One of the joys of being blissfully unemployed is the freedom to just pack our tushies into the family roadster and take a trip whenever the spirit moves us. Yesterday the spirit moved us to go back south to Ellenton, Florida to enjoy some more of what that burg has to offer.
On our last trip, we drove down yonder to feast on a ripper at Ripper's Roadstand. This time we decided to visit the Gamble Plantation and soak up some mid-19th century Florida history. According the Florida State Park Service website, "This antebellum mansion was home to Major Robert Gamble and headquarters of an extensive sugar plantation. It is the only surviving plantation house in South Florida."
We got a somewhat late start on our journey yesterday because we were busy gagging lollies. Consequently, by the time we found the plantation it was getting ready to close for lunch (11:45 to 12:45). No problemo! For we had a plan B, and that plan called for a lunch break of our own at the Hickory Hollow Carolina & Virginia Cookin' emporium at 4705 US Hwy 301 N. This turned out to be a first-rate plan B.
The parking lot was nearly empty as we parked our chariot around 11:30. We had our choice of tables and we were seated at a two-top with a large picture window. Carrie was our ever-so-charming server who catered to our every whim; no matter how ridiculous...well, mostly. We were presented with menus and our drink orders, from the extensive and eclectic beer menu, were taken.
My bride had a plebeian Miller Lite while I, with the more adventurous buds of taste, had a Colorado brewed Billy's Chilies, a light-bodied ale infused with Serrano, habanero, jalapeno, Anaheim, and Fresno chili peppers. That was a tasty, but muy caliente ale. I wimped out and toned it down for my second beer, a Cigar City Puppy's Breath porter.
After perusing the Hickory Hollow menu, it was obvious that this was not one of those ubiquitous BBQ joints serving the same stuff as every other joint. The Hollow displayed some serious originality in putting together their lunch and dinner menus. The diner may also choose from the dinner menu at lunchtime. How refreshing! Another thing that became obvious while we were waiting for our food was the fact that we beat the teeming lunch crowds that quickly packed the place.
At the Hollow you may order the fried soft shell crabs as an appetizer or as a platter with two sides. I chose the appetizer of three crabs and they were fried to perfection.
For her entree, the Belle of Ballast Point requested the Pork Barbeque Platter with two sides and two corn fritters. The pulled pork was tender, juicy, and the diner had a choice of sauces: either the tomato based or the savory North Carolina vinegar based. My bride was practically in a swoon over her side of corn pudding. She also had the black eyed peas, and while good, they were eclipsed by the corn pudding.
I should mention that the vegetable menu was a thing apart from the ordinary. It consisted of a wooden cut-out of a pig with veggie choices attached with Velcro, and the whole shebang encased in a plastic envelope. Carrie explained the reasoning: the veggie choices change on a daily basis depending on what is farm fresh that day. So, now we know.
On to my entree the crispy on the outside and so juicy and tender on the inside Char-grilled Garlic Pork Shanks. There were two of these porcine delights on my platter and I am still in porky awe at the goodness of these two shanks. They alone were worth the trip from Tampa. As my two sides, I had the black eyed peas and a bowl of some of the best collards found anywhere in Florida.
We have enjoyed barbeque at several joints in Tampa, but nothing compares with our dining experience at the Hickory Hollow. The delicious food and four beers came to a little over $38. We rounded up to $40 and gave Carrie a 20% gratuity based on that amount. Also, cash only - no checks or credit cards.
I would be remiss if I didn't gush over those fan-freakin'-tastic corn fritters: crispy on the outside, moist on the inside with kernels of corn and a hint of sweetness. With a sprinkling of powdered sugar these fritters would have made an excellent dessert. Unfortunately, we were too full and we also had a plantation to tour. Maybe next time.