Thursday, November 20, 2014

WTFork, November 20, 2014 - Fabulous Holiday Gifts for Foodie Friends

The new phone books are here...the new phone books are here!  Ummm, I mean my most recent Tampa Trib  article is here!

http://tbo.com/dining/wtfork-five-tasty-gifts-for-foodie-friends-this-holiday-season-20141120/

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Fat Maggie's, Lakeland, FL

Fat Maggie's is a tiny barbeque joint located just off I-4 in Lakeland that is totally worth the drive.  If you like classic, fatty, cheesy, unapolagetically decadent southern comfort food elevated beyond your wildest dreams, this is your spot.  Do yourself a favor and don't even mention the visit to your cardiologist.  What happens in Lakeland stays in Lakeland.

The scene is cute and kitschy with an inside maximum occupancy of approximately two dozen patrons.  Never fear...the season for outdoor deck seating is nigh.
















My long-time pal (Georgia Peach) and I arrived at around 1:30 on a weekday, and I daresay there is probably a wait during a more mainstream lunch hour.  Our server, Brittany, was charming and helpful...we loved her and she deserves a shout out.  The interior of the establishment is quaint but somewhat spartan, not that we gave a rats arse about ambiance (or lack thereof) once the food started coming out.

We started with a basket of fries which were lavished with truffle oil and Parmesan cheese, and presented with a zippy sidecar of chipotle ketchup. Hot, crispy and pungent, one would be hard-pressed to find a more addictive version of frites in the Tampa Bay area.
















My deep and abiding love of corn dogs has almost been a source of embarrassment in the past, but I feel that Maggie's hand-dipped Angus beef corn dog pops somewhat redeemed this shameful passion. Not the heavy, doughy, State Fair version (which I will, nonetheless, gleefully snort given any opportunity), these playful bites of heaven were enrobed in sleek, golden brown jackets and served with a trio of dipping sauces...dijon mustard, garlic aoli and barbeque, although we gurlz kept returning to the spicy ketchup that came with the fries.
















The menu is short, but pretty much mind-blowing. Three entrees are available (grilled chicken tenders, beef brisket and pulled pork) all of which include two side dishes. I selected the $10 melt-in-your-mouth pulled pork offering with southern-style cheesy broccoli casserole and gooey mac 'n cheese topped with yet ANOTHER blanket of molten cheese and studded with candied bacon.














I realize that no one's really interested in Candied Bacon Mac 'n Cheese, so I'm posting this photo solely for my own enjoyment.
















The Peach opted to "build her own sammie" from an astonishing array of options.  Her custom made dream sandwich was comprised of approximately a half pound of smoky, tender beef brisket, bread and butter pickles, juicy tomato slices and condiments, all sandwiched between her bread of choice...and her choice was two grilled cheese sandwiches.  Oh, yes they DID.  Sandwiches come with one side at Fat Maggies and GP couldn't resist getting her own crock of candied bacon mac at a $1.00 upcharge.


Of course, dessert was involved.  The $3 Banana Pudding with house-made Whiskey Whipped Cream will have you slappin' your mama. It's far better than one can conceivably expect for the price and hefty enough for two to share.  Welcome to my redneck fantasy!
















Food quality and quantity are off the chain at this little independent.  Peach and I walked out for $60 encompassing everything pictured plus two local craft brewskis apiece and both of us were packing enough leftovers for a second meal.  A worthy destination.

http://fatmaggies.com/

Fat Maggie's 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.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Roux, Tampa, FL

As difficult as it has been to exercise restraint, I deliberately did so and allowed Roux a couple of months to get into their new resto groove before trying it because, I'll admit it...I desperately wanted to love it.  Yay!  I did!

My pal Aries Wench and I met up at 1:00 PM today (which is a good idea if you want to skirt the business lunch crowd, as this is not a large venue) and were immediately charmed by the stunning and bona fide n'awlins vibe.  It's a beautiful eatery which will immediately wipe your mind clean of the fact that the dubiously thought-out Wimauma ever existed in this space.





















Service was pleasant and efficient over the course of our wine luncheon.  I think it's safe to report that both gurlz were shocked by the Paul Bunyan-esque portion sizes, although we did our best to snort a respectable percentage of them.  My galpal's 1/2 Muffuletta (layers of marinated olive salad with mortadella, ham, salami, mozzarella and provolone) was about the size of an economy car's hubcap.  I'm not sure Adam Richman could've even finished it.  While we both felt that the protein-laden sandwich filling was a veryfinething, we agreed that there was a little too much bread going on here.  Scoop and fill it, press it, or find another way to mitigate that massive loaf so we don't have to unhinge our jaws to wrap our lips around this savory masterpiece.  Oh, and the little skillet side of Smoked Mac & Cheese was off the chain...thick, gooey and topped with molten, golden-brown cheesy goodness.
















My Shrimp and Oyster Plate deeply satisfied this native Tennessean (and that says a lot).  The fresh shellfish were lightly fried to a golden brown and piled high, accented with crisp, spicy hand-cut fries and a zippy coleslaw which could've been a tad colder and crunchier (sorry, I'm picky about slaw).  I was catapulted into Deep-Fried Suthren Heaven.















The crowning glory of our lunch was what may be the best bread pudding in Tampa Bay.  I'm typically a fan of dense and heavy, but I was born again in this feather-light and dreamily creamy concoction of French baguette cubes soaked in custard, re-baked, anointed with poppy seeds and toasted pecans, and crowned with a Buffalo Trace bourbon butterscotch sauce.

I can't wait to return for dinner...Roux is outstanding and probably hasn't even yet reached its full potential.


Roux 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, October 31, 2014

Jasmine Thai, Brandon, FL

I don't typically expect much from Brandon eateries, which is why I mostly prefer to drive to almost any outlying geographical area to dine...but sometimes one develops an itch that requires an instant gratification kinda scratch.  Having been inexplicably jonesing for Pad Thai all last weekend and, being the Sunday homebody that I am, I was cursing the very thought of venturing too far from home to find a decent rendition...plus, UD was only willing to tear himself away from NFL, his man-cave and his big screen for a veryminute period of time. East Hillsborough had to be the source.  I know.  My first thought was "just kill me now".

Some online research led us straight to Jasmine Thai, a zen little oasis incongruously tucked away in a strip mall on Lumsden Blvd.  Its sleek, serene interior pleasantly belies its somewhat unfortunate locale.















Our server was professional and efficient while projecting a pleasingly tranquil aura.  We started with a couple of apps, the first being Eggplant Tempura with sweet soy sauce.  The thick, tender slabs of eggplant were ethereally lightly breaded and served at straight-from-hell (or the fryer) heat.  I like that.  Simple, straightforward, hot and delicious.
















Thai Spring Rolls were also of high quality. Wrapped in rice paper and stuffed with shrimp, ground pork, carrot, onions, clear noodles and scallions, these crunchy and nicely-homogenized protein laden wonders were off the chain...so protein-packed, I was almost oblivious to the fact that those pesky veggies were even present.  A spicy orange dipping sauce served to both cool and pleasingly accent this delightful offering.














My beloved neanderthal almost curbed his haste to return to his bigass TV and Lazyboy nirvana when he beheld his Panang Curry Crispy Duck.  The duck indeed had a crispy exterior while maintaining a juicy and succulent interior. Its spicy coconut, veggie and peanut sauce was the perfect foil for said fowl and left a pleasing bead of moisture on our upper lips.
















At long last, I was able to do a face-plant into my desperately-desired Shrimp Pad Thai. It was sweet, it burned, it had crunch factor, and the toothsome and perfectly cooked rice noodles left my taste buds virtually sighing with contentment.  And how can a little carrot butterfly not make anyone smile?
















Quality is good here, but it comes with a justifiable price tag.  It was easy to spend over $75 before gratuity with two glasses of house chardonnay for me and two beers for my better half coupled with the four dishes reflected above.  On an ordinary day, I don't crave Thai food THAT hard for Jasmine's price point.

http://www.jasminebrandon.com/

Jasmine Thai 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, October 18, 2014

Jack's London Grill, St. Petersburg, FL

I'll be the first to admit that British Pub fare, up until now, has never done much to set my pulse to racing.  What I've tried locally has been fit for little more than suds-sopping...greasy, bland, overcooked and uninspiring. Apparently, I just haven't tried it when it was properly prepared by an actual chef who hails directly from the source of origin...Great Britain.  Thus, I was born again today in Jack's.

The website states that "we prepare all our food fresh daily, with the finest ingredients hand picked by our Master Chef Peter Leonavicius".  After tasting it, I have absolutely no difficulty believing this claim.  This cuisine, which I cannot with a clear conscience refer to as "pub grub", was delightful, creative, obviously prepared with care and presented piping hot (little makes me crankier than having lukewarm food plopped down in front of me). There was a short wait for our selections to exit the kitchen, but it was well worth it and our knowledgeable server (Leo) made sure we had cold beer to sip on while our meals were being prepared.

Hand-cut, beer-battered onion rings were sheer decadence. Crispy, non-greasy and right out of the fryer, they didn't even need an accompaniment...but the "chili jam" (which is pretty much like a really great sweet Thai chili dipping sauce) put a unique spin on this classic favorite.
















Because I'm inherently fearful of British Pub food (having been scarred by prior experiences), I played it safe and ordered the classic fish and chips.  A regular order (which I understand is massive) is priced at $10.99, but a downsized version is available before 6:30 PM (along with $3 pub wines and beer selections) so, anticipating something overly breaded, oily and fishy-tasting, I went with that.  Good thing I did...not because my spidey senses were giving me a good read, but because the Happy Meal version was more than I could finish.  The whitefish was delicate, moist, sweet and enrobed in more of the light beer batter that made the rings so stellar.  It was coupled with an off-the-chain house made tartar sauce that I couldn't get enough of...I'm not sure what they put in it, but I think it might've been crack.  The massive "chip" planks were twice-fried with a fine exterior salty crunch factor and tender insides.  The little side salad was very nicely dressed and more thoughtful than most in Tampa Bay (certainly more for any dining establishment of this price point).  Despite its tastiness, I didn't eat much of it because I was too enamored of the plethora of deep-fried decadence surrounding me to waste stomach space on greens.  I'll take a vitamin tomorrow.
















Bangers n' Mash were similarly impressive.  What tasted like artisanal sausages in natural casings (intensely flavored with spices that lent a little kick of heat at the end) were perfectly grilled and presented atop a delectable mound of garlic and herb mashed potatoes that had been slathered in homemade wild mushroom gravy. Yummzzzamillion!
















It was a ridiculous idea to order dessert when we couldn't even wrangle down our entrees, but of course we did it anyway (being hedonists to the highest power).  The moist apple and cranberry bread pudding was a fine rendition that provided a welcome reminder that it actually IS autumn even if Tampa Bay temps aren't currently cooperating.  Chocolate and caramel sauces added a nice touch.
















The restaurant is housed in an old Pizza Hut location and you will pretty much be cognizant of that, but the interior is clean and comfortable...albeit a tad spartan.  Chef stopped by to ensure that we were pleased (we were) and was happy to chat a little about his methods.  Our menu selections were all outstanding and ridiculously affordable.  Everything pictured plus two beers apiece set us back $43 before gratuity.  A fantastic experience overall.

Jacks London Grill on Urbanspoon
My blog entries contain the unmitigated, and sometimes unforgiving, dining truths and perceptions I experience as an ordinary, anonymous 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, October 11, 2014

Caffé Italia, Riverview, FL

I have no idea what Riverview ever did to deserve a shining epicurean gem of CaffĂ© Italia's ilk, but it must've done it in a previous life.  For now, I'm not going to ponder the whys and hows, but simply count my blessings and pray that my fellow Brandonites give this place the support and respect it deserves.  If you don't, I'll be forced to remind you that "this is why we can't have nice things" over a tasty repast at Crapplebee's on SR 60.

Chef Franco LoRe, formerly of the now defunct Laughing Cat in Ybor, doesn't miss a beat in his new, smaller digs. The tiny place, tucked away in a strip mall on Big Bend Road, makes up for what it lacks in ambiance with quality, quantity and a generous BYOB policy.  While no alcohol is served on the premises, diners are encouraged to bring their own.  There's no corkage fee if you tote along wine glasses and a $10 per table charge if you don't.  Since wine can often ratchet a tab up by 50% or more for UD and me, that's a bargain I can firmly stand behind.  We arrived at 4:30 on a Saturday and had the place to ourselves until it began filling up half an hour later with fellow wine-carrying diners.
















We received excellent service from Greg, who popped a loaf of fine Italian bread into the oven as soon as we arrived and deposited it on our table, hot and crispy, within 10 minutes.  Greg divulged that the bread was not made onsite, but that it is locally sourced...however, had I not asked, I never would've guessed that it hadn't just been freshly baked to order.















Melenzana Rollatini practically melted on the tongue.  The eggplant had nary a hint of bitterness and was slathered with ricotta and melted mozzarella goodness, rolled and topped with an uber-perfect tangy tomato basil marinara.  We asked for an extra order of sopping bread to insure that not a drop of THAT sauce remained on the plate.















Wild Mushroom Soup was sheer nirvana.  I'm not sure anyone can top Cafe Ponte's Mushroom Bisque, but it has certainly met its match in Chef LoRe's sherry-riche rendition.  I suppose it depends on whether one prefers ones creamed fungi savory and homogeneous or boozy and chunky.  Yes, please!
















My $17.95 entree of Pappardelle Piemontese could've fed a third-world village.  Almost an embarrassment of riches, the behemoth platter of wide, creamy, al dente noodles was liberally laden with salty prosciutto, sweet peas and savory wild mushrooms.  To ratchet its hail damage factor a notch higher, all components were awash in a decadent 2,000-calorie-per-tablespoon Alfredo sauce (caloric content of the sauce is just a ballpark estimate...it might've been higher, so wear stretch pants).  I had to bring about 75% of it home with me...but on the positive side, I got to enjoy the leftovers for the next two days.  Plate sharing is allowed with a $5.00 surcharge, which is probably a good way to go unless you're a lumberjack, eating for quadruplets or training for a triathlon.
















My porcine-loving better half selected a massive, breaded and fried, tender and juicy dinosaur pork chop crammed with prosciutto and provolone cheese. Just in case a pound of protein wasn't enough, the entree was flanked by penne in vodka tomato cream sauce and some surprisingly tasty and crisp veggies swimming in garlic butter (we tend to eschew veggies here at the Dog House...and, yes, we know about that annoying food pyramid but largely choose to focus on the top two tiers).
















Who in the hell orders dessert after all this?  As it turns out, we do.  The "happy ending" options were standard issue for the most part (flourless chocolate cake, cheesecake and tiramisu), but we couldn't say "no" to house made cannoli.  As wrong as it seems to state that a cannoli in East Hillsborough county trumped the ones we tasted in Italy, it did.  I loved the sturdy, cookie-like, cinnamon-spiced shell and its silken, ricotta cream filling was off the chain.
















This is big-city food in a small town with the option to BYOB.  Hit it or you'll regret not doing so. Including the very reasonable corkage fee we incurred, our dinner tab came to $80 and we would've been completely satisfied ordering far less.

Caffe Italia 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.