Friday, June 27, 2008

Family Visit from Colorado and a Buddy visits from Boston

Tuesday evening one of my older brothers and his clan(wifey, 3 kids, and 3 dogs) arrived at my house after they made a cross country trek to Florida from Colorado in their 35' RV - like s mall house. I had the whole family over, parking the RV in the driveway, and getting Cappy's Pizza with a Large Greek Salad for take-out. Still my favorite pizza in the Tampa area!

Wednesday morning a good buddy of mine flew in from Boston for some good times. We went over to harbour Island for lunch at Cafe Dufrain, it was nice to sit outside along the Channel with great views of downtown Tampa, and an awesome lunch experience of Chicken Rigatoni and the Southwestern Salad, very prompt and friendly service. It was a nice ride back along Bayshore Blvd, getting home just before the thunderstorms starting popping up. The evening had us going to the monthly Hyde Park Music Series, the weather really cooled down due to the afternoon storms, and made it very comfortable outside. We grabbed a bite at the Wine Exchange(service was very weak), some Chicken/Artichoke and BBQ Chicken Pizza's, Cuban Salads, Lobster Ravioli(which was comped because it came out 15 minutes after everyone else ate), and some chilly beverages. Afterwards we went out in the Village, where there were lots of people around, listening to the live music and socializing. Afterwards it was on to Dubliner, great looking crowd for Liter night, then a stop by Taquiero Q for a few tacos, MacDintons, and a taxi back home for a quick one at Green Iguana Westshore.

Thursday, we took the dogs to Picnic Island in the morning so they could run around on the beach and play, and then grabbed some breakfast at the Brunchery on MacDill Ave, which was just ok on this trip, having a Western omelet and Bayshore Benedict. We stopped by the house a grabbed the Tennis Rackets to play a few rounds of Tennis at the City courts on Himes Avenue. A nice lunch followed later at the Green Iguana Westshore - Baja Chicken and a Meatball Sandwhich which was a special of the day, and actually VERY good.
The evening brought us to Ybor City, with some .25 cent wings(Thai and Buffalo style) at Streetcar Charlies - very HUGE wings, crispy and tasty, I believe I found a new wing spot for Thursday nights. We meandered through Ybor, stopping by Spurs and Lounge 714, before retiring at home.

The weekend brings us to the Florida Keys and Key West---be back Monday!

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Rainy Downtown Tampa Day/Night!

Saturday we awoke to what is very familiar around here in the semi-tropical Tampa Bay area during the summer months, Thunderstorms and Torrential rainfall, but typically these happen in the late afternoons, unless there is some kind of 'tropical' disturbance lurking around, which was the case this weekend. A great time to figure out somethings to do indoors in the area. So we headed downtown Tampa, and first stop was the Florida Museum of Photograpic Arts. A small venue with a few exhibits, one from Len Prince, and another from Children of the Bay area. It's a great museum for those into photography, there are several sitting areas where you can read through photography books about the exhibits, relax, and enjoy the art....and they change the exhibits nearly monthly. The staff is very friendly and on hand to explain the pictures, photographers, and any other questions you may have around the art of photography.
We then walked up to Skypoint, the newest condominium tower, to try a new place called TAPS Beer and Wine Merchants on the first floor of the tower. On the way there, we passed by the Tampa Bay Rays store, which was very busy, people buying tickets for the games against Chicago this weekend, and lots of merchandise, shirts, hats, etc, they even had sample seating from Tropicana Field. TAPS Grand Opening isn't until June 28th, but as we walked in, we found it kind of rude that know one acknowledged or greeted us, just a couple of looks from the woman server on the floor, and some guy behind the bar area on the wine section. We sat and waited, and waited, until a very arrogant woman approached us, and mumbled something, then brought over the extensive wine and beer lists...we told her we wanted to eat, she then grabbed a couple of menus. The beer bar area was lively, and the bartender behind the bar was chatting away with the patrons, maybe we should've sat there at the bar. Regardless, there are over 300 beers from around the globe, you can even take purchase to take home as well. Its a nice new space, good tunes playing and sports on the flat screen tv's. Our Ahi Tuna salad sandwich and fancy BLT were very delicious, and came with a side salad with sliced strawberries, also very good. They just need to work on the service and friendliness of some of the staff, and this will be a great place to visit when downtown.
After our lunch and a couple of international beers, we walked over to Tampa Theater for an afternoon Independent film in this historic theater, 'Before The Rains'. Great movie, and always an interesting scene at Tampa Theater, I could spend hours just looking around the old theater and all the artifacts and scenery.
On the way back to the car, we stopped by Indigo Coffeehouse where we relaxed inside with some nice tunes and a friendly barista behind the coffee bar. Before heading home, we drove up to Tampa Heights neighborhood, just north of downtown, to visit a friend of mine, she lives in a restored 1900's bungalow in the Heights, as most of that neighborhood is going through a Renaissance of some sorts, very slowly. She has started learning Yoga, and showed us a few moves before we left her house.

A quick rest at home, and it was off to Channelside for a birthday party some friends of mine were having at the newly opened Seaport Apartments in Channelside. Great amenities, these are the only rental units in Channelside, and it was great to see alot of people that I dont get to talk to often, the party was in the clubhouse along side the pool. There is a streetcar stop just beside the Apartments, on our walk to the stop we just saw the streetcar pull away, and didnt want to wait another 20 minutes for the next, luckily it was Saturday night, and taxi's were cruising up and down Channelside Drive, and within a minute we were able to hail a cab up the street to Ybor City to finish off the night---Streetcar Charlies, Club Czar where after doing a shot from the extensive Vodka Bar we proceeded to smash the frozen shot 'glass' against the brick walls(shots are poured in frozen shells, not really glass), Club 714, James Joyce Pub, Blues Shark, New York New York Pizza, Green Iguana--and a taxi back home to South Tampa.

Sunday morning it was a quick cab ride back to my car I left in Channelside, Taxi Tim picked us up at my house, he writes an interesting blog called Tampa Taxi Shots. We decided on breakfast at Zelda's Cafe and Deli, across from Ventana Condos in the CHannelside neighborhood. Although there werent many patrons in the place, service was very slow, my omelet was overcooked, had to get up for butter, and most of my breakfast was broght out one piece at a time(first the omelet, then a few minutes later the toast, and then a few minutes later the hash browns)....Big Thunderstorms again all day Sunday, with the Sun peaking out from time to time...finally the grass is green, we are getting much needed rains almost daily now!!

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Burgers and Foosball and a NOT so Happening Movie

Friday we went out to Square One Burgers in South Tampa, already wrote about this one, and since I liked it the first time, went back to try a different style burger(there are thousands of ways to have a burger - sauces, toppings, meats, etc.) - did the healthy Buffalo Burgers, and some unhealthy Cheesey Fries. Service very fast and friendly, the bar area and restaurant was VERY busy this Friday evening. Afterwards we went over to a favorite local dive that has been in Tampa since 1930, The Tiny Tap Tavern. A tiny old gas station in Hyde Park behind Xtreme Fitness, turned into small pub with CHEAP beers, some snacks, and always fun and interesting people. Mens bathroom is outside in the back, grab an icey pitcher out of the cooler and tell the overly friendly staff your beer choice, and there are two pool tables, a Foosball table and killer jukebox. A few rounds of Foosball and some chilly ones, and it was time to get closer to home to enjoy the rest of the night, so Green Iguana Westshore wrapped up the night with great people, and great live music.

Sunday afternoon there were some huge thunderstorms, and the clouds and sun were at a tug of war with each other, so we went to AMC Westshore theaters to see M. Night Shymalan's new movie "The Happening"..was not too happening, actually I enjoyed the first fifteen minutes but the very dry acting, and story were not up to par with some of his other movies like 'Signs' or Sixth Sense'. I wouldn't even recommend for rental.

Work takes me to Richmond VA, Charlotte and Raleigh NC this week.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Birthdays and Berryism in Tampa

Monday met up with a friend at Wooden Door, a few blocks form my house, they have expanded the outdoor patio. Jen our server was extremely friendly, and made sure we had everything we needed, we enjoyed listening to some great tunes outside, with the fans going it kept things nice a breezy out on the patio this evening. Afterwards I got a call to meet up with some other friends for a 30th Bday party, at The Tapper Pub. Its been ages since I've been here, I remember years ago for Happy Hour when they would put a huge cheese wheel in the middle of the bar with crackers...less than a mile from my house in the Britton Plaza, this place has been keeping people happy since the 60's. They always had great food like sandwich's of all kinds, the menu is all on boards across the top of the bar, only the prices have changed a bit. It looks like a typical store from the outside, but walk in and there is a huge A-frame wooden ceiling, very long large wooden bar, and some pool tables and darts in the back. We played a few rounds of darts, and listened to some great tunes on the juke box.

Thursday evening, picked up a good friend of mine and had the BEST sushi in Tampa at Yoko's..Yoko herself came by to serve the Sushi and make sure things were good...I LOVE this place and have talked about it lots on this site...afterwards my friend said she had loved going to D'Lites for dessert, but a new place called Berryism opened up, and we thought we would give it a try. Its frozen yogurt, three different flavors, custard-like, wild berry, and green tea. There is about a dozen or so toppings, everything from fresh sliced fruits of all kinds, to Captain Crunch and Fruity Pebbles cereals, and the other typical toppings you would see. The yogurt was ok, kind of light and a little watery for my liking, they were very generous with the fresh berry toppings I had(blackberry, blueberry and raspberry).

I'm looking forward to the weekend with lots going on as usual, a few things to consider:

Live After Five downtown Tampa
Lion King Broadway Show - Tampa Performing Arts Center
Downtown Art Walk - St Petersburg
SudsFest - Florida Aquarium
TampaBay Caribbean Festival

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Tampa Haircut, some Cuban/Argentinian Eats, an Art Walk and Bayshore Blvd BBQ-Pool Party

Back from a week of work in New Jersey, on Friday I went for my bi-weekly haircut at Westshore Mens Hair Shoppe, it just a few blocks from my house, and consistently do a great job with the trim of what ive got left on my head, lots of local neighborhood men get their haircuts here, alot of local flavor.
Friday evening, we all went to Black Beans Cafe on Westshore Blvd in South Tampa, which is also in my local neighborhood. It was my first time here, in the same small strip center as I get my haircut. They have a few tables outside for dining, we decided to venture in, a very authentic Spanish looking atmosphere, the place is split in two separate areas, one bar area that is soon to do mostly tapas specialties, and the other is an intimate dining room that also serves as dance area with a dance floor and lights/DJ booth for special event nights. Immediately as we were seated a very friendly server came by, she was the daughter of the owner, and we were also greeted by the son of the owner who sorta manages things throughout the restaurant. All the menu items are from special recipes handed down from generations in the family owned business, there are a few Black Beans Cuban restaurants in the Tampa area, but this one is unique and different than the others. They informed us that Red Sangria was just freshly made, so we ordered a large pitcher to share amongst us all. Ive had great Sangria at Red Mesa in St. Pete and Ceviche in Tampa, this was good, but there it was sans fruit and a little too sweet and watery for my liking. The owners son let us know they make it several ways, and found that most of the patrons liked it this way, a little thin and sweet. He would be more than happy to make it a little stronger if we requested. We started with the Cuban Salad, a very large plate that can be shared with up to 4 people, with crisp greens, cheeses and meats rolled together, and a great, light dressing on the side. For meals we tried the Beef Tips, Cuban Chicken and Roast Pork. All very large helpings, with two sides that included Arroz Moro, Red Beans and Rice, and Black Bean Soup and Rice. Very fresh and homemade taste, the Roast Pork was very tender and enough for two, Beef Tips were tender with mixed veges, and the Chicken was tender in a Mojo/Garlic sauce. All a great dining experience, they also offer a $10 lunch buffet which I may try soon, since it is right up the street from my home office.

Saturday, we ventured off to Ybor City for lunch, and the first ever Ybor ArtWalk, which will continue to take place on the first Saturday of each month. This was a great opportunity to explore all the arts and creative talents in Ybor City. Over 19 areas showcased local artists, their working studios, performance venues, and also the Italian Club and Ybor Museum were on the list as well. My favorite part was actually going into several of the artists studios, where they create some of their masterpieces, there were also some wine tastings, and just an opportunity to see creative folk around Ybor City. For lunch we stopped by El Puerto Argentinian Grill, on 5th Avenue near 17th street. A great find, nice open space with a bar, Argentinian music in the background, in an old historic building. A very friendly Argentianian server and Fresh Bread greeted us with Chimichurri Sauce and butter for dipping. We tried the Skirt Steak sandwich and Argentianian Sausage Sandwich's, both came with a large helping of fries and served on Fresh Baked soft hero style rolls. Tender marinated skirt steak sliced in small strips with onions and peppers, and a very flavorful sausage split in half with a light mustard sauce. We devoured the lunch with the Chimchurri sauce, i'm looking forward to trying out their dinner menu soon.
The afternoon was still very sunny and dry, so after getting back home from Ybor, we hopped on our bikes and rode across the Interbay Peninsula from Westshore Blvd to my friends condo tower on Bayshore Blvd. They were having a Pool/BBQ gathering. It was nice hanging with some good friends, with beautiful views of the Bay, Bayshore Blvd, and downtown Tampa skyline in the background.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Ethiopian Eats in Tampa and a day at Indian Shores

Friday evening I took a good friend of mine out for his belated birthday, always wanting to explore new worldly places we haven't been to, we decided we'd try some Ethiopian food at Queen of Sheba on Henderson Blvd in South Tampa. I've never tried Ethiopian Food, never even heard of what type of food it was. We were greeted by a very nice Ethiopian woman as we entered, and they prepared a table for us. Walking through the place, I was reminded of the NYC type restaurants with dim decor, and small intimate tables scattered about tow separate dining areas, with African theme throughout. There were many Ethiopian or people from the African area dining, so I know it must be good. The server explained the menu, and how the meals are prepared, we ordered a hummus like Appetizer, and Lamb and Chicken Tibs for our main meals. The appetizer was a very creamy and spicy hummus, that came with a very interesting very soft and spongy flat bread..DELICIOUS! They continues to bring out this bread(called injera)...We had some Iced Teas for drinks, which were also very unique with a Cinnamon and spice flavoring, no sugar needed...our meal was served on one big plate, the Chicken Tibs tasted like stewed chicken with spices, very moist and tender, and the Lamb Tibs were tiny pieces of Lamb again in spices and rosemary with onion, in the middle were traditional greens, cabbage and very spicy Lentils which I personally didn't care for...the best Utensils...the owner came by with a big smile and showed us how to eat with the injera, scoop it up, and then also eating the injera that the food was served on which soaked up all the juices from the meal...EXCELLENT!! I really felt like I was in another note is it would have been nice to here some background music from the African area, would have given it a more authentic time I go(which I hope to be soon), I will be sure to try the Ethiopian Wines made with honey, and also the Coffee ceremony.(Incidentally I learned the Coffee was actually discovered in Ethiopia town called Kaffee).

Saturday we went over to a friend that had a condo on Indian Shores for the weekend. About a 30 minute ride across the Bay and Pinellas County we were welcomed with beautiful and warm clear Gulf waters in this small island town is one of about a dozen that line the Pinellas County coast line from Clearwater Beach to the North and St Pete Beach/Pass-a-Grille beaches ot the South. Its about 3 miles of sandy beaches with small mom and pop type Inns amongst some high rise condos, some great restaurants and small stores, mini putt putt...was very relaxing laying on the rafts in the Gulf, and using the Condo pool right on the Ocean. We were all discussing how lucky we are that just outside of Tampa is another world of beach front towns, no traffic, no toll roads to Indian Shores. For dinner we drove a few miles south to Madeira Beach at Dockside Dave's...known for their Black Grouper, they had specials on Hawg Snapper and Halibut...the Snapper was large and very tender and moist, Halibut was two pieces fried, we also tried their cole slaw and Fired Mushrooms, both very good and homemade. Extremely friendly service from a young guy who recently moved down to Florida to get his Captain's license and start a Charter business. A trip back to the beachside condo for sunset made for a perfect ending to the day, watching the sun just melt into the Gulf waters.