Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Colorado Visitors in Tampa!

My brother flew in on Wednesday night, no better way to welcome him than an evening at the Green Iguana Westshore in the neighborhood, live music, dollar anything to drink, good times! The next afternoon, the rest of the family came over and we walked over the the Iguana for lunch, again a great hit, eating outdoors on the Tiki Deck, very juicy burgers, large fresh grouper sandwich and an amazing Caribbean salad with shrimp. The crowd was a bit different than last evening(biz people on lunch, and locals). After work we all went down the street with the little one to Picnic Island, where we tossed the disc for a while, and played on one of the two larger playground areas with the toddler, both with great views of Tampa Bay. The evening brought more family members over to my house, and we decided on one of the largest take out orders i've ever called in to Peking Chinese Take Out on Manhattan Ave and El Prado. Even with the HUGE order, everything was cooked perfectly, my uncle swears it to be the best take out in the area, I have to agree.

Friday, went with some friends and my bro and sis in law to 717 South for dinner, sitting outside along Howard Avenue. Food as been consistently good here, the Asian Pot Roast, Grouper Special, Chicken Firenze and Buffalo Mozzarella and Tomato Salad. We tried the Spinach Egg Drop Soup which everyone exclaimed was the best tasting soup. All dinner were served with 717 House or Ceasr salads, a large portion, and also fresh bread with an Italian Sauce and cheese for dipping. After dinner we walked up Howard Ave which was getting busy by 10pm, to Mangroves. the DJ was not set up yet, but there was great lounge type music playing downstairs in the bar area and outside deck...we then ventured off to Hyde Park Cafe for dancing..I decided to give the place another shot after my bad experience last year, and if you make reservations ahead of time, you wait on no lines, and no cover charge. A great looking crowd, and of course DJ Tony Feline spinning some great tunes. By around 100am, the place was packed, and it was time to leave, but we wound up stopping at the Dubliner for one, where there was a great live band outside on the deck. With taxi's waiting outside along Howard Avenue, we got a ride back home, where one of us crashed in the house, and us others...went to Green Iguana of course till closing. On the walk back home, m,y brother waved his arm out at a taxi, and instead of a block ride home, we went to Waffle House down the street for a late night snack....it was a Great Long Friday night!

Saturday, we woke with lots of plans on our minds(Riverwalk Platt Street Bridge Opening, Gulfport Springfest, GreenThumb Festival, Pondscapes Pond Tour, the Beach)....being a bit tired, some of us went on the Pond Tour to a few homes in South Tampa, great to view how people landscape their backyards, in some of the nicest neighborhoods in South Tampa. By noon, we all took off for Anna Marie Island, about 45 min drive from Tampa. This beautiful island and small village town is just east of Bradenton. The waters were crystal clear, sand a very fine powdery white, and we were in a very secluded area with not many people around. Made for a great relaxing beach day...rafts in the Gulf, paddle ball and frisbee on the beach, tunes playing on the radio, sandwich's in the cooler.

Sunday was another relaxing day heading over to Pinellas County and the GreenThumb Festival, one of the largest plant and garden festivals in the Tampa area, some friends of mine had a booth, showcasing many of the Exotic and Tropical plants and services they offer from Exotica, Inc. tropical nursery on 22nd Ave South in St. Pete.

Work brings me to Orlando this week, and then it's off to the Florida Keys for a nice long weekend.

Monday, April 21, 2008

A 1 year old visits Tampa; Art fest in St. Pete

My lil nephew from Colorado is visiting with his parents the next two weeks, on Saturday we took him downtown Tampa, and visited the Towers at Channelside new condominiums, part of the Urban Tour of Homes. The pool area was beautiful, probably one of the best I have seen with huge waterfalls, large bar area and clubhouse all on the 5th floor overlooking downtown and Channelside Bay Plaza. We looked at a 2/2 and a 3/3 on the 8th and 20th floors, although they seemed a little small, and left little room for any storage, the balconies and views were amazing. I'm not sure though that the views and wrap around balconies, large pool area, and location in the new urban residential area downtown warrant prices of over 1/2 million $$, with monthly HOA fees running around $500/month, but that's just me.
After viewing the towers, we walked over to Cotanchobee Park along the Riverwalk, and decided to have some lunch at Champions Sports Grille at the Marriott Waterside. Good food, at hotel prices, this Marriott has to be one of the nicest hotels in the Tampa area, the service was ok, we had a separate room to ourselves in the large, upscale sports restaurant located in the Lobby area of the hotel, which left alot of room for the little one to wonder around, and play some video games. We walked back along the Riverwalk to the park, so the little one could play at the kiddie area, it was nice relaxing under the trees with great views of the waterfront, Harbour Island, and downtown skyline. There is also a dock and small pier, where we were watching the dragonboat racers practice for the upcoming annual races taking place on May 3rd.
Saturday night, some friends of mine were having a small gathering at their place in the South Tampa neighborhood of Stoney Point, just off Westshore Blvd and Melrose Avenue. All canal and waterfront homes, large mature oaks in this small neighborhood, it was nice to relax out back poolside along the canal, they have a great tropical setting in their backyard with waterfall leading into the hot tub, the stars and almost full moon were out in full force this evening. One of their friends is a film maker that had one of her films at the Ybor Festival of the Movie Image, and we also watched some shorts from another film maker who was flying in from Boston to visit them. Before heading home, we stopped off at the Green Iguana Westshore, where good times are always happening.

Sunday, the little one and the others came over and we headed to downtown St. Pete for the annual Mainsail Arts Festival at the waterfront Vinoy Park. Before we got there, we stopped by Tijuana Flats for some mexican with the clan close by the festival. I twas a leisurely day walking around the over 200 art exhibts, all along the waterfront park, live music, and great people watching, all downtown St. Pete. Made for a great ending to another perfect weekend in the Bay area.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Tampa Trek bikes; Funny Flick

Had a tune up done to my Trek mountain bike Thursday, decided to try out the new Tampa Trek store on MacDill Ave in South Tampa. These guys know there stuff, and are all avid bikers of all kinds. The guy I brought my bike into the separate service area told me everything they would do in the tune up, total cost, and they would email and/or call me when finished. A great place with great service! I'm ready to hit up the trails again.

Friday while awaiting my sis in law and 1 year old nephew to get into town from Colorado, we went over to CDB's Southside a few blocks form the hosue to have some dinner al fresco, this time a Chef's Salad and an 18" pizza with pepperoni and mushrooms. MUCH better service this time sitting outside on the upper deck along Westshore Blvd, the weather was great, there were some tunes playing softly in the background. The small Chef Salad was plenty to feed us four, and we loved the "pin wheels" stiffed with turkey, roast beef and ham wrapped in provolone cheese..the salad was topped with mozzarella cheese - the pizza was delicious, more like a Digiorno's type crust, thick but good, and loaded with toppings and cheese, it's not Chicago style, but you need a fork and knife for this pizza. We then headed up the street to AMC Westshore, and saw one of the finniest movies of the year so far, "Forgetting Sarah Marshall", it was opening night, there was not an empty seat, and throughout the movie all you heard was laughter from the audience and a round of applause at the end....some funny stuff! A quick trip to the Airport, parking on the top level of the short term lot(free parking for the first hour), easy in and easy out.

This weekend, besides the great weather, there are so many options, here are just a few of the numerous happenings I hope to participate in:

Mainsail Art Festival - Vinoy Waterfront Park St. Pete
Tampa Urban Tour of Homes
Tampa Riverwalk opening of Platt Street Bridge section
Pass-a-Grille Beach Concerts
Tampa Home and Garden Show
Clearwater Jazz Festival
Bruce Springsteen Concert
Ybor Festival of the Moving Image

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Wooden Door

After seeing a great movie at the AMC Westshore up the street(Bank Job-by the way Wednesday is free popcorn night, and you prctically have the whole theater to yourself), a buddy and I headed to meet a few friends at a newly opened Irish Bar and Grill in my neighborhood, The Wooden Door, off Westshhore Blvd and Euclid Ave in South Tampa. I'm still waiting for the "wooden door" being imported from Ireland and some signage for this place. There were about eight of us all together, and they now have a full menu, and a stocked bar along with the half dozen or so beers on tap. Nice outdoor patio, but it was a bit cool this evening, so we had a few tables put together inside. The food looked good(they were having wings, onion rings, fish and chips which all said were very good). Nice to have another establishment within walking distance to the house, i'll have to try lunch here soon with the dogs outside.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

St. Pete Pizza; Tampa Bay Kayaking; MAD Theater in Ybor

Friday after work I went with a buddy of mine to his sisters in Clearwater for a small gathering, and to learn a bit about a Marketing venture dealing with the Travel Industry. Seems very interesting, but not for me right now, but the Chicken Balls and Spinach Dip was yummy. We headed to downtown St. Pete afterwards, and sat outside at Joey Brooklyn's on First Ave for some NY Style Pizza with meatballs. Pizza was great, people watching even better, St. Pete draws a variety, and depending what is going on at Jannus Landing, you can usually see all kinds of people. One thing about St. Pete compared to going out in Tampa, is it's typically a little more laid back, people in nice pants and shirts, but wearing flip flops, and wearign shorts was common as well.

Saturday after taking the kids to their favorite dog beach and park, Picnic Island down the street, I decided I wanted to read today's paper on my own island. So I got the kayak on the truck and headed about a mile from the house to put in at the Friendship Trailbridge at the foot of the Gandy Bridge on the Tampa side, also called Al Palonis Park. The Bay was crystal clear, unusual for the Bay most times, and paddling up along the coast northward there were lots of small islands for anyone's taking. Along the Bay are also multi million dollar homes which are nice to see how see other half live in Tampa.
Saturday evening we had tickets to another MAD Theater production of "The Life". This independent theater company performs in the Historic Ritz Theater along 7th Avenue in Ybor City, which recently underwent an amazing refurbishment. The play was great and very entertaining. For eats afterwards we walked over to Centro Ybor and the Rock n Sports Bar and Grille, grabbing a table outside for people watching. Great eats here of Buffalo Chicken Tenders, HUGE pieces of chicken breast lighted battered, and a great Cuban sandwich, thick and full of Roasted Park, Ham, Salami and Swiss Cheese and pressed. We also all tried the Sweet Potato fries that can come with your sandwich if you ask, they were excellent as well, and lightly sprinkled with Cinnamon Sugar, the place has about two dozen domestic and import beers on tap, and a Rockin' Juke Box, many flat screen TV's throughout. There was word that a new Country/Western Bar opened up in Ybor called Spurs, so we wondered over there to find a great place with large outdoor patio area with a stage and large bar, and inside was a nice new wooden floor, and plenty of cowboys and one or two cowgirls line dancing..I could never understand how they know what they are doing when they are out there, entertaining none the less.
My own Island in Tampa Bay!

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

GaYbor in Tampa

My friends birthday was yesterday, so we all took her out to Ybor City to the Laughing Cat Italian restaurant, and yet again, a GREAT experience, make no mistake this has to be consistently one of the BEST Italian restaurants in Tampa. Afterwards looking for something to do on a Tuesday evening in Ybor City, we notice the place across the street is very busy, Streetcar Charlies. They were having "2 for 1" dinners this evening, and had live music in one part of the restaurant, the bar area was also very busy.
The GLBT community has done an amazing job bringing this West End part of Ybor City back to life. With over 8 specific GLBT establishments and a host of more in the area that are GLBT friendly, they have coined that area of Ybor City GaYbor. After Streetcar Charlies, we wondered over to Club 714 and then G. Bar which were both very busy and very entertaining. We received news that yet another entertainment venue will be opening shortly. It's almost becoming like areas similar to North Halstead in Chicago, or Chelsea and the Village in New York City(of course not on that scale).
On our way back to the car, parked in the street at a meter, I noticed the City Parking Enforcement about to write a ticket for an expired meter. As soon as he saw me we chatted for a bit, I told him I heard the mayor was getting rid of meters in Ybor, he told me that yes, the meters would be gone after April 12th in Ybor, and since we were just a few days away he would not give me ticket...what a nice human being. I wish him well, as he then told us that he will be out of a job after April 12th.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

St. Pete Southern Eats, Tampa Bike Shopping and Kayak through Tampa

After a long week of travelling(NYC, Atlanta, and Richmond, VA), it was great to be be back home for the weekend in Tampa.
Friday evening, we went over to downtown St. Pete, it was First Friday, a special event they do every First Friday with live bands on Central Avenue, and the St. Pete Grand Prix was happening this weekend, they literally drive these Gran Prix cars through the streets of downtown St. Pete. Dinner was at Savannah's on Central Avenue and 11th Street. We were seated promptly outside on their patio area, the inside was very 'eclectic' looking with an upstairs and downstairs. We noticed when inside that there was no background music, and since the ceilings were very high, all you could hear was people talking and the clinking of forks and knives on their plates..some nice background music would have led to a better ambiance. Outside, the service was rather slow, and the waiter did not seem too happy to be there(no personality), plus he was training a new server at the same time handling the 5 tables outside. We started with Fried Green Tomatoes, only three slices, lightly fried with goat cheese and crushed walnuts, with a very light tomato sauce, they were just OK. For eats we had Salmon on Cheese Grits which was a very large piece and cooked perfectly, the cheese grits were very good. My side if Black Eyed Peas tasted like it was out of a can, very mushy in a bland tomato sauce(no ham hock). There was also a vegetarian plate we tried with a vegetable medley of overcooked zucchini and squash, some very horrid tasting sweet potatoes(even the server didn't like the looks of them), and a small black bean cake with a dab of sour cream, very bland. I'd like to try this place again, the menu looks very good, kind of Southern style foods with an eclectic twist. Afterwards we headed to the waterfront to have some Gelato, and walk around along the beautiful downtown St. Pete waterfront area.
Saturday, I decided to help a friend purchase a new bike. Before going hunting, we stopped off for some lunch in Hyde Park at Taqueria Q, some of the best Burritos and Taco's in Tampa, we took advantage of the great weather and sat outdoors along Howard Avenue. We then walked off the HUGE burritos and chips/salsa with a walk down Howard Avenue to Squaresville, a funky shop with 70's clothes, furniture and accessories...very cool place, like taking a step back ion time to your parents place from the 70's...great browsing. It was then off to Bike Hunt. There are lots of great places to bike both on road and off road in the Bay area, he loves just off Bayshore Blvd, and it's almost a MUST to have a bike if you live off the Boulevard. There are two great bike stores in South Tampa, a Trek dealer on MacDill Avenue just north of Swann Ave and Flying Fish Bicycles also on MacDill Avenue closer to bay to Bay Blvd. Both offered a great assortment of bikes, and no pressure sales, I almost got myself another Trek off road bike to upgrade my 10 year old.
Later that day we explored another area of the Hillsborough River via Kayak, putting in at Rivercrest Park in Seminole Heights. It was nice seeing the many different types of homes along the Hillsborough River in the city of Tampa, you wouldn't see this unless you actually was on the river, it was hard to believe we were only a few miles north of downtown Tampa. Trying to go to Rick's on the River for dinner afterwards, it was just way too busy, with a live band and rowdy crowd...so we opted for HoHo's Chinese along Armenia Ave and Colombus Ave in West Tampa, a very small 'to go' type place with a few booths to eat in. The food was not as good as the HoHo's I remember in South Tampa along Howard Avenue, but it was decent Chinese food, and was nice to watch the huge rain storms roll out this evening as we sat and dined in the small restaurant.