Saturday, December 13, 2014

The Fish House, Ruskin, FL

While you may not immediately associate Ruskin with the phrase "foodie destination", The Fish House is an adorably kitschy, old-Florida-style, ZERO frills roadside eatery that's just enough fun to warrant a short drive down I-75 South.

UD and I stopped for lunch today while en route to the TECO Manatee Viewing Station in Apollo Beach (also worth the drive).  There's outdoor seating only, no alcohol and you order at the window and relax at one of the communal picnic tables while you wait for your number to be called (which doesn't take nearly as long as you expect it might).  I don't know if I'd be able to brave it in the summer, but this sunny, 70 degree December day was ideal for dining alfresco.  Okay, maybe classifying  it as "dining" is a stretch, but it was damned tasty nonetheless.














Everything here is deep fried (a fact that set my Tennessee Gurl heart to fluttering)...so if you're not down with that, you'd best keep driving.  Fried shrimp, fried grouper, fried oysters, fried clams, fried scallops, fried green tomatoes, fried okra, etc., dominate the menu (are you catching my drift?).  Apparently, all of this frying practice makes perfect as every item we ordered was ethereally-lightly breaded/browned and devoid of residual oil.

We shared a cup of Rock Bisque while we waited for our troughs of crisp, golden goodness to be prepared.   Boasting a surprisingly sophisticated flavor (especially considering the venue), it had a silken texture and was laced with sherry and bits of shrimp, crab and lobster.  A certain Bad Dog sloshed it while racing to the table with it.
















Now, on to our troughs.  Our deliciously artery-clogging banquet included fried clam strips, fried okra and (yes) a fried corn dog for Underdog along with a tender and fresh-tasting grouper sandwich on a soft bun for moi.  UD's side of coleslaw was pleasingly crunchy (limp coleslaw makes me go all "She-Hulk") with a nice, slightly sweet, mayo-based dressing and my cheese grits were generously topped with real cheddar.  We likey.














House-made pies (key lime and coconut cream) did not disappoint.  The key lime was tangy and pleasingly flecked with lime zest and the coconut cream boasted a thick, flaky crust, a luxurious creamy filling and a cloud of fresh meringue.
















It was a delightful experience, caloric consequences notwithstanding.  It's official...I'm now a manatee.












Fish House 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.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

The Iberian Pig, Decatur, GA

Wow.  I don't even know where to begin in describing the embarrassment of riches we sampled along with UD's cousin and her spousal unit when we visited The Iberian Pig on our Thanksgiving trip to Atlanta.  Let's just say we had a lot to be thankful for.

Spanish tapas are my favorite cuisine to begin with (tapas being the perfect choice for commitmentphobe foodies).  Can't decide? There's a simple solution...order one of everything!  And that's pretty much what we did.

The resto is warm, cozy and dimly lit with lots of dark wood and a convivial vibe.  We received exceptional service from every staff member we encountered and our server was extremely knowledgeable and helpful as she guided us through the menu over the course of the evening.

First up, a special of the evening - "Balls of Fury".  The plump, savory meatballs (comprised of a blend of lamb, rabbit, pork and Wagyu beef) luxuriating in a bath of red pepper romesco sauce and créma were mind-blowingly good and imparted a pleasing snap of spice at the end.















We I found it necessary to request a second batch of the chewy, Benton's bacon wrapped dates stuffed with Manchego and walnuts to abort a potential brawl over who would take that fifth one.  I had already staked a claim in my mind...but feeling awash in the spirit of the season, I was loathe to leave family members pulling back bloody stumps...so I suggested the diplomatic route.















The bones of these juicy little lamb ribs shellacked with Kalimotxo (a Basque beverage combining wine and cola) sauce and presented atop lemon-herb rice grits looked like they'd been bleaching in the desert sun for six months after we had our way with them.
















Huevo con Trufa (slow roasted pork cheeks topped with a poached egg, a generous slathering of black truffles, and served with toasted rustic bread for carrying all of the aforementioned decadence) was a study in opulent richness.  Almost (but not quite) too much so.  The pork cheeks were amazing in and of themselves, but were elevated once the egg was broken and seeped into the dish. Then, the scent of the truffles inundated our olfactory nerves with their pungent luxuriousness.  Sensory overload!
















As impossible as it seems, we had not yet had our fill of pork.  Thus, slow roasted pork cheek tacos with fire roasted corn salsa, avocado créma, arugula and fresh lime were invited to the party (and, yay!, there were four). Delightful.





















At the halfway point in our tapas orgy, Cousin Steve apparently began feeling a tad remorseful about his porcine intake and sought healthy redemption via a skillet of Oven Roasted Root Vegetables with Brussels sprouts, Marcona almonds, ancho chile and beet créma (obviously, he and I are not related by blood).  However...I must confess that the veggies were stunningly presented and quite tasty with caramelized edges abounding.  Who ever decided that plant food should be boiled?  Bring me his head!!.
















OMFG is all I can say about Manchego Mac 'N' Cheese. Garganelli pasta is baked in Manchego-pork belly cream and topped with butter toasted Panko breadcrumbs and fresh thyme.  The combination of the nutty/silken/salty sauce and al dente pasta will bring a tear to your eye.  This gooey trough of wonder falls into the "Last Meal on Death Row" category of good, and is available for the almost unbelievable price of $6.50.















My fellow funghi lovers will positively swoon over the earthy Morcilla & Mushroom Toast (Morcilla sausage with roasted wild mushrooms, rustic bread, blackberry-port gastrique and Manchego sauce). Mushroom Paradise found.
















We all have regrets...right?  If a low point of our gastronomic frenzy must be identified, the Crispy Eggplant Fries with spicy aoli were eschewed across the board.  We all agreed that the eggplant (which had been fried to the consistency of mush) was overpowered by its heavy breading.





















While almost everything we tried was pretty remarkable, I have to pin the blue ribbon of the evening on  the "Foiench” Toast.  Probably the most beautiful lobe of pan seared Hudson Valley foie gras I have ever seen was presented reclining atop lavender mascarpone-stuffed brioche french toast, accented with blackberry gastrique, bourbon barrel aged maple syrup and raspberry compound butter.  Nothing short of orgasmic, I must say that this was perhaps the most memorable foie gras offering I've ever tasted...and I've eaten a lot of it.  At $18, this sweet and savory delicacy was the most expensive tapas dish we ordered (and was SO worth it).
















As I eat my way through life, I'm constantly trying to identify the "Top 10 Best Restaurants" I've ever experienced.  I've been privileged to enjoy many unforgettable meals and ranking them has proven to be a challenge to which I'm unable to rise.  I feel fairly comfortable, however, in saying that The Iberian Pig at least deserves a spot in the top 25.  Just. Freaking. Amazing.  And the most astonishing part is that our party of four enjoyed everything mentioned plus two bottles of Argentinean wine (and three additional servings by the glass) for $220 before gratuity.  I would drive from Tampa to Atlanta just to do this again.

https://www.theiberianpigatl.com/index

The Iberian Pig 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, December 1, 2014

Antico Pizza Napoletana, Atlanta, GA

Internationally acclaimed pizza in Atlanta, GA?  Yep...it exists.  Italy's own Festa Della Pizza, held annually in the birthplace of pizza near Naples, recognized Antico for its award-winning take on tradition earlier this fall, naming it as a Top in Class pizzeria.  Recommended by one of UD's colleagues (who lives in the area), we all converged on this renowned palace of pizza on Black Friday.  Speaking of Black Friday, if you don't like fighting crowds for bargains, I'm guessing you won't enjoy fighting crowds for the limited communal seating in the "dining" room of this establishment (more than a couple of brawls were narrowly aborted as diners jockeyed for spots at the indoor picnic tables almost before they were fully vacated by their occupants).  I haven't had the stamina for that since my college days, but I will admit that the pizza was exceptional and extremely reminiscent of what we enjoyed when touring the Amalfi coast (just outside of Naples) a couple of years ago.  That said, I got a sense that the pies were being rushed out of the wood-fired ovens to meet the demands of the relentless queue of gaping maws, as the crusts were not as crispy as I expected, nor were the cheesy centers as warm...but I can be a pizza bitch like that.

Since we arrived about an hour before our dining companions and I was already famished, we ordered a couple of beverages at the counter (yes, you place your order from the limited menu at a counter, you are given a number, and the food finds you when it's ready) along with what we thought would be a small snack to tide us over.  Because it was barely noon (the overwhelming crush of humanity didn't arrive until after 1:00) we were able to nibble on the mastadoneon cheese calzone which was presented while perched on stools flanking a very narrow bar in the entry foyer of the pizzeria.  This monster was quite the rustic beast, with mozzarella, ricotta, and fresh basil oozing from its golden brown exterior.  Marinara sauce for dipping was tangy and delish.
















Once the rest of the gang showed up, we placed our pizza order for reals (and this is no Pizza Hut...you will not be given a lot of options as far as doctoring up your selection to suit your personal taste). The Margherita (with San Marzano tomato, bufala mozzarella, basil, mushrooms and garlic) was a vegetarian's dream come true.
















The carnivores in our party feasted on the Capricciosa...more of that fine, wood-fired crust, swiped with marinara and tantalizingly embellished with mushrooms, artichokes, prosciutto cotto and bufala moz.
















Final Word:  While pizza here is off the chain, the overall dining experience leaves a lot to be desired.  This woman is too old, slow and crowd-hating to battle for a place to park my arse and enjoy my slice.  Recommended nonetheless.













http://littleitalia.com/

Antico Pizza 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, November 22, 2014

Peg's Cantina and Brewpub, Gulfport, FL

Peg's may have been more of a "cantina" in the past, but I never met that Peg's. The Peg's I became acquainted with today is a sumptuous tapas restaurant with offerings that rival those I've tried in highly evolved dining destinations like Barcelona, Philadelphia, California wine country and Argentina.  Oh, and to make things even more exciting, they craft their own beer right in back of the adorable converted bungalow in Gulfport, a mere block from the water.  While it's uber charming both inside and out, the lush patio garden setting could easily tempt one to linger there all day in cooler weather...sipping, nibbling and sipping some more.












Brewskis we tried were exceptional; both my lighter, pale lager-style "Granny Gear" and UD's full-bodied, hoppy and pleasingly grapefruit forward "mistake batch" they entitled "Home Alone" (this one probably won't be available going forward).

Food was off the chain and exceeded expectations at every turn.  The house-smoked Mahi spread was heavy on flavor, light on mayo and pleasingly studded with fresh chopped veggies.  As an off-again-on-again low carber, I appreciated the availability of veggie slice carriers in addition to Captain's Wafers.  It really put the ubiquitous, gloppy and homogeneous version that is dispensed out of the manufacturer's tub up and down the Suncoast beaches to shame.  Wimpier palates should beware the nuclear pepper sauce that comes with...it's gotta be up there on the Scoville scale.












I'm not sure I've ever even seen fried mussels on a menu before, so it was impossible not to take the plunge.  Truly unique, the preparation was similar to that of Clams Casino.  After being chopped, sauteed and seasoned with all manner of decadence, it appeared that the mussels were then formed into quenelles, coated in panko bread crumbs, returned to their shells, broiled and then dotted with tarragon aioli (but I'm just guessing here).  I may not know exactly how they were prepared, but I do know that they were fabulous.




A deceptively simple-sounding blue crab quesadilla with cheese, artichokes and corn was rich and fat with sweet crustacean morsels, and the unpleasant overload of veggie mitigation that one so often finds in quesadillas was noticeably absent here.  While they did appear in pleasing, supporting cast proportions, crab meat was truly the star of this production.  It makes me a little sad that the photo does not begin to adequately document how decadent this small plate really was.  Trust me...you want it.














The silken, luxurious butternut squash soup blew me away with its autumn-spiced, almost candy-like flavor and five-star presentation.  First, the bowl was placed before me with the soup's accoutrements (toasted pumpkin seeds, emulsified ginger snaps, pureed red pepper, a little chive and curry sauce) stunningly painted upon the bottom like a miniature Picasso.












Then, the soup was poured in and I was able to swirl and play with this deliriously delightful trough of wonderment to my heart's content.  Comfort food at its finest.












Underdog can never pass up a charcuterie platter and Peg's served up a stunning version.  A generous portion of sweet and salty shaved prosciutto from apple-fed pigs was beautifully plated along with slabs of spicy chorizo and creamy, earthy chicken liver pate. Apple slices, cornichons, olives, pickled blueberries and grainy Dijon mustard came with.












While it was difficult to even conceive of shoehorning down dessert, we rallied and ordered a perfect little key lime tart. Not too sweet and not too tangy, the creamy custard luxuriated in a delicate graham cracker crust and was just the right size to share without catapulting us into a Cheesecake Factory level of dining overload.





















This was nothing short of a superlative and totally refreshing dining experience.  Quality as well as attention to detail is second to none at Peg's.  75% of the menu ingredients are locally sourced and I have to love a resto that eschews Coke and Pepsi products (if you want soda, you'll get Dr. Brown's).  Adjectives fail me.  Amazing.

http://www.pegscantina.com/

Peg's Cantina 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.