Tuesday, November 26, 2013

It's Back To The Outback For Us

My sound receptors immediately perk up when they hear the phrase "bone-in ribeye", and they have been hearing that phrase a lot on the "teevee" of late. Outback Steakhouse has been running ads for a limited time special, the butcher cuts. These include a bone-in pork porterhouse, ribeye, and New York strip.

Cooking any of those cuts bone-in can only enhance the flavor, and I knew I just had to have that ribeye. So last night the Belle of Ballast Point and I climbed into the pouch of the family wallaby and hopped off to the Outback on Henderson Boulevard in Tampa.

We were greeted at the door and escorted to our requested booth. Soon, Ashley, our server for the evening appeared with menus and gave us a few minutes to decide on our drink orders. To wet our whistles after that long hop from SOG City, we decided to indulge in a couple of Old Fashioned cocktails. We decided on the old Old Fashioned as opposed to the new Old Fashioned. Yes, both are on the Outback menu.

The difference in these Old Fashioned cocktails is the old one is made with Makers Mark and the new one with Jack Daniels Tennessee Honey.

One of a mere two glitches in our Outback experience was our drinks. They were made with the Jack Daniels instead of the requested Makers Mark. The drinks were good, just not what we asked for. We did the only sensible thing we could do...we drank them anyway. Waste not, want not is our motto.

While we were sipping our cocktails, Ashley brought our included house salads and the loaf of bread for which Outback is known.

I am including this picture not so much for the salad or bread, which is really good, but for that tub of creamery butter shown in the lower right side of the photo. I shall now be tacky and point out that this is a far cry from the rock hard, foil wrapped pats of butter we were served at Malio's Prime in downtown Tampa. I still shake my head in wonderment and disappointment at that memory.

After a couple of weeks seeing that Outback commercial, I knew that I wanted the bone-in ribeye, but the menu didn't indicate the portion size. Ashley checked with the kitchen and they advised it was indeed 16 ounces. Well then, bring-er on and make it medium rare. The kitchen also tossed my steak on the wood fired grill for a minute or two to add more delicious char to the outside. That ribeye was a tender, juicy hunk of perfectly prepared goodness.

I keep hearing and reading negative comments about "chain" restaurants, but this is the second "chain" ribeye I have enjoyed (the first was at Longhorn on South Dale Mabry) that was so far superior to the $47 Malio's ribeye that was so tough and devoid of flavor that I couldn't even force myself to eat it. The $47 bone-in ribeye at Eddie V's a few weeks later still couldn't compare with Longhorn and Outback. And, how much was that Outback ribeye? How about $29! I think that was the same price as the Longhorn steak.

What's up with these high priced and pretentious steakhouses? Have they brainwashed the dining public into believing the higher the price, the better the quality? It certainly appears that is the case.

My bride suffered the only other glitch in our dining experience at Outback. Her 6 ounce filet, while so very tender and juicy, was prepared medium rare as opposed to the requested medium. She let that slide since filets can tolerate a little less cooking time. Still, the customer should get what they ask for.

That loaded baked potato might have made up for the under-cooked steak. The Belle was in full swoon mode over that spud. She commented that you don't see baked taters being offered that much any more, and even then, rarely as good as this one.

To accompany our steaks, we chose a delightful bottle of Argentine Alamos Malbec.

When I was presented with the check, I asked my bride how much she thought this meal with wine and cocktails was going to set us back. She proffered a guess of $150. Nay, nay, my lovely lady, says I, our bill is but a pittance, $90.40. Of course, we tacked on 20% for Ashley.

How about that! Less than $100 (before tip) instead of the $200 to $300 that we have shelled out at a few of Tampa's magniloquent steak joints. I'm good with that.

Outback Steakhouse on Urbanspoon

Outback Steakhouse on Foodio54

Monday, November 25, 2013

Happy Birthday SKG

My most favorite food blogger in Georgia, Some Kinda Good, is celebrating her second birthday. Actually, Rebekah is the only food blogger in Georgia...at least the only one I follow.

From Rebekah: "Some Kinda Good is two. Happy Blog-iversay to me! The year 2013 has been filled with amazing opportunities, complete with my local TV debut on Statesboro Cooks, lots of feature writing, live cooking demonstrations, volunteering and more. What a year!"

I have never met Rebekah in person, but from her writing style, sense of humor, and sense of food, I know that she is on my "bucket list" of people to met before I kick...well, you know.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

The Sweet Polly And Jolly Jon Radio Show

I can't imagine that there was anyone who was not glued to their radio between 10:30 and noon today, unless you happened to attend this event at Square 1 Burgers & Bar in person. Two of the Bay areas top food bloggers were interviewed on 1250 WHNZ. Sweet Polly, the high priestess of The Epicurean Perils of Sweet Polly, shared the air waves with The SOG City Oracle during this remote broadcast.

Sweet Polly and I were interviewed by Ian Beckles, the most gregarious and charming host of his program Flavor of Tampa Bay. From Mr. Beckles's Facebook page earlier today: "Some of Tampa's top food bloggers are on Flavor of Tampa Bay right now. Tune in now till noon to hear from "Epicurean Perils of Sweet Polly" and "The SOG City Oracle" about their favorite dishes around Tampa Bay. 1250 AM or whnz.com/listen."

My friend and fellow blogger, Sweet Polly
Now this is how we did it at WSCM Radio, 1290 on your dial, Tall Tower Town and Country Radio, back in the sixties.

Well, all right, it's your show. We'll do it your way.

For those unfamiliar with Ian Beckles, I provide this little snippet from Wikipedia: "Beckles was drafted in the fifth round of the 1990 NFL draft and started immediately for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at right guard. The rookie was a bright addition to an interior line that had struggled with guards Tom McHale, John Bruhin and Carl Bax.

Beckles became a mainstay during his seven seasons with the Bucs, along with left tackle Paul Gruber and center Tony Mayberry, while the left guard and right tackle positions were in flux from season to season. During his time, the Bucs had 1,000 yard rushers and Reggie Cobb (1992) and Errict Rhett (1994, 1995).

Beckles, who wore jersey no. 62, departed as a free agent after the 1996 season, inking a deal with Philadelphia."

While Ian may have been thrilled to have Sweet Polly and I on his radio show, it was my bride, the Belle of Ballast Point, who was thrilled to meet Beckles. She is the football fanatic in the family. I'm just the cook.

All of us had a very enjoyable morning at Square 1 Burgers & Bar on Henderson in Tampa this morning. We were treated like stars by staff and management. It was a real thrill to be invited to Ian Beckles's program, Flavor of Tampa Bay.

The  Flavor Of Tampa Bay radio show, hosted by Ian Beckles, airs Sundays 10:30 a.m.-noon, 1250 WHNZ.

Friday, November 22, 2013

The Day Kennedy Died

PANAMA CITY BEACH, Florida, November 22, 1963 - This sunny but crisp autumn day started like most others. Betty was screaming at the kids to get up, get dressed, "...eat your breakfast." That was my alarm clock, so I got up, got dressed and ready for work.

Work wasn't really work. I was an announcer, disc jockey, copy writer, news reporter, and assistant to the chief engineer at WSCM, Tall Tower Town and Country Radio, 1290 on the right side, the bright side of your radio dial. As a country music radio personality on what was eventually called the Redneck Riviera, you could say I was something of a celebrity. The talents of a young stud radio man were always in demand - if you get my drift.

As a consequence I most always looked forward to going to the station and getting The Jolly Jon Show on the air. There was no telling what the day might bring. Well, this day brought something that I don't believe any of us in America could have imagined.

WSCM was a little tea-pot of a radio station tucked into a tiny strip mall next to the Holiday Lodge Resort right next to the marina. The studio and office were the only two rooms. We shared a bathroom with everybody else who visited the marina. Our newsroom was a broom closet with a United Press International (UPI) teletype machine and was probably eight feet at most away from our mixing board.

There is no way I could tell you what was playing on the turntable when the teletype went wild around 12:30 that afternoon - ding, ding, ding, ding, ding, ding - and it kept going. Normally if there was a news bulletin the machine would ding three times and then quit. This time the damn thing wasn't quitting. I figured it was broken. I didn't want to open the mike and talk over that damn bell so I segued into another record.

When I opened the door to the broom closet, or rather newsroom, I was startled to see that UPI machine spewing paper. I ripped off the lead story.






And, a half hour after 1 p.m. CST:


When I realized the gravity of the situation, I quit even trying to play records. I left the mike open. Listeners could hear the teletype bell constantly dinging. I would race to the machine, rip off new copy and race back to the board to read the news.

I think I changed the roll of teletype paper at least once. I kept running, ripping, and reading. Not too long after President Kennedy's death was announced the UPI machine fell silent. The only sounds you could hear were the tears falling from the eyes of a heartbroken America.

Our station manager, Hal Cunningham, wrote a very moving eulogy honoring President Kennedy that I read on the air with The Battle Hymn Of The Republic by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir playing in the background.

Mr. Cunningham kept the eulogy, but we still have the choir.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

I'm Shocked...Simply Shocked

Urbanspoon has just published their list of Top New Restaurants of 2013 – US Edition. Two...just two Florida cities landed on that list, and just like last year, neither of those cities happen to be in Tampa Bay. Actually, that neither shocks nor surprises me. Many times I have suggested that this area lacks creativity and originality, or to put it in more polite terms, the Tampa area is the gastronomic armpit of the world.

So, who did make the list?


Another interesting tidbit offered by Urbanspoon that will undoubtedly be ignored by many restaurateurs in this area is this: "Expensive, fine dining was not popular again this year, with over 70% of our list falling in the $ (>$10) and $ ($10-15) price ranges on Urbanspoon. Restaurateurs are tapping into their traditional culinary skills, but presenting them in a casual, approachable style. Foams, French Champagne (unfortunately!), and tasting menus are out and barbeque and bourbon are in."

To experience restaurants in that 70% range the Oracle has been obliged to leave town for cities like Atlanta and New Orleans. Both cities made the Urbanspoon list and both have a plethora of acclaimed restaurants.

So, where do we dine in this part of the world? Looking at Urbanspoon Tampa Bay it appears that we dine at every Burger King, McDonald's, hole-in-the-mall pizza joint and sandwich shop that we can find. We rave over wings, food trucks and Publix Deli's, and some local foodies seem to love posting mouth-watering pictures of empty parking lots. Many of the so-called high end restaurants are high only in price while serving sub-par food because, as everyone around these parts knows, high prices mean high quality.

There are a few really spectacular restaurants in the Tampa area...really way too few. I have high hopes that one day Tampa Bay will land on the Urbanspoon Top Restaurants list, but 2013 is not our year.

If it was up to me, these are a few local restaurants that should have made the list:

Editor's Update 11/21/2013 at 6 PM: I may have to lighten up on Tampa Bay just a bit and suggest that Urbanspoon needs to reevaluate their standards for restaurant ratings.

I went to the websites and/or Facebook pages for each of the Florida restaurants that were included in the Top Restaurants listings. After perusing the menus and the blogger/reviewer comments, I didn't see anything that came close to the uniqueness or quality of the Tampa Bay restaurants that I suggested should have been included.

If those restaurants in Miami and Orlando are the best that Urbanspoon can come up with, then I think Urbanspoon needs to be rethinking their process.

I still stand by my opinion that too many Tampa Bay restaurants are simply boring. When dozens of menus are carbon copies, then there is a problem. As a consumer, why should I go to your to-die-for venue when there are a slew of places, much closer, who are serving essentially the same thing?

Personally, I am real tired of ahi tuna, mussels, and calamari.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Kebabing With Gengiz Khan

Our foodie friends, Sweet Polly and her Underdog, recently dined at Gengiz Khan Turkish Grill and Restaurant at 6102 South MacDill Avenue right here in SOG City (south of Gandy, Tampa). In her blog, Epicurean Perils of Sweet Polly, Polly and her Dawg raved, simply raved over their Turkish dining experience. My interest in this SOG City eatery was piqued.

Truth be told, I have never been particularly excited by Middle Eastern cuisine, but Sweet Polly has never led us astray. Her buds of taste are highly evolved, so if she says it's good, then we must go. Besides, this is a SOG City dining venue and we live in SOG City. It is our duty to support local businesses.

So, yesterday evening the Belle of Ballast Point and I fired up Rosie the family camel and made our way to the Khan. We arrived a little after five, so we had the place pretty much to ourselves. Alex greeted us at the door and guided us to a booth. She then presented us with water and menus, and since we were newbies she offered suggestions for adult beverages, appetizers and entrees.

There was but one Turkish wine available that evening, the Turkish Yakut. This wine is a blend of Öküzgözü, and Boğazkere. The Oküzgözü grape is a native Turkish red grape prolific around the mountainous Elazig region in eastern Turkey. This was a very drinkable everyday table wine: medium bodied, with light tannins...and, reasonably priced at $27.

The Yakut paired very nicely with both our appetizers and entrees. Gengiz also features a few tantalizing Turkish beers that I look forward to trying on a subsequent visit.

Alex suggested that since we appeared to be unfamiliar with Turkish foods that we start with the Mixed Hot Appetizer platter. This was a mix of zucchini pancake, falafel, rolled cheese pies, humus, and fried calamari.

This was a grand introduction to savory Turkish delights with a basket of accompanying pita triangles. The calamari was the most tender and flavorful incarnation of this ubiquitous staple of Tampa cuisine that I can remember.

My bride and I could probably have stopped eating with this platter. There was a lot of delicious food, but before we could take a deep breath, there was Alex with even more food. Our entrees had arrived!

The Belle chose the Iskender with melt in the mouth, shaved lamb served over sauteed pita bread, fresh tomato sauce, and a side of homemade yogurt. To kick up the heat factor a tad or two, a couple jalapeño peppers were provided. This was a huge plate of superb Turkish vittles that required a take-home box.

One of my favorite recipes at home is a braised lamb shank dish that I prepare with those shanks from Publix, where shopping is an adventure. When I saw the Baby Lamb Shank with eggplant on the menu, my slobber glands sprang to life and I knew I had to have a shank.

When Alex presented that dish, my eyes got almost as big as that lamb shank. "Baby" lamb shank you say? That shank was huge. If that was a baby, then the ones from Publix come from some sort of pygmy species found only on the island nation of Lilliput.

The lamb was fall-off-the-bone tender with creamy eggplant slices gently blanketing the lamb. As a side, both my bride and I enjoyed that perfectly prepared rice Bulgar.

Rosie, Incirlik dreamin'
There were several dessert choices that will have to wait until another time.

Our total for the wine and all of that delightful food came to a pleasing $80.09. We added a deserved 20% for our charming server Alex.

Middle Eastern cuisine is still not one of my all-time favorites, but Sweet Polly was right, "Dayum, Turkish food...where have you been all my life?"

Gengiz Khan on Urbanspoon

Gengiz Khan Restaurant on Foodio54

The Oracle does not trade glowing reviews in exchange for free food. If something sucks, we feel free to say so. We review anonymously and pay listed price for all that we consume. We also believe in rewarding the under paid, under appreciated food service workers with gratuities commensurate with provided service.