Friday, May 30, 2008

Tampa's Wild Side and an Island Dinner downtown

Left the office around 3pm today to put my my Busch Gardens pass to use, decided on a two year pass earlier this year, this is my second time to the park this year, it includes free parking and discounts on food and stuff in the park-even beers! A quick drive of about 20 minutes from South Tampa to the park, no traffic at this time on the roadways, and nearly no one in the park. It's nice just to be able to relax, walk around the gardens, see some wild things, maybe hit a roller coaster or two..very relaxing end of the day. We tried some Shock Top brand beers from Anheiser-Busch, tasted just like Blue Moon. I was surprised at the amount of new beers they are coming out with, Bud Lights now have lime, lots of different types of energy drinks, and also mixing half and half of one type of beer with another. The Jungala exhibit was just opened last month, and seemed to be more for the kids, with lots of interactive exhibits and play areas, I did finally get to see a Gibbon in person which was very cool to watch. It was kind of sad not to see The Python rollarcoaster there anymore, as that was the very first coaster I ever rode, my Uncle and one of my older brothers must have rode it about a dozen times before they could get my butt on it, and ever since, I have loved rollar coasters..the bigger the better!!

After the Gardens we went to dinner on Davis Islands, a very unique and interesting part of the downtown Tampa area, Davis Islands is its own community unto itself with a small airport, major hospital and trauma center, community college, authentic main street with a dozen different types of eateries, playgrounds, ballparks, tennis complexes, and full marina, a beach and dog park, and lots of water everywhere.
I received a $25 gift cert from my friends at another blog site, so it was off to Ricks Italian Cafe. Driving onto the Islands from Bayshore Blvd near downtown Tampa is like escaping to a Mediterranean oasis, with historic apartment buildings scattered amongst million dollar homes, there are no high rises here except for Tampa General Hospital. Rick's had a guitarist playing on the outside patio, it was another dry and breezy evening so we decided to take advantage of this, immediately as we sat, we were offered menu's and drinks...we ordered the Veal Brisoile, excellent Veal wrapped around mozzarella and Canadian bacon, and also the Trip Around Italy with ravioli, sausage, meatball, and eggplant, both served with a side of pasta, garden salads and vege of the day which was Italian greens and green beans in a garlic-oil, and fresh rolls dusted with parm cheese and garlic butter. Both good meals, Rick's isn't the best Italian, but makes do as a local Italian place for the Davis Islanders, and nice to sit outside along the Blvd and watch the people walk around, and listen to some live music....afterwards we walked over to the Channel, overlooking million dollar homes along Harbour Island and incredible views of downtown Tampa skyline. You can also sit and watch the HUGE ships coming in and out of the Port of Tampa as well. Davis Islands is a nice local escape, and you would never know you were in Tampa, except for the tops of the skyscrapers peering out every now and then as you walk along the Main Blvd.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Tampa Doggie Doctor and a some South Tampa eats

My little girl was due for her annual vaccinations and wellness check up, so off we went to the Veterinary Medical Clinic on Henderson Blvd in South Tampa. I have been going here for over 7 years with my boy each year, and every visit has always been very easy, they take your kids at the exact time of the appt, very thorough and knowledgeable on how to treat and respect the kids, and extremely friendly Tech's to assist. The kids always get a little nervous with the smells and people around, it's nice to have a very calming atmosphere with people that generally care for your kids well being.
Later went to see the Indiana Jones new flick, pretty good, but typical of an Indiana Jones movie, too much dialogue for my taste, then it was out to enjoy a late evening dinner outside, as the weather was still nice and dry, although warm.
We went to Hawk's on Bay to Bay Blvd, they have a large outdoor patio, with TV's outside to view any sports games that might be going on. Friendly staff, they now offer sushi, we decided to try a Mexican Roll, and it was typical but very good. The other items we ordered were Greek Salad with Grilled Chicken - the lettuce was a bit chewy, and it didn't have the accompaniments of a Greek Salad, so we wont be ordering that again; and also the Cuban sandwich, which was stuffed with meats and cheeses found on any Cuban, I find most the sandwiches at this place to always be overstuffed and delicious.
My kids Rika and Tyson at Picnic Island Beach and Park.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Memorial Weekend in Tampa - Biking, Kayaking, Beach and Music

Decided to spend the holiday weekend in Tampa this year, very relaxing and great to see some good friends and enjoy the local area. The weather was very summer like on Friday, but quickly the Humidity disappeared on Saturday night leaving very dry and sunny blue skies with a nice breeze for the remainder of the weekend.

Friday evening went to see one of my favorite local bands that had what we thought was their last show in the beginning of the year, Buffalo Strange. They played at Jimi B's over on St Pete Beach, a great beach front tropical bar and restaurant, plenty of open deck and outdoor seating. It was very busy this night, as the start of the Holiday Weekend, there was plenty of parking across the street on a side street specifically for Jimi B's. After meeting my friends and their family that was in town, we walked next door to Shell's for a late night dinner, and then back to Jimi B's for some great live music and people watching outside under the stars, with the Gulf of Mexico just steps away.
Sunday, took the day to explore some Tampa neighborhoods near my house on bike. It was nice riding along Westshore Blvd to the north, and riding throughout Beach park and Sunset Park neighborhoods. Huge million dollar homes, set along historic small houses, these are truly unique neighborhoods with lots of money, many are waterfront homes that sit along canals with yachts in the backyards and well manicured lawns, with mature old oaks providing shade on just about every street. Afterwards I threw the kayak on top of the truck and headed across the Bay to St. Pete neighborhood of Riviera Bay, where one of my good friends has a house with a dock into the canals that lead to Weedon Island. It was dusk, and very nice to be out on the water, exploring the mangrove trails, lots of wildlife, manatees and dolphins in the water along side us.
For dinner we all went up the street to GoodFella's on 4th Street north of Gandy Blvd. This place had TRUE NY Style pizza, some of the best I have had in Florida. The 18" X Large piled high with a very light tomato sauce, cheese and pepperoni and fresh mushrooms, very thin crust you can fold like a true NY slice with that oven crisp taste. We were the last one there and closed the place up.

Memorial Day it was up very early, and breakfast on the water at my friends over in St Pete, then on to their Nursery they own, Exotica, Inc, with all types of very lush and tropical plants like bamboo, dozens of species of palms and bromiliads, and others. Its just nice to walk around the place with a large koi pond, an upper deck looking over the entire place built around a large old tree, and live birds throughout the place. We then all went over to Fort DeSoto North Beach, there was a little traffic getting in through the .35 cent toll, but even though this was probably the busiest day, when parking along the roadway heading towards the north beach area, there is still PLENTY of room on the beach for lots of peace and quiet, a toss of the frisbee, or just relaxing in the calm Gulf waters. A nice long walk around the island there were bird nesting areas, and nice tropical sandy beaches. On the way back from the Beach we stopped off downtown St. pete along the waterfront for an 'early bird' dinner at Fish Tales located in a marina just south of the Dali museum. The atmosphere is all Florida, all open dining to outside along the Marina, you can watch the boats come in and out, and there is a great tiki bar area. They had these 'skillet' early bird specials we all decided to try that came with new potatoes, tomato's and grilled onions all in skillet. Crab Cake and Shrimp skillet- a large crab cake, filled with blue crab, very little breading, and about a dozen medium sized shrimp; Scallop and Shrimp skillet, about half dozen medium sized scallops and shrimps; and also the filet skillet, a nice sized Filet Mignon, cooked a little rare and wrapped in bacon. All in all, a good meal, and not bad for only $10 bucks. Id come back here for a few drinks and to watch the boaters, maybe some oysters on the half shell. We then explored a very unique St. Pete neighborhood just south of here called Driftwood, older homes set back amongst very overgrown plants, trees and grasses, so overgrown you couldn't see some of the homes that sat along the Bay, and the roads are very narrow and all monitored by video cameras.

Another great looong weekend in the Bay area.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

BBQ in Hyde Park - SMOKE

A good buddy of mine took me out for a belated birthday dinner this evening, a new BBQ joint opened up on Platt Street in Hyde Park this week, so we decided to give it a try. Smoke has a great outdoor patio facing Platt Street, and an interesting bar area that maked you feel like you are in an actual smokehouse, the kitchen is behind the bar so you can watch all kinds of BBQ cooking happening. Inside are less than a dozen wooden booths, the building used to be an old Auto Mechanic Shop, very interesting and great design to this place. Very friendly and attractive servers greeted us, sat us, explained the menu, as the place just opened there were a few items not available yet(smoked salmon and beef ribs). There a few choices of Fresh Brewed Iced Tea, and as of now just beer and wine. We opted for a Full Rack of Pork Ribs-very tangy and sweet fall off the bone ribs, full of bbq flavor, very meaty and tender; Hawiian BBQ Chicken-moist and tender half chicken with a sweet pineapple bbq sauce; each of the meals is served with two sides so we shared the Macaroni and Cheese-with layers of real cheese and topped with an herb bread crumb dressing, Twice Baked Sweet Potato-not a good choice, the texture of the potato and flavor was rather bland, Red Cabbage-our favorite side, just plain delicious and Baked Beans-with a very smokey sausage flavor, and bits of sausage.

It was a good meal, and I will be back, naturally as the first week open they are still refining things, but for the third day open, it was just fine. Its kind of BBQ meets Hyde Park, not fancy, but not picnic tables and paper plates either...a nice BBQ!

Monday, May 19, 2008

Tampa Neighborhoods....Party, Party, Party!

Quite a few parties going on this weekend. A good friend of mine is living a life long dream of moving to Alaska, he leaves Tuesday for Anchorage, and on Friday of this past weekend, he threw a HUGE blowout party, with over 100 people showing up at his Tampa Wellswood neighborhood home. Wellswood is a neighborhood just north of downtown, and west of the Hillsborough River, a working class neighborhood, block homes were built primarily in the 40's and 50's, many run along the Hillsborough River. A very diverse neighborhood.

Saturday, some good friends of mine were having birthdays, and decided to combine them into one big house party in the South Tampa neighborhood of Port Tampa City. This neighborhood site just north of MacDill AFB, southwest of downtown Tampa. Many very historic homes, mixed in with brand new homes, bungalos to mansions, again a very diverse neighborhood. It was in this neighborhood back in the 1800's that the soldiers for the Spanish American and Seminole Indian Wars were shipped into Tampa, and used to be a huge port with a commuter train taking everything from supplies and trade to people vacationing in Tampa from the Bay to Downtown. Again, close to 70 people came by, always a good time meeting people for the first time, or just rekindling friendships with people you haven't seen in over a year or so. After the party, the weekend wouldn't be complete without a stop by the Green Iguana Westshore before heading home.

Sunday, after sleeping in late, we were invited over my friends place in Beach Park for a nice breakfast with her and her three adorable girls. It was relaxing time to hang out in this beautiful older two story colonial type home. Beach Park neighborhood in Tampa is full of muli-million dollar homes mixed with larger older type homes, one of the weathliest areas of Tampa located just off Westshore Blvd, south of Kennedy Blvd, and most lots have very old mature oaks and landscaping so it is very lush. Later we went over to Rita's on Kennedy Blvd for some frozen custard. Kind of like soft serve ice cream, it was very thick and good, but I still favor Gelato for a tasty cold treat, and now that my fav place in Hyde Park, La Casa Dolce, closed, i'm looking for another Gelato place in South Tampa to satisfy my Gelato fix. Sunday evening, my buddy took me out for a belated birthday dinner to Square 1 Burgers on Henderson Blvd in South Tampa. Very pretty place, they took a historic furniture store, and dramatically turned it around into a funky looking, upscale diner like establishment, a very long bar, great art work and lighting. We both had the Buffalo Burgers with our choice of numerous toppings and sauce for dipping the burgers. The Buffalo Burger was very moist and cooked perfectly medium(even though we weren't asked how it was to be cooked), on a choice of soft fresh baked bun, toppings on mine included sauteed mushrooms(finely chopped grilled mushrooms), and cheddar cheese with a thai-ginger sauce for dipping. My buddies was piled high with provolone cheese, sauteed onions and lettuce, tomato, pickles. All burgers are served with a tangy, oniony cole slaw. We also split a HUGE portion of chili cheese fries...also very delicious and filling for two people. I will be back, there are probably over a thousand ways you can prepare one of these very good burgers.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Tampa Greek, Jamaican and Irish!

A good friend of mine was turning 33, and she decided to have everyone get together at the Greek Restaurant Acropolis in Ybor City. Walking in was like walking into a huge Greek Party, lots of very loud live Greek music playing, servers and patrons dancing, and a belly dancer strolling through the restaurant. We had about 18 people at our table, and as fun as the atmosphere was, it was just too loud to talk to anyone at the table....the party did subside a bit, the live music kept going on all evening though...the food is very reasonable and very large portions, from what everyone had, they all said it was very delicious, although the Souvlaki(pork on Skewers) was ab it dry and tough, and when I mentioned it to the waitress, she just said "I guess you won't be needing a to go box", not very friendly, and we all felt that the service was very slow, they messed up one of the orders, and drinks were very slow to come out...they also wouldn't split the check. They have a few tables outside, which makes for great outdoor dining along 7th Ave in Ybor.
Afterwards we walked down 7th Ave to The Rare Olive, where there was a Jamaican band playing reggae music, service is always very slow in this place, it took a long time for us all to get drinks. It was then on to Level III, but only the 1st level of this three floor with a rooftop was open, and they were playing some nice old 80's dance tunes, a trip back in time.
The party ended up at the Irish Nightspot MacDinton's in Hyde Park, lots of great people watching, and an entertaining live band. After we closed MacDinton's, we walked across the street to the Pita Pit, for a GREAT Pita sandwich at 3am. A quick taxi ride back home, and this Saturday night was done.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Turning 40 in Tampa!

Wednesday April 30th was my 40th bday, and I got together with about 20 of my friends at Circles Restaurant in Hyde Park(had a buddy fly in from Chicago as well). A favorite of mine, it's a small old house, with separate dining rooms, and a large bar area. We had our own room, but the owner, Micheal, greeted us in the bar and we had some drinks as people arrived, a nice meeting area and very friendly staff. We were seated in a comfortable room, and right away were attentively being waited on by three servers, who explained the specials. Circles has a very interesting menu, full of very tempting dishes from around the world. I have never had a bad meal here, the food is very fresh and portions are large. My birthday meal consisted of a perfectly cooked 10oz filet with a peppercorn topping, smashed potatoes and fresh asparagus. Everyone who had meals and appetizers advised what a great choice the place was, and after dinner we headed back to the bar, where the very friendly owner allowed us to imbibe on more drinks before heading out on the town.

After a great dinner, most of us walked over the the Dubliner, a very casual, laid back Irish Pub that was very busy this Wednesday evening with a live band, and lots of pretty people. A few good laughs, and it was on to a location closer to home, what else than the Green Iguana Westshore, again very busy and very entertaining.

I was in the Florida Keys for the remainder of this loooong weekend, and briefly I can say that the Duval Inn was one of the nicest B&B's I have stayed at, Lloyd's Bike Tour is a must, the beaches at Fort Zachary Taylor Park are the nicest - lots of bike paths, nature trails and a cool old fort to discover, and some great eats in Key West included A&B Lobster House, Caroline's, La Te Da, Sarabeth's, Ernest Hemingway's Cafe. It was the Songwriters Festival, so there was alot of great live music.

Back to Tampa on Monday, we went to get some Pedicures at the Manhattan Nail Shoppe on Manhattan Avenue, then some great seafood lunch at Crab Shack(Dungenous and Alaskan Snow Crab, with a dozen fresh oysters-very large-and Maryland Crab Cakes. A trip to downtown St. Pete to see a movie at BayWalk and then some Gelato along the waterfront and walking around some of the nice shops downtown St. Pete.

I still enjoyed my 40th as if I was no older than 25....age is just a number!