Thursday, April 21, 2016

I See Q And More At Sea Q Grill

My buds of taste always quiver in excitement at the promise of most anything pulled from the sea. And ribs! I love gnawing on a moist and flavorful rack ... of ribs and such. Beef brisket is another favorite if it is not cooked to a dry tasteless cardboard box-like consistency.

Wouldn't it be the bee's knees if you could sample Poseidon's delights and some good Texas barbecue without having to flit from place to place like a bee searching for nectar? By the by, bees collect the sweet stuff on their knees which is why bee's knees are so highly prized - but I digress.

The Belle of the Boulevard and I discovered a dandy venue that does serve some excellent Maine seafood and some mouth-watering Texas style BBQ. Sea Q Grill at 1750 Clearwater Largo Road is the bee's knees. We found this treasure just before the Clearwater Largo Road suddenly changes to Ft. Harrison.

My bride and I wandered in to Sea Q in the late afternoon. There were only a few other customers which was a good thing because we had Kyle's undivided attention .. for awhile anyway. The place started filling fast as afternoon turned to evening. On this visit, Kyle was pretty much carrying the load - chief cook and bottle washer, bar tender, server and he never missed a beat. He took the time to explain the menu and the Sea Q concept, and was a most gregarious host.

Kyle kept our beer glasses filled and checked on us from time to time to ensure our happiness with the Sea Q food offerings. And those offerings? Well, I could not pass up the Smoked Mussels as an appetizer although that massive pile of mollusks could have been a complete meal for one diner.

Those mussels had a subtle smokey taste, were not raw or over cooked and had a savory, garlicky, buttery broth just made for sopping with that toasty bread.

Kyle gave me a couple of minutes to recover from my smoked mussel orgy before bringing out the main event the Texas BBQ Combo dinner. The diner can chose 2, 3, or 4 offerings. I chose the Texas BBQ Ribs smothered in a dry rub and slow smoked for over six hours, and the slow smoked Beef Brisket.

Those fall-off-the-bone ribs were so tender and juicy I almost whimpered with pleasure. The brisket was the best I have ever had, here in Florida or even in Texas. There was flavor, there was juicy melted beef fat and the meat was unbelievably tender. Those green beans on the side were enhanced with pork and a hint of citrus - so good.

My bride was in her own world of pulled pork pleasure with the Slow Smoked BBQ Pulled Pork marinated in apple cider, rubbed with spices and smoked for over 12 hours.

We both had food left, so we used the buns to create a take-home sandwich for the next day, and the next day was good.

Sea Q Grill is still getting their sea-legs having only been open for several weeks. Even still, there was nothing to complain about - especially the total cost of our food and adult beverage choices. At $59.88 we were a couple of happy campers. On our next visit I intend to hit the seafood side of the menu a little harder, although you may mix the Q and seafood if you wish.

Bar and main dining room

Outdoor seating

Sea Q Grill Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Good Sonny's Q In Largo

In several scores of years I have managed to eschew a number of things that have never held any interest for me. One was setting foot inside any Wal-Mart. Hopefully that trend will continue. Another thing I have never done was dining at a Sonny's BBQ ... any Sonny's BBQ. One hot summer day a number of years ago I walked into one hoping for an ice cold beer and some Q. "We are a family place and we don't serve Satan's brew," I was chastised. "Holy crap!" thought I and hastily departed these holy grounds in search of a place more conducive to sinning.

That was then, but recently I have seen a bunch of Sonny's TV commercials that hawked some righteous looking BBQ. My bride said we ought to go and before I could respond she pointed out that the Sonny's at 2250 Seminole Boulevard in Largo serves beer and wine and they even have a full bar. "Well, shoot-fire," said I, "Let's boogie on over!"

We just barely beat the gettin' outta church crowd this past Sunday and we were promptly and pleasantly guided to our awaiting booth. Menus were presented and our drink orders were taken by our very efficient server, Victoria. We both chose draft beers from the BOGO bar after having contemplated a Sunday Bloody Mary. Maybe next time.

After seeing the Smoked Chicken Wings advertised on TV I knew they were a must-eat for me and they were delicious, especially coupled with the juicy and tender Baby Back Ribs.

That plate of smokey goodness came with two dandy sides, a cob of corn loaded with butter and a bowl of savory baked beans.

My dainty dining partner got a big hunka bread to grace her Pulled Pork Lunch Platter and a side of mac 'n' cheese and coleslaw.

I am a firm believer that if you don't wear some of your vittles, you probably did something wrong.

My Sonny's experience was way better than I imagined and I can envision a return trip now and again. Can't beat the prices. Several beers apiece and the good BBQ grub came to a pocket pleasing $30.56. We upped the gratuity to 30% as a reward for good service.

Sonny's BBQ Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Friday, April 15, 2016

Hawkers: Asian Style Tapas

After a steady diet of Travel Channel hosts from Samantha Brown, to Andrew Zimmern, to Anthony Bourdain sampling the fare at hawker stands from one end of Asia to another, I was pleased beyond measure to learn that a hawker venue was opening at 1235 Central Avenue in downtown St. Petersburg.

My bride and I gave Hawkers Asian Street Fare a few weeks to work out any opening day jitters. As we were heading home from a Tampa Rays drubbing yesterday, we found ourselves on Central with an empty parking space right in front of Hawkers. I whipped our chariot into the space and we entered Hawkers.

We found ourselves in a bright, shiny, hard surface interior with open cook stations to our right and a small army of active chefs. The hostess escorted us to an awaiting table with metal chairs next to a low wall of beer cartons. The decor and ambiance is pretty much what I would have expected in a Singapore hawker station. It was noisy and filled with server activity not too dissimilar to what I had seen and heard on the Travel Channel programs. One huge difference was the absence of Asian customers chomping and slurping the myriad of dishes placed before them.

Our server Carey came to take our beverage orders and offer to answer any questions we might have. At that point I had not done more than give the menu a perfunctory exam, so I asked Carey what were the most exotic, innovative, and unusual dishes offered by Hawkers ... something, I continued, that might be considered by the adventurous palate. He had nothing to offer. A manager lurking nearby overheard the conversation and commented that Hawkers is geared to the tastes of mainstream America.

Oh well, thought I as we requested two beers, an American blonde ale for her and a locally brewed rice beer for me. I once had a memorable rice beer imported from Japan that I enjoyed just once. Rice beer apparently doesn't travel well, so the American distributor quit distributing. I was sorely disappointed so I jumped at the chance to delight my senses with this local version. It had a bitterness that I wasn't expecting. The blonde ale was very good.

While drowning our sorry over the less than stellar performance of the Rays we examined the menu that was divided into sections: from the grill, small plates, noodles, rice, salads, and soups. Between the two of us, we shared three small plates. The best of the bunch being the Crispy Roast Pork Siu Yoke.

That perfectly seasoned, tender, juicy pork belly, roasted to a crisp and served with a hoisin dipping sauce sent my taste receptors into spasms of gastronomic joy.

The next tapas style plate presented was the less spectacular BBQ Pork Char Siu.

The roasted pork tenderloin, wok-seared with garlic and sweet soy sauce, then topped with spring onions was very good, but just couldn't measure up to the pork belly. We should have started with the tenderloin.

The Roast Duck served next was anticipated with gusto since duck is one of my favorite fowl dishes.

Roast duck is one of China's staple dishes, roasted to perfection, then wok-seared with spring onions. This version had a rather mushy texture giving the diner the sense that over-cooking had occurred.

One thing we definitely can't complain about is the pricing. Three small plates and two beers ran a meager $21.40, though two plates and one beer were at happy hour prices. We usually feel guilty tacking on a 20% gratuity when the bill is so small so we up the tip to 30%.

My biggest disappointment with Hawkers is the fact that there was nothing spectacular on the menu ... nothing out of the ordinary ... nothing you couldn't find at any one of dozens of Asian style restaurants in the Tampa Bay area. This is Asian food dumbed down for the timid. And, the ubiquitous Pad Thai on the Hawkers menu? Seriously?

Hawkers Asian Street Fare Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato 

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Kings Street Food On Central

"Gourmet hot dogs, grilled cheese sandwiches, several varieties of poutine, milkshakes, locally sourced craft beers?" why yes, I believe I will. And so we did ... make the drive from our stately pleasure dome on the beach to Kings Street Food Counter at 937 Central in downtown St. Pete.

Don't be misled by "food counter." At Kings you will receive excellent table service, or you may sit at the food counter, or tables in the outdoor courtyard. Take out is also available, and Kings offers an all-day breakfast.

The Belle of Gulf Boulevard and I arrived a little past noon last week and parked our buggy in an on-street space (free two hour parking) in front of the restaurant. We wandered in and were immediately greeted by our server, Elyssa. Menus were presented and beverages were offered. We both chose the refreshing Kings Street Gold draft beer.

Hearkening back to her school days back in Ohio I am sure, my bride could not resist the Teacher's Pet, a grilled cheese sandwich that she had been craving since ... well, forever. The Pet had brie, caramelized onions, green apples, and butter roasted almonds nestled between two slices of fresh baked sourdough bread.

Photo courtesy of Lydia Rector

This grilled cheese was a unique and filling take on a sandwich that was a staple of the common person’s diet in the 1920’s and a mainstay during the American Great Depression of the 1930’s. Each grilled cheese comes with a side of the diner's choice. The Belle chose Bacon and Bleu Mac Salad that she described as very good, though the bacon was a little scarce.

I find it difficult if not impossible to pass up a poutine. This French-Canadian dish was born in rural Quebec in the 1950's and traditionally was made with French fries and fresh cheese curds covered with gravy. Kings Street has several interpretations of this tasty treat like the more traditional Double Denim, but I could not resist the El Jefe. This boss poutine was prepared with crinkle cut fries, pork carnitas, roasted jalapeños, and pickled onions.

This poutine provided an appealingly provocative sensation to the palate. The fries were coated with Wisconsin cheese curds and then topped with the savory carnitas. This dish could serve as a snack for two people, and for one person it provided a very filling lunch time repast. Since King's is open until four in the morning on Friday and Saturday, I could certainly see the El Jefe as being a perfect hangover cure.

My dining partner was too stuffed for dessert but she couldn't resist the Chocolate Cronuts to go. This decadent dessert offering consists of two croissant donuts covered with a chocolate grenache and bacon.

The cronuts were a little messy by the time we got home, but that did not adversely affect their deliciousness.

All food and beverage came to a pocket pleasing $39.06. We added a 20% gratuity for Elyssa. Cheap eats and ice cold beer make Kings a real winner.

Kings Street Food Counter Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato 

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Sockeye It To Me!

I hooked up with some really nice looking sockeye salmon the other day at the Winn Dixie on Park Boulevard across the Intracoastal from the Gulf. This salmon had a very healthy reddish hue, unlike the artificially colored salmon resting nearby. I brought home two fillets and whipped up a fishy feast that night for dinner.

Here is my Sheet Pan Salmon with Tomatoes and Asparagus.

Sheet Pan Salmon with Tomatoes and Asparagus

Servings: 2
Start to Finish Time: 45 minutes

1/2 pound asparagus
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon sea salt, divided
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, divided
1 pound salmon fillets
112 cup red onion, sliced into 1/4-inch-thick half-moons
1 each lemon, zest, then slice into 1/4-inch-thick rounds
1 cup cherry tomatoes
For the gremolata
1/2 teaspoon lemon zest
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 cup Italian parsley, roughly chopped

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees with a rack in the center position.

Mist a sheet pan with cooking spray or line it with parchment paper.

Gently bend one asparagus spear between your fingers and snap off the bottom where it breaks easily.
Line up the rest of the bunch and slice off the bottoms at the same distance from the tips.

Place the trimmed asparagus on the prepared pan, drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with 1/2 each of the salt and pepper. Toss to coat and spread the asparagus in an even layer.

Cut the salmon into equal sized fillets. Place the salmon fillets on top of the asparagus, evenly spaced, and sprinkle with an extra pinch of salt and pepper.

Scatter the onion, lemon slices and cherry tomatoes around and on top of the salmon.

Bake until the asparagus is crisp-tender, 20 to 30 minutes.

Remove from oven and gently turn the salmon over - skin side up and peel off the skin.

While the fish cooks prepare the gremolata: mix together the lemon zest, garlic, and parsley in a small bowl.

Sprinkle the gremolata over the salmon and asparagus before serving warm.

Chef's Notes: If you use the pale pink, fatty salmon choose the longer cooking time. Twenty minutes should be enough for the sockeye. Either way, chose a thin stalk asparagus to ensure tenderness.

You may use skinless salmon if you prefer, but cooking with the skin on adds a richer flavor to the cooked fish.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Have Some Drama With That Burger

You don't have to go all the way to Vilnius, Lithuania for a drama burger. Save yourself some time and money and boogie on over to the Drama Burger of Tampa at 2420 West Kennedy Boulevard. This is the first U.S. appearance of the Lithuania-based boutique burger chain.

Drama Burger has re-purposed a boxy building that once housed a Chinese take-out restaurant. The interior probably won't win any restaurant decor awards, but it is pleasantly quirky with original art work on the walls. Take-out is available, but our party of four chose table seating with excellent service provided by the very charming Marissa.

Menus were presented and Marissa asked if we cared for water. After that hour long drive from the Gulf beaches, our table unanimously cared little for water but clamored for adult beverages. Wine and craft beers are served. There is one Lithuanian beer mentioned on the menu, but unfortunately it was not available the day of our visit. Marissa suggested a German beer that had a hint of bacon ... and everyone knows that everything is better with bacon.

This is the Original Schlenkerla Smokebeer (in German language it's called "Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier"). There is a hint of bacon in this dark, aromatic brew with a 5.2% alcohol kick that can make you schlenker a bit after a couple pint plus bottles of this rauchbier. (In German: "rauch" is smoke and "schlenker" is swerve.) Other more familiar brews are served at Drama.

One of the most popular burgers at Drama is the Pastrami Burger, which one in our party had enjoyed on a previous visit. This time around he chose the Pastrami Sandwich. The difference between the two is the burger has a beef patty while the sandwich stands solely on the merit of its beef brisket that enjoys a nine day process to create this masterful pastrami. The thin-sliced pastrami is presented on a brioche bun with red onion, pickles, and home-made mustard mayo.

Photo courtesy of Sweet Polly

Other burger treats for the buds of taste included the Salmon Burger with chopped salmon, spinach, pickled kohlrabi, pickled onion, and roasted leek mayo.

The Lamb Burger was another palate-pleaser with a medium rare lamb patty adorned with Emmental cheese, pickled eggplant, pickled onions, Greek yogurt with cumin, and harissa mayo. Harissa is a classic Moroccan seasoning, a spicy red blend of chilies, cumin and garlic.

Even the ubiquitous cheeseburger was elevated to new heights in the form of the Drama's Angus beef patty presented with cheddar cheese (or blue-veined, if you prefer) topped with salad, tomatoes, pickles, white onion, and chipotle mayo.

Several side dishes were ordered by the table; one of the best being the deep fried avocado, but the onion rings ran a close second. Both were served with a side ramekin of savory chipotle mayo.

There are several desserts offered and our party chose two to share: Red Velvet with berries and ice cream, and the very unique Chocolate Rocky that was a spitting image of a sausage bound with chef's twine. The coating was actually confectioner's sugar around cookies and dark chocolate. Both desserts were memorable.

Our party split the bill and for two people the tab was a pleasing $54.21. Of course, we tacked on an additional 20% for the lovely Marissa.

I wasn't prepared to be dazzled by a burger joint, but dazzled I was.

Drama Burger Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato 
Lithuanian-based boutique burger
Lithuanian-based boutique burger