Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Treasure Island Mexican Eats, Sandsculptures, USF Football, Wine Lunch

After another great Ethiopian meal at Queen of Sheba in South Tampa, on Friday, we ventured out to the beaches to Treasure Island...a quick 30 min drive across the Bay from Tampa, and settled into VIP Mexican, next to Ricky T's and across from the Thunderbird and Bilmar Resort Hotels....hole in the wall, casual, bar...AWESOME AWESOME Mexican food....no frills, you may get friendly service, you may not, you may have to get up and go in the kitchen to get your silverware, its all in the fun...if you park in the back, you have to actually walk thru the kitchen to get in the place...I love dives like this, its been a local beach establishment for over 30 years. After feeding ourselves we all walked across the street through Sloppy Joe's at the Bilmar for the Annual Sand Sculpting contest...over 21 tons of sand was dumped for artists to create some amazing sculptures..there were live bands also playing on the beach, there is nothing like being on the beach at night, such a different experience.

Saturday was the the USF Homecoming Game against Louisville...we started with a GREAT brunch at Brio in International Plaza's BayStreet, I commented a few weeks back that I was not a big fan, but at 10am, brunch was something else...nice table outside, Mimosas in hand, and most Brunch items were under $10....very tasty Fritatta's, Eggs Benedict's, French Toast....USF won their game, and the loong day continued to Ybor City and a few places downtown Tampa.

Sunday, watching the Bucs, we headed over to the Wine Exchange in Hyde Park Village where Vanessa took care of us at a great table outside....ive always had consistently great friendly service, and good food over the past few years here...hope they keep it up.

Short week with the Turkey Day Holiday, trying something very different this year, going to the Columbia Restaurant for Thanksgiving...should be interesting.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Stoney Point Casino Night - St Pete's RibFest

Weekend was beautiful, and FUN!! Saturday night some good friends of mine in the City of Tampa neighborhood Stoney Point held their annual "Casino Night" party at their house, all dressed up in tux's, and Marilyn Monroe look alikes, the theme was Rat Pack - Casino Night. A great party, live music, awesome people, and donations piled up for Toys for Tots and MOSI.
Sunday, to take advantage of the great weather, a bunch of us ventured out on the bikes along Coffee Pot Bayou in St Pete for the annual RibFest, which also benefits Children's Charities. The biking was beautiful, we got to Vinoy Park, locked up the bikes, paid the $15 admission, only to be thrown into a most dis-organized crowd--want something to drink?, wait 30 minutes--pushing and shoving; want to try some of the countries best Ribs and BBQ?, wait about 90 minutes, pushing and shoving; want to enjoy some live music--well, try to find your self a spot on the expansive lawn that was already over populated...ive been to this festival a few times, and have never seen it so disorganized, people didnt know where to stand, no organized lines...at times I thought a riot might break out...all I know is if they cant get this festival more organized, or have a limit as to the amount of people they actually let into the festival, I will never go back, and never advise anyone to go to such a mess...we left after about 2 hours, and walked to the Parkshore Grill for dinner...which was awesome as usual. A nice table outside along the park/bay, food has always been consistently good, as well as the service.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Back from NC Mountains - Lunch and Coffee's in Palma Ceia and a Greek Grill in Tampa

What another AMAZING time at the Hawkesdene House Mountain Retreat in Andrews, NC. We had two newbies on this trip, the fall colors were breathtaking, weather couldn't have been better with blue blue skies, temps near 70, and close to freezing at night. Cant wait to get back there soon!!

Coming back Monday, took my babysitter(Madre) and a friend to lunch at Datz Deli off MacDill Ave in South Tampa neighborhood of Palma Ceia. Once again a great meal, HUGE colossal size sandwich's(brought the other half of them home for dinner)--fresh corned beef, pastrami, cheeses, plate of pickles, fresh breads, very very attentive service, and those yummy sweet and salty homemade chips with blue cheese dressing...even asked for extra blue cheese for dipping.
After an excellent lunch, we wondered next door to Kalupa Bakery for fresh Colombian coffee's and fresh baked desserts, there are a few tables for relaxing and enjoying the sweet treats.

This evening, went to check out a new Greek Grill, called GoGos, on Kenedy Blvd just east of Westshore Blvd. Plenty of parking in the back, a very nice clean open restaurant, as I walked in I noticed the set up is almost IDENTICAL to a Chipotle Mexican. You walk up and have choices of Pita, Wraps, Bowls or Salads...then pick your meat--fresh marinated Chicken, Steak, Pork, or Gyro, then toppings--lettuce, feta cheeses, tomatoes, cukes, kalamta olives, greek peppers--and then a sauce--like Greek Vinaigrette or a Jalapeno Honey dressing. HUGE wraps is what we tried, they come with a seasoned Greek Rice. Best of all, everything is FRESH, organically grown, even have vegetarian specialties...sides also include Hummus, and lots more. This is a place I will be visiting more often...fast, fresh, tasty, priced right, clean, convenient...and Greek!!
They also have frozen yogurt with fresh fruit toppings.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

BRIO Tuscan Grille at Intl Plaza's Bay Street

What a beautiful place--just too bad my food this evening wasnt as beautiful. Brand new at Internaitonal Plaza's BayStreet, they did a great job renovating the old 'pizza' place that used to be here. Ample outdoor covered dining, white curtains, a nice large bar that extends from inside to outside...HUGE high ceilings, looked very 'Cheesecake Factory" like with a bit of Tuscany thrown in...ok, now onto the food...we were greeted by very friendly hostesses, and the service was impeccable, obviously these servers(very very corporate, chain like, almost like robots, making sure they dont forget to upsell anything, explaining the menu, etc.)..gotta love the corporate chains..ugh!OK, now the food...started with a 9.95 glass of Savignon Blanc, a seasonal special, excellent...onto the Calamari as an appetizer, fried calamari, with fried pepper slices, with two types of dipping sauces...nothing out of the ordinary, typical. Then the salads(which came out as we were not even half way thru the appetizer-rushed)..chop salad was drenched in dressing and more like 'ripped apart in small pieces' rather than chopped, tasty dressing, and a typical Cesar salad. And now entrees...the artichoke crusted Beef medallions--served meduim rare there were three 2oz medallions of beef, tender and delicious, and also the Veal Marsala--a wreck, very overcooked Marsala, the coating on the veal was soggy, and drenched in too much Marsala sauce..it was a tasty sauce, with lots of mushrooms. Each dinner came with a side of roasted potato's(maybe a 1/2 cup), and a very minute amount of vegetables...i couldn't even tell what the veges were, some thin strips of zucchini skins, a few pieces of carrot which were very hard and raw, with skins left on the carrot(to give it a rustic look??), and a slimy red pepper...not good!!!All this came to about $100.00...way over priced for what we got...so here is how I see this place...they will capture the shoppers at Intl Plaza, tourist flocking to Intl Plaza BayStreet, and after work happy hour at the very cool, and chic bar that opens up to outside...but it seems to me like just another chain, an overpriced Macaroni Grille, although i like the Macaroni Grille more than I did BRIO on this trip.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Guavaween Weekend - 2009

The weekend started Friday with a victorious win from the USF Bulls over West Virginia...met up with a bunch of Alumni in Lot 4(we parked at the Westshore Marriott, and took a cab to the stadium...they offered the shuttle, but it seemed the Westshore Marriott was the home base for all the WVU fans, so we cabbed it it there)...it was great seeing so many people, the game was excellent! Leaving the stadium we ran into the Marriott Shuttle on Dale Mabry, and just decided to get a ride back in the shuttle...with ALL THE WVU fans! Last stop was the Green Iguana Westshore for some live music, and celebrations with other Bulls fans.

Saturday eve was Guavaween..Tampa's annual Halloween party in the Ybor City National Historic Landmark District. This year they raised the fee, $17, and also brought back the original Mama Guava Stumble, with NO motorized vehicles in the parade down 7th Avenue. This ensured there would be no blockades along the parade route, and took us back to the traditional Guavaween, which is a fund raiser for the Ybor Chamber of Commerce. It was nice to see the stumble brought back, lots of interesting characters..and at the end you could just walk about in the streets and join them. One thing I also noticed was there was only one stage set up this year, with not the usual National Bands that most people would be aware of playing for the crowds. By the way, the term "Guavaween" was coined by the city of Tampa having once been the "Guava' capital of the country, in addition to Cigar capitol of the world. NYC was known as the 'big apple' so some artsy and new paper columnists people labeled Tampa as the 'big guava'. Guavaween started back in the early 80s amongst the artist, musicians, theater folk wanting to do something similar to Fantasy Fest in Key West--out came Guavaween.

Now we all had an EXCELLENT time this year, and our costumes creatively designed via the Goodwill were a hit, with lots of people wanting pics of me and my two buddies. But there were so far fewer people in Ybor City for this event this year...a few suggestions for the future of this fun party:
>Charge on even fee of $10--especially in bad economic times, and all the other Halloween parties in the area, give a better incentive to attract the people.
>Dont start charging until 6pm--those that arrive earlier will eat, shop, browse the area, and incent the local businesses to stay open.
>Dont fence in such a large area--6th ave to 8th ave, and 14th to 19th Streets should do fine. Again, keeping many of the businesses open in the area.
>Provide wristbands for those that paid a fee--this will only allow those 21 and older to partake in the festivities, allow access to the bars/clubs/events.
>Book MORE ENTERTAINMENT--where were the widely known national acts that have always come by? Where were the carnival rides and attractions? Its Halloween, provide some Haunted Houses, specialized Guavaween attractions.

With the 12-15000 that were there this year(compared to 45000 last year, and more in previous years), about 90% were costumed, and all i talked to had a great time..the people watching, the creative costumes, the laughs and good times that can only be had like this on Halloween was worth it all.

Sunday we visited Nickos Diner on Florida Avenue Seminole Heights area. Great Diner that reminded me of growing up on Long Island...we sat at the counter, had the typical omelet breakfast with crispy hash browns, fun, friendly service, a neighborhood, locals feel, and good food!!

Short week for me this week...heading to Andrews, NC for a long weekend at my buddies Mountain Retreat, Hawkesdene.