Tuesday, August 26, 2014

If You Don't Vote, Sit Down And Shut Up

And, for the incessant Republican robocallers: We voted for Charlie Crist. Florida has suffered enough at the hands of the Chief Executive Orifice Prick Scott. After Scott and his minions threw their support to Nan Rich, she was no longer a viable candidate. A vote for Rich would be the same as a vote for Scott.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

We Dallied In The Alley

We drove up to DeLand the other day to explore a couple of that town's gastronomic treasures. Unfortunately for us we only planned for one day up from Tampa and one day back. I say unfortunately because there are too many DeLand dining spots to cover in just one day or even two.

My bride and I did dinner at the Cress Restaurant and lunch the next day at Dally in the Alley. You may peruse our review of Cress by clicking HERE, but right now let's dally for a bit. Dally in the Alley is an urban bistro located at 110 Artisan Alley in DeLand's historic district. They feature locally sourced, seasonal ingredients on their lunch and dinner menus.

The Belle of Ballast Point and I had breakfast earlier at our hotel, but we decided a light lunch would be just perfect for our drive back to the gastronomic armpit of the world. Yes, Tampa, I'm talking to you.

Upon entering Dally we passed the day's menu board that displayed just a few of the tasty items available on this visit.

We were promptly seated and presented with menus and our beverage orders taken: a couple Cotton Mouth drafts, please Caroline. Cotton Mouth is similar to a Belgian pale ale, and paired well with my bride's choice of Deviled Eggs and Fried Cauliflower, and my pork belly sandwich.

The deviled eggs, presented in a small cast iron skillet, with an out-of-the-ordinary creamy, nutmeg base were a welcome change from the more traditional presentation. The fried cauliflower, one of my bride's new favorites, was enhanced with the addition of two dipping sauces; the slightly sweet tomato and the creamy aioli.

My pork belly sandwich was the Dally's take on the Vietnamese bánh mì with oven-roasted seasoned pork belly, spreadable pork liver pâté, fresh cucumber slices, cilantro, pickled carrots, jalapeños, and radishes. I find it pert near impossible to pass up anything with pork belly, and this sandwich was a winner.

Had time permitted, we would have dallied again at dinner time. On this visit, all food and adult beverages came to $48.99 with an additional 20% for our server Caroline.

Dally in the Alley Bistro on Urbanspoon

Dally in the Alley on Foodio54

My bride and I were truly impressed with this charming town, a quaint village with friendly people, and some really great food venues. On this visit we barely scratched the surface.

Here is my sense of the peace and serenity we found in DeLand:

Statue on Indiana Ave. next to the courthouse. Photo and computer effects by JLR.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

DeLand: A Gastronomic Destination

Several years ago the Belle of Ballast Point and I were in the bar car of an Amtrak train headed to our nation’s capital when the conductor hollered out, “D-land, next stop D-land!” Looking out the window it appeared that we were in the middle of woop woop, so we washed D-land from our minds with another sip of wine. We did ponder the possible existence of A-land, B-land, C-land, and so forth until the bar car closed for the night.

We later discovered that the name of the town places the emphasis on the second syllable, not the first, and DeLand really is not in the middle of woop woop. “Nestled to the west of Interstate 4 and surrounded by lakes, the St. Johns River, and beautiful and lush state and local parks, DeLand has grown into an impressive destination in the heart of Central Florida.”

This past week we took a two-day road trip up to DeLand to explore the dining options in this quaint, friendly, and eclectic small town. A small town, by the way, listed in a national survey as having one of the best “Main Streets” in America. Never again, after this trip, will we think of DeLand as simply an Amtrak whistle-stop.

From Tampa, my bride and I drove north on I-75, leaving the Interstate a little south of Ocala, and then into some lush central Florida countryside, getting lost only a few times. Warning: Do Not Trust Google Maps! Somehow, we found ourselves in Okahumpka. Yes, there is a place called Okahumpka. As the fates would have it, right at the junction of Florida 48 and 33 we spied Grandpa’s. We stopped for lunch.

For a mere $7 we got a huge pile of dirty rice, pulled pork, half a cobb of corn, grilled peppers, and a smoked sausage. One serving of all that delicious goodness was more than enough for the both of us. If you see Grandpa's food truck, you have to stop.

We finally pulled in to DeLand around 1:30, checked into our hotel, and took a nap in preparation for our 6 o’clock reservations at Cress Restaurant located in Historic Downtown DeLand.

Cress Chef and Co-Owner Hari Pulapaka, in addition to running the kitchen, is also an active, tenured, full-time Associate Professor (Ph.D.) of Mathematics and Computer Science at Stetson University. Hari‘s wife and Cress co-owner Jenneffer is an established podiatrist with a successful DeLand practice. By combining menu variety, atmosphere, ambiance, and a friendly and knowledgeable staff, Hari and Jenneffer have created a superior dining experience.

For the Belle and I, our dining experience began with prompt seating and an almost instantaneous presentation of an amuse bouche; a crunchy, flavorful squid ink croquette nestled atop pureed sweet potato. This was a delightful start to a fantastic dining adventure.

To accompany our victuals, we chose the Woop Woop Shiraz that was bursting with essences of blackberry, blueberry jam, and liquorice. Just so you know, Woop Woop is a much uttered knockabout colloquialism, referring to somewhere in the middle of nowhere. Woop Woop is quintessentially Australian for “out there.”

There were so many mouth-watering choices on the ever-changing menu that a decision was hard to come by. The Belle finally chose the, if you don’t get it then I will, Braised Black Angus Short Ribs with smoked onion crisps on a bed of probably the world’s best butternut squash and brown butter risotto. On the side was a serving of seasonal veggies including creamy eggplant that was buttery and melt in the mouth good. Said she, “That was the best eggplant I have ever had.”

I was torn between the short ribs and the Kurobuta Pork Chop. Since my bride went with the beef, I went with the most tender, juicy, succulent pork chop I have ever consumed. This grilled chop had the texture and mouth feel of a perfectly prepared medium rare filet mignon, and was served with a cherry gastrique, fennel, and mustard salad over a savory bean ragout.

Kurobuta (as it is known in Japan) or Berkshire pork is prized for juiciness, flavor, tenderness, and is pink-hued and heavily marbled. In other words, this chop was orgasmically good.

Between the ribs and the chop, it was not so much that we needed a dessert as it was; the Belle had to have the Chocolate Brulee Torte with a berry and walnut compote. Remember Sally at Katz’s Deli in the movie? Well, that is what I heard coming from my bride’s side of the table.

As if the ambiance, the service, and the food were not enough, all that we consumed came to a surprising $92.66. Of course, we added an additional 20% for Bartt our gregarious server who enhanced an already delightful evening.

Dining at Cress was certainly worth a two and a half hour drive from Tampa. Between dinner at Cress and our over-night hotel stay, we spent about $200, about what we would have paid for that dinner alone in Tampa.

I think it must be mentioned that while Cress is at the top of our list, it isn't the only dining option in DeLand that is worth exploring. We regret only planning an over-night stay. DeLand is a Florida treasure.

Cress Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Cress Restaurant on Foodio54

Friday, August 8, 2014

A South Tampa Bucket Of Goodness

Way back in time, January 2012 to be exact, I wrote this: "... in 1969 the Army PCSed me from Ft. Monmouth (the country club of the Army) to MacDill AFB (no more coal furnaces and open bay barracks). Life was good!

One of the first dining establishments I visited was a little family owned business located on Bayshore Boulevard at the foot of Gandy. Falge's had pretty good food at prices an Army Spec 4 could afford.

Eventually Falge's closed its doors and moved. When I say moved, I really mean moved. The entire building was uprooted and driven to a new location. There is some debate as to whether the building was moved once or twice, but the old Falge's was re-incarnated as a Pizza Hut before it finally closed its doors for good. Well, not quite for good.

The building, located in SOG City (South of Gandy), has found new life as Big Mo's Sports Bar at 6231 South Dale Mabry." 

That was then and since "then" Big Mo is no mo. They closed their doors some time ago, but the building is still there and has found new life as Buckets Grill & Comfort Food. We read about them in today's edition of the Tampa Bay Times, and since we like to support SOG City eateries we decide to pay them a lunch time visit today.

According to the Times article, Buckets is hoping to draw a lot of customers from MacDill AFB but let me tell you one or three things: the food, service, and prices should even draw folks from north of Gandy.

Ne Ne greeted us as soon as we walked through the door. We beat the heavy lunch crowds, so we were invited to sit where we pleased and Ne Ne said she would be right with us...and, she was. We were presented with menus and our drink orders were taken. My bride, the Belle of Ballast Point, had a coke and I requested a bottle of Bud.

The menu lists salads, sandwiches, burgers, wraps, wings, seafood platters, and comfort foods. The Belle has never met a meat loaf that she could turn down, so she chose the Homemade Meat Loaf with mashed taters, gravy, and a side of mixed veggies. That was a serious slab of meat loaf, definitely not the child's portion, and the Bucket didn't skimp on the veg, either.

If I were still in the Air Force (I served in both the Army and later the Air Force), after polishing off that loaf, I'd have to tell the Commander to put the war on hold while I take an after lunch snooze. That dish was good and filling.

It has been years since I have ordered a country-fried steak, but I did just that today. Lindsey's Country Fried Steak with gravy and the ubiquitous mashed taters was heavenly. The steak was tender and crispy with savory white gravy. My side of collard greens was perfection in a bowl.

The Bucket serves up some simple but tasty food. It isn't fancy or pretentious and there is no way we could complain about the prices. Both plates of food, a coke, and two Buds came to an unbelievable $19.14. Our $5 gratuity for Ne Ne brought our total up to just $24.14 for all of that gut-bustin' goodness.

Bucket's Grill & Comfort Food on Urbanspoon