Monday, November 26, 2007

Tampa Thanksgiving: Hockey, John's Pass, Dali, and Manatees!

A great Thanksgiving Day loooong weekend in Tampa!
Wednesday, John, Steve and I went to the Lightning game against the NY Rangers. My friend John used his military ID to get us tickets on the third level(great promotion on behalf of the Forum, comp seats for members of the military in a certain section). It was a good game, but we lost 2-1. Prior to the game we ate at Andreychuks across from the Forum. There was a great guitarist playing on the outside deck, we were able to get a seat inside 30 minutes before the game, and order some food and drinks. The Philly Cheesesteak was large, and full of very thinly sliced beef and lots of cheese, peppers and onions, it was a bit greasy, but delicious. It was served very fast. After the game we stopped by Dubliner in Hyde Park area, the place and all of Hyde Park was very crowded. Alot of people were home for the holidays. I noticed at the Dubliner they built a high wall where the upper deck used to be, now a band plays in front of the wall where the stairs used to lead to the upper deck, making for a smaller outside area to socialize.
Turkey Day morning I picked up my brother Steve at TIA, which was empty, parked on the 9th floor of short term, and just came up and met me, the first hour in parking lots are free, plus there are great views form this perch. We picked up the pups from my house and headed to madre's. Stuffed from Turkey and football all day with the family, we watched Fantastic 4 second flick on pay per view and called it a night.
Friday we all went to John's Pass in the afternoon, my buddy Rob was to be playing guitar at The Hut today. Rob was no where to be found, but we did munch on some tasty black n blue burgers, and the Hut's special salad topped with shrimps, scallops and chicken. It was a nice day to walk around on the boardwalk and through the village. VERY touristy area, I typically am only here if there is a good band playing at The Hut, or maybe take certain visitors who like the touristy shops.
Saturday was with the family yet again, this time we headed to St. Pete to the Dali museum. Prior to entering the museum we grabbed a bite on the water a few blocks south of the museum at a place called Fish Tales. It's in a marina, and site directly on the water, very large bar areas, all open air, the menu was mostly seafood for dinner, but had lunch sandwich's and burgers. We got some cheeseburgers which were very plain, and seemed pre-formed and frozen, but the menu said "Angus", the Hammerhead Club was very large with turkey, roast beef, ham and cheese. Madre got the Lobster Bisque, which came very thin and luke warm , yet the half dozen lobster chunks were warm. Just ok, I would probably just come back from drinks. It was nice to watch the USF vs Pitt game during lunch(USF won!). The Dali museum was great as usual, we arrived for one of the tours that took us through his masterpieces, and explained his works. Dali was quite an interesting fellow and artist, his paintings are amazing to the eye. It was left over turkey sandwich's for dinner this evening.
Sunday we met up with the family again for brunch at madre's house, then took everyone to see the Manatees at the TECO Big Bend power plant. They have a great observation deck overlooking the bay area where warm waters are discharged keeping these gentle creatures warm during the winters. There were about 20 of them in sight from the deck. There is also a great museum detailing the Mantatee's and also the Power Plant workings. They have a long nature walk out towards the bay that also explains the coasts nature, mangroves and different species that live in the area. Best of all, its FREE! We then drove downt to Little Harbor area off Shell Point Road, there is a nice tiki bar/restaurant that overlooks Tampa Bay, with great views of the Skyway Bridge and downtown St. Pete. We were able to catch the end of the winning Bucs game against Washington prior to taking my brother Stephen to the airport. The weekend ended with family at Cappy's Pizza on Bay to Bay. This place is still by far some of the BEST pizza, with the crispy crust of the NY Style, rich garlicky tomato sauce, gooey cheese, but kind of light on the toppings. And also the dressing on the Greek Salads should be bottled, we can never get enough of that great Greek Salad, full with feta, olives, etc. They do a great job, service was quick and friendly(thanks Amy!), and they have outdoor seating as well.

This week, work brings me to Atlanta!

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Tampa: Mad Dogs, Riverwalk, Cigars, Fly, Deborah Harry

It's only Sunday, and what a great weekend so far. Weather turned very cool on Friday, I had to pull out my Winter wool coat for Friday night with temps in the 40's..but we know that doesn't last long as temps during the day bounced back to the 70's on Saturday, clear blue skies, this must be 20 days in a row now.
Friday evening, Darin, Maida, Maggie and I met up at Mad Dog's and Englishmen restaurant, on MacDill Ave in South Tampa. This little neighborhood eatery is joined by many other establishments and shops in the area. It reminds me of an authentic English Pub, with a little bit of decorative style. We got there around 730pm, even though it was chilly, there were people eating and hanging out on the outside patio and bar area, the heaters were all on. We ventured in the restaurant to the bar where Summer quickly took our drink order while we waited for a table. The hostess kept coming by to update us and let us know about how much longer, a great personal touch, we didn't mind waiting. After about 20 minutes we were seated, and the very friendly Becky told us the specials, and made sure we had our drinks. We started with Appetisers of Hummus and Cucumber Salad. WOW, the hummus portion was large and sat on sliced red plumb tomatoes, with Greek olives, and plenty of very fresh, hot, pita triangles. This was so delicious, we didn't want it to stop. Their cucumber salad was very interesting, length wise sliced cucumbers, piled on top of each other crisscrossed in three layers, with the tangiest, delicious, vinaigrette dressing and yet again, we didn't want to stop. For our entrees, we did the Shepard's Pie, not one drop of grease, full with beef, veges, edamame, and creamy mashed potatoes with a very light layer of cheese, crispy yet creamy, and a very large portion; Mad Dog's salad with chicken came out on a large plate, crisp variety of greens, and very tangy, delicious house dressing, and crumbled cheese, with a large grilled breast of chicken, super moist and flavor full; and tempura fried shrimp, 6 HUGE shrimp, lightly battered, with two types of dipping sauces..again, another winner. We couldn't be happier, and demanded the Sous Chef (Tavis) come over to our table to compliment him on his and the Chef's culinary skills. He was wonderful, we chatted for a bit, and he surprised us with tow homeade treats he just made fresh that day, Oatmeal Cookie Ice Cream, and Peppermint Ice Cream..YUM!! A great ending to a perfect meal. After a two hour dinner with great friends and great was time to come home a relax with a fire in the backyard pit, enjoying the crisp air and clear skies.
Saturday morning, John and I decided to partake on the first ever City of Tampa Riverwalk walking tour. There were about 20 of us, most were from out of town, visiting and staying in one of the downtown hotels. Very knowledgeable associates from the city's parks department and also from the Mayor's Youth program went into the very interesting history of Tampa(Seminole Wars, Fort Brooke, Civil War, Spanish American War, Cigar Capital), and led us along the Riverwalk portion from the new Tampa History Center being built next to Channelside, to the Platt Street bridge area currently under construction. In all, the Riverwalk was beautiful, all along the downtown Tampa waterfront, huge yachts lined the channel between Harbour Island and downtown Marriott Waterside, some great views of the downtown skyline. When completed in 2009, it will be nearly a 2.5 mile walkway from Channelside to Tampa Heights area all along the Channel and Hillsborough River downtown. Cafes, Bikers, Joggers, entertainment are to be scattered along the waterfront. It was a great tour, and a perfect morning for it.
Afterwards, we walked over to First Watch restaurant downtown on Tampa Street for Brunch. There was no wait around 1130am, we were promptly seated. Our server was not very friendly, and never checked back with us, and forgot several things we asked for. We ordered one of their omelets, and the Al B Core tuna sandwich. Both orders came with First Watch potatoes, which it seems they could hardly spare as there were maybe a spoonful of diced potatoes on our plates(disappointing because they are tasty), my Tuna sandwich was drenched in mayo, and on what seemed like stale dark wheat bread(something you might feed seagulls with), I just ate the tuna, and left the bread, it also came with a salad which was literally a few shreds of lettuce leaf, with a teaspoon of diced cucumber, were they kidding? I've had some great meals here, and some not so great..I don't think I will be taking my chances again..poor service, poor food, and when we advised the cashier, she just said sorry, and exclaimed that our server always gets complaints(than do something about it!).
John and I then headed over to Ybor City for the annual Cigar Heritage Festival, and Saturday Morning Market. What a great crowd, and the smell of all kinds of cigars, people just relaxing, eating foods from the many vendors, enjoying the live bands, checking out Ybor and the arts and crafts on display, among the many merchants that come by Centennial Park each Saturday morning..there were alot of people milling around Ybor on this beautiful day, and they had a special tent set up for us to watch the college football games.
After a quick nap, Bryan and I went to Fly Bar for some eats and cocktails before heading to see Deborah harry(from Blondie) in concert at Tampa Theater downtown. Fly Bar was happening, it was nice having the outdoor tables, and all the windows wide opened in the very stylish and eclectic restaurant on Franklin Ave downtown. Plenty of microbrews and International beers on tap and bottled, great mixed cocktails menu as well. The place is known for sharing plates of different foods(kind of like tapas). We ordered the Kobe Sliders, Organic Chicken, Wild Mushroom Risotto, and Grilled Asparagus. At first you think "did we order enough food", but then you taste, and the flavors were bold and delicious in all our plates. The sliders were thick and juicy and beefy, the chicken was about a small portion including the little leg, cut up in a warm and delicately mild sauce with brocallini, the risotto was perfectly cooked, moist and tender, with wild mushrooms, and a creamy sauce, the asparagus was very lightly grilled with paper thin slices of cheese. PERFECT, we were very satisfied, but not stuffed. the menu is a little on the pricey side, but the atmosphere, and taste were well worth it. They had a nice high def tv at the bar, where the USF game was on(long story short, I had tickets to tonights last USF home game against Louisville, but by accident I thought the Deborah Harry concert was Friday night, but looked at the ticket and DAMN, it was tonight) After 10pm there is usually a live band or DJ, there is also a great rooftop patio with a bar and music.
It was off to Tampa Theater a few blocks down, we saw people standing around outside and were told the Deborah was not going on for another 40 minutes, so we headed into the Hub, for a stiff cocktail, and some great tunes on the jukebox. Always an interesting crowd at the Hub, and for the money, they best drinks poured in all of Tampa.
Tampa Theater is a one of kind, even for concerts, we had 11th row seats, it was almost like she was singing right to us. Deborah played most of her new songs, very Indie Pop/Alternative, and she gave some great acoustic renderings from her past Blondie tunes like "Heart of Glass". I was a little disappointed that she only played for an hour, and was hoping to hear more Blondie tunes, but it was a good time.
Bryan wanted to meet one of his friends at City Side, and alternative bar in South Tampa, as we walked in it was packed as they were celebrating their 17th anniversary.., very smokey, but they have an outdoor patio, and in the back area a pool table and darts with flat screen tv's showing the college game highlights....i'm not a big fan of the packed bars like this, but they were playing great tunes and had the videos to the tunes playing on the monitors throughout the club, Bryan never met up with his friend.

It's Sunday, and time to take advantage of this great weather today..biking, kayaking, hanging with the kids at the dog beach/park, a festiuval with the family, or maybe some yard work...just need to get out!

TAMPA RIVERWALK>Looking east towards Channelside, the Forum is on the left

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Downtown St. Pete - Definitely Alive!

Took the family to Downtown St. Pete Sunday, We left around 1130am from Tampa, wanted to get there early as the RibFest was happening and we wanted to beat the crowds for parking, etc. We went to Moon Under Water for lunch, it has lots of outdoor seating, facing North Straub Park and the waterfront in downtown St. Pete. Very friendly and efficient service, and the food was great, lots of beers on tap, and a huge drink menu. My uncle tried the Thai curry which was very good, madre had the fish n chips, a huge piece of cod, battered lightly, and thick cut french fries. The Aunt had the BLT, lots of crisp bacon, fresh tomato slices on a thick sweet whole grain bread..I settled for the cuban(love cubans), lots of meat, and salami pressed together made the juices from the pork and salami blend together. Nice to sit outside, people watch, and enjoy the great weather. Downtown St. Pete was bustling, lots of outdoor cafe lined Beach Drive, we walked around to Bay Walk and caught the Trolley, which runs every 15 minutes throughout downtown from the Renaissance Vinoy, to the Dali Museum. Interesting is on the trolley, they even give you some history and interesting facts about St. Pete. We were on our way to Roser Park Art Festival, right near the Dali museum. Roser Park is one of the most interesting neighborhoods in all of Florida, lots of steep hills, along a small creek, something you would never see, and very historic homes. The Art Fest was small, but great to walk around, there was live music, and just walking arounf the neighborhood is interesting. Taking the trolley back, we stopped for some great Gelato at Paciugo, and again sat outside people watching. The gelato was very good, but VERY expensive.

Another great weekend, glad USF finally won, albeit away against Syracuse , but it was a win, i'm looking forward to the Louisville game next week at home.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Downtown Tampa - A-Live after Five???

So there is all the advertising and marketing over the past several weeks and the bombardment of email from the Downtown Tampa Partnership, etc., and we headed to see what the "Live after Five" in downtown Tampa was all about. St. Pete does an amazing job with "First Friday", but how disappointing it was to get there around 6pm, and only see about two dozen people hanging out listening to a decent band on a 1 block section of Franklin Street downtown. We decided to have some stiff cocktails and see if maybe people would show up later, and The Hub was right up the street. Around 7pm, went back to the event, and now there were about three dozen people...not a good thing, I believe that people who work downtown just wanted to get the heck out of there after work and head home.
Anyways, we wanted some eats, and a band I knew of was playing downtown this evening. We met a bunch of friends at Gilligan's over on Morgan St near Jackson St. Very casual place, lots of tables and bar space, and outdoor deck overlooking the Forum. Besides us, there were maybe a dozen of so people in the place. The walls are painted with the characters from Gilligan's Island, there is a pool table in the back. The bartender/server was as kind as could be(thanks Cam), she made sure we were attended to in the back room while we were playing pool having some drinks. The food was very good, and typical bar food(sandwich's, burgers, appetizers)..the Cuban was huge and stuffed with meat, everyone else said their sandwich's were very good(burger, chicken Cesar wrap, chicken sandwich) which all come with a bag of chips, and the price is right at around 5-7 bucks.
After eats, we headed next door to Kelly's Pub to see the band 3 Green Windows. A very long time ago, in the college days, the singer and bassist are from a band called Tragic Rabbit, and we would follow them everywhere in Tampa they played, I was happy to hear that after all this time(since the early 90's) they were back as a new band, and upon walking into Kelly's they were still playing there Tragic Rabbit tunes("Black Velvet Elvis")...and I was amazed that Bo(the singer), and his wife recognized me from all that time......they do covers of many old rock favorites, and really keep the crowd entertained. Bo has probably on of the most amazing voices of any singer of seen live in Tampa. Through the night they played there own original music, Tragic Rabbit tunes(nice for Bo to dedicate one of them to me), and some favorite rock tunes, jamming to the best of them. Kelly's is a great small place, quite a few beers on tap and bottled(over three dozen)..and wine. I'm looking forward to seeing 3 Green Windows again at the end of December when they play at Dave's Aqua Lounge in St. Pete.
They ended around midnight, and one of our friends, Whitney, aka Karen, was meeting her friend at a huge alternative club called Chambers also downtown. This club is very interesting, mostly all gay, and young, the downtstairs as a large catwalk for dancers, and dance floor, pool tables, then upstairs is a huge ballroom like dance hall...they do country music line dancing till about midnight, then they bust out the dance tunes..I have to say, the club is actually very large with two separate floors, and packed them in with mostly guys...a drag show took place around 130am, very entertaining...LOL.
Lots going on this weekend, the Intl Auto Show is in town, RibFest in St. Pete, and the weather wont stop...beautiful, sunny, deep blue skies, temps in the 70's...ahhhhhh!

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Dinner and Dessert in Ybor City...on a Tuesday Evening

Flew in from a business trip, and was meeting Aunt and Uncle and Madre for dinner in Ybor. The trip from TIA to Ybor was not bad considering it was 430 Rush Hour, so many people complain about the traffic, but it was a slow moving ride on I-275 Northbound from the airport to about Dale Mabry Hwy, at least it was moving, then it opened up all the way to Ybor exit off I-4...what Rush Hour traffic? Cars were moving along on the other side of the interstate as well, albeit slow, but moving. Im sure if there was an accident, it would not look good.

In Ybor City, my uncle insisted on Spaghetti Warehouse in the Ybor Square section on the far West End of Ybor. As many great Italian places in Ybor(Laughing Cat is my fav), I had to go to the Warehouse. It's typical chain type place, but very authentic interior, and an actual streetcar in the restaurant that you can dine in. The meals all come with all you can eat salad or soup, the wedding soup had chunks of chicken and little meatballs and was quite tasty, the salads were plain lettuce with a few tomatoes. The meals we had were good, the sauce is a bit sweet and thick for my liking, we had eggplant parmigiana, great without the skin on the eggplant; spicy chicken and mushroom pasta, and spaghetti and meatballs. Again, good meal, great prices, but just good. After dinner, we decided to walk off the meal and walk down to 7th Avenue for dessert, we stopped at La Creperia, and enjoyed two different crepes and coffee. The first crepe had Nutella, fresh strawberries and banana slices in a warm fresh crepe drizzled with chocolate and powdered sugar, the other was a caramel and banana crepe. VERY good, we enjoyed each and every bite, what a great place for dessert.

I will still enjoy coming into Ybor for the great restaurants, and a nice historic setting, many of the shops, and smaller bars/pubs were open, the larger clubs, which are getting few and far between were closed, and are only open on the weekends. The area is going through major changes, innovative small companies are taking up office space, art galleries and smaller, independent retail, and unique restaurants and cafe's are opening up. Seems there are many cigar shops lining the avenue as well. It's time the BIG mega clubs said goodbye(which most already have), and the area grows up. It was sad though to see places like the Jazz Cellar and Cafe Creole closed, Ybor Square was actually a neat place to browse around, now it is offices.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Bike to Weedon Island Preserve and Brunch at Mimi's Cafe

Whats a beautiful day Sunday was, and for that matter, what a beautiful time to be in Florida, Deep Blue skies, temps in the upper 70's by day, 50's by night, welcome to Florida's Fall and Winter, enjoy the next 6 months of paradise!!

Took the Bike over to Debi's Sunday morning where we biked from her Riviera Bay neighborhood in St. Petersburg to Weedon Island Preserve. We biked through the waterfront neighborhood which have many canals, and as we approached the preserve, and rode to the Bay, there was alot of wildlife to be seen. Weedon Island is a great place for Kayaking, Biking, Hiking through the trails, and they have a Cultural Center as well.

Afterwards, me the family at MiMi's Cafe in Brandon near the Brandon Town Center Mall. It was my first visit to MiMi's, my aunt and uncle rave about it all the time. Very casual but comfortable separate dining rooms, in a bistro/cafe style. We were seated promptly in the 'Louisiana Room', and ordered some Arnold Palmer's(half iced tea/half lemonade), and saw Fried Pickles for an appetizer, so we decided to try them. Crispy fried pickle slices(dusted very lightly with flour and fried) with ranch and Thousand Island dressing to dip them with a side of homemade coleslaw..perfect. Then came our orders, Chicken Pot Pie was HUGE, big flaky pie crust covering a large bowl full of white meat chicken and veges. The Pot Roast was very tender, Teriyaki Salmon was cooked perfectly over steamed rice, and the Roast Turkey Platter looked just like a serving from Thanksgiving. Very well portioned meals, and we ate every bite, and took home some of the Turkey and Salmon. Lunches were all priced under $12. Now I know why people love this place.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

USF Homecoming

Another loss, 3rd week in a row, what a tough game. On another note though, it was great to see so many alumni at the game, and familiar faces. I noticed differently this year was the number of kids running around compared to years ago during i'm getting older! The stadium packed in about 58,000 for this years homecoming, but the loss to Cincy(38-33) did not make the crowd too happy as the fireworks went off behind the stadium.