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Sunday, March 22, 2015

Global A'Fare, Tampa, FL

Global A'Fare is a friendly and chill little gastropub on Kennedy Blvd. with an ambitious menu of globally inspired offerings.  UD and I hit it at a most opportune hour this afternoon as half-priced domestic beers and well drinks (as well as a selection of 50% off apps) are offered from 4-7 daily. We found the outdoor patio to be nicely shaded and the staff pleasingly welcoming to our furry family members who needed a change of scenery on a Sunday afternoon.

"Oh, Hai.  I likes Brazilian Balls".  Stay tuned and get your mind outta the gutter.



















Brazilian Cheese Balls are complimentary at Global A'Fare and are indescribably delish, hot and chewy, gluten-free (not that I give a rat's behind about "gluten-free", but apparently there's a whole movement in that direction that I neither understand nor care to) globes of cheesy goodness...and Molly Maguire appreciated the fact that there were enough to share.















The Eggplant Parm starter was an interesting and tasty riff on the classic dish.  Crispy, fried eggplant roulettes were presented piped with warm ricotta and drizzled in a tangy marinara sauce.















The zesty Seafood Cioppino was a nice rendition and liberally studded with tender shellfish.  Bread was offered, but we were dialing down the carbs on this particular Sunday and had to decline. Our newest pack addition, Neutron (aka "Newt"), prepares to belly flop into this trough of crustacean-laden decadence.



















Wings are my favorite treat when I'm in high-pro mode and Global A'Fare's did not disappoint.  Juicy and wood-fire roasted, these fat, meaty specimens are sauced your way...balsamic glaze with caramelized onion, Thai peanut, or traditional Buffalo.  I liked my Thai peanut wings, but probably would've had a greater appreciation for a stickier, spicier and more substantial shellac.















I like the concept here and you will not find a friendlier or more caring staff anywhere at a resto of its reasonable price point.  There's a nice but short selection of wines, a full liquor bar and array of local craft beers (in addition to all the usual nationally familiar suspects).  There's good stuff going on at Global A'Fare, with perhaps a little room to grow and refine.

www.globalafare.com

Global A'Fare on Urbanspoon

My blog entries contain the unmitigated, and sometimes unforgiving, dining truths and perceptions I experience as an ordinary restaurant patron. Every meal I post about has been fully paid for by one of the participating members of my personal dining party. I do not engage in the gratis blogger freebie dining events I'm constantly invited to attend and never will. If I ooze font-like love for a restaurant in my blog, it's because they totally earned it…not because they gave me free food or knew I was going to share the experience on the internet.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Florida Cracker Kitchen, Brooksville, FL

Who's up for a gastronomic field trip to Brooksville?  Don't be slinking away so quickly...you may change your mind by the time I'm finished here.

Florida Cracker Kitchen is the product of a 20-year-old mini family dining dynasty on Jefferson Street in Brooksville.  This collaboration of brothers Ethan (a formally trained chef) and Blair (silver-tongued southern charmer and veritable one-man PR firm) Hensley is worth the drive from wherever you may be situated in the Tampa Bay area. Their mother, Larie Dewitt Hensley, owns the nearby acclaimed Mallie Kyla’s Café.  The restaurant opened two years ago serving breakfast and lunch only and recently expanded service to include dinner hours on Friday and Saturday.

The vibe at Florida Cracker Kitchen is kitschy, old-school-Florida at its finest and service is both attentive and small town friendly.  But don't let the down-home decor, Christmas lights, vintage advertising signs and requisite Adirondack chairs and rockers out front fool you...this is no Cracker Barrel.

Our dining group of three was presented with an amuse-bouche of "Cracker Caviar" to stimulate our taste buds upon being seated.  This addictive combo of marinated artichoke hearts, assorted olives, chickpeas, pearl-sized mozzarella balls and other goodies served as a perfect prelude to the bountiful offerings to come.
Portions of everything are huge at Florida Cracker Kitchen, so be prepared to take a to-go box home with you because you will want to sample it all.  For starters, the house-smoked fresh mullet spread could be a meal in and of itself and is one of the finest renditions to be found in the Greater Tampa Bay area for my money...and I can be extremely judgmental when it comes to fish spread. Creamy slices of avocado were an unexpected garnish, but made a surprisingly delightful foil for this nicely spicy pescetarian's delight.











Likewise, you don't want to pass on FCK's escalated riff on crab rangoon.  These flaky, sherry-laced lump crab and Gruyere stuffed phyllo purses are a study in luxurious decadence.

The term "shrimp" is something of a misnomer here, as Florida Cracker Kitchen's shrimp cocktail features some of the largest specimens of said crustaceans I've ever laid eyes on, served chilled and nicely spiced.  
Entrees were equally impressive, reasonably priced (all but the Filet of Beef are under $20) and served with a starch, a fresh veggie and choice of soup or salad.  While house dinner salads rarely do much to ratchet my heart rate up, this one did.  UD's gorgeous bowl of fresh greens with red onion slivers, heirloom grape tomatoes, carrot strands and toasted walnuts was drizzled in a light, house vinaigrette and heartily snarfed.
The soup of the day was crab and corn chowder (which I can almost never pass up), so I had to admire the salad from afar.  This was an excellent rendition and I appreciated that fact that no one was skimping on either the crab morsels or the trough size.
The bone of  the spousal unit's 1 lb. grilled porterhouse pork chop with apple rum glaze looked like it had been bleaching in the sun for a month after he had his way with it.  
I have no idea where she put it all, but little remained of our petite dining companion's fat and meaty Chassahowitzka river crab cakes after she tucked into them.  
Lastly, I enjoyed perfectly pan-seared grouper cheeks with beurre noisette sauce with fluffy jasmine rice and some outstanding Brussels sprouts with sauteed onion that I daresay would be sweet enough to convert even the most hardcore cruciferous veggie haters.
Creamy, mile-high kumquat pie is a must-order for citrus junkies.  When this shell-pink cloud arrives at the table atop its cinnamony graham cracker crust, you won't know whether to eat it or snuggle up in it. But go ahead and dive in (with your fork!)...the tangy and refreshing key-lime-meets-grapefruit flavor is quite remarkable.
The wine and craft beer list is short but thoughtful and most will find something on it to satisfy their taste.   For the bona fide "Crackers", there are tall boy cans of Miller Lite, PBR and Old Milwaukee on hand.

Final Word:  This was an extremely pleasing experience in all respects.  The place is fun, it's friendly, the food is excellent and nicely presented, and (bonus points!) it's quite affordable.  Everything you see here plus two glasses of wine and two beers set us back a relatively modest $125 before gratuity.  Be aware that this is a cash-only business, but there is an ATM onsite for diners' convenience (if you're lucky, you might get some of your change back in whimsical $2 bills).


Florida Cracker Kitchen on Urbanspoon

My blog entries contain the unmitigated, and sometimes unforgiving, dining truths and perceptions I experience as an ordinary restaurant patron. Every meal I post about has been fully paid for by one of the participating members of my personal dining party. I do not engage in the gratis blogger freebie dining events I'm constantly invited to attend and never will. If I ooze font-like love for a restaurant in my blog, it's because they totally earned it…not because they gave me free food or knew I was going to share the experience on the internet.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Del Frisco's Grille, Tampa, FL

Although I generally prefer to support locally owned and operated restaurants, Del Frisco's Grille is not a huge restaurant group (less than 18 units) and its menu gives a wide berth to standard, cookie-cutter chain resto fare.  On this balmy February day in Florida, UD celebrated his *coughsixtyfirstcough* anniversary of being pushed from the womb and and woke up squawking for "special" waffles like a five-year-old.  Since I haven't fired up a waffle iron since I was twelve, I let my fingers do the walking on my keyboard and, lo and behold, a Red Velvet Waffle in Tampa jumped out at me in my search results.  God, I love the Information Age.  And thus, we dawgs hightailed it to Del Frisco's Grille for a birfday brunch...arriving mere moments after the doors opened.

The top floor of Del Frisco's is open-air and throws off an uber chic and relaxing vibe.  Yeah, you're overlooking a retention pond and Boy Scout Boulevard, but the ambiance is quite pleasing, nonetheless.















First off, we needed a little hair o' the dog following our Big Birthday Blowout at Charley's the evening before.  All the usual drug delivery systems are on the menu (mimosas, screwdrivers and build-your-own Bloody Marys - all available by the glass or carafe), but we zeroed right in on the White Sangria (a blend of pinot grigio, white peach purée, Peach Schnapps and fresh berries) and oh, what a wondrous concoction it is!  At $17 for a generous carafe for two, it's also the deal of the century.  Just what the doctor ordered:

















While someone had already decided on his brunch entree, I needed time to peruse the menu...so we decided to warm up with a couple of starters.  The smoky Pulled Pork Empanadas (Swiss cheese and tender pulled pork tucked into golden, flaky pastry pockets and embellished with spicy apricot mustard and finely chopped dill pickle) were a delightful riff on a classic Cuban sandwich.













I was envisioning something chunkier and heartier when I requested a cup of Corn Chowder (crab meat, smoked bacon bits and fingerling potato chips), but I couldn't have been happier with the more subtle, sophisticated and sherry-laced version that showed up.  I loved its silken texture and there was no skimping on the crab morsels...plus, it was a nice-sized serving for $7 (I even let the spousal unit have a bite, but only because it was his Special Day).












Birthday wishes and dreams came to fruition when the tender-on-the-inside/toasty-on-the-outside, luxuriously cocoa-laced Red Velvet Belgian Waffle appeared.  Drizzled in whipped vanilla bean-spiked cream cheese, the waffle quads were served with a sidecar of maple syrup and topped with a lattice of thick-cut bacon slabs.  Waffle Nirvana:





















I personally felt that The Grille Benedict (perfectly poached eggs, French ham and chipotle hollandaise piled atop two halves of a scallion and white cheddar cathead biscuit) would serve as a better-suited sponge for sopping up the remnants of my Saturday night's transgressions, and I was not disappointed.  In fact, I tore into it with such vengeance that half of it had been consumed before photo-documentation even occurred to me.  All of the basic Sunday morning food groups were met here:  fat, salt, protein, carbs, spice.
















I would be remiss if I failed to give kudos to our darling and efficient server...our sweet "morning after" nurse, Pepper.  When our gorged Birthday Boy cried "uncle" at the offer of being comped a celebratory dessert, she boxed up what must be the most decadent coconut cream pie known to man for him to take home.  Luxe coconut cream filling was piled atop a sturdy, shortbread cookie-type crust and the entire diabolical concoction was slathered in whipped cream and liberally showered with shards of white chocolate.  You want this.













Final tab for all of this?  Around $65 before gratuity...and we didn't have to eat again all day.  I like it here.

http://delfriscosgrille.com/

Del Frisco's Grille on Urbanspoon

My blog entries contain the unmitigated, and sometimes unforgiving, dining truths and perceptions I experience as an ordinary restaurant patron. Every meal I post about has been fully paid for by one of the participating members of my personal dining party. I do not engage in the gratis blogger freebie dining events I'm constantly invited to attend and never will. If I ooze font-like love for a restaurant in my blog, it's because they totally earned it…not because they gave me free food or knew I was going to share the experience on the internet.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Bar Fly Saltwater Grill, Safety Harbor, FL

It's not as though anyone needs an excuse to visit the charming burg of Safety Harbor, but if you're a Key West junkie with limited free time who's craving a fix, Bar Fly Saltwater Grill could be your Subutex.  This casual little slice of the Keys dishes up uber-cheery and caring service, a bona fide island vibe and good pub grub.  Icy-cold beer is bargain-priced with most domestics available for $3 per bottle or 16 oz. draft and only fresh local seafood is served.
















My Grouper Reuben (a generous portion of perfectly grilled fish sandwiched between two slabs of grilled Texas toast along with melted Swiss and delightfully sweet and crunchy tropical slaw) was outstanding.  The menu gave me the sense that there's no frying going on here...but the accompanying high-end kettle chips were perfectly acceptable since I couldn't finish the generously portioned sandwich anyway.  Blah...bad picture, good sandwich.















Our teen dining companion, Grace, who has made it her sole mission to snarf every Cuban sandwich she can wrap her hands around  since relocating to Tampa from Charleston last year, bestowed her coveted "two thumbs up" on this massive beast.   More tropical slaw and a side of spicy black beans were included...not that she could shoehorn much of that down, as she elected to focus her undivided attention on her sammie muse du jour.















Bar Fly/Saltwater Grill's riff on seafood nachos had all five of us double-dipping incestuously.  This diabolical tower of decadence is comprised blue corn tortilla chips layered with pineapple salsa, shredded cheese, red cabbage, zippy remoulade sauce and fresh grilled fish and shrimp...and is a masterpiece of sheer genius.  I was in sloppy blogger mode after eating and drinking myself silly on Valentine's day, so no pic.  Trust me, though...you want it.

Finally, grilled mahi tacos were also well received and snorted in veryshort order.















If a "low point" must be identified, the clam chowder left a lot to be desired.  It was neither particularly "clammy" nor flavorful (although salt was present in abundance) and the potatoes were cooked to mush.  I think these guys can do better.

Final word:  This is a fun, relaxing, friendly and inexpensive dining destination with an extensive offering of affordably priced craft and domestic brewskis.   Good times!

www.barflysafetyharbor.com

Saltwater Grill @ Bar Fly on Urbanspoon

My blog entries contain the unmitigated, and sometimes unforgiving, dining truths and perceptions I experience as an ordinary restaurant patron. Every meal I post about has been fully paid for by one of the participating members of my personal dining party. I do not engage in the gratis blogger freebie dining events I'm constantly invited to attend and never will. If I ooze font-like love for a restaurant in my blog, it's because they totally earned it…not because they gave me free food or knew I was going to share the experience on the interne

The Bourgeois Pig, Tampa, FL

There’s a shiny new addition to the bourgeoning Seminole Heights dining scene, and one on which I am seriously crushing.  The Bourgeois Pig (housed in a toothachingly charming 1920s bungalow complete with wraparound porch on North Nebraska Avenue) debuted at the beginning of January, the brainchild of first-time restaurateurs Michael and Lysa Bozel.  A relatively recent transplant from L.A., Lysa envisioned a restaurant in the heart of central Tampa that would reflect the eclectic diversity of the surrounding neighborhoods and thus the “Pig” was born.

Upon entering, the ambiance all but grips you in a headlock and physically forces you to exhale (according to Bozel, a Feng Shui master was employed in the accomplishment of this remarkable feat).  The dazzling, luxe Bohemian chic décor had me starry-eyed at “hello”.  Rich, jewel-toned silks, vintage-style furnishings and a massive, glittering chandelier serving as the restaurant’s focal point coupled with piped in music featuring romantic classic standards from the likes of Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett provide a soothing feast for the senses even before you put a single morsel of food in your mouth.  Then, just when you thought it couldn’t possibly, your evening gets even better.















The Bourgeois Pig’s menu is relatively short, but everything you never knew you desperately needed is on it.  Grown-up comfort food at its finest, the offerings are further elevated by their European influence.  Salty and savory Olivade (a creamy goat cheese spread studded with olives and fresh herbs) oozes to form luxurious pockets in the crannies of the warm and crusty baguette slice carriers presented with it.  I deem Olivade “The New Butter”.  















The sweet-meets-tangy, thick and beautifully seared slabs of Cider Glazed Pork Belly served with tart apple and sweet potato relish was our virtual stairway to porcine heaven. 


















Entrees include tantalizing global applications like New World Coq au Vin, Brittany Fish Stew and Spaetzle with Caramelized Onion and Gruyere.  With a clear conscience, I can report that my Beef Stroganoff on the Bone (braised overnight and so-tender-they’re-almost-disintegrating beef ribs served atop silken ribbons of pappardelle with mushrooms, caramelized baby carrots and a delicately sophisticated sour cream sauce) was the finest rendition that has ever slid across my tongue. 















Underdog delighted in the hefty shank of melt-in-your-mouth Lamb Osso Buco served atop house made mashed potatoes with more of the picture-perfect carrots and a braising jus reduction.















Dessert time!  When you take your introductory bite of the Pig’s Coconut Bread Pudding with Rum Flamed Bananas, you know without a doubt (at least for a single instant that God’s in his heaven and all’s right with the world.  You first get that pleasing spoon-resistance that only the sturdy golden edges of a perfectly executed bread pudding can provide, and then said utensil slides effortlessly into its tropical, custard-riche, rum-laden depths.  Ridiculously good!















Future resto plans include importing well-known European chefs for limited tenures to offer exclusive, one-of-a-kind dining opportunities to mix things up a bit with the regular menu.  The Bourgeois Pig is a "silk purse" in my book.

www.bourgeoispigrestaurant.com

Bourgeois Pig Restaurant on Urbanspoon

My blog entries contain the unmitigated, and sometimes unforgiving, dining truths and perceptions I experience as an ordinary restaurant patron. Every meal I post about has been fully paid for by one of the participating members of my personal dining party. I do not engage in the gratis blogger freebie dining events I'm constantly invited to attend and never will. If I ooze font-like love for a restaurant in my blog, it's because they totally earned it…not because they gave me free food or knew I was going to share the experience on the interne

Sunday, February 1, 2015

China Chen, Valrico, FL

Whoa!  What did Valrico ever do to warrant a Yummy House Mini-Me?  Not to worry...the East Hellsborough County universal white-bread-and-Velveeta-palate will almost certainly be its undoing, but I intend to enjoy it while I can.

With a former Yummy House chef at the helm, this relatively sterile strip-mall outpost dishes up some of the best Chinese food I've ever eaten in the Tampa Bay area. You won't find pallid, hours-old buffet food here, nor simply "all the usual suspects". The cuisine is authentic, made fresh to order and comprised of quality ingredients.

Veggie spring rolls were crisp and light...tasty, but the most anticlimactic offering of the meal.  I prefer protein-packed rolls, but that's just me. There was nothing wrong with these.















Redemption arrived in the form of twelve fat and phenomenal, ethereally lightly breaded and fried shrimp slathered in candy-like walnut and honey accoutrements. This is the sort of stuff that leaves your eyes rolled in the ecstasy position for a good 24 hours.















The sizzling beef short ribs with mushrooms and asparagus was nothing short of amazing.  I tend to go a little postal when presented with limp, lukewarm food, but there was no fear of that with this platter of juicy, tender and tongue-scalding spicy goodness.














China Chen's toothsome duck and dried grape fried rice is the fodder dreams are made of.  This is a $9.50 trough of goodness that will easily feed a family of four for three days.
















China Chen imparts quality bang for your buck.  While the ambiance leaves a little to be desired, the venue is comfortable overall and servers seem to care.  Beer and wine only, but that's good enough for moi.

www.chinachenfl.com

China Chen on Urbanspoon

My blog entries contain the unmitigated, and sometimes unforgiving, dining truths and perceptions I experience as an ordinary restaurant patron. Every meal I post about has been fully paid for by one of the participating members of my personal dining party. I do not engage in the gratis blogger freebie dining events I'm constantly invited to attend and never will. If I ooze font-like love for a restaurant in my blog, it's because they totally earned it…not because they gave me free food or knew I was going to share the experience on the internet.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Cru Cellars, Tampa, FL

Who misses SideBern’s?  I know I’m not the only one with my hand in the air.  Unfortunately, it’s gone bye-bye and is currently being transformed into a new Bern’s outpost, Haven Wine Bar.  Happily, however, former SideBern’s chef Brad Sobo didn’t go very far.

An oenophile’s delight, Cru Cellars has morphed from a retail wine store that happened to serve wines by the glass to a full-fledged, destination-worthy bistro with the addition of Chef Sobo who rolled out a new kitchen menu last September to augment the already existing cheese and charcuterie offerings. 

While the retail selections tend to be heavily weighted on the side of more expensive wines (most priced at $30+), there is a large table full of $13-and-under wines for those who prefer to spend less.  If you decide to drink your purchase at the bar or with your meal, a reasonable $12 corkage fee will be levied. Alternatively, a lengthy menu of wines by the glass plus over 30 craft beers is available, along with an intriguing selection of 9 ounce flights with names like “Whitey Tighties”, “Acid Trip” and “Pinot Envy” - so mix things up if you’re so inclined!  The venue interior is warm and chic with an inviting bar and several pub-style tables.  My party opted to dine al fresco in the charming “wine garden” and appreciated the fact that cozy outdoor heaters were fired up when the evening temps began to dip. 

The dinner menu, while not phone book-sized, is impressive and the $6 happy hour small plates are the deal of the century.  We tried each of the four items on the discounted early menu and each was a winner.   I practically swooned when I sank my teeth into a ball of deep-fried loaded risotto.  Its crispy exterior yielded to reveal a hot, cheesy, sour-creamy, bacon-studded cache of pasta nirvana.  Don’t even think you’re going to be okay sharing your three golden globes of bliss…just go ahead and get everyone their own order so no one with an over-eager reach finds himself pulling back a bloody stump.















The (also $6) plate of razor-thin slices of ruby-hued beef carpaccio drizzled with balsamic vinegar and served with slabs of rustic bread, the pastrami pork belly Reuben sliders and the seared tuna with ginger aioli all imparted a level of quality that belied their humble price tag and were stunningly presented.

Behold the raw boeuf splendor:
Stellar seared tuna at a bargain basement price:















If you think boneless, skinless chicken breast meat is a crucial component in any delectable poultry entrée, we simply can’t be friends.  Dark meat is where it’s at (pardon my hanging preposition) and Cru’s elevated approach to Chicken and Dumplings is a classic southern food lover’s dream come true.  A juicy, braised chicken leg quarter was presented lazing in a bath of sumptuous gravy and creamy duck fat dumplings (oh, yes they DID), accented with tiny baby carrots so preciously perfect and bright that they almost looked like they were made of marzipan.  The adjective “masterful” doesn’t usually spring to mind when I contemplate the preparation of chicken and dumplings - but on this occasion, it did.















While it may be difficult for some diners to go out on a limb and give rabbit a chance, try to push the image of Thumper’s adorable whiskered face from your mind and forge onward.  Rabbit mezzaluna, little half-moon pasta purses stuffed with savory lagomorph morsels nestled atop a silken bed of butternut squash, toasted pine nuts, beech mushrooms and savory brown butter is the ultimate comfort food.  If autumn had a flavor, this is what it would probably taste like.















Not feeling quite that adventurous?  Perfectly executed duck confit with a creamy, golden-edged polenta cake, zippy cumin slaw and ancho barbecue sauce also hits it out of the ball park.
















Never fear if you've either gone totally to the dark side meatless or are simply attempting to dial down your consumption, because you will have plenty of options at Cru…including a delectable wild roasted mushroom-laden flatbread with goat cheese, house-made hummus and truffle mac ‘n cheese.

The flatbread is funghi-lover heaven.















Last but not least, there’s a hockey-puck-sized, made-from-scratch s’mores dessert that is completely diabolical (cover your eyes, Girl Scouts).  The bottom layer consists of an epically sturdy graham cracker crust, laden with a thick, intense chocolate layer of what is almost certainly Satan’s own ganache creation.  And just when you thought things couldn't get any more sinful…the entire thing is slathered in hand-torched marshmallow cream.   I've never seen six forks diving into anything at such a fast and furious level in my life (a wine-bar brawl almost ensuing as everyone jockeyed for crumbs).

















While this is not an all-encompassing report of our Saturday night feeding frenzy, I'm getting into Bible-length territory so I'll stop here, having hit the highest of the consistent high notes.

The Cru Cellars experience is a highly enjoyable one and it’s a perfect venue for date night or just relaxing with friends…either for wine and a little charcuterie, or for a complete dinner.  The scrummy small-plate options provide a welcome level of flexibility as you will find it difficult to commit to just one dish. 

www.crucellarstampa.com

Cru Cellars on Urbanspoon

My blog entries contain the unmitigated, and sometimes unforgiving, dining truths and perceptions I experience as an ordinary restaurant patron. Every meal I post about has been fully paid for by one of the participating members of my personal dining party. I do not engage in the gratis blogger freebie dining events I'm constantly invited to attend and never will. If I ooze font-like love for a restaurant in my blog, it's because they totally earned it…not because they gave me free food or knew I was going to share the experience on the internet.