Monday, March 28, 2016

Another Great Texas Roadhouse Adventure

The Belle of the Boulevard and I had to make a quick trip over to Florida's east coast recently. We had booked a room at a Palm Bay hotel that, unfortunately, had neither a bar nor a restaurant. As luck would have it, as we pulled in to the hotel parking lot we spied a Texas Roadhouse smack dab right at the front door. "Hot damn!" we cried in unison - a blessed bar and restaurant. We decided check-in could wait.

We had dined at the Texas Roadhouse in Lima, Ohio a few years ago and loved it. The prices were reasonable and the steaks were brag-worthy. We parked our buggy close to the front door and wandered in. Since it was barely four o'clock we were seated immediately. From past experience we knew the joint would be jumping in a few hours with an hour or more wait, so it was well that we decided to dine early.

Once inside the steakhouse we realized that we could be anywhere: Lima, Wesley Chapel, Palm Bay, or any of the other 450 or so locations around the world. The decor is pert near the same and we were presented with that never ending bucket of peanuts ... not the same ones we had in Ohio apparently, since these were fresh roasted. But, enough of this jibber-jabber. I came for the steaks.

The first order of business was a couple of ice cold brews to wash away the trials and tribulations of a three hour road trip. After that, we placed our order with our very competent server, James. We dallied a bit over our two included salads - house for her and Caesar for me.
For her main course the Belle chose the Road Kill - a 10 ounce chop steak smothered with sautéed onions, and jack cheese with a side of loaded baked potato.

The Road Kill was declared to be juicy, full of flavorful and cooked to order. There is not a lot to be said about chopped steak other than it was filling and satisfying and with two sides was a pocket pleasing $9.99.

Talk about pocket pleasing, my 20 ounce bone-in ribeye for a measly $24.99 with two sides was not only easy on the wallet, but was packed with tender, juicy, flavorful perfection.

The only thing missing with that heavenly ribeye was the pretentiously high price charged by the so-called high end steakhouses.

We waddled out of this Texas Roadhouse after paying a total of $52.97 with an added 20% for James. Shoot-fire, I've paid that much for a lousy steak served at other venues in and around Tampa Bay, so this was a real treat.

Texas Roadhouse Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato 

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Desert Inn Redux

It has been a little over five years since my bride and I first enjoyed the warmth and hospitality of the historic Desert Inn and Restaurant situated on one of the four corners of Jackass Crossing in Yeehaw Junction. The crossing is a few blocks from the intersection of State Road 60 and the Florida Turnpike.

When we drove past the Desert Inn on our way to the east coast of Florida we noted that the restaurant and motel looked pretty much the same as it did back in 2011. This time, though, we didn't see a big herd of Harleys out front or a plethora of battered pickups. We were on a mission so we kept going. On our return trip we again came upon the Inn and since we were hungry and thirsty we decided to bravely enter this ancient establishment.

My, oh my, has the place changed! The screen door has been replaced by a dandy glass door. The booths are gone, so is the whiskey. Nothing harder than a limited selection of beer and wine is available to thirsty travelers. The steaks and swamp foods have been replaced by a very limited menu of sandwiches. The Belle and I bellied up to the bar choosing to sit where we once sat before.

My bride ordered a beer and a rather ordinary burger while I chose the rather ordinary sounding Crispy Fish Sandwich. Holy crap, I hope that wasn't the child's sandwich!

That delicious, crispy fried monster was a hand-full, but made me forget my disappointment in not getting the frog legs I had been craving.

I wish the new owners of this property well, but it certainly lacks some of the charm of years past. I am not sure what the former owner and recently deceased Beverly Zichex (of Zichex's, corner Dale Mabry and Gandy in Tampa) would have thought of the changes. The new owners want to turn the Inn into a tourist friendly destination. They seem to be succeeding since the clientele included a family with a screeching child and a slew of older folks in requisite touristy attire.

I see some good but a lot of sad with the passing of a piece of old Florida. The only Indians we saw on this visit were the three sitting off by themselves in a corner of the dining room.

If you care to take a trip back in time, click on this link: The Desert Inn and Restaurant 2011.

Desert Inn Restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato 

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Happy Happy Hour At Selene

The Belle of Gulf Boulevard and I had a rather large lunch the other day so when it came time to ponder dinner we decided that a large evening meal would not be in our best interests. What to do, what to do? Suddenly, up comes a flash! "How's about we find a happy hour somewhere and just have cocktails and small plates?" I suggested.

With that decision made, we hopped in our Chevy-by-the-levy and headed south on Gulf Boulevard all the way to St. Pete Beach and Selene Fresh Fare and Bar. Selene's happy hour runs from four to six and we arrived just as the happy hour doors swung open. We moseyed up to the bar and plopped our happy selves down. Taylor, the high priestess of the Selene bar, promptly presented us with food and adult beverage menus.

The cocktail menu has a number of very interesting choices, but I already knew that my buds of taste were salivating over the Garden in a Glass. Taylor suggested that I made a real good choice and this is one of her favorite cocktails consisting of St. George Botanivore Gin, house made rosemary and honey simple, with fresh lemon, lavender water, and honey powder.

Honey powder and honey simple rimmed this glass of slightly sweet, slightly tart elixir. Taylor gave me a generous pour. A few too many of these would necessitate a call to Uber.

My bride also chose wisely, a slightly sweet Sunrise Sangria with Sauvignon Blanc, Square 1 Vodka, St. Germaine Elderflower liquor, rose water, cucumber, lime, and rose buds.

Whilst tippling at the bar we struck up a conversation with fellow tipplers, one of whom was Peter, the manager at sister restaurant Skidders. We discovered that we had a mutual affection for all things Greek. Peter asked if we had ever consumed ouzo. Silly question, for one does not go to Greece without imbibing this national beverage. With that question out of the way, we were presented with two complimentary shots of ouzo.

As we raised our glasses, Nick, the gregarious owner of both Skidders and Selene, joined us in a toast.

A kiss on the cheek and a shot of ouzo - could life get any better? Stin ygeiá mas (Greek toast: here's to us), y'all.

Happy hour at Selene isn't just about the alcohol. Selene has a happy hour food menu and from that my bride and I ordered the Three Spreads with pita for $6. Out of the six spreads we chose the smoked eggplant, yellow split pea mousse, and hummus.

All three spreads were creamy and delicious, and when we started running low on pita another serving was presented.

I have rarely met an octopus I didn't like and since Selene has Grilled Octopus for a mere $7 on their happy hour menu I knew that had to be for me.

That octopus was about the best octopus I have ever eaten. It was tender, juicy, and loaded with flavor.

A return to Selene is unequivocally in our future. I am not through with the happy hour menu and the appetizer and dinner menus need to be explored at length. The outstanding staff and management of Selene along with the bright, sparkling interior simply demand a return visit - many times over.

To Nick and Peter, efcharistó.

Selene Fresh Fare and Bar Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Doing Lunch At Cafe Ponte

For those of us who found ourselves blissfully unemployed, it seemed like a jolly good idea to engage in a food centric lunch-time frolic at Cafe Ponte. Two of us had never been and one of us had suggested that we were in for a gastronomic treat ... and we were.

We three wandered in to Cafe Ponte just in time for our 1 o'clock reservation. I was rather surprised to see the dining rooms still packed with people. Doesn't anyone w-w-w-work anymore? Apparently, they do since waters and iced teas graced most all of the tables. We decided to fix that, so Dennis (our convivial server), " ... three wines, please - two chards for the damsels and an Argentine Malbec for me."

While scanning the lunch menu, Dennis described the daily specials. I don't normally order soup, but the Chef's Special sounded too good to pass up. This cup of spicy Cajun Gumbo goodness was rich with chunks of crab and slices of andouille sausage ... a most pleasing start to my noontime repast.

Another soupy delight was the Mushroom resplendent with black trumpet dust and a rich but light truffle cream.

During lunch, the diner must ask for bread service but Dennis cheerfully brought a basket of delectable onion focaccia that was perfect for wiping the soup bowls clean.

All at our table requested sandwiches for our main course. While all three were very good, I think the real winner was the Maine Lobster Roll with tender chunks of lobster, celery, citrus mayo, and romaine hearts on a brioche roll.

Coming in at a very close second place was the savory and filling BBQ Short Rib with beef from Sterling Silver Farms prepared in a Korean BBQ style, roasted shallot chive aioli, and crispy onions on a brioche bun.

Cafe Ponte has an interesting take on the ubiquitous club sandwich, an inspired Turkey Club with turkey breast, apple wood smoked bacon, avocado, tomato, baby greens, sun-dried tomato pesto, and chive mayo on Parmesan bread.

All sandwiches come with a choice of green apple fennel slaw or tabbouleh salad. Dennis was happy to substitute French fries for one in our party.

Food and several glasses of wine brought the total for two in our party to $78 and a penny. The lobster roll is listed as MP (market price). I didn't pick up that part of the check, but market price didn't result in sticker shock.

This was a decidedly good lunch and I understand that dinner at Cafe Ponte is even better.

Cafe Ponte Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato