Friday, March 28, 2008

Flu Bug..Tampa Stuff To Do

I caught it...the Flu had been going around my co-workers, several friends, and with all the flying i've been doing the past few weeks..I got it!!'s been miserable since getting back from Jersey on Tuesday, but it's Friday, and at least my temperature is back to 98.6.

I hope to make it out to some of these great things happening this weekend in the Tampa area:

St. Pete's Grand Central District Stroll
Italian Exhibition at Ybor State Museum
Italian Film Festival
Festa Italiana
International Rum Festival
Tampa's Green Fest in Plant Park
Sensory Overload
3 Green Windows performing at Gaspar's Grotto
Beautiful Florida Spring Weather

Sunday, March 23, 2008

South Westshore Blvd Hop and Chassahowitzka WIldlife Refuge

I enjoy my little neighborhood in South Tampa, Bayside West, it's no Hyde Park, but South Westshore Blvd from just north of El Prado Blvd to just south of Euclid Ave has a number of great amenities, all within walking distance to the house.
Friday we walked up to CDB's Southside from my house for some dinner al fresco on the upper outdoor deck. I was never a big fan of their sweet and thick tomato sauce, but they do make a great Greek Salad, the small is big enough for 3-4 people, and it's nice to sit outside and enjoy the spring weather while having a few Friday afternoon cocktails with friends. We also tried the Southside Sampler, combination of Fried Cheese, overly stuffed Mushrooms, Baked Clams Casino and Fried Ravioli...a very good combo of tasty apps. The Hard Hat Grinder was just ok, not enough meat on the Sandwich that has Provolone Cheese, Salami, Pepperoni, Capicola Ham and Roast Beef(which was overcooked and a bit chewy).
After enjoying a few hours here, we walked a block down to the The Wooden Door, a new Irish Bar and Grill that just opened this weekend. Again it's nice to be able to sit outside, they have a large patio in the front, there was a decent crowd all ready taking advantage of the great evening weather. Inside they had a nice new Wooden Bar, with about a dozen bar stools, and a few tables scattered about on one half, and dart boards and a video game and juke box on the other half. The kitchen was only serving wings and onion rings, I believe the Grand Opening with the Full Menu is around April 1st. They did a nice job renovating the space, my only question was why the ceramic tile floors, it would have been alot more comfortable with wood floors. We shot a few games of darts, and were ready to head to the next venue...the Green Iguana Westshore.

We walked about 2 more blocks, where the original Green Iguana was celebrating their 20th Anniversary...and I can't believe I have been coming to this place for 20 years! And what a difference 20 years makes, from what was once a dive, hole in the wall, drinking establishment with bands every night in a very tightly spaced, dimly lit bar, is now a spacious, Bar and Restaurant, with an added Tiki Deck outside, expanded game room in the back with pool table and darts, and all upgraded's nice they have really upgraded this place, but sometimes you just miss that original feel the place used to have, where the bartenders were the same(I miss Chrissie and Linda)..and knew exactly what you wanted right when you walked in the door. But my fav bartender/manager, John, is still there after joining a few years ago, it just seems the wait staff and bartenders come and go very often....Anyways, the food has been upgraded they now have a full brand new kitchen and full menu, the place was hopping this evening with, as usual, alot of interesting people....again, I can never go to this place without ever meeting and talking with just has that laid back friendly atmosphere...and having live music every night makes for even more great entertainment.

Saturday, it was up and early with the Kayak, and out to Citrus County with some friends to explore the Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge. About an hours drive north of Tampa, it was a great kayaking experience on the river, we ran into a very playful dolphin who almost ran into use a few times, the waters were crystal clear. We also kayaked up to the Springs, where the crystal clear waters come up from underground. Some of us even went into the springs(always a cool 72 degrees year round), and you were able to dive through the limestone caverns which are all throughout the underground. We ran into some very old homes along the river banks, I kept hearing the music from the movie 'Deliverance' playing in my head as we all strolled down the very quiet area, with no one else around, it's definitely a different part of Florida in these parts.
We were starving after about 5 hours in the Refuge, and heading out we stopped at Brooksville area and had a great meal at Besta One Italian Restaurant - the Calzones were HUGE!

It's EASTER so i'll be taking the kids to Madre's for our annual Easter Feast today.

Work takes me to New Jersey this week.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Tampa's St. Paddy's Parade and Beach Theater

Saturday evening was the 16th annual St. Patrick's Day parade held in Ybor City. It is an night time Illuminated Parade that runs down 7th avenue in the Historic District. There was a big crowd out for this years festivities, most in Green, and with over 95 floats, a few Irish bands and Bag Pipe players in Kilts, there were numerous Green Beads being thrown to the crowds. It's only March, and I feel like Tampa is all a big parade, as this is the fourth of the year. I think we are done for now until the Mama Guava Stumble in October for Guavaween, Tampa's annual Halloween celebration.
Before the parade, we headed to one of the best Irish pubs in Ybor City, the James Joyce Irish Pub, upstairs from the Green Iguana. Lots of International beers on tap, a separate dart room with real darts, and always live Irish music, and windows looking out on 7th Avenue. After literally climbing about 50 stairs to get there, you are ready for a Pint of something. They dont serve food, so it gets a bit smokey from cigarette's.
We all viewed the parade from in front of Green Iguana where they had live music in one half, and club tunes playing in the other half, and serving Green Beer of course, any beer poured could be made green with a little food dye. I got to see a few people in the parade that I recognized, it was a nice touch to get some primo beads that way.
After wards we headed to Blues Shark where some great live Jazz/Blues was playing, then The Forge, Club 714, Streetcar Charlies, and ended the evening close to home at the Green Iguana Westshore.

Sunday, we headed over to St. Pete Beach to watch a movie in the Historic Beach Theater. It was my first time to this theater I have heard alot about, I was not impressed. For a historic theater, I had the likes of Tampa Theater in mind, Beach Theater turned out to look like something from the 60's, just very plain, an old movie theater, very tiny lobby area, the concessions person and ticket box office handler with one in the same. Uncomfortable seats, it was what is was, but will not make me take the trek to St. Pete Beach to see an independent film, unless it's not playing elsewhere, like The Savages. The movie was very good though.
It was time for some dinner, so we went down the street to the water from the Theater, and were seated at a waterside table at Woody's. Great beachy crowd, live music, the site of the sun going down into the Gulf with some interesting Sea Fog hanging onto the shore and clinging to the high rise condos and beach front apartments. We had the lady from the table next to us try some of their wings(very friendly of her), they were some of the biggest and tastiest wings this side of the Bay as starters, then we dined on Big Fish Sandwich, huge filet of something, crispy fried, and a burger with spicey fries. All in all, a good meal, great atmosphere for a water front place on St. Pete Beach.

This week work takes me to Atlanta and Baltimore.

Monday, March 10, 2008

A Jewish Film Festival and Sarasota's Selby Gardens

I have a few Jewish friends in Tampa, so Saturday night I went to the Tampa Jewish Film Festival to get a taste of this culture on Film. We started having some dinner downtown Tampa a block form the Tampa Theater where the festival was being held this evening, it's and eight day event on both sides of the Bay.
SPAIN is a very nice Spanish/Tapas like restaurant on Tampa Street in downtown Tampa. With its all white and very clean atmosphere, white walls, white table clothes, white chairs, clean lighting, great separate bar area, and live Spanish/Flamenco music every Friday and Saturday night. Its cozy with less than 20 tables. The servers are even Latino. The menu has alot of Tapas items, and also some entree's. We dined on a Shrimp in a spicy/sweet sauce and Stuffed Grouper with Crab Meat. All entrees are served with great Cuban bread drizzled with Olive Oil, and there House Salad, mixed Greens with Feta Cheese and a Vinaigrette, and wither Yellow Rice or Vege of the Day(tonight it was Fresh Green Beans). The shrimp meal was good, although it would have been better if the Shrimps were grilled, but there were about 9 decent sized shrimp in somewhat bland sauce. The stuffed Grouper was very tasty, but very small portion for an entree size. We both felt that for $20 entree's, the serving sizes could have been bigger. Green Beans were ok, and lacked flavor, the yellow rice was typical. I loved the atmosphere, and live music was entertaining(they add $1.00 for each person on the bill for the live music cover charge). I have had other tapas style plates here which have been good, so i will be back, but more for the small plates.
We then walked a block up to Historic Tampa Theater to the Jewish Film Festival which is in it's 12th year, and saw "Someone to Run With", an excellent Movie filmed entirely in Jerusalem, great story line and acting, and from what I heard, it is based on a book that every teenager in Israel reads in high school. I was very moved by the story line, cinematography, and overall entertainment of this foreign film. The Festival continues through March 16th.

Sunday was a great day, crisp clean air about 65 degrees, blue blue skies. A great day for the annual Plant Festival at Marie Selby Gardens in Sarasota. About an hours drive south of Tampa, it was a nice drive over the Skyway Bridge to Sarasota. The Bay was looking beautiful, with aqua greenish/blue waters, many people were out today on their boats, para-sailing, wake boarding, etc. Selby Gardens is a nice, small Botanical Gardens located right in downtown Sarasota along the Bay, with every type of Florida species of plants, trees and flora, and just nice to hang out, walk around the trails, relax on the many benches with views of downtown Sarasota and the Bay. It was busy today with the Plant Festival, a good friend of mine owns Exotica Nursery in St. Pete, and was showcasing his many species of Bamboo and Palms at the Festival.

This week work takes me to Miami.
Plant and Garden Festival at Marie Selby Gardens

Saturday, March 8, 2008

My Photo Shoot, Channelside Tapas and IMAX Concert

A buddy of mine is going to Photography School at the International Academy of Design and Technology here in Tampa, and asked me to be one of their models Friday evening...reluctantly I say ok, and what an interesting experience. I learned alot about what typical models something go through in photo shoots, for this particular shot, they needed profiles and portraits. Poking and prodding of the clothes, my face, posing in awkward positions, holding still, constant changes in lighting, and the use of props( a cigar)...and hearing such terms as 'Rembrandt' and 'cloning'...I was enlightened to the world of Photography. Im looking forward to see the final products after being worked on in the "Digital Dark Room".
It was getting late and after 9:30pm Friday, so after the photo shoot we headed to Channelside for some late eats, it's nice that all the restaurants in Channelside stay open late in the night, we decided on Spanish Tapas at Tina's Tapas. What a great choice, we were seated in the dimly lit lounge area in an over sized raised booth overlooking the nice large circular bar, spanish/flamenco music playing in the back ground, and a decent crowd for late night eating. After sipping on some Spanish beers, our orders came to the table within 10 minutes of ordering..starting with a seared Ahi Tuna on mixed greens with diced mango and tomato, grilled veges, a perfectly cooked steak and chicken, with excellent sauces. After that, the Filet Mignon topped with melted blue cheese and Yellow Rice and Black Beans came out to end the meal, again, perfectly cooked, and delicious. Service was friendly, and it was nice to have the food come out piece by piece tapas style, and so soon, because we were heading to a concert in the IMAX theater.
U23D - the first ever concert filmed in IMAX and 3D technologies, what a RUSH! From when they first came out on stage, the sound alone was very impressive, but then you have Bono and Edge playing right to you, and you are practically reaching out to touch them at times. And the amazing stage and special effects from their latest outdoor concert in Argentina. All of U2's most popular songs played, not only did you want to get up a sing alone, but you really had the best seats int he house for this concert, at times I wanted to grab onto some of the concert audience it was that real, and made for an amazing experience all together.

Lots to do this WINDY and CHILLY weekend, here are a few:

Cajun Zydeco Crawfish Festival
Tampa Jewish Film Festival
Selby Gardens Plant Festival
St Pete Art Gallery Walk
Ybor City Beer Fest

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Green Iguana Lunch; Shane's Rib Shack Dinner

One thing nice about working from home is being able to take a leisurely lunch in the neighborhood when time permits. Me and a buddy walked over to the Green Iguana Westshore, the first and original Green Iguana(there are now 5 throughout Tampa Bay area), for some lunch. I visit this place often, live music 7 nights, great food and drinks, interesting people, and best of all only a block from my house.
What a difference 20 years makes, from what was once a dive, laid back , tiny hole int he wall bar, with all the remodeling complete over the past few years, it is now a very lively, open entertainment and dining space. Huge outdoor Tiki area, the pool and darts area in the back is twice as big, bathrooms have been remodeled and larger, and the kitchen in the back is brand new and twice the size. The menu has been revamped, and now offers great dinner options.
For lunch we sat outside to enjoy the great weather, there are many business people here for lunch as well. The Baja Burger and Fish Tacos were on order for us. The burger was cooked perfectly medium and about a 1/2 pound of juicy flavorful beef, topped with cooked onion, avacado, and Caribbean spices, on a very soft fresh baked bun, and came with very fresh and hot crinkle cut fries. The two fish tacos was fried grouper rolled in fresh tortillas with a salsa and lettuce/tomato/onion, and served with fresh Mexican chips and salsa. Service was fast and friendly, the cook delivered the meals. A great experience, and with the new menu, I may be doing lunch and/or dinner here weekly....
After checking out the new Will Ferrel movie, Semi-Pro, later this evening, we all went over to Shane's Rib Shack, which recently opened in South Tampa on Neptune Street. It reminded me alot of the places you order at the counter, take a number, and then they deliver to your table(called Fast Casual Restaurants). Very fresh and large portions of Shredded BBQ pork, with sides that included Fried Okra, very lightly breaded and fried chunks of okra, collard greens which lacked some flavor but were good, and macaroni and cheese which was pretty standard. A good place for good BBQ.

Monday, March 3, 2008

2008 Gasparilla Ends!

What came in as a Lion, leaves like a Lamb..The Tampa Gasparilla Celebration, which started January 22nd and ended this past weekend.
It all started with one of the largest fireworks displays in the country(Gasparilla Battle of the Pirates), 2 large parades and street festivals(Gasparilla Invasion and Pirate Fest, Krewe of St. 'Yago Knight Parade), the send-off of the Pirates back to Sea(Gasparilla March Triumphant), a Nationally recognized Marathon weekend(Gasparilla Distance Classic), the Gasparilla International Film Festival, and finally the Gasparilla Festival of the Arts wrapped things up this weekend.
Friday I had some friends in town from NYC, and did a BBQ with them at their Mom's place in Hyde Park. She lives in one of the oldest bungalow style homes just behind Hyde Park Village. This is a beautiful area of older historic homes, large oak tree lined streets, a great sense of Tampa History and Community.

Saturday we all went to the Gasparilla Festival of the Arts in downtown Tampa. This year they had over 300 artists lined up all over the downtown streets, with two areas of live music, alot of entertainment and some very creative artists. It was interesting to notice that the crowds were quite a bit different then the Gasparilla Pirate Fest and Parade last month..same people, except today we were all a little more cultured and civilized and not wearing beads. These types of festivals really bring out the community, and its a great opportunity to run into those that make the city what it is, like the Mayor Pam Iorio, City Council members, even my Neighborhood Association president. With the perfect weather, it made for a great day in downtown. One of my favorite artists was a photographer Steve S Gregory, his creativity was overwhelming.

Afterwards we all went over to the Gasparilla Film Festival taking place at Channelside downtown. It was in its 4th day, there were over 80 films in this years Festival, we decided to par-take in the new Richard Gere/Claire Danes thriller, The Flock. One thing that is great about attending Film Festivals, is you are typically the first people to view the Film, as was the case for "The Flock", the Executive Director and Producer(who happens to have part of their Studios in Largo) were on hand to take questions after the viewing. They advised us that the final editing occurred the day before, and they flew directly to Tampa with the final cut this morning, and we were the first to view. It goes to the distributor today to be released sometime this summer. By the way, and AMAZING thriller!! It interesting to learn how certain scenes were filmed, why and how they chose the actors, etc., and these are things you can only get to know by attending a Film Festival. There was a 14 minute preview prior to the move called "The Strip Club King", which is a documentary film on the life of Joe Redner, and VERY famous Tampa resident, who was also in the audience. That film is to be released nationally sometime in May.
Since we had a few hours to kill, we decided to have some great NY Style pizza at NYPD Pizza in Channelside. A Large Greek Salad, with Feta Cheese in the very tangy and tasty greek dressing, and lots of Kalamata Olives, Feta Cheese on Crisp Greens with all the veges you would find on a Greek Salad. The 18" Pepperoni and Mushroom pizza was just like NY. Crispy but not too much so you can fold the slice as you eat it, and plenty of toppings and cheese. The Sauce was garlicky with a rich tomato flavor, and not sweet, which is perfect.
Saturday late night after the Festival, I was picked up and whisked away to Ybor City..Lounge 7/14, The Forge, Streetcar Charlies and then GBar provided a very surprisingly fun night out, the places were not overly crowded, and were very entertaining to say the least.

Sunday was a very relaxing day doing some biking at Fort DeSoto Park, and relaxing on the beach. There were quite a few people at the park today, but it is so big and spreadout, we still felt like we had the whole beach and park to ourselves.
Afterwards I met up with some friends and relaxed as the sun went down on their dock overlooking the water and Mangroves of Tampa Bay, as the boaters were coming in from a beautiful day on the water.