, and sitting outside eating and drinking in the many establishments in and around Centro Ybor.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Tampa Urban Tour of Homes and "The Nade"..Collanade Restaurant

Aunt, Uncle and I decided to venture out on the first Tampa Tour of Urban Homes Saturday. Seems with all the residential condos/lofts, etc. being built in downtown areas, it was decided amongst many Realtors to put on this tour, and it was a great idea. It gave typical Tampan's an idea of what it would be like living in an Urban environment and downtown/channelside/ybor city. We started at the Box Factory Lofts in Ybor, a historic factory turned into Lofts. There were about 9 units available, some with Courtyard views of the pool area, and some facing the streets. Very spacious lofts, but there is a mix a old historic pieces of the loft with brand new construction material. The lofts on the street are directly on the street, and did not have any kind of patio. An interesting building. Then we headed to Channelside(it would have been nice if they had the Streetcar schedule and maps handy for this tour). Ventana, Grand Central, Meridian and Victory/Model-T Lofts were open for viewing. Ventana was very nice, great pool and sun deck, enormous club house. 2 were being shown and both had balcony's, but the view was to the North on these being shown, and all you could see was the Crosstown traffic, but just below was an oil/gas station that made a large noise, we were told they were making it green space eventually. Grand Central gave a different feel, one of the largest pool decks, there were even cabanas you could purchase in addition to owning a condo. 12 units were being shown in Grand Central, each one was different. Some had balcony's and patios. some you couldn't even open a window. My favorite were the tow bedrooms on the top floor looking South to the Cruise Ships. Meridian and Victory Lofts showed off the loft style amenities, we viewed a 1.2 million dollar loft with nice views of downtown. These did not have as many amenities(pool deck) as these other in Channelside we viewed. We then went downtown to Skypoint which was giving guided tours in groups of 12(I felt like I was in Disneyworld). Skypoint has to be one of the best residential buildings I have seen, almost like living in a resort. The numerous amenities and state of the art facilities were excellent. From a very large pool area, and also outdoor sitting/relaxing green space on the 5th floors, 2 separate gym area(one cardio, the other weights), very large entertainment/club area with media rooms, bar, billiards. The units were a little small, but the floor to ceiling windows gave great views of downtown. Our last stop was Residences on Franklin Street. These were VERY large, in a great location of Northern Franklin Street. There are so many residential areas sprouting up all over downtown/channelside and ybor, and we could tell that 5 years from now, Tampa would be a different place in these areas as many retail/restaurants/bars open up for business.
After the Urban Tour, we headed to a Tampa Seafood classic, The Collanade Restaurant on Bayshore Blvd. This place has been around since 1935, and offers some of the best views of Tampa and Hillsborough Bay. It is seafood in a very nice family type atmosphere, nice spacious dining area, large windows, and a rustic sort of smell to the place that says it has seen its day. At 5pm, the place was packed. Every type of seafood is listed on the menu, and all come with sides like salad, slaw, potatoes, etc. We all tried the Stuffed Grouper, Bay Scallops, and Salmon/Stuffed Shrimp combo platters. The food was very good(I have seen mixed reviews), and definitely worth coming back. Service was very prompt and friendly.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Tampa Concert - 311 and Matisyahu at Amphitheater

John, Debi and I packed a cooler and did some subway sandwiches on the way to the Ford Amphitheater last night to see 311 and Matisyahu. 311 reminds me of my 20's, livin in Tampa just after college at USF..a great band with raggae, ska, rock type influences, a little Sublime influences as well. Matisyahu is great Raggae performed by a Hasidic Jew. He was introduced to me by my friends Debi and Jason last year, and we couldn't wait to see him come back to Tampa after his State Theater performance in St. Petersburg last year.
Matisyahu pulled a great 45 min performance, we had great seats in the 2nd section, but his type of music I would enjoy more in a smaller venue. 311 came on and put on a great 2 hour show(I guess bands have to end by 11pm due to noise restrictions for the Amphitheater)..a powerful show, my age was coming through when they kept announcing "this is for the old school 311 listeners". It was clear skies, and there was a beautiful crescent shaped red moon out tonight.
About the Amphitheater, it was easy parking, we arrived about an hour before showtime. You must be prepared for $8.00 big beers, and $12.00 double mixed drinks. They don't do any frisking at the door, only ask you to empty your pockets. We also exited with ease from the parking area, thank goodness there was no rain over the Fairgrounds this evening, otherwise the grassy lots would have been a bit muddy.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

East Coast Pizza in Apollo Beach - "South County's BEST Pizza

My mom just moved to Valencia Lakes, a 55+ Active Senior Community off 301 near Sun City Blvd. A great area, nicely landscaped, and beautiful homes. Seems there is alot of growth in this area of Hillsborough County, most commonly referred to as "South County". We are still checking out the dining options, and found a great pizza place, East Coast Pizza. It is off Big Bend Road, just east of I-75 in a small Shopping area. There is a Coffee Shop next door, and Applebee's/Village Inn in the same area.
The pizza had to be some of the best in the Bay area, right up there with Cappy's in South Tampa. I'm a native Long Islander, so the thin crust, with burnt like qualities, real tomato/garlicky sauce, and generous toppings. You order at the counter, and then they bring your dinner out to the dozen or so tables. Very clean, and friendly staff. Drinks are self serve from the fountain. We started with a Large Antipasto Salad. It was a little smaller than we thought, as we are used to sharing a Large Greek at Cappy's, but had plenty of meat, and crisp lettuce, carrots and tomatoes. We had to toss it our selves with the Italian dressing that came in small prepackaged cups. Then came the Fried Ravioli, very tasty, but expected more than 6 small ravioli's for $5. The pizza was an 18" Large Peperoni and Mushroom. EXCELLENT, and like I said, one of the BEST. We found my mom her neighborhood pizza place, takeout, delivery or eat-in, this is THE PIZZA PLACE for us when in the Apollo Beach area.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Crab Shack and A Gay Old Time in Tampa!

A buddy flew in from Chicago on Saturday, we headed to Sarasota to see some friends, and then headed back to Tampa area and went to dinner at the Crab Shack in St. Pete on Gandy Blvd. Crab Shack reminds of the typical Florida shacks near the water. I can remember coming to Florida from New York as a kid(Grandparents lived in Seffner), and we would go to Fat Willies Fish Camp.....The Crab Shack has the same appeal, tacky Florida stuff all over the walls and ceiling, picnic tables with benches, and the smell of Seafood all casual as can be! We dined at the bar, Crab Shack is always packed on the weekends. Staff and people are as friendly as can be, with all types in the restaurant(families, 'roughnecks', tourists, people coming home from the beach). The seafood is very fresh, and no frills. Crab is what they are all about, we started with Raw Oysters, average in size, with the horseradish and crackers. Then went for Snow Crab and Stuffed Shrimp. Ended dinner with Key Lime pie. I try to venture to the Crab Shack at least once a month, its just good, southern Florida style seafood shack!

Afterwards it was time to head out, and my buddy wanted to venture out to the 'alternative' places in town. I dont go out to the bars of these type very often, so I heard about some new gay bars that opened up in Ybor City, so I took him out there. We started at Wrangler's, which had a decent crowd, mostly laid back country dudes, very friendly, there is a huge dance floor where line dancing was happening to dance and country tunes..kinda like watchin a show. I kinda liked it at Wrangler's, there are pool tables, and its very large with a killer sound system, and large video screen behind the main bar showing videos to the music, and pics from people throughout the bar. After a few hours, we then headed to the new Lounge 7 at 14. In an old historic building, this had a nice bar, and small dance area, and small loungy type area to mellow out in. Again, a good crowd, interesting people watching, and a DJ cranking some chill lounge music. We then went next door to GBar...all I can say was that about half the place was under 25 and without shirts on, chandeliers in the Main Bar were swinging all over by go-go boys dancing barely naked on the bar. The next bar area was really loud, alot of special lighting effects on the small dance floor, and again both guy and girl dancers on the bars. It kind of reminded me of some of the clubs in NYC, loud, over the top, young. We barely finished out drink there, and almost 230am, so we stopped off at City Side on the way home. Laid back crowd of a few dozen, playing pool, watching music videos from the VJ. There was alot of rumor amongst the owners of Lounge 7-14, Wranglers and City Side that Ybor is the place for the GLBT crowd. With Suncoast Resort closed, many of the establishments are looking for places to open in the Bay area...and now with 6 designated GLBT bars, and a few specialty shops along 7th Avenue, it seems to be a central place for that crowd. Many others are calling Ybor home, buying the affordable new condos, lofts and townhomes that are popping up in Ybor City.

It was a different type of weekend, but sometimes you got to get out and explore all types in the makes for great entertainment.

On a sad note, my brother and sister in law, and my new nephew departed this morning to move to Colorado. It was a fun 10 months wit them here in Tampa, Family Fun Days just wont be the same without them.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

My Top 11 Tampa Blogs and Forums

I work from home, and occasionally get on line in my downtime to view happenings, opinions, and humor about the Tampa Bay area from our local bloggers. Here is a list of my most frequented I thought Id share in no particular order:(Thanks for your Tampa area blogging)

skyscrapercity-Tampa/St. Pete
Tripadvisor - Tampa
City-Data Forum - Tampa
Chowhound - Florida
TampaGold , SOHO Tampa
Interbay Superstar
Nite Cricket
Alan Snell/Bike Stories

A newcomer to the bunch is StayClassy,Tampa

I'll post these on the side of my blog..I just like how they are mostly very local to the Tampa area.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

A Night at Tampa Theater...

So The Police were at the Forum tonight, and I opted to go see an Independent Foreign Film at Tampa Theater, besides $200 is a bit too steep for the old rockers. We picked up some dinner to go and sat outside the Tampa Theater on Franklin Street in the TECO Plaza area. It felt cooler than usual evening sitting in the shade of the trees and TECO building, admiring a piece of Tampa history. It seems it doesn't matter what show you go to at Tampa Theater, it is just a great establishment, with over 80 years of stories insides its walls.
"La Vie en Rose" is a true story about Edith Piaf, one of France's most beloved singers and a national Icon. At first I was like who is this person, and subtitles, im not sure about this one, but thankfully it turned out to be an awesome movie, great story line, amazing acting. Its great to watch a movie you know nothing about, and then want to come home and learn more about the person. I was truly moved by this one, and subtitles were no bother at all.

Monday, July 9, 2007

Tarpon Springs and Dairy Joy!

Family Fun Day's are coming to a close, as my brother and sis in law move back to Colorado next weekend. We decided to go to their favorite Tarpon Springs restaurant, Mama Maria's on Pinellas Ave, just south of the Sponge Docks. Tarpon Springs is a neat little waterside town, a little over a third of the population is Greek, making this town having the highest percentage of Greeks in a city outside of Greece.(Unbelievable but true!). There are numerous shops and cafes along the Sponge Docks, it was quite busy this Sunday afternoon, great for people watching, and just walking around. Mama Maria's is authentic Greek, from the owners to wait staff, music in the background, pictures on the wall. The food was awesome, all meals come with Greek Salad, big chunks of Feta Cheese. The food was very fresh(Cabbage rolls, Gyro Platters, and some Greek Chicken and Lamb dishes we ordered)..and plentiful. Next time in Tarpon Springs, I will forget the main street cafes, and head a little south of the docks to Mama Maria's. Afterwards, we headed back to my house in South Tampa, about a 40 minute drive, and went for some Ice Cream at the Dairy Joy..a local favorite of my sis in law's, they have walk up windows, for soft and hard serve ice cream, kinda reminds me of when I was a kid..Sundaes with all the toppings, Cones..dozens of ice cream flavors. There are covered picnic tables on either side of the shoppe to enjoy, looking out on Manhattan Avenue across from the local Library. After hanging around the house for a while, watching some pay per view movies, and seeing the pictures and home videos from 4th of July, we called it a night with Westshore Pizza.

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Sunday, July 8, 2007

Post 4th of July in Tampa...Shopping, Mexican, and Sand Dollars

Had a GREAT 4th of July with Family..the Pyrotechnical display my brother and I produced was awesome! Only had one bad mortar, but no incidents as in St. Pete Beach or Treasure Island(scary)..anyways, Friday after work went to Home Depot to start shopping for tile, as Im having both my bathrooms redone, finally getting rid of the 60's motif(older home in South Tampa)...I thought there would be more of a selection, but guess I would have to go to a Bathroom Tile showroom for that...I did find a perfect tile for bath walls and the work just needs to be done. We then went to Intl Plaza, what a great shopping area(I still hate shopping), but there are so many great stores, and layout to the mall, plus BayStreet is always happening with the numerous eateries and drinkeries, and outside seating to enjoy people watching. We decuided on my favorite Mexican place, Algusto's on Kenndy Blvd, for dinner. Again, consistently the freshest Mexican, we had the Fajitas for two, and Guacamole dip. I tried the Sangria and was pleasantly surprised at the amount of wine to fruit in this large glass.

Saturday, my friends from Orlando came down for a trip to Fort Desoto Beaches. We found a very pristine spot on the beginning part of North Beach, it was a bit of a walk from the parking area to where we wanted to go(left towards the Pier, across the inlet), but hardly anyone in sight, lots of shade from trees right on the beach. With plenty of drinks and food, we spent most the day, laying on rafts in the 87 degree crystal clear waters, and snorkeling for sand dollars. We made sure we only caught the dead ones, and through back the live ones(fuzzy hairs are on the live ones). There were plenty to be found, and some of the largest Ive seen(picture below). Saturday evening my buddy Darin had a BBQ poolside with some friends at his tower apartment building along Bayshore Blvd. It was great to relax in the evening after the day at the beach in the pool, and BBQing with the beautiful Bay, and downtown Tampa in the background. As the sun went down, the lights shown from the high rises along Bayshore and downtown on the Bay, which gave an impressive scene to an already perfect day and night in Tampa Bay.

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Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Pre 4th of July in Tampa

Went over to Bayshore to pick up a buddy, and head out for some Sushi and entertainment, tomorrow is a Holiday! Sakana Sushi on Gandy still impresses me, with its Fresh sushi and Great dinner Menu. WE started with some Ginger Salads, Edmame(dressed in a light olive oil/spice mixture served warm), the the Spicey Tuna Bowl, big chunks of very red tuna, mango, and avocado, and the Triple Takati tempura roll. We then headed to Hyde Park/SOHO area, which was VERY busy...Howard Ave. was hopping as we drove up the street from Bayshore. The Dubliner was calling us for great imported Pints, cool tunes from the juke box, and a very friendly, lively good lookin casual crowd.
With all the many celebrations tonight for the 4th, IM going to spend time with the family at my Moms new House in Valencia Lakes. She has a huge field in the back of her house, and me and my bro will be lighting up over $150 bucks worth of piro-technics...gotta love those roadside fireworks tents this time of year.

TIA...and Red Mesa

Picked up a buddy at Tampa International Airport(TIA) Monday. It's great to know that the Long and Short Term parking are both free the first hour, and there is a Cell Phone Lot. It really makes it convenient to pick someone up. I usually just park on the top floor in the Short Term Parking Garage(9th floor), and watch the planes take off and land until my guests have all their luggage. Its great to look out over the Bay and all of Tampa, great views! The guests just take the elevators from baggage claim to the 9th traffic, no circling, very easy and FREE! Afterwards we headed to St. Pete to one of my fav restaurants, Red Mesa. It was early, and they have a Sunset Menu from 4-545pm. Most of the best dishes are $13 and include Sangria, Meal and Dessert. The Cedar Plank Salmon was amazing!! And the Guava Cheesecake for dessert was tasty too.

Sunday, July 1, 2007

St. Pete Pride!...Gulfport Dinner(yuck)...Alafia Biking!

Another great weekend in Tampa Bay comes to a close. Saturday, me and some buddies decided to venture to an unknown territory, our first Gay Pride Festival. Boasting itself as the largest in Gay Pride Festival in Florida, and largest St. Pete Festival, with close to 50,000, and over 300 vendors, bands, and a diverse crowd, I was curious to see what its all about, and glad we went. The parade(or "promenade") was over two hours long, and interesting to say the least. The amount of businesses and community that came out to support this day was amazing, I really had no idea there was such a large community like this in Tampa Bay area. The 15 blocks of the Grand Central area of St. Pete was hopping with more entertainment than the eyes and ears could handle, even more interesting was there was only about half dozen protesters. And there were an unusual amount of straight couples and families with kids that also attended the day long event. Im putting this one on my list for an annual participation, it was a a great time, talked to many interesting people. That evening, went to dinner in Gulfport to Aqua Bella's, and to see my favorite local band, Buffalo Strange. Aqua Bella's is a nice casual place along the beach front in Gulfport, a cute little artsy town on Boca Ciega Bay. Buffalo Strange was missing their lead singer, Rob, but they still sounded good. I have only had drinks here, and now know why...the food was awful!! We ordered Beer Battered Onion Rings to start - they were dripping with grease, and very little batter, kind of like oily onions. Then we had a cheese burger which was the blandest tasting burger, that came with limp fries. We also ordered a chop salad with meats and cheeses, what came out was a soggy lettuce mess, small slivers of turkey and ham, and warm...Uggg! We will be back for the cocktails and great views, but plan to eat elsewhere in Gulfport.
Sunday, my brother and I ventured out for some more Tampa Bay area off-road biking, this time it was Alafia River State Park. Its a good 45 minute trip from Tampa, but well worth the drive. I have NEVER seen this type of topography any where in Florida, the trails simply just blew me away. Large rollarcoaster type hills, all kinds of terrain, very woodsy to swampy..totally kicked Flatwoods and Wilderness Parks off-road biking, but be prepared, cause some of the trails are NOT for the novice. They make helmets a requirement, and I understand time I plan to hike the Expert trails before riding(we rode the easy and intermediate trails..the intermediate was difficult enough), during the ride, my chain broke off, and I had to walk my bike really get a better glimpse of the abundance wildlife(deers, wild boars, exotic plant species), lots of shade made it great to ride and not get overheated.
My brother made an announcement at the family fun day dinner tonight, that he and my sister in law and their new baby are moving to Colorado in 2 weeks!! He got a job to move back, but we are all hoping that little Sebastian will be back in Florida by the time school starts in 5 years. It was nice having them around, but i'll be happy visiting them outside of Denver, and my other brother and his family in Colorado Springs. I had to include his pic of him helping me to repair my bike on the trails today.

My Brother Greg trying to Fix my bike at Alafia River State Park (nice look Greg..LOL)
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