Monday, February 23, 2009

Biking, Festival, and Crashing Weddings on the Beach

Another great February weekend in the Bay area...met up with some friends at the North Westshore Green iguana for Happy Hour and Dinner...this Green Iguana located int he Westshore Hotel offers a very large dining area, outdoor patio, and small stage, where a great acoustic guitarist was being backed up by another musician playing electric drums...very was a cool evening in the upper 40's, so most were inside...we enjoyed the juicy burgers and some apps. Afterwards, went to the Grand Opening of Green Iguana's newest venture, Hula Bay Club and Duke's Retired Surfers Island Bar, a South Tampa waterfront restaurant/bar on Tampa Bay where the old Rattlefish used to stand, off Westshore Blvd, a little south of Gandy. The place has the same Floribbean atmosphere, large outdoor deck, and now has a pool with cabanas.

Saturday, couldn't resist taking in the great blue skies, and cool temps in the low 70's to get on the bike. So after doing a little yard work and raking up about 10 bags of leaves(who ever said Florida has no seasons obviously does not have a 100 year old Oaks on there property)...I ventured on the bike to the Pinellas Trail. Starting in Largo, rode up to downtown Clearwater, and the SeaBlues Festival was happening. Took in some great fresh seafood on the lawn, listening to some live blues, where there were at least a few thousand out enjoying the perfect day along the waterfront in downtown Clearwater. The bike ride back took some detours through the neighborhoods along the Intracoastal...big beautiful homes, and then into the Belleview Biltmore Estate, where it looks like they are still rehabing this over a century year old hotel and is said the Biltmore is the largest, oldest wooden structure in the country that is still being used.

It was then on to St. Pete beach where some friends had rooms at the Tradewinds Resort. A very nice sprawling resort along St. Pete Beach...a huge complex of rooms, suites, bars and restaurants , even a river where you can take boats through the property. I checked into my buddies suite, large, clean and comfortable, that was at the time overlooking a Pirate Show with great views of the beach and Gulf from the balcony. Heading down to walk around, I ran into the bride of the wedding, and even though I wasn't invited, she asked that I attend the wedding...who a I to say no to a huge ballroom full of happy people, a large buffet, open bar, and kickin' DJ providing the entertainment. Too much fun!!!
After a few hours, and then closing the wedding, the fun people went out to Shark's Bar on the grounds of the resort, and later walked along the beach over to Ricky T's and then Jimi B's. A great live band at Jimi B's (Phoenix), and had everyone still dancing till closing time.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Visitors explore Ybor

Had the Aunt and Uncle from New Jersey in town this week...(they made it clear to one of the servers in a restaurant that they are not considered Snowbirds, but more like Snowflakes cause they are not in Florida for the whole season)...they are 100% Italian, and have never visited Ybor City, but saw it during the we all went to eat some of my fav Italian..Laughing Cat. I cant say enough about this place...the Antipasto was perfect, fresh mozzarella, roasted peppers, juicy red ripe tomatoe slices and fresh thinly sliced Prosciutto, all drizzled with a tangy Balsamic Vinaigrette....then the meals, Lemon Chicken, Chicken Parm, Eggplant Parm and a special stuffed Chicken dish...Molto Bene...the exclaimed they haven't had such fresh Italian, and tasty in a is really that good! For dessert we walked down 7th Ave(I gave them a history tour) to La Creperia, next door to the Italian Club. Fresh espresso's, and Delicious homeade crepes stuffed with Carmel apples and cinnamon a la mode, and also stuffed with Nutella and Baily's Irish Creme...perfect.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Biking, Kayaking and another Parade in Tampa

Winter is in full gear in Tampa...and led us out to enjoy a great bike ride to start of Saturday morning. We drove across the Bay to St. Pete and parked around 62nd Avenue, east of 4th street. Taking the bikes, we followed 62nd ave east to Bayou Grande Blvd, onto Grand Canal Blvd, to Overlook Drive, onto Snell Isle Blvd, and then to Coffee Pot Blvd, and along North Shore Park, Vinoy Park, through downtown along the waterfront, and ending at the Saturday Morning Market near Al Lang Stadium in downtown St. Pete. A great 45 minute ride, seeing lots of beautiful waterfront homes of all kinds, along the parks in downtown there were many people out, couples enjoying the great sunny weather this Valentine's Day. The Saturday market is the biggest of its kind in the Tampa Bay area, lots a vendors, live music and FOOD! People watching is a must here....we then walked around downtown, and met up with another friend for lunch at the Lucky Dill on Central Ave. All the restaurants where you can sit outside had long waits today, we were able to grab a table in the Lucky Dill, sandwich's were HUGE, my greek salad was very large, had some grilled chicken sliced on top...could've used more dressing which they give to you on the side, but with plenty of Feta, and Veges, the salad was good.
After lunch, we bikes it back up to the car, and got back in time to get ready and head out to Ybor City for the Gasparilla Night Parade(pictures in link).
Our first stop in Ybor was Gaspar's Grotto, nothing better than awaiting a night time pirate parade than from a Pirate themed bar..the very large outdoor patio was busy, with an acoustic guitarist entertaining us...7th ave was already closed off for the parade which was to start in a few hours...we then headed over to the James Joyce Irish Pub above the Green Iguana on 7th Ave...met some more friends there, and then the parade got started, with good views from the second level pub. We wanted to meet some more of our friends who were on the street, and also say hello to some of those we know in the Krewe's marching in the parade, so we went down a block and had a perfect was not very busy at all, you could walk right up to the parade route at any time, the beads were flowing left and right...I call the night parade a little more 'intimate' because there are not as many people, and it also runs down 7th avenue in the Historic District which is ALOT narrower than Bayshore Blvd or through downtown like the Day [parade. Also, there are still around 100 floats, but most are all decorated with lights which is a great site to see at night.....Having seen lots of our friends, and of course piling on the beads, we went over to the Crowbar, and then Green Iguana...many of the Krewes were scattered about all over Ybor after the parade.

Sunday we were in need of a greasy, juicy, fresh made burger and it was off the Five Guys..and sure enough, it hit the spot, with all its greasiness, I like that they have over a dozen toppings, and the burgers are made fresh to order And they pack the paperbag with Fries.

Monday was a Holiday(President's Day), so my friend that moved to Alaska and I met some others at Canoe Escape on Fowler Avenue in Tampa, we were going to explore the Hillsborough River. My buddy is a photographer, and exclaims that the Hillsborough River is a wildlife lovers dream in Florida...the day was perfect, with our kayaks, they were able to transport us to the top of the river(Seargent Park), and we kayak for as long as we want, only to meet at the pick up spot(Morris Bridge or Trout Creek) by 5pm. Plenty of Gators, Turtles, we seen over a dozen species of birds, including the Rosette Spoonbill, one of my favs...snakes, and just you and the wildlife, no cars, planes...just peaceful, lazy flows downstream, so paddling is effortless, unless you want it to be...with plenty of logs, twists and turns, the river is different around every bend...occasional you can also sometimes see deer and wild boar along the banks...its almost completely shaded, and never gets deeper than a few feet in some spots...perfect day!!
After the great Kayak ride, a few of us cleaned up and went over to Channelside downtown to see Friday the 13th at the IMAX....great entertainment to wrap up a perfect holiday weekend. Unfortunetly we were also starving and the Westshore Pizza in the Channelside Theaters DID NOT 8pm they only had pizza or cheese bites available to eat, the pizza was cold and stale...

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Strange is back at Skippers

A hefty work week deserves a good Friday...and to start off, Happy Hour was at Ricks on the River, they upgraded this place a bit, added a huge outdoor covering over the entire patio, and now have marble top picnic tables, with these signs on the tables you can turn over to alert the servers if you need service or not, great idea!! It was busy, on this beautiful warmer night than we have had over the past few weeks..with an acoustic guitarist entertaining the happy hour crowd. A few pitchers, and some wings, grouper fingers, and potato skins, and we were already relieved from the hectic work week we just finished up...with great views of the river and downtown Tampa skyline..a great start to the weekend.
After our happy hour, we headed up to a Tampa icon, Skipper's Smokehouse and the Skipper Dome...where three bands were playing, and my fav was the headliner, Buffalo Strange. Ive written lots about them before, they stopped playing for a while, but now are back it seems each weekend playing at various places throughout the Bay area, but mostly the Pinellas beaches,which is perfect for the very Florida, laid back, hoppin tunes, that gets the crowd forgetting all the worries and troubles, and to just RELAX!! Walking into Skipper's Dining section for dinner first, we were all seated promptly, in what appears to be just a Florida beach shack..with lots of Florida type stuff, and fisherman/seafood stuff all over the walls...old wooden plank floors and walls, very authentic. Trying this time was the Crab Stuffed Mushrooms, stuffed full with lumps of fresh crab meat and deep fried, and also the Skippers Platter, which has just about everything on the menu fried(Shrimps, Oysters, Gator Tail, Calamari, BASA fish, Hush Puppies), and all dinner come with two sides...also enjoyed were a Grouper Sandwhich and Chicken Sandwich's....and a HUGE order of Onion Rings. The place is primarily frills seafood, and good, but you will be eating on Styrofoam plates, plastic utensils...its a Fish Shack, so you cant expect anything fancy here....after filling ourselves, we all went out to the Skipper Dome..a large live music area, covered by 100 year old oaks, lots of seating areas, and huge stage..where the live music entertained a few hundred people outside...comfortable, relaxing, take your shoes off and dance in the sand, amazing to see so many laid back people from ALL walks of life with smiles on their faces, just having a good time, and loving life for the moment.

Long Weekend due to Presidents Day Holiday on Monday...The Tampa Bay Rays is holding an open house Saturday and the Trop, Florida State Fair is in its final weekend, Gapsarilla continues with the annual Night Parade this evening in Ybor City, and the weather couldnt be better for anything outdoors....

Monday, February 9, 2009

A successful and Fun Gasparilla Invasion and Parade

The weekend couldn't have been any better, temps finally got into the 70's during the day, just in time for a great Pirate invasion and Parade and Streetfest.
A friend was in town from LA, so on Friday night we went up to the Bungalow on Kennedy Blvd near Hyde Park. There was about a 30 min wait for a table inside, so we hung out at the bar outside, nice large open patio and an acoustic guitarist providing some entertainment....the night before Gapsarilla had a few pirates out, there was again alot of people in town for this over 100 year annual celebration in Tampa. A nice table, under one of the heaters(it was hovering around 50 this night), we all checked out the Cuban Sandwiches which come with your choice of many different sides if you ask(the first time I was here, they told me I could only get fries,a nd couldn't substitute - finally someone listened). Piled high with Roast Marinated Pork, Ham and Cheese, it was a large sandwich, I had mine with the 4 cheese Mac and Cheese, thick and hearty small bowl, my other buddies got fries, and the Grilled Asparagus. We tried to get Wings to start off, but our meals came out first, and after about 20 minutes into eating, our not so friendly server advised us that the wings were to come out, we just told her to forget about them, they were supposed to be Appetizers....we had to wave her down a few times for drinks and the check, she seemed like it was a bother to be there, not sure why people like that are even in this type of business or how they get hired.
Sticking up for the big day, ABC Liquors on Kennedy was packed, never seen so many people this late just stocking up on so much alcohol, grocery carts FULL of stuff....

Saturday morning, the day of the Invasion, i was awoken by Canon Fire..the pirates are on their way...and we headed to a friends place close to Hyde Park in South Tampa for Breakfast and Mimosas....catching the #19 bus on Swann Ave, we were able to get dropped off at the University of Tampa, and walk downtown to Harbour Island to catch the Invasion. I ran into the Past Mayor if Tampa from the 60's and again in the 90's, Dick Greco...and lots fo party revlers with their Yachts and Party boats all over the Channel. After Mayor Iorio handed over the key, and the pirates prepared for their Victory parade down Bayshore, we met some more friends at the Marriott Waterside, great views from their Suite Balcony overlooking Harbour Island and Bayshore. A walk over to the Publix on Bayshore where some great bands were playing , and then on to some parties on Bay Street, where we all went down and saw some of the parade, both in the street, and up in the Condos just off the parade route.
It was a Looong Fun day, and we made the trek back over the river to Downtown for the annual gathering at The Hubb, passing by other stages rockin' out in the streets....the night ended with about eight of us piled into a Jeep for one last stop to meet up with others at Baxters, and then the Green Iguana Westshore, where my fav band IPD was playing to a good crowd.

Sunday, all the breakfast places were packed...Datz Deli, Daily Eats, Pach's, Brunchery, so we stopped by Nina O's and had a great table outside on the back patio area. I tried the all you can eat Southern Favorites like Moist and Juicy Fried Chicken, Meatloaf w/Gravy. and all you can eat sides I tried were the Mixed veges and Pasta Salad....a GREAT buddies enjoyed a Roast Beef Sandwich, and French Toast and Eggs and Biscuits and Gravy. Every thing is cooked to order, so be prepared to wait a bit, but I think its worth the wait...

Will be a busy work week, but at some point need to try and get out to the Florida State Fair, and Gasparilla is not over yet..the Night Parade is this Saturday through Ybor City..

Monday, February 2, 2009

A Super - SuperBowl Weekend in Tampa

I think Tampa did an amazing job hosting the Super Bowl this year(the city's 4th time), never had I heard so many great things come from the visitors in town from all over the country who were either Pittsburgh Steeler fans or Arizona Cardinal fans...and by most accounts, the Pittsburgh fans out numbered the Cardinal fans by 10:1. The weather(although a bit cool in the 60s), parties, festivals, and people, made this an event to remember.

Friday, we went down to Ybor City for eats and par take in the festivities....coming from South Tampa through downtown, Channelside was closed off, and we were able to get into Ybor easily through the back way, parking in the Centro Ybor was like Gasparilla Night Parade, streets were packed, they closed off 7th avenue...and it was a good packed...lots of fans and visitors just taking in the sights, sounds and eagerly awaiting a glimpse of a celeb outside of The Ritz for the Maxim party....and nearly every storefront was open, they rented out the closed storefronts with merchandise and art gallery's along the avenue...there were even a few bars that had opened only for the weekend.
We checked out the menu at the new restaurant called "The NEST" on 7th and 15th...great looking Tapas place, but a 30 minute wait made us go elsewhere...then checked out the new L'Olivier Restaurant and Cabaret...with two shows a night, this looks to be a VERY entertaining place...great for date night, or when visitors are in town...after watching a bit of the show, we proceeded to Gaspar's Grotto...a full house, but we found a small booth next to the bar area...Friendly Matt was able to accommodate us, every one here seemed to be very friendly...and it was Karaoke night...very entertaining far as food, a new chef has taken over here(JP from Bern's), and the new menu looks great...we decided to start with Calamari...lightly seasoned, very tasty...and then munch on a Cuban and an Italian Cheese Steak sandwich's...both very good and filling, come with fancy sliced sweet potatoes. I will be back to check out more of this menu...and its a fun "pirate" filled place.
Continuing on some sights we saw...a Cardinals fan actually carrying a stuffed Cardinal on his hand at Coyote Ugly, Avril Levine singing at Coyote Ugly, more than enough Yager shots coming out of Reservior Bar(I think I saw about 20 empty Yaeger bottles on the bar, it was not even midnight yet)...hangin out with Ben Graham(kicker from Cardinals) cousin who flew in with his buddy from Australia, and star sightings at the D'Italia Pizza on 15th street at 3am after the maxim party closed its doors...

Saturday, we ventured back to Ybor City...dinner was at the Laughing Cat, perfect Italian food as always, and we were able to sneak in as a reservation had not shown up...Mussels, Eggplant Parm, Bowtie Pasta in a Vodka Sauce, and an Umbria Pinot Grigio...reminded me of just how good things were when I was in Italy....the craziness was back on the streets again..a new place opened for the weekend in the old dish location at centro Ybor called "Toxic Ultra Lounge" with a huge balcony overlooking 7th avenue, we spent some time there, mingling with the visitors and watching 7th avenue get busier and busier....met up with some fo our Pittsburgh friends who now live here at Carmine's Patio,a nd had lots of their friends come into town(both drive and fly) from Pittsburgh area...across teh street over to Gaspar's Grotto...and a stop at the Green Iguana Ybor closed up this Saturday night.

Sunday, looking for some brunch options, we peeked into the new Datz Deli, but were told it would be over na hour wait for food...its a nice shop, selling bakery goods, fresh sliced meats and cheeses..we sampled some Proscioto di Parma, and homemade jams, and went on to Cafe Hey, downtown Tampa for Homemade Chili, and some great pressed sandwich's. Its a funky little coffeehouse, on Franklin Ave just north of the Interstate in downtown.
Sunday night was a nice little SuperBowl party down the street with some good friends....the whole weekend was a good time...and the game was a nail biter in the second half(half of us were for Pittsburgh, the other half for Arizona)...The Boss did an amazing half time show, Jennifer Hudson could not have done a better job with the Star Spangled Banner(actually I think it was the best one I have ever heard)....

Kudos to the City of Tampa...they put on a great show, and although it may have been a nuisance for some of us in regards to traffic, and the influx of nearly over 100,000 people to the Tampa was well worth it in my opinion...

Coming up...we d o it all over again...with nearly 500,000 coming into town Saturday for the Gasparilla Pirate Invasion, Parade and Street festival downtown, and then the week after, its the Gasparilla Night Parade in Ybor City....