Saturday, July 27, 2013

A Delightful Tampa Outpost

Many moons ago when I was a telephone man, GTE would send us out on carrier repeater runs from time to time. One of the central offices on our route was the Hyde Park central office. This was an interesting three story brick building inhabited, we were told, by the ghost of a long gone phone man who was apparently despondent over contract negotiations.

After doing whatever it was that phone guys did, we would stop in for a bite and some refreshment at an eating establishment outside of the C.O. I have no idea what is was called, and the name changed many times over the last forty years. Today this place has been reincarnated as The Outpost Tap House and Tavern on Kennedy.

The interior has been completely redone. It is modern, clean, and sparkling with wood and chrome. It is no longer the greasy spoon that I remember from so many years ago. The dining area has been outfitted with 15 flat screen TVs which would make game day a real joy.

The Belle of Ballast Point and I stopped in for lunch today and we were very impressed with the food, the decor, and most especially by the friendly people who catered to our every whim. Karisa was our server and she was instrumental in making our visit a most enjoyable one.

There are so many craft beers available on tap and in bottles that is was a real chore trying to make a decision. Karisa suggested a beer flight. Well, all right then, bring it on.

Starting on the left, we sampled the Sweetwater Seasonal, Blue Point Toasted Lager, Magic Hat Seasonal, and the Fox Barrel Blackberry. The Toasted Lager, and Blackberry were two interesting and flavorful brews, but my favorite was the Sweetwater while the Belle chose the Magic Hat. After polishing off the flight we ordered a couple of pints of our favorites.

When Pigs Fly just hollered out to me. I love all things porky and these sesame glazed, crispy "pig wings" with cucumber ginger slaw were a taste sensation.

I probably didn't need more food, but the little piglet in me couldn't resist the Tampa Cheese Steak sandwich with shaved rib eye, provolone, and caramelized onions on Ybor City Cuban bread. This was a delicious and very filling sandwich. It came with a choice of crispy fries or a fruit bowl that I really didn't need, but I ate it all. I should have gotten a glutton's T-shirt as a reward.

My bride was ecstatic with her BeerLT, a crispy bacon, lettuce, and tomato sandwich on beer battered sourdough bread.

She had asked for the optional fried egg upgrade. The kitchen forgot the egg, but Karisa promptly corrected that slight oversight. My bride had consumed half of the sandwich sans egg, but we slid the egg on the other half. The Belle said the sandwich was good with or without, but that BeerLT was elevated to great gastronomic heights with the addition of that egg. The fries were about the best either of us could remember.

The Outpost is a real winner. With all food and adult beverages, our bill came to a reasonable $54. Karisa was deserving of the 20% that we added.

The Outpost on Urbanspoon 

The Outpost on Foodio54

Yes, I Believe I Will

Friday, July 26, 2013

Needing A Medicinal Beer And Life Jacket

It was a really rough start to a day last week in New Orleans. We got blown up and sunk! No one warned us we were going to be blown up and sunk. It happened so fast we didn't even have time for one final adult beverage. Holy crap, was that ever traumatic.

Here is my sad tale of woe.

My bride and I were in town for a four day romp through this gastronomic paradise. After breakfast on the third day out, we Piglets on Parade decided to visit the National WWII Museum. I was anxious to do The Final Mission, USS Tang Submarine Experience.

This is a spectacular, hands-on exhibit, and if you have any interest in submarines (I know I do), you really need to visit this exhibit. When you enter this replica of the Tang, you are assigned a duty station with bells, whistles, wheels, lights and all manner of sub stuff. You can spin the wheels and poke buttons while the boat commander launches a surface torpedo attack on Japanese vessels.

You can see torpedoes being launched, see the enemy ships exploding, hear the sounds, and feel the blasts. How exciting! We seem to be winning the battle when all of a sudden you see and feel a horrible blast and the boat goes dark. One of our torpedoes has circled back and blown us up. We are sinking and most of us don't survive. That was our Final Mission.

I really need a freakin' beer.

There was a taxi waiting for us just outside of the museum and we asked the driver to whisk us away to Deanie's Seafood in the Quarter. We had heard that the food was pretty good, the prices were more reasonable than some other nearby venues, and the beer was really cold.

Deanie's is a sparkling place with a lot of glass and chrome, and very pleasant workers. We were almost immediately guided to our table and presented with water and menus. Both the Belle and I requested a couple of bottles of Dixie. When in New Orleans...

When our beers arrived we were also presented with a complimentary serving of the biggest hush puppies I had ever seen. Whoa! Those weren't hush puppies. Those hummers were boiled new potatoes with a savory dusting of Old Bay (or something similar). Those potatoes were warm and oh so good slathered with a little butter. A real pleasant surprise.

I decided on a light lunch since we had plans for a gut-busting dinner that night. My dozen on the half shell looked good, but they weren't all that cold. Some even verged on warm.

The Belle fared much better with her choice of Louisiana blue crab meat stuffed into a natural shell and baked to a golden brown. I had a taste and it was absolutely wonderful - zesty and delicious.

Also tipping the "Yummy" scale in a positive direction were the ubiquitous char-grilled oysters, apparently a New Orleans staple.

Lunch with several beers came to $63.76 and we added 20% for our server.

Deanie's wasn't what I would call spectacular, but it hit the proverbial spot, especially after being sunk in a submarine.

Deanie's Seafood on Urbanspoon

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Goin' To The Grocery

Don't be a-frettin', this isn't about a trip to Publix, where shopping is an adventure.

For our last night in the crescent city I booked a table for the Belle of Ballast Point and myself at the historic La Petite Grocery on Magazine Street.

In March of 2004, La Petite Grocery opened its doors in the same building that, almost 100 years earlier, started as a very popular full service grocery store with a barn in back to house delivery carriages and horses.

The carriages and horses are gone, as is the grocery, but La Petite Grocery still exudes the warmth and charm of old New Orleans.

Our reservation was for 6:30 which apparently is early for New Orleans diners, so we had the dining room pretty much to ourselves. Emily was the lovely lass who catered to our every whim.

Our first whim was to enjoy a cocktail called Delayed Departure, a delightful, citrusy concoction that is new to the menu. I believe it consisted of Bols Genever, liqueur de violette and possibly St. Germain with a hint of elderberry flowers. I can't give you a better description, other than to say it was so good we had two each.

While we are on the subject of adult beverages, we requested a bottle of a well structured Greek wine with intense fruit aromas and a pleasant flavor imparted by oak barrel aging to accompany the rest of our meal. The Gai'a Agiorgitiko paired nicely with our appetizers and entrées.

To begin her gastronomic journey, my lovely bride requested the savory beet salad adorned with pickled onions, garden veggies, and goat cheese.

I have never met an octopus that I didn't like or could turn down, and I swooned over my griddled octopus with roasted eggplant, cherry tomatoes, fried chickpeas and annatto. That octopus was tender and delicious.

I guess I was feeling a little fishy that night, and after several days of heavy food, I chose something a little lighter for my main dish - the grilled grouper with garden veggies. The grouper was moist, flavorful, and flaked nicely when forked. A side of grits rounded out this yummy creation.

For her entrée, my bride ordered the roasted hanger steak with grilled vidalia onions, okra, popcorn rice and bordelaise. The Belle shared some of her steak with me, and it was divine - tender, juicy, and packed with flavor. Looking at this photo, I am tempted to lick the computer screen. The steak was that good.

We had to pass on dessert. After four days of glorious gluttony, we two piglets were stuffed. At this point we were concerned that we might have to pay an over-eaters surcharge on our flight back to Tampa.

La Petite Grocery provided a grand ending to our gastronomic adventures in the crescent city. Our total bill for the evening came to $203.04. We added 20% for Emily.

Editor's note: The Oracle dines anonymously and we pay full price for all that we consume. Restaurants do not buy our reviews.

La Petite Grocery on Urbanspoon

la Petite Grocery on Foodio54 

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

A Culinary Destination In Carrollton

A couple of realizations hit us as we sat in the hotel bar back in the central business district (CBD) after our dining adventure at Boucherie. One realization was, unless you live in the Carrollton District of New Orleans or have your own vehicle, you really have to want to dine at Boucherie.

The second realization was that dining at Boucherie was so worth any hassles in getting there and back. The getting there by taxi part from the CBD wasn't so bad. Trying to get a taxi to come out to pick us up was the real nightmare. From the call to the pick-up took an hour.

Setting the transportation issues aside, Boucherie is a superb restaurant residing in a converted wooden house in a quiet neighborhood that showcases, what chef Nathaniel Zimet calls, "fine dining for the people". That translates to elevating typically common southern foods to glorious new heights.

We had made the required reservations several weeks earlier, so upon our arrival we were promptly seated. Since the evening was still young and the crowds hadn't arrived yet, we had our choice of indoor or outdoor seating.

The interior of Boucherie was so warm and charming we elected to sit inside where Hope, our very lovely server, presented us with menus, water, and took our drink orders. My bride, the Belle of Ballast Point, was a little hesitant to order the intriguing Carrot Cilantro Margarita with Cazadores Blanco Tequila, carrot juice, Cointreau, Moscato d'asti, muddled cilantro and lime.

After assurances from Hope that this was a good choice, the Belle acquiesced. I chose the more traditional Sazerac with Jim Beam rye, herbsaint rinse, Peychaud and Angostura bitters with a twist.

Both cocktails were excellent, but the carrot juice margarita took a couple of sips to settle in. The brain tells the taste buds, expect "margarita", but that's not the signal the taste buds send back to the brain. There was a moment or two of confusion between the buds and the brain, but after the third sip, everyone was happy.

My bride started her meal with the simple, yet complex Grilled Heart Of Romaine Caesar Salad with Parmesan Reggiano and basil croutons.

While she was munching away on her salad, I was approaching gastronomic orgasm (I said approaching) with the Hamachi Sashimi with pickled vegetables.

That fish was so deliciously fresh one could have imagined it swimming to the table. The pickled vegetables were a very pleasant departure from the ubiquitous pickled ginger normally served with a dish of this type. In the spoon was a savory soy based dipping sauce and there was a dab of sriracha to add a dash of heat.

For her main dish, my bride requested the Smoked Wagyu Beef Brisket with garlicky Parmesan fries. To say this brisket was good, hardly does it justice. It transcended good with its slightly smokey, but perfectly cooked, juicy and tender texture.

Oh, heavens to Murgatroid, here comes another near gastronomic orgasm (I said near), the Pan Seared Duck Breast with creamed corn and cracklins, roasted blueberries and Shimeji mushrooms.

A few simple southern ingredients elevated to startling new heights best described as lip-smacking good. The duck was cooked to a perfect medium rare. Shimeji, by the bye, is a group of edible mushrooms native to East Asia.

My bride and I have dined at some pretty spectacular restaurants on this trip to New Orleans, but I am going to have to declare that with the innovative and saporous delights presented to us at Boucherie, this was the pinnacle of our culinary adventures in New Orleans, and we are not through yet. 

Hope threatened us with great bodily harm if we didn't have dessert, so we had it; Krispy Kreme bread pudding for the Belle and the Thai chili chocolate chess pie for me...or, was it the other way around? Either way, both were excellent.

Hope didn't really threaten us. She was a sweetheart, and provided great service.


I almost forgot - with dinner, my bride and I shared a bottle of a superior red from Macedonia, the Tikves Barovo '10, a perfectly balanced blend of Vranec and Kratosija, that was extremely rich, powerful and long lasting on the palate with delicate fruit flavors on the nose.

As though the drinks, wine and food weren't enough to have us quivering in ecstasy, there was the bill: $132.80. Of course, we added 20% for Hope.

I trust I won't spoil things for future diners at Boucherie, but back home in Tampa, that meal could easily have cost twice as much. Now, where's that damn taxi?

Boucherie on Urbanspoon

Boucherie on Foodio54

Editor's note: The Oracle dines anonymously and we pay menu prices for all that we consume. Restaurants do not buy our reviews.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Let's Refocus For A Minute

Thank you Rick Scott for standing up for my daughter.

Piglets On Parade In The Big Easy

"I had left home (like all Jewish girls) in order to eat pork and take birth control pills. When I first shared an intimate evening with my husband I was swept away by the passion (so dormant inside myself) of a long and tortured existence. The physical cravings I had tried so hard to deny finally and ultimately sated... but enough about the pork." ~ Roseanne (American actress and comedian)

Do you get the feeling that the centric point of this epicurean essay might just happen to be about...pork? If so, then welcome to Cochon, at 930 Tchoupitoulas Street, where Executive Chef Donald Link oversees the creation and preparation of the traditional Cajun Southern dishes he grew up with. Cochon works with locally sourced pork, fresh produce and seafood, "focusing on traditional methods, creating authentic flavors of Cajun country."

We Piglets paraded into Cochon on our second night in New Orleans. We had made reservations a couple of weeks in advance so we were promptly guided to our table and presented with menus. There was so much porky goodness on that menu that our minds became boggled. We needed something to steady our nerves. A pint of Tin Roof Bandit Blonde beer for my lady, and a pint of Chafunkta's Voo Ka Ray IPA for moi.

Once we were properly medicated we were ready to place our orders. First off, how 'bout a couple of appetizers? Well, all right then, we'll have the smoked pork ribs with watermelon pickle and fried eggplant with liver cheese and cured pork belly. I don't believe we could have made better choices...more choices, of course, but we needed to save some space for our entrées.

Those ribs were so tender, juicy, and flavorful with the sauce and watermelon pickles adding a perfect contrast between sweetness and piquancy. The meat seemed to melt away from the bone.

Eggplant is not one of the veggies I would normally order when dining out, but I couldn't resist this eggplant, liver cheese, with pork belly. Let's get real here - everything tastes better with a bit of belly, and liver cheese has been a southern staple since - well, forever - and, it's usually made with pork livers, pork, pork fat, salt and reconstituted onion. My bride, who is not a liver fan, even commented on how porky good this dish was.

For my main dish I requested the Louisiana cochon with turnips, cabbage, pickled peaches and cracklins. Oh my, more delicious pork with a daily helping of vegetables, and I love cracklins.

The cracklins were good and crispy, the veggies and au jus was pleasing, but for me, the meat was too overcooked to rave about.

My bride had chosen the evening's pork special as her main dish; slow roasted ham, red pea and turnip stew with roasted cherry tomatoes. She wasn't real happy with the ham. It was just too fatty for her, but it wasn't the cured ham that people who don't like you make you eat around the holidays.

Whoa! One dish was too done and the other too fatty, you say? Well, the Belle prefers meat cooked past medium and I like fatty pork. We swapped dishes and both of us were happier than two piglets had a right to be. The evening was saved!

I could have walked out the door a fat, happy piglet, but then our server just had to bring the dessert menu. Other than me, there is little in life that pleases my bride more than something with chocolate, so there was no exiting the building without a chunk of heavenly German chocolate cake.

While the Belle polished off that cake, I had another pint of the Chafunkta. We were both mellow as Jello on the way back to our hotel, and just as jiggly.

There were some hits and misses at Cochon, but we couldn't complain about the bill - $108.66, plus we tacked on a 20% gratuity.

Cochon on Urbanspoon

Cochon on Foodio54

Monday, July 22, 2013

Guten Appetit, Y'all

Let's start this epicurean essay with a photo of a prodigious pile of palate pleasing porcine parts plated for your pleasure.

Composing that opening line was as much a strain on the mind as was trying to ingest all of this John Besh creation, Choucroute Garnie Maison. My abdominal food receptor was hard pressed to pack in so much delicious food, but my buds of taste were thrilled beyond measure with that huge, perfectly prepared smoked pork shank, melt in the mouth Mangalista braised pork belly chunks, and a brontosaurus sized bratwurst cradled on a bed of savory house-made sauerkraut with a couple of new potatoes tossed in for good measure.

Down! Down! Damned cholesterol. Get down! Oh, to heck with it.

In planning our recent dining adventure to New Orleans I knew I would have to include Lüke, Besh's homage to the grand old Franco-German brasseries that once reigned in New Orleans. Lüke did not disappoint either my bride or myself. Service was friendly and efficient, the menu was compact, but not lacking in taste tempting delights.

We began our evening with a couple of glasses of Lüke Fru, a Louisiana blonde lager. To accompany my beverage I requested a dozen P & J oysters on the half shell. These mollusks were perfectly shucked and delicious. Presentation left a lot to be desired though.

While enjoying my oysters, the Belle of Ballast Point ordered the Flamenkuche, a thin Alsacien onion tart, with bacon, and Emmenthaler cheese.  This tart was like a flatbread smothered in melted cheese with a sprinkling of crispy, yet fatty bacon, and caramelized onions. This was a yummy tart, and who doesn't relish a tasty tart now and again?

As a side note, my Northwest Florida cracker upbringing caused me to mull over a couple of pronunciation choices for flamenkuche, both eliciting a private chuckle. Not until I got home and went to the Google did I discover the 'a' is soft and the ending sounds like that in 'whoosh'.

I have already gushed over my entrée, now it's my bride's turn. The Belle ordered the Poulet Grand-Mère (Grandma's hen), a herb roasted local chicken, with Allan Benton’s bacon, farmers' market vegetables and whipped potatoes. I can't speak for anyone else's Grandma, but mine never cooked a chicken as good as this one.

Back home in Tampa, we probably would have paid close to $200 for a meal of this magnitude. To our great surprise, this feast was a mere $118.53. Of course, we added 20% for superior service.

Whoops, I'm not quite done yet. To polish off the evening, my bride requested an order of bread pudding that she declared to be really good...but, not quite as good as mine (sorry John, but I'd be glad to send you my recipe).

Our dining experience at Lüke was one of the very best during our four day trip to this beautiful city. I can only wish we had a restaurant like it back in Tampa.

Lüke on Urbanspoon Luke Restaurant on Foodio54

Sunday, July 21, 2013

To Kiss The Sea On The Lips

Few places on our travels cause my taste receptors to quiver as much as when we stumble upon a sign that advertises, Oyster Bar. Like a sailor responding to the Siren's call, I find myself being lured inside to savor a dozen or so of these gifts from the sea, "small and rich, looking like little ears enfolded in shells, and melting between the palate and the tongue like salted sweets." ~ Guy de Maupassant (1850-1893) 'Bel Ami'.

Just like the Siren's call leading the sailor to his doom, such is the possibility with the oyster bar. Is it really an oyster bar, or just a bar that happens to serve oysters shucked earlier in the day to be served to unsuspecting or unenlightened patrons?

And, so it was the other day on Iberville, a block off of Canal Street in New Orleans, that my buds of taste began tingling. There was a bar...with oysters! Could it truly be an oyster bar?

Composite photo - JLR and Felix's
 We stepped inside, and yes, Felix's Restaurant and Oyster Bar possessed a real, honest to gracious goodness, oyster bar. Giddy with excitement, we plopped ourselves on a couple of the stools at the bar and were greeted by the mother shucker of all shuckers, Mr. Michael Jackson (no, the other one).

My beautiful bride, the Belle of Ballast Point, who is not an aficionado of raw oysters ever since she discovered that they are alive when shucked, ordered a garden salad. I, on the other hand, growing up in Northwest Florida eating these tasty treasures from the Gulf Coast - Apalachicola, Texas, and of course Louisiana - had to have some.

I don't remember ordering, nor do I remember Mr. Jackson asking (I think he just knew), but almost immediately perfectly shucked oysters began appearing on the "oyster" bar.

These oysters were perfect. They didn't have that pre-chewed look you get when the shucker doesn't know what they are doing (Tampa, I'm talking to you), they were cut loose from the bottom of the shell, and that glorious liquor was not poured off (still talking to you, Tampa).

Popeye, Michael's coworker asked, "Don't you want crackers and sauce with those oysters?" I replied, "Good tasting oysters don't need anything, and these are good tasting." Popeye smiled and nodded approvingly.

After polishing off a dozen on the half shell, I couldn't resist a dozen of Felix's char-grilled oysters. These hummers were so tasty, savory, and delicious they almost brought tears of joy to my eyes. I am even now drooling at the memory.

Felix's Restaurant and Oyster Bar is home to an authentic oyster bar, with a professional shucker. This eatery is bright, shiny, and clean. Felix's is the real deal, not one of those "packed to the rafters" tourist destinations scattered about in the Quarter. The staff and management at Felix's are warm and friendly folks who make you feel glad you dropped in.

All food and several beers came to $63.76. We tacked on 20% for great service.

Felix's Restaurant & Oyster Bar on Urbanspoon

Felix's Restaurant and Oyster Bar

Editor's note: The Oracle dines anonymously and we pay for all that we consume.