Saturday, September 28, 2013

Nicko's Fine Foods - Seminole Heights, FL

This place is pure fun with good, old fashioned diner food.  First, I love eating in boxcar diners.  We have one of the most famous ones, Mickey's Diner in St. Paul, and I miss that.  So, you can imagine how happy I was when I found out we had one here in the Tampa Bay area.  The place was bustling when we went inside, but we were able to snag three stools at the counter.  We were rather amused at the owner who went around performing magic tricks at our spot and all around the diner.  He was very skilled at performing his slights of hand, and there were a lot of laughs.

We tried the eggs and hash browns with toast, a burger and fries, and the chicken souvlaki platter.  All of the food was very good, but the chicken souvlaki was a favorite for all.  This is definitely one place I definitely don't mind driving across the bridge for a weekend morning breakfast.

Nicko's Fine Foods
4603 North Florida Avenue
Tampa, FL  33603

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The Burg Bar and Grill - Saint Petersburg, FL

This is one of your friendly neighborhood burger joints.  I swear that every time I drive past this place, that it is packed with people.  Granted, the place is small, but inside and out on the sidewalk tables are always full.  The place is comfortable and a good place to relax and stay for a while.  The menu has a few specialties along with some greek menu options and some healthy options, but I just love to have a good, basic cheeseburger.  They are tasty and juicy here and they are served simply with fries in a basket. It doesn't get any better than this.

The Burg Bar and Grill
1752 Central Avenue South
Saint Petersburg, FL  33712

The Burg Bar & Grill on Urbanspoon

Engine No. 9 - Downtown Saint Petersburg, FL

I am going to come right out and say I really like this place.  I have already been here a few times with my family and what's not to love?  Each of the comfy booths has its own tv, if you need to catch the game or whatever.  There is a bar out front for the big kids who don't want to sit in back.  Did I say you can see red everywhere?  The service is friendly, and the burger choices are awesome.  My favorite burger so far is the Tex Mex melt which is a burger served on Texas Toast with cheddar cheese, barbecue sauce, and crispy onion rings on top.  I like the fries here, but the tator tots are my favorite and they take me back to my childhood.  Does anyone remember tator tot casserole? (or hotdish as we say in Minnesota)  Burgers not your thing?  I have tried the exotic mushroom risotto served with grilled chicken.  I could take or leave the chicken in the risotto, but the risotto itself was pretty darn good.  This is a good choice when you are downtown and in the mood for a good burger.

Engine No. 9
56 Doctor Martin Luther King Jr St N
Saint Petersburg, FL

Engine No. 9 on Urbanspoon

Tap Room at the Hollander Hotel - downtown Saint Petersburg, FL

I have mixed feelings about the Tap Room. I went there on a busy Saturday evening and a few things may have clouded my judgement.  First, we were seated at a booth which shook every single time the booth behind us moved.  They needed to bolt that in better or something.  Second, they had a performer playing awful covers. There is nothing worse I hate than somebody else slaughtering a great song, one after the other.  I know the Tap Room also has some great local singers on certain nights who sing their own music, but no such luck the night I was there.  Third, we had a really lackluster server.  This is the one person who can make or break a dining experience and ours was right on the edge.  This person did what they had to do, and nothing more and no personality.

We all ordered burgers and they were about average on my burger meter.  We had to wait a little longer than we would have preferred to for drinks, which can be a pain when you are sitting with food in hand and nothing to drink.  Overall, the evening was a let down.  I would like to go back and give them another try as I have heard from other people who swear by the place.  Maybe a weekday when they are not so crowded?  Any thoughts out there?

Tap Room at the Hollander
421 4th Avenue North
Saint Petersburg, FL  33701

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Trip's Diner - Saint Petersburg, FL

Always on the lookout for a weekend breakfast place, I tried Trip's Diner one morning.  Arriving there, I found out this place is popular.  The small parking lot was filled, but there was plenty of street parking and space available in the parking lot across the street.  There was a bunch of people inside and outside the door waiting to be seated, so I put my name on the list and awaited my turn.  Luckily, things seemed to move along pretty smoothly and my family and I were seated in a roomy booth.  I would have loved to sit at one of the old fashioned stools at the counter, but they were in high demand.  There are tables outside if you prefer, because with a crowded house, it can get pretty noisy.

Our friendly but no nonsense server was quick to take our order and pour our coffee.  We decided to order a pancake, a burger and fries, a mushroom, cheese, and scallion omelette with home fries, grits, and a biscuit on the side.  I am gonna go with what I didn't like first.  The pancake tasted good the first couple of bites, but then quickly turned rubbery.  This is usually a sign of a boxed mix or pancake batter that has been over mixed.  Either way, I didn't like it.  The burger was just okay and I didn't like the spicy fries that came with it, but spicy fries are a matter of preference.  Now, let me get to the good stuff.  First, our coffee cup was never empty.  I loved my omelette, and the home fries and grits were out of this world.  I had heard a lot of good things about the those three things and I am happy to say they lived up to my expectations.  I will definitely be back to explore some more items on the menu and I need to try a repeat performance of the menu items I loved.

Trip's Diner
2339 9th Street North
Saint Petersburg, FL  33704

Trip's Diner on Urbanspoon

La Creperia Cafe - St Petersburg, FL

Feeling a wee bit hungry for crepes, and too lazy to make them myself, I headed over to La Creperia in the Grand Central neighborhood of St Petersburg.  There is parking in the street or a parking lot available.  Orders for crepes are taken at the Airstream window.  After placing your order, you can grab a table outside or there is a little building next to the the Airstream that has air conditioned seating.  I tried a nutella crepe, which is always a winner.  Also, I tried the Madame Suzette, which was not to my taste, as it was too sour.  Finally, to balance out all that sugar, I tried a savory crepe.  I decided on the La Paris with chicken, feta cheese, spinach, and red peppers for filling.  This crepe was my favorite of all.  I love sweet crepes, but I would gladly give them up for La Paris.  How fitting, as Paris is one of my favorite places in the world.  All in all, I had a great experience and I was inspired to get my crepe pan out more often.

La Creperia Cafe
2901 Central Avenue
Saint Petersburg, FL  33713
La Creperia Cafe on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Boca Kitchen Bar Market - Hyde Park (Tampa), FL

A long Labour day weekend on our hands, the family and I made a trip over to Boca in Tampa for Saturday brunch.  We had long heard great things about Boca, but we just had to make the trip when we heard Andrew "Wilko" Wilkins has joined them as general manager.  For those of you who don't know Wilko, he brought us the awesome dining experience that is the St Pete Brasserie and others.  We knew he would be part of something awesome, so with that in mind, we went to check Boca out.

We were met at the door by the parking valet as Boca offers complimentary parking.  Boca is a very rustic looking place that is casual and relaxing.  We were shown to a table and I loved the cute little potted basil that was on our table.  We ordered a beer for the gentleman and I ordered a Huckleberry Hound from the craft cocktail menu.  The drink was a mixture of blueberries, ginger, lime, and vodka.  I thought the addition of ginger to the cocktail was very refreshing.  On our server's suggestion, we started off with an order of the Apricot Mega muffins served with caramelized apple butter.  Each order comes with three muffins and they are HUGE.  They were very yummy, and we had leftovers to take home as it was way more than we could eat for a starter.  On to the main course....

We tried the OMG Prime House Burger which is served with their own special sauce, lettuce, tomato, pickled onions, white cheddar, and a side of fries.  No wonder why it is called an OMG burger because it was absolutely delicious.  It was tender, smoky, and my idea of a perfect burger.  It seemed hard to top the burger, but my smoked corned beef hash served with my choice of scrambled eggs, and fried potatoes and peppers was a winner.  If you haven't ever had the pleasure of smoked corned beef, this is the place to try it.  I have to say the servings are large, so unless you have a real hearty appetite, these are leftovers you will be happy to take home.  By the end, I couldn't eat another bite, but I had to try the Honey Badger drink, which was a great end to my meal. I definitely have Boca in mind for many future brunches.

Boca Kitchen-Bar-Market
901 West Platt St
Tampa, FL  33606

Boca Kitchen Bar Market on Urbanspoon

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Birch & Vine - downtown St Petersburg, FL

I paid a visit to the newly opened Birch & Vine, which is located on Beach Drive in downtown St Pete.  Before getting a table, we went to check out the rooftop lounge.  The view was spectacular and I loved the canopy covered sofas that will come in handy, if you can get one.  It was a weeknight and very crowded, so I can't imagine a weekend.  After checking that out, we headed inside to dine because it was way too hot for the patio, but that is Florida weather for you.

The inside dining room wasn't too crowded and it looked beautiful.  First thing we did is take a look at the drink menu.  One thing that I thought was odd was that there were no prices listed for the drinks, with the exception of the wines.  They had some lovely signature drinks and I decided to try the Floradita, which was very refreshing and pretty.  We started with the soup of the day, which was cream of cauliflower, and the sous vide butter poached lobster.  The soup was very good and we really liked the poached lobster, except for the fried leeks on top.  The fried leeks looked pretty, but I didn't like the texture as I chewed it, so I pushed them off to the side.  The vegetable pasta we went on to order was very good, and a excellent choice for vegetarians, or you can add a protein if you like.  The other entree  we tried was the sous vide citrus Chilean Salmon.  The salmon was excellent, but the quinoa and spinach that came with it didn't really impress me.  To finish off our meal, we decided to try the chocolate hazelnut cake with salted brown sugar ice cream.  The dessert was yummy and we could have started a fight over that, but we were in public and had to share nicely.

Up to this point you can see I don't have any major complaints, and I only had a few small problems. Yes, food was good, and pretty equal to what you can find at other restaurants on Beach Drive in that it is no better or no worse.  Wine menu by the glass is the usual stuff you find and I would have liked to have seen another french in the reds. I did have a problem when we ordered our drinks to go with dessert.  We ordered drinks specifically that would pair well with our dessert.  Our dessert came and no sign of any drinks.  After a while, we decided we should go ahead and eat it because ice cream is just going to melt.  We had ordered a Dow's 20 year port and a coffee with different liqueurs that was to be topped with whipped cream.  They were out of the 20 year port, so finally they came to our table with a 10 year port and asked if we would like that instead.  Not a problem, they are newly opened and I am sure a one doesn't know how fast they are going to go through stock.  Restaurants can't just run out to the liquor store when they run out, they have to buy through a distributor, so no big deal.  Major gripe is the drink finally made its way to our table after dessert finished.  However, I can't excuse the coffee.  The coffee made it to our table, after the dessert was finished, without whipped cream, which to me is half the yumminess of these kind of drinks.  So, I flagged down the server and pointed out the missing whipped creamed.  She checked the menu in front of me to confirm it was supposed to be served with whipped cream and then she went off with my coffee in search of whipped cream.  After a little wait, the same cup of coffee, that is slowly growing colder, came back without the whipped cream.  There was no whipped cream, which should be a staple, to be had at bar or in kitchen, but would I still like to have this coffee that has been carried all around?  A suitable response would have been to comp the coffee.  Yes, I know the cost is in the liquor, but again the whipped cream is part of what completes the drink and I think it is one of those gestures that builds goodwill for a newly opened restaurant as they iron out the glitches.  I just thought that was a no brainer.  I refused the coffee, so away it went.  Overall, I loved the food and I have a few other complaints that I will leave out of this post because I am going to cut some slack for them being new.  Next time I go back, I expect things to be ironed out and if the same problems exist, then I will post about it.  Try it and let me know about your experience.

The Birch & Vine 
340 Birch Drive NE
Saint Petersurg, FL  33701

Birch & Vine on Urbanspoon

Witches BBQ Den - downtown Saint Petersburg, FL

The Witches BBQ Den just opened in April, but I have been back many times to try out the menu.  Obviously, repeat visits mean I love it.  So far, I have tried the dry rubbed and smoked chicken wings that come three to an order.  Those three wings are HUGE, and I am usually full after two, but this is all according to appetite.  I have also tried the cheddar jalepeƱo grits, and I like those so much that I always get an order.  On my most recent visit, I tried the blackened shrimp that comes as five large shrimp served on top of the grits and the smoked salmon dip.  Both were delicious and perfect with a cold brew.  And before I could even finish this blog post, I got a chance to taste the pulled chicken, and like everything here, it is delicious!

After telling you about the food, let me tell you about the place and why you should visit.  The Witches BBQ is owned by Brett Andress, the same owner of The Ale and the Witch.  Brett gives back to the community and I think his employees are among some of the most satisfied employees I have ever met with.  Both businesses are in the same courtyard, only the Ale and the Witch is downstairs, while the Witches BBQ is located upstairs.  The Ale and the Witch has a huge selection of American craft beer, with changes to the lineup everyday.  They also serve some gluten free beer.  If you don't fancy beer, there is some wine on the menu.  For those who don't drink alcohol, or for the kids, they serve craft ginger ale and root beer and a couple of green tea choices.  Grab your drinks and your food from upstairs and the courtyard is the perfect place to relax.  If you are a live music lover, they have music going on every night of the week.  Bring the kids or the pooches along because this is a good, clean environment where  everyone is welcome!

Witches BBQ Den
111 2nd Avenue NE, Suite 209
Saint Petersburg, FL  33701

Witches BBQ Den on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Bici Trattoria - downtown St Petersburg, FL

I was very excited to see the menu for the new restaurant in St Pete, the Bici Trattoria.  The menu had a number of choices, but my eyes were drawn to the ravioli section, which is one of my favorites in any form.  But as always, before trying any new restaurant, the question in the back of my head is will it taste as good as it all sounds?  With that in mind, the family and I went to check it out.

The restaurant is located in downtown St Pete on Central Avenue between 4th and 5th Streets. When you first walk in the door, you can't miss the bikes hanging from the ceiling, which we all thought was pretty cool.  The front of the restaurant is narrow with one side occupying a very long bar, behind which you can watch your food being cooked, and the other side has tables for two.  As you get towards the back of the restaurant, it opens up, and there are tables for larger parties.  We always love to sit at the bar, so that is what we did on that particular day.  Also cool, we loved the mason jar lighting overhead and the lights at the bar that looked like they were made out of pipes.

The next order of business was to order drinks.  I was only expecting a choice of wine or beer, but they do have a full bar.  I ordered  a house Pinot Grigio, which was okay, pretty much the standard stuff that you find in any restaurant house wine.  I knew even before I got there what I was going to be ordering, which was the porcini and white truffle ravioli served with olive oil, garlic, spinach, and pine nuts.  My husband ordered the pizza margherita and my son the spaghetti pomodoro.  We could see the cooking going on out of the corner of our eyes as we were seated at the bar and it was all done in quick order., the ravioli was so good.  The pine nuts were toasted to perfection, the garlic hit just the right balance, the spinach was bright green, and the ravioli... perfect!  The pizza was very good, with a delicately crispy crust.  My son's spaghetti pomodoro was excellent.  We learned from owner Allen Galleano that all of their pasta is made fresh, in-house.  He is very passionate about his restaurant and that is reflected in the food we ate there.  I had wanted to check out the dessert, but we were all stuffed after that.  I guess we will just have to make it back to work our way through the menu.  This is a definite must try when visiting downtown St Pete.

Bici Trattoria
437 Central Avenue
St Petersburg, FL  33701

Bici Trattoria on Urbanspoon

Monday, March 18, 2013

Oxford Exchange - Hyde Park(Tampa), FL

I must admit, I was very excited to try the food at Oxford Exchange.  I love the way the place looks with its bookstore in the front, a cozy area where you can order tea or coffee, a shop of curiosities at the other end, and a wide open space featuring the restaurant.  If you are lucky enough to get a table, there is a smaller area with natural light and a fountain surrounded by tables.  No such luck for us, but the other part of the restaurant is beautiful, also.  After a 15 minute wait for a table, we were finally seated.  First order of business to be seen to, the wine.  The Oxford Exchange doesn't serve wine, but for a $15 corking fee, they will open your wine and provide wine glasses.  I love bringing my own wine anyway because I know for sure I will be drinking something I love, and on this day we had brought a lovely French bordeaux along that we were very happy to drink.

Next order of business, the food.  We ordered a burger, the Grilled Chicken Paillard served over arugula with shavings of parmesan, and the Bronzino fish served over lentils.  The burger put me in burger heaven and was very juicy and worth every calorie.  I liked the fish, but the whole party didn't quite agree with me, so I'll leave that up to the diner.  Another favorite for everyone was the chicken, which was my personal favorite.  This place is a winner and I always figure it is a good sign for the success of a restaurant when you have to wait for a table on a weekday.  I would definitely go back for the surroundings, the food, and the service.  And don't forget to try the dessert if you can squeeze some in, as it's worth it!

Oxford Exchange
420 West Kennedy Blvd
Tampa, FL  33602

Oxford Exchange on Urbanspoon

Hellas Restaurant and Bakery - Tarpon Springs, FL

On a short staycation, we had fun playing tourists one day in Tarpon Springs.  For those of you who don't know, Tarpon Springs is famous for its large greek population and its sponge diving.  Walking down the main drag, you can pick from a number of greek restaurants.  We opted for the much loved Hella's.  Although this is a very touristy area, and you know what they say about avoiding tourist traps, one doesn't find subpar food at Hellas.  We tried the Mousaka, the stuffed flounder, and a gyro and we were very happy with all our entrees.  Some of Hella's delicious baklava to finish our meal and we were happy.

785 Dodeconese Blvd
Tarpon Springs, FL  34689
Hellas on Urbanspoon

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Pizza Fusion - downtown Tampa, FL

Walking to the Tampa museum one late afternoon, we spied Pizza Fusion, and more importantly, the smell of pizza was tantalizing our hungry senses, so we decided to drop in.  It was a bit hectic inside, but luckily there were still a couple of tables left, so we were seated without any wait.  The server quickly took our drink order for some wine and then left us to look over the menu.  It was interesting to note they offer vegan cheese and a gluten free crust if one needs either of those options.  We decided to go with the Traditional cheese and the Barbeque chicken.  Both pizzas were good and I would have preferred my crust a tad bit thinner, but I am aware that is one of those preferences that varies from diner to diner.  Altogether a good experience and I wouldn't hesitate to pop in again.

Pizza Fusion
777 N Ashley Dr
Suite C
Tampa, FL  33602

Pizza Fusion at Skypoint on Urbanspoon