Sunday, September 21, 2014

Zen Forrest, New Port Richey, FL

Zen Forrest is a...get this..."zen-like" little eatery tucked away in a Pasco County strip mall.  The walls are painted a soothing sage green, decor is minimalistic and tables are nicely spaced.  Dragons, gilt, kimonos and piped in muzak are noticeably absent.  Ambient art is subdued and tasteful.  Even when full of patrons, the vibe is soothing, conversing is easy and there's an air of intimacy.  Not your stereotypical Chinese restaurant, the menu is more "Asian influenced" with noticeable nods to the cuisine of Japan, Thailand, Taiwan and Vietnam.

We received knowledgeable and courteous service from Kassie, who was was pleasingly low-key and paced our meal nicely (our party of four spent a leisurely hour and forty-five minutes visiting and noshing without ever feeling either neglected or rushed).

The Crab Rangoon was a real crowd-pleaser and definitely a cut above average.  For starters, it actually tasted like crab (not "krab") and had a garlicky kick that set it apart from its typical Chinese resto contemporaries.  The spicy mango dipping sauce was the perfect accompaniment for these crispy pockets of decadence, which were so delightful that I toyed with the idea of ordering a second batch.
















Zen Forrest Rolls (minced chicken with veggies in an egg roll shell) were a deviation from the norm in the best of all possible ways.  Richer, denser, and more savory than traditional egg rolls, they were served hot and crispy with spicy lemon mustard sauce.
















The simple house salads that prefaced the meal were fresh, crunchy and dressed in a pungent, garlic vinaigrette which is sold by the bottle in-house (and, after tasting, I can understand the demand).  If you're on a first date, however, it might be best to steer clear as it is as potent as it is addictive.  I fear it will be emanating from my pores for days to come.
















My lemongrass-seasoned shrimp with aromatic, sweet-meets-savory Coconut Curry sauce was a winning entree. Ordered at a "medium" heat level, it left a nice sheen of sweat on my upper lip without being overpowering and I appreciated the liberal infusion of fresh veggies, incendiary peppers and cilantro.  The use of larger shrimp would've made it exceptional.
















Baby Bro's Tangy Orange Zested Chicken was the best I've tasted this side of Chinatown in Philly. The breast meat was moist and juicy, fried to perfection and slathered in a nasal-passage-opening, intense citrus sauce.  Wasabi mashed potatoes were fluffy and zesty while still retaining a desirable, homemade "lump factor".
















UD opted for Beef Negamaki (teriyaki soaked steak with fresh scallions rolled inside, sizzled on the grill, topped off with an onion teriyaki sauce), which truly delivered and could've fed a small army. The tender beef roulades were "like buttah" and yielded easily to the slightest touch of fork pressure.  I think my resident knuckle-dragger would've appreciated a rarer/bloodier variation, but that didn't stop him from falling upon the bovine flesh like he had a sunrise engagement with Old Sparky.  Sadly, my photo doesn't do justice to the dish.
















Kim's Shrimp and Thai Basil didn't seem to appeal to anyone other than herself.  The taste I sampled failed to thrill and its visual element brought to mind a red-headed step-child in comparison to the rest of pulchritudinous plates at our table.  Maybe it just wasn't my cup of tea.

















Asian restaurants are not generally renowned for the decadence factor of their desserts and I don't think Zen Forrest is much of an exception, although their offerings are more taste bud-tingling than green tea ice cream, gao and fortune cookies (I want fried bread pudding with ice cream and whiskey sauce, damnit!).  We sampled two...house-made Blueberry Cake and Apple Spice Cake. Both were quite light and flavorful, but the blueberry version with its tender texture and silken layers of berry-infused, mousse-like cream filling was everyone's favorite.

















The "also-ran":
















Final word:  I like Zen Forrest. Would I again drive 1.5 hours for more?  Probably not.  Nonetheless, better-than-average restaurant cuisine identified anywhere north of the Pinellas and Hillsborough county lines is always noteworthy.  In addition to thoughtful, quality menu offerings, a respectable list of reasonably priced wines and craft beers are also available.  In fact, I identified a new crush in the form of butterscotch-like Cannonball Chardonnay on this visit at the almost obscenely low price of $6.50 per glass.  It's worth a visit for denizens of North Pinellas and Pasco counties.

www.zenforrest.com

Zen Forrest 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.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Ulele, Tampa, FL

A new day has dawned on Tampa Bay's culinary landscape.  The most exciting and innovative restaurant since Edison Food + Drink Lab has arrived in the form of the Florida-native-inspired (and I mean historical natives, not us contemporaries who were born here...there are still plenty of venues frying up grouper sandwiches in homage to us) Richard Gonzmart dream project, Ulele. My dining experience at said establishment this evening left me virtually reeling in sensory overload.

The building itself is visually stunning, both inside and out, and would be equally impressive in cities far larger than Tampa.  As the newest addition to the Bay area's "see and be scene", our party found out too late that a weekend reservation at Ulele is the hottest ticket in town and one that can't even be bought with God's money right now. However, there's more than one way to skin a cat...each more fun than the last, according to my feline-averse spousal unit.  Relax...he's only kidding (I pray).  After strategizing with our favorite dining partners, JR of the SOG City Oracle and his lovely bride, the BOBP, we decided to show up at an hour that would embarrass even the most hardcore early bird diners and press our noses forlornly against the locked doors in the hope that pity would be bestowed upon us.  As it turned out, the oyster bar was already open when we arrived at 4:30. Dinner doesn't begin until 5:00, but we put our names on the wait list and settled in at the gorgeous concrete mollusk counter inlaid with tiny arrowheads and seashells for some apps and cocktails.

I could've taken pics of the interior all day long, as something shiny caught my eye and pivoted my head at every turn, but I had some serious eating to do which demanded my full attention.  I did manage to snap a couple between bites, however.






































While at the bar, we sampled a sexy Lobster Claw Cocktail presented in a massive, gleaming martini glass.  Two gargantuan, scarlet claws and a respectable mound of sweet crustacean morsels were nestled atop a bright pool of zesty cocktail sauce studded with fresh corn and avocado. Priced at a nominal $12, an investment in this starter could yield substantial date night dividends.  As I always say, "Candy is dandy but lobster is quicker".
















Alligator Hush Puppies were ridiculously good. Comprised of alligator, country ham, duck bacon and chopped jalapenos, these little wads of golden-fried dough heaven were milder than expected and cooked to perfection. They were quickly gobbled up by all...even the 'gator-ambivalent BOBP.












At that point, we were called to our table (at about 5:15)...so the wait was not bad at all.  The boyz couldn't resist the lure of Pulpo Carpaccio (raw, shaved octopus with a spicy piri piri sauce, red and green chiles, and a bed of seaweed salad).  The gurlz, both of whom generally draw the line at "raw", abstained.  I'm not sure JR and UD didn't snort it through a straw, however.  I was afraid of turning into a pillar of salt so I didn't look.
















As one who spent her formative years up until she was around 30 in Tennessee, I like to think I'm an expert on corn muffins.  I even won a 4-H blue ribbon for my own corn muffins in the 4th grade.  I'm sorry to say that all of the corn muffins of my past were just golden idols.  The One True Corn Muffin is Ulele's Jalapeno Corn Beer Quick Bread.  Warm, crusty, moist, sweet and spicy, they are truly manna from heaven...especially when slathered with soft, creamy butter.  Crazygod!  I mean, Crazygood!
















On to the entrees.  Except for a small selection of aged steaks, most hover in the $25 price range.  Sharing an appetizer, ordering two entrees and splitting a dessert would be more than enough food for most couples.  All dinners include a veggie and choice of starch, and the portions are mammoth.  Wines by the glass are generously poured and there are a plethora of nice choices for under ten bucks.

My Deconstructed Seafood Pot Pie was a luxurious crock of divine, creamy wine sauce chock-full of shrimp, scallops, grouper, smoked oysters and octopus with accents of finely diced veggies.  The seafood was the star in this dish and it was largely unmitigated.  Flaky, puff pastry pillows flanked the "pie" so the carb factor could be added to suit my individual taste (all of them, please!).  This is not the Banquet Pot Pie you grew up with.  The sides of nutty wild rice and haricots verts were quite pleasing, as well...not that I had a lot of room for them.
















The guys, both clearly in the mood to strip a bone of its flesh, went into caveman mode and ordered the beast that was the 1-1/2 lb. Crackling Pork Shank with Firecracker Apple Raisin Chutney. In manly fashion, the rice was eschewed by the Y-chromes and decadent white cheddar mashed potatoes were selected instead.  The only sound I heard outside of grunting for quite awhile was UD's comment that the meat had the both the taste and tender consistency of pork belly.
















The self-proclaimed "seafood-hating" BOBP once again went rogue and chose the Florida Pompano (pan-seared pompano with sun-dried tomato shallot cream and fried carrot ribbons).  The fish was sweet, moist and flaked nicely at the slightest pressure of the fork.  Fried carrot ribbons could easily become a new food addiction....one which I might even be able to convince myself is "healthy" if I can work my way just a tiny bit further into my perpetual state of denial.
















Do you know that saying about idle hands and the devil?  I have now identified how Satan is leveraging those hands. They're churning this diabolical concoction - Candied Duck Bacon Maple Fried Ice Cream with cinnamon corn flake candied duck bacon crust, Knob Creek crème anglaise, caramel and sweet potato waffle crisp.  Sweet, salty, creamy and crunchy, you must experience it personally to wrap your head around its unique melange of flavors and textures.  C'mon,  hop on into the handbasket with me...you know you want to.















We all adored the silky Guava Pie with Shortbread Cookie Crust...the crust was sublime and the fluffy filling subtle and light.  It was the angelic foil to that "bad boy" ice cream.  















We received superb service throughout the course of the evening from staff members at all levels.  Jorge was our crux from which all others radiated and he was a consummate professional in all respects.  The total bill for the dining room portion of our epicurean adventure was right at $100 per couple, including two glasses of wine or beer apiece. I'm still shaking my head in sheer wonderment. 

Final word:  I love every aspect of Ulele, right down to the pleasing way her name trips off my tongue. Cannot wait to return!

www.ulele.com

Ulele 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, September 11, 2014

El Gallo Grande, St. Petersburg, FL

Let's just cut to the chase.  The tastiest Mexican food I've ever eaten in Tampa Bay was had last weekend at El Gallo Grande.  To add to their endearment factor, the ambiance is decidedly mod-Mex with a sleek bar area, brightly colored tables and chairs, contemporary south-of-the-border style murals and, best of all...no red and green motif, no sombreros, no piped-in Mariachi music (not that it doesn't have its place) and no serapes tacked to the walls.  The vibe is upscale without being pretentious and prices are reasonable for the quality imparted.   It reminds me a lot of Stephen Starr's Philadelphia restaurant, El Vez. Hard to believe the old-school Italian vibe of the resto's former inhabitant, Basta's, has been so completely obliterated and beautifully reinvented (not that I didn't once love Basta's, because it was a favorite of mine back in the '90s).  Kudos to the designer for the resulting eye candy.

















I initially thought $11.50 seemed high for a margarita, even one of the"top shelf" variety.  Howevah, my Blood Orange Margarita (sorry, I can't relay its official moniker because EGG's menu is not yet posted online and I drank two...which rendered me unable to feel my face afterwards, much less take notes) was the best I've ever guzzled sipped.  I adored the larger chunks of salt around the rim, the high alcohol content (I know...I'm as surprised as you are) and the way the blood orange juice so beautifully tempered the lime without making the resulting cocktail too sweet.  Behold my new addiction...the color of the sun as it sinks into the Gulf. Sigh.
















Before we move forward, I should add the caveat that there are house margaritas available for half the price.

Complimentary tortilla chips and a salsa-like concoction were dispensed while we looked over the menu.  We requested additional apps of house-made guacamole and Queso Fundido.  Both exceeded expectations.  I wasn't expecting the guac to be quite as tomato-laden as it was, figuring it would be easy to eat around my nemesis fruit. It wasn't, but I crushed so hard on its fresh, creamy-meets-chunky texture and the bright flavors imparted by liberal use of ripe avocado, lime and cilantro that I stoically forged on.  Only an isolated, rosy mound of the remnants of my gelatinous food foe remained after I snarfed all of the delectable, green goodness surrounding them.
















Queso Fundido was sexily hot, gooey and stringy.  We added a zippy, crumbled chorizo topper which was well worth the small upcharge.
















Lunch entrees are served a la carte, so I ordered a small Mexican Caesar Salad on the side (which, as it turned out, was a little more on the large side).  Crisp and delicious, it was adorned with corn and mellow Oaxaco cheese crumbles.  Dressing was not a classic variation, but brought more of a garlicky vinaigrette to mind.  I liked the lightness and crunch of it all.  Perfect for a summer day in Florida.
















UD's Tacos al Pastore (marinated pork tacos) disappointed him a tad because he lived in Mexico City for a while and got a little spoiled.  He felt they were somewhat less than traditional, but they looked and tasted all right to this Gringa.
















The ubiquitous gummy rice and gloppy refried beans we often receive as sides in Mexican restos are not automatically ladled onto your plate at El Gallo Grande. They're a menu add-on here.  And they probably should be due to the fact that both are well above average and portions are generous enough to share with the table. Refried beans look like refried beans (kind of like a pet "accident") so I won't post a pic even though they were quite good and ratcheted it up nicely with spicy heat.  The rice, however, was gorgeous...the little maize-hued kernels were fluffed heavenward and studded with peas and carrots.  An al dente delight!
















My arepas stuffed with tender, zesty chicken (which actually brought a pleasing bead of of moisture to my upper lip), nestled in a crunchy corn shell with fresh lettuce and a crema drizzle were nothing short of amazing.  I loved this twist on the standard corn cake application often presented at food trucks around town.
















While service was a tad tentative (albeit caring) this was one fine lunch experience overall.  While I don't get around El Gallo Grande's parts that often, I'll be baaack...if only for another satisfying slurp of Blood Orange Margarita.

El Gallo Grande 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, September 1, 2014

Woody's River Roo, Ellenton, FL

After seriously scouring the web the other day,  I can confidently report that there's a serious dearth of dog-friendly, waterfront restaurants east of I-75 in Hillsborough County.  In fact, they may well be nonexistent.

Sweet Molly Maguire, still despondent over the loss of her longtime companion, Gastropup, needed to get out of the house.  Needed some stimulation.  Needed something different to do.  An al fresco lunch seemed ideal, but overlooking a parking lot in the August heat did not.  Downtown Tampa might've worked, but her hips would not have.  At 14 years of age, she can only handle the shortest of walks from car to table.  I finally remembered Woody's River Roo, a cute tiki bar and casual dining spot situated right off of I-75 at the Hellenton Outlet Mall exit.

Okay, so Woody's River Roo is no Mise en Place...nor does it pretend to be.  The important thing on this occasion was that it has an expansive deck overlooking the sparkling Manatee River and that it welcomes furkids.  As it turned out, the food's actually pretty good, too.

Both two- and four-legged members of our party were warmly received by all staff members we encountered and a bowl of cool water was promptly deposited for Molly. There was plenty of shade on the patio which, coupled with the misting fans scattered throughout the venue, made for a pleasant outdoor experience despite the mid-nineties temps and one-hundred-and-eleventy percent humidity.  I cringed a little when I realized that live entertainment would be involved, since it often has a way of making me want to take an ice pick to my eardrums because it's either too loud, awful, or both.   I was pleasantly surprised when neither of the aforementioned adjectives were applicable.  The soloist was actually quite talented and had a nice, relaxing repertoire which he kept dialed down to a volume level conducive to conversation.  The scene:
















We ordered some cold beverages and started with a better-than-average basket of lightly breaded on the outside/tender on the inside onion rings, which disappeared in short order.















Since Sweet Molly loves crab meat almost more than life itself, she zeroed right in on the Blue Crab Cakes...which turned out to be pretty spectacular.  The two large and beautifully seared patties were bountifully stuffed with crab meat and nicely seasoned with spices and a little bell pepper.  Binder was kept to a minimum and we all enjoyed the cakes' crispy exterior crust and zippy, horseradish-y sidecar of dipping sauce.
















Molly was nice enough to share.  Good girl!





















Nachos fell into the "just okay" category.  The homemade chili topping the requisite tortilla chips was a spicily tasty rendition, but the decidedly "Cheez Whizzy" school bus yellow goo topper kept them from reaching their full potential.  But, again...we're talking about inexpensive pub fare here, most of which delivers pretty well for its price point.















My grouper bites were moist, not overly-breaded, fresh-tasting and fried to a golden brown.  Fries were the frozen battered variety, but were served hot and crunchy.  I thought the portion was generous for $12.99 and could not finish it all.
















Final word:  Woody's River Roo is a pleasant place to while away a Florida afternoon.  The food more than meets expectations.  It's clean enough for an outdoor establishment.  It boasts gorgeous views.  Staff is laid back and friendly.  It's not so much of a tiki-bar venue that anyone should fear bringing their family here...in fact, there were many families with children dining on our visit as well as senior citizens, boaters, young singles, dog parents and everything in-between.  Molly gives it her coveted "two paws up".





















www.woodysriverroo.com

Woody's River Roo Pub & Grill 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, August 24, 2014

Catch Twenty-Three, Lithia, FL

Catch Twenty-Three is a pleasant addition to the Valrico/Lithia food scene.  Oh, right...we don't have a "food scene" in East Hillsbilly County.  Still, it's a warm and welcoming eatery with better than average cuisine located smack dab in the center of Stepford Fish Hawk, so it's a quick drive for those of us stuck in right-wing-conservative-good-schools-everyone-goes-to-church-on-Sunday-white-bread-and-Velveeta-land...which doesn't doesn't always provide the best audience for dining establishments that think further out of the box than Chili's.  I was very impressed that shiznit like coconut curry and edamame were being tossed around on the menu.  Granted, we pretty much had the establishment to ourselves on an early Saturday evening.  I guess everyone was at Crapplebee's.

Service was fantastic from the moment we arrived.  Being more in a sampling and drinking mode than a pulling-out-the-stops gorging mode, we opted to eat at the bar where were treated like royalty by our sweet and saucy bartender, Sam.

We started with Queso Fundido (pepper jack, goat and white American cheeses, chorizo, roasted poblano peppers and tri-colored tortilla chips),  A super-fine rendition (Honey, I don't think we're at Chili's anymore)...and who doesn't love creamy, crunch, spice and heat?  Muy rico!

Coconut Curry Mussels were totally off the chain and their application was a refreshing divergence from the done-to-death pedestrian white wine or tomato broth versions that ubiquitously appear on menus around Tampa Bay.  Fresh-tasting and presented with thick and hearty slabs of garlic bread for dipping, these puppies were a winner.
















$15 seemed pricey for four Salt and Pepper Shrimp, but they totally delivered.  Again, sweet melded perfectly with heat and the massive crustaceans were beautifully presented, nestled on a toothsome bed of nutty, zippy edamame.
















Char-grilled Oysters Rockefeller were a tad light on the fat content for my personal taste, but beautiful and tasty nonetheless.  I prefer my O-Rocks with a serious slathering of Hollandaise...but then, that's why I'm wearing stretch pants.
















Thus far, everything was fabu.  I would be remiss if I failed to mention that a generous selection of wines by the glass are available here...most priced at $10 or less.

Desserts were okay, but failed to thrill.  While every hair on my body stood on end in anticipation of Banana Bread Pudding topped with Cherry Garcia ice cream, it did not deliver.  A dry, raisin-studded concoction that channeled leftover carrot cake to such a degree that we felt compelled to ask for clarification as to its origin was left virtually untouched. It was cold and hard, and the ice cream even colder and harder

The bite I took of the orgasmic-sounding Coconut Key Lime Crème Brûlée kind of left me with a "just kissed my brother" feeling.  Put the lime in the coconut, damnit! I tasted neither. I'm not really a fan of custardy desserts to begin with, but UD is...and he agreed that this one was a bit lame.
















While desserts could use some massaging in my opinion, Catch Twenty-Three is a culinary haven in the Brandon area and does a lot of things really well.  Worth a shot.

www.catchtwentythree.com

Catch Twenty-Three 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.


Friday, August 22, 2014

Farewell, Gastropup

Sweet Polly's Hero (aka "Gastropup" and "Piggy", aptly earned monikers due to his passion for anything remotely edible...although his interest in any particular offering seemed to wane in direct proportion to its broader location on the food pyramid), joined our family on Easter Sunday in 2003.  A little unsure of himself at first and obviously a bit intimidated by our older and more established black lab, Molly, I was initially concerned that he would not be able to negotiate a comfortable niche for himself in the hierarchy of our "pack".  However, he quickly (and seemingly cheerfully) settled into his role as omega II, fourth behind myself as Molly had claimed the beta spot to her Daddy-Dawg's alpha position long before I arrived on the scene (a pecking order I have allowed them both to believe has remained constant over the past thirteen years, while usually even managing to supress a giggle at the very idea).





















He was a fun-loving clown from the very beginning who never wanted a THING to do with confrontation, although he did once seriously threaten to rip a small, dilapidated kettle grill to smithereens that had been left curbside for trash pickup by a neighbor on the evening prior to one of our many hundreds of pre-dawn "poop walks" (apparently mistaking it for an axe murderer).  As it turned out, "Hero" was a bit of a misnomer.  A lightning fast runner in his youth (who could seriously make a greyhound hang his head in shame), he loved to chase small woodland creatures.  On one occasion, he actually managed to overtake and momentarily wrap his jaws around a squirrel...but promptly panicked and almost soiled himself from sheer fear of the small, squirming form thrashing around his snout (not to mention The Mommy's shrill screams of horror) and dropped it.  Therefore a certain fortunate rodent miraculously lived to collect nuts another day.

He had hobbies...and lots of them.  He loved his playthings more than almost anything (except food) and had his own generously-filled toy box which was more frequently than not completely emptied of its squeaky, bouncy, round and trip-inducing denizens, which he remorselessly left randomly scattered throughout the house like little land mines for one of his dumb humans to stumble over in the dark.
















Swimming was also a passion, and there was nothing more fun than taking a quick dive in the pool before running back inside via the doggy door, shaking off all over the house then and scraping his soaking wet pelt along the sofa in a seeming (and successful) attempt to remove all of that nasty brown dye from the leather. Since his "parents" were incapable of looking at that face and administering any level of meaningful discipline, what did he have to lose?  He owned us, not the other way around.

















A nosy neighbor, he often channeled Gladys Kravitz and peered through the cat door whenever the garage door was open to see just what everyone else was up to.  It's a good thing he couldn't talk, because someone probably would've had to kill him.  Neighborhood Watch at its finest.
















R-I-D-E-S were also high on his list of faves. Yes, we always had to spell it so he wouldn't go batshitcrazy at the mere mention of the word.  As is clearly evident in this photo, he also taught Miley Cyrus everything she knows.
















Hero always got into the Christmas spirit (his favorite holiday).  I like to imagine he was grateful that I, who had a certain knack for innately discerning his every desire, assisted him with "getting his 'Jingle Bell' on" .  Okay, maybe not...but he tolerated it like a trooper because it made me laugh and earned him a "Good Boy!"





















At times, he enjoyed donning the dubious disguise of a dead palmetto bug...in what I can only assume was an attempt to lull the People of Earth into a false sense of security while he secretly plotted to achieve world power.  He was one inscrutable beast!  As an aside, he had a propensity for gnawing on his right front leg until it was bloody...which seemed super unnecessary since he was neutered at a young age.
















"Gastropup", more than anything, I believe...loved co-blogging.  While he never had the opportunity to grace Bern's with his presence, he did enjoy some memorable treats at the many dog-friendly dining establishments in the Tampa Bay area.  Paella at Cafe Alma was particularly well received, even if he and Molly DID manage to totally trash the outdoor resto patio like a couple of drunken rock stars before our meal was over.  But, hey...these little moments of indiscretion happen to the best of us, right?
















The Fish and Corn Chowder at Cassis American Brasserie...well, I think it's safe to say that he never forgot that!  Not to mention the kindness of the management staff who made it clear that our "kids" were absolutely welcome on the alfresco dining patio and brought them bowls of cool water as soon as we sat down after an afternoon of playing in Vinoy Park.
















I think his favorite treat of all time was the Tres Leches Cake at Pincho y Pincho in downtown St. Pete (a former offshoot of Ceviche) following a day of frolicking at the Fort DeSoto Dog Beach.  So very cool, creamy, sweet and refreshing!




















Despite his highbrow epicurean proclivities, "Piggy" was not too proud to revel in the gastronomic delights of a good food truck (let's face it...we're talking about someone whose idea of a "party" was a serious roll in a pile of another dog's droppings).  A pureed frozen banana treat from Gone Bananas was snorted in veryshortorder a couple of years ago.  High praise from a canine who was generally disdainful of fruit. It was, however, prepared in a way that was reminiscent of ice cream, which was his most beloved treat.

















The world and I lost a most precious, gentle, affectionate, humorous and empathetic soul this past Monday, August 18th to the bitch that is cancer.  Death, be not proud...because (and I hate to be the one to break it to you) you have somewhat of a POS reputation.

And something is just not right with the universe when "Man's Best Friend" has such a disproportionate lifespan to our own.  The silence in our home is deafening without the relentless beat of my perpetual puppy's "tail drum".  Hero, you brought me unbelievable joy, and I'll love and remember you for as long as I live.  I'll try harder to be good so that I might again one day press my kisses atop your snowy head.  Godspeed, sweet puppydoodle.