By Java and Dune

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Banyan Coffee & Tea Co

689 9th St N, St Petersburg, FL 33701
Tel: 727-896-7100

I had the opportunity to visit the Banyan Coffee & Tea Co again, this time for lunch. I went with the family and everyone got somehting different. I had the Grilled Goat Cheese which I loved. The cheese isn't a solo act in this concoction, allowing some tasty accompaniments with, scallion, dates, bacon and a delicious balsamic drizzle. The classic BLT is served with a wasabi mayo that my 10 year old loved, plain is availalble. The pork sandwich my husband tried was flavorful and tendor. Definitely a filling meal with a bowl of soup. Banyan's soups are inventive and excellent comfort food. The day we were there, a ginger carrot soup was served that had everyone complimenting it. Our meals were served with a side of old fashioned macaroni and cheese. This is a great spot for breakfast or lunch and a nice crowd of friends is always in attendance. Between $8 and $9 for a sandwich. Soup and Sandwich combos available. You owe it to yourself to pop into this place, it will put a smile on your face.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Making the Case for Fruit Cake

I discovered a real treasure in my family's archives this Christmas, a recipe for a much maligned part of anglo culture, the Candied Fruit Cake. Yes that poor, innocent cake known to be the butt of jokes, made its way into my heart this holiday season. Family Christmas stories in our house inevitably include the process of our mother making her famous fruit cake. Always well received among my parents friends, the common refrain was "not like any other" and "delicious." It was a production that began on Thanksgiving weekend and lasted until the week before Christmas. Mother would hoist an enamel coated iron skillet onto the stove and turned the heat up to medium high to begin the process of making candied fruit. Once those cured over the next few days, she would add the other ingredients, then poured the batter into pans and they were baked. She wrapped them in brandy soaked cheesecloth and foil. Some were entombed in a decorative tin. They waited in a cool dark closet and were occasionally drenched with more booze.

As we breakfasted on a recent Sunday morning, my family exchanged remembrances on the process of fruitcake making. My brother remembered the chop-o-matic that was used to pulverized the pecans. I remembered my brothers shelling pecans and me sampling the candied fruit. Dad remembered the peach brandy and that it was dates, not raisins used in the recipe. This recipe is a bit of a mystery to us since my mother died suddenly 23 years ago without so much as goodbye.

I have to admit that I never liked the end product as a kid, but this year something inside me wanted to try my hand at making "the" fruit cake. I thought I'd seen the recipe in a box of old pictures, but I couldn't find it anywhere. After a couple hour search, I called my aunt to see if she had it. My mother and she were inlaws, but had a close friendship so it was worth a try. The next day she called to say she had found it after a 2 hour search. It was hand written by my aunt, and obviously dictated in conversation by my mother. So I began the process of buying the ingredients and readying the kitchen. It wasn't a walk in her shoes I was after, but rather to experience the flavor of this cake with an adult palette to see why others found it so tasty. This was a scientific experiment with an emotional attachment. I candied the cherries and pineapple with great success. Next, came the mixing of the fruit and the chopped dates, and then the flour with baking powder and salt mixed in. All this is done with your hands. 4 eggs are beat until frothy and a cup of sugar added. The final ingredient was 2 pounds of chopped pecans. I thought it was a typo, so I added one pound at a time. It wasn't a typo and the pecans rounded out the dough perfectly. That was it, no lemon peel, no spices, no weird looking stuff from a package. The batter smelled great, a very good sign. Now I had to get the batter into the pans. I forgot to mention the process of cutting parchment paper to fit the tiny loaf pans (7 of them) and buttering both sides. It was easy, just time consuming. The batter is packed into the pan and is a sticky mess if not handled properly. I had plenty of shortening on hand and wax paper on my hand to push it in. The oven was ready at 275 degrees as I slid my little cakes in. I made a trip to the liquor store for the peach brandy in the hour and a half that was needed to cook them and still had time to spare. I returned to find the most wonderful scent in the house and though they didn't rise much, a bevy of beautiful cakes. I sprinkled them with peach brandy and sliced off a trial piece. The cake was delicious, more banana breadish than cake though and totally addictive. Friends stop by and with encouragement on my part, sampled the cake with the lousy reputation. Everyone gave it the thumbs up and with the back story, who couldn't? Over the week before Christmas, the cakes softened a bit from its booze bath and mellowed into a fine tasting treat. I suprised my dad with a framed copy of the recipe and two cakes to take home. We all tried it at breakfast. My father said he didn't think he would ever taste this fruit cake again in his lifetime. I was pleased with the journey and felt the end product was worth the trip. I think comedians need to find a new Christmas joke, fruit cake has gotten a bad rap.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

400 Beach Drive Seafood and Tap House

400 Beach Drive, St. Petersburg, FL. Tel. 727-896-2400

400 Beach Drive is a luxurious condominium that rises far above the corner of Beach Dr. and 4th Ave. No. The restaurant of the same name is one of the sleeker restaurants in St. Pete. The entrance is at street level, next to the towering pink sculpture in front of the Chihuly Museum.
This tap house and beautiful bar boasts 24 beers on tap and despite the elegance of this restaurant with it's wood, steel and glass motif still maintains a casual feel with ketchup and condiments on each table. Private parties are held in a private room. In warmer weather outdoor seating is a pleasure with Tampa Bay, Straub Park and the Vinoy on view.
The menu is extensive with seafood as the main attraction. Sixteen appetizers ranging from Beachside Clam Chowder at $5.95 to the Iced Seafood Platter for $15.95. Entrees run from $15 for Fish and Chips to $37 for Grilled King Crab. Cheddar Biscuits are a house specialty served with most meals. The Vegetable Stir Fry is one of the cheaper dishes and delicious the first time I tried it, but alas, not very good the second time. Hopefully, the preparation of other meals might be more consistent. Sunday Brunch Buffet is held from 10AM to 3PM and just in time for New Year's Eve Dinner at $60.
Take advantage of the free valet parking, an attractive feature in a city where nighttime parking is quickly becoming a nightmare.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010


3rd Avenue and Beach Drive, St. Petersburg, FL 33701
Tel: 727-209-0298

When asked about a place to have coffee in downtown St. Petersburg this week, Paciugo's Gelato came to mind. As I write this on one of Florida's cold days, I wonder why I'm thinking of gelato? The cafe is perched on Beach Drive overlooking the park and the waterfront. Seating is available both inside and out, so folks with their dogs can enjoy the great flavors too. First the gelato. Served at just the right temperature to ensure the smooth texture and flavor delivery, the choices are many. Taste tests are encouraged by the friendly staff the minute you walk in the door. My favorite is the Caramel Sea Salt, a perfect balance of sweet and salty. The Hazelnut is the best I've ever tasted outside Italy. Fruit flavors are available too from the pedestrian to the unique and these choices are sans dairy. There are also soy products and no sugar added for those with diet restrictions. The coffee is rich and flavorful, produced by various growers in Africa and East Asia and they are Fair Trade. Interestingly, the founder of Paciugo spent many years on a coffee plantation and really knows his cup o' Joe. Prices range from $4 and up depending on the treat you partake in. This cafe is located near the museum and next to some great restaurants so it bustles with activity most times of the day. Locals know it as the "Gelato Place" and it always comes highly recommended. You'll find Paciugo's at the Downtown Saturday Market too.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Straight Up Night Club

15 South Blvd of the Presidents, Sarasota, FL. Tel. 941-388-1555

Located just off of St. Armands Circle and above the restaurant '15 South' is a terrific old night club. My friends and I went on a Monday evening, did a little shopping around the Circle, climbed the stairs and arrived just after 7PM. Judging by the crowd already seated, this is a favorite of Sarasota jazz fans. The music was already good when from the audience came a string of entertainers, each one better than the last to either sing or play for us. So much talent in one room. My friends had been there before but I was blown away.
Of course we ate and drank while making merry. There's a special menu with a choice of 3 meals, each at $20. The main menu is extensive and an entree can be had for as little as $17 for baked eggplant or as high as $35 for a veal dish.
If you're not into jazz just choose another night. Latin, pop or rock.
Pick your poison and have fun!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

St. Petersburg Ale House

7901 Martin Luther King St N, St Petersburg, FL 33702
Tel: 727-217-9206

It was an emergency meeting amongst friends in need of a glass of wine that brought us to the St. Petersburg Ale House. Just needed to talk about the days events and it was close by. This a big place that houses not only a restaurant, but a full service bar and pool room. Lots of people show up to watch sports and meet friends. Families come here too, but it has a very bar like atmosphere and not like a kid friendly British pub environment. The food is plentiful and tastes good, though my advice is to stick with classic fried favorites like fish or chicken sandwiches and fries, or their steaks. Our waitress was attentive and friendly. No need to ask for refills on tea since they give you a gallon sized glass. Prices range from $5 to $20. Check their web site for daily specials, they are open for lunch and dinner.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Skyway Jacks

2600 34th St S, St Petersburg, FL 33711
Tel: 727-866-3217

I couldn't find a website for Skyway Jacks, a well known St. Petersburg eatery, but I found plenty of satisfied customers that wanted to talk about their culinary experiences at some other web locations. I hadn't been to this venerable spot for many years, but walked into the cash only dining room with high hopes for a great breakfast. I wasn't disappointed with my choice of asparagus and tomato omelette, home fries and wheat toast. There was apple butter and marmalade on the table which gave the meal even more homemade flair. My husband went with the ham hash, a salty, delicious mixture of pork and potatoes. The potatoes in the home fries were red bliss, which were an addictive taste and texture experience. The eggs were cooked perfectly, and the asparagus still had a crispy freshness to it. The decor is eclectic and probably not to everyone's taste with a predominent theme of "pigs." Prices ranging from $3 to $10, so I couldn't care less about the porky motif. This is a classic breakfast spot that everyone should try, but be prepared to wait for a table on the weekends. The wait staff is friendly and regulars are treated like family.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Lee's Crab Trap I

5611 US Highway 19, Palmetto, Fl. Tel. 941-722-6255

First, no this is not in St. Pete., but just over the Skyway bridge. Call before you go or use Mapquest for directions. It's really quite easy to get there, a very popular place for St. Petersburg residents with an good reputation. It also has an excellent location on Rt. 19 with no competition in sight.
I'd been there years ago and then dined there again last night with 3 friends. It's a very warm comfortable environment and much cleaner than I remembered. The decor is dated, with dark wood paneling and booths of the same color. No padding on those benches so just be prepared. To make up for that, a young waitress provided excellent service. The menu is extensive. Plastic covered pages in a binder once again give you that out-of-date feeling. This is one of those old fashioned fish houses where shellfish is a priority. Whether you're in the mood for just an appetizer, an entree that comes with a host of sides or a sandwich and salad, you can find it served with your favorite shellfish. My friends ordered their usual Crab cake served with baked potato and coleslaw. I was surprised to learn that the cost was a few dollars more than my Tilapia fish platter for $10.95. They both agreed that the cake was smaller than usual. In general, however, the pricing is very reasonable and there are daily dinner specials on the last page (why not the front page?) that are less expensive. I was satisfied with my platter but really preferred the sides of coleslaw and sweet potato to the fish.....not tasty at all. Next time I'll choose another dish. Yes, I would go again if I'm passing by, but wouldn't go out of my way.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Thirsty Marlin

351 West Bay Drive, Largo, FL 33770
Tel: 727-586-3474

I went to a holiday gathering at the Thirsty Marlin last night and was very pleased with the food, atmosphere, and staff. The interior of the restaurant is clean and decorated in a tropical theme that is fun but not overdone. The staff was very friendly and for our group of 30, management supplied plenty of help. The menu is part Florida seafood and part Caribbean flair. I ordered the Jambalaya which was full of  shrimp, jerk chicken, Andouille sausage, roasted red peppers and yellow rice with a light sauce. The menu said it is a true Marlin original, “brought back from Romora Bay Club in the West Indies.” It wasn't spicy or typical Lousiana fare if that's what you're used to, but it was a tasty meal. It was definitely more on the Caribbean side of the flavor spectrum. There is a full menu of appetizers, specialty drinks, burgers, saldads, sandwiches and entrees. Something for everyone and comfortable seating for whatever size group. I sampled their salad on another occasion and found the greens fresh and plentiful. Desserts are available and tasty too. I had the Heath Bar Pie which was a nice topper for my entree choice. I visited the Largo location, but there is also the original location in Palm Harbor. Hours are 11:30 am - 12:00 am.  Their online ordering system is convenient, user friendly and unique among the many restaurant web sites I have visited. Locals tell me to look for the nightly specials and to try the grouper nuggets. Next time, I will do so.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

ABC Chinese Seafood Restaurant

2705 54th Avenue North #3, St. Petersburg, FL 33714

ABC Chinese Seafood Restaurant was recommended to me by a stranger and touted as the best Chinese restaurant in St. Petersburg. I ventured in for a second visit recently to partake in their exotic, flavorful dishes. The strip mall atmosphere leaves a lot to be desired, but the place was full on Saturday night. A quick glance around the dining room found about half the diners were Asian families. They were seated at round tables with turntables in the middle laden with fish, rice and veggies. A second glance a short time later found fish bones, specks of rices and satisfied smiles all around the table and what seemed like agreeable conversation about the meal. I ordered the basil chicken, which a friend told me was delicious. The dish is served in a bowl and is really more of a soup. Tender chicken is surrounded by tomato, basil, pineapple and other vegetables. This is a well balanced sweet and spicy meal. I tossed rice in there too (sadly no brown rice is available) but it could be a low carb Chinese food alternative for dieters for whom Chinese meals are off limits. My husband ordered the Salt and Pepper Seafood platter which was fried, simple and delicious. The quality of the seafood is excellent and the prices reasonable for the level of expertise going into the finished product. Prices range from $4 to approximately $18.99 (unless you want a whole Peking Duck for $34.99.) Don't let the exterior deter you from this great place, the interior and the staff are warm and welcoming. Open for dinner only 5:00 pm - 12:00 am Monday to Thursday and 5:00 pm - 1:00 am Friday to Sunday.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Nature's Finest Foods

6651 Central Avenue, St. Petersburg, FL. Tel. 727-347-5682

Nature's Finest, in layman's terms, is a healthfood store that specializes in organic and natural foods. This small chain has stores throughout Florida and Maryland. Maybe you've already purchased their vitamins, special juices, natural soaps, and nutritional supplements. Items that allow us to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Maybe you've passed the long salad bar on your way to the deli counter where they offer freshly made hot and cold dishes. Just next to the deli is the bakery and it's hard to decide which treat to pick. Some of these items are gluten free, by the way, and very tasty. There's also a refrigerator case with fresh wraps and salads in plastic containers. All of these delicacies can be packaged to go or eaten at the store in their small dining area at the front of the store. Like the rest of the store it's very clean and employees are very friendly. If you're at all familiar with healthfood stores you know that the pricing is not cheap, but you're paying for quality.
You might even make this a weekly lunchtime stop.
Check out their website for low fat and vegetarian recipes and live healthy!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Familiarity Breeds -- Repeat Customers

I was in Virginia Beach this week for a family get together and stayed at the bustling Town Center complex surrounded by upscale chain restaurants. In my quest for discovering new dining experiences however, I didn't want to dine somewhere I'd eaten before. Even though my experiences with all the chains at the Town Center were positive, we set our sites on a chain that was new to us. My husband is a beer brewer and rarely gets to choose where we eat, so I suggested the brew pub chain around the corner from our hotel called, Gordon Biersch. We braved the cold, blustery night to get there and sans our son we embarked on "date night." He ordered the Winterbock beer and enjoyed it very much. Not being a big beer drinker, I ordered an appetizer to share. The calimari arrived cooked just right (no rubber bands) but the seasoning was minimal and the sauces not that good. I took the waitress's advice and ordered the chicken pot pie and my husband ordered the meatloaf. The thought of yummy comfort food allowed me to excuse the less than stellar appetizer. The waitress said our entree choices were very good. Even made a point of saying there were only 3 pot pies left. In this case, the urgency for warm food drove my decision. When the food arrived though, I was disappointed. I found the pie filling flat and lack luster and could easily describe the pastry crust as such too. My husband liked his choice and I agreed it was ok. I wished for a do over at one of the chains I knew. The next morning, I spotted a Panera Bread across the street and immediately thought, "hazelnut coffee." Even though I've been trying to break the chain habit and there was an interesting chain called the "Daily Grind" (new to me) close in proximity to our hotel, I made my way to familiar flavors. The minute I walked in the door, it just felt right. The warm earthy colors welcomed me on that cold morning and I knew immediately what to order. People looked a little different with all the trappings of a cold day in tow, but the coffee was delicious and most everything else felt like home. Writing this blog sometimes feels daunting because I'm obligated to try new things regularly. In the last two months I've learned that sometimes it's best to go with what you know.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Harvey's 4th Street Grill

3121 4th Street. North, St. Petersburg, FL. Tel. 727-821-6516

Harvey's is one of those old neighborhood hangouts that has become an icon. A family restaurant/bar that's on every local's radar but definitely not the place to go if you're dieting. The menu has too many very tempting high carb dishes to choose from. On the other hand if you're looking for a homey environment, this is a fun place. Did I mention the long saloon style bar and what they call the 'Full Moon Party'? It's an evening that features Maine lobster and entertainment. I haven't experienced it but I know people who have and they've told me it's a blast.
Their specialties are grouper, shell fish and fresh steak from Iowa which, they claim, is never frozen. I've always kept my orders simple and have tried their salads and burgers, all very fresh and ranging in cost from $6 to $8. To be honest, to me thishas a diner-like feel to it with Platters, a Kid's Menu and desserts like Mud and Key Lime Pies and Cheesecake. Entrees come with garlic bread, cole slaw, etc. Prices range between $8 and $17. There's even an inexpensive Late Night Menu. Their ambience is a little different from the other places we've written about so maybe try their Sunday brunch, it looks like family fun.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Fortunato's Italian Market

Tyrone Mall
6901 22 Avenue North Ste. 780, St. Petersburg, FL 33710
Tel: 727-381-4888

In my quest for the perfect pizza crust, which for me is thin and crispy, I happened into pizza heaven at the mall. It may have been my Black Friday hunger or the desire not to lose an excellent parking spot, but I think I had one of the best slices at Fortunato's since I've been to NYC. My slice had sundried tomatoes in addition to other veggies and a creamy ricotto cheese. The slice my friend had was sicilian style, chock full of veggies and sausage. The crust is heated in a small oven that crisps the bottom very nicely. A satisfying crunch preceeds the lively flavors of the toppings. It may not be Ray's, but it certainly hit the spot after a long day of bargain hunting. To think I turned my nose up at this fare on my many trips to Dillards. Not too smart on my part. Slices ranges from $2.59 to $3.39, with additional toppings at $.35. A whole pie, which is what I'm now dreaming of, costs between $8.99 and $21.99 (the high end price is for stuffed crust.) This place is worth a try.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Guppy's on the Beach Grill and Bar

1701 Gulf Blvd. Indian Rocks Beach, FL. 33785 Tel. 727-593-2032

Since Dune has decided to review restaurants in North Pinellas let me chime in with Guppy's Grill. First, don't get your hopes up. They are NOT on the beach, rather across the street. Like so many restaurants in Florida, they would LOVE to be ON the beach, but alas.....
Now, about the atmosphere, very nice. I like to sit outside in their very casual and pleasant environment. White plastic tables and chairs, nothing fancy. I've spent many a lunch hour on Guppy's patio over the years and never once disappointed.
If you're into shellfish this is the place for you. Shrimp every which way, lobster, escargot AND lobster, cape cod sea scallops. It's all here and we're just talking appetizers. Moving down to entrees you'll find salmon, grouper, tuna, crab cakes and more. Cost is not prohibitive but very reasonable. Appetizer and entree together will cost between $17 and $30. There are also salads and sandwiches to choose from for just $9.
The food is very fresh and tasty, the staff is always welcoming and if you get there at the right time of year, sitting on the patio is the best. You can smell that sea air and feel the breeze, even if you can't quite see it.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Frenchy's Rockaway Grill

7 Rockaway Street, Clearwater Beach, FL
Tel: 727-446-4844

Having grown up in St. Petersburg, I always thought the Hurricane was the best place to eat a grouper sandwich. A recent trip to Clearwater Beach with a friend, who guaranteed my satisfaction, changed my mind completely. Frenchy's Rockaway Grill is perched directly on the beach, making a fantastic view for diners. I did a little asking around before the trek out there and heard more than once that I should order the She Crab Soup and either the grouper bites or the grouper sandwich. The soup was beyond my expectations and if I make it out there again will definitely be my first course. An appetizer not to be missed are the conch fritters. Crispy on the outside, tender on the inside and just a slight bite from something spicy in the mix. The grouper is available a myriad of ways. The one I tasted had delicious caribbean spices and was cooked to perfection. My side salad was fresh and dressed well. The atmosphere is as you would expect it to be with a casual, with a fun and flirty flair. We got there early and were seated right away, but by the time we left the lunch crowd was waiting in a winding line outside the door. Prices were reasonable for a seafood joint, starting around $5 and ending at $21. Now I feel like going out to Pass a Grille Beach for a comparison taste test.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Moonshine Patio Bar & Grill

303 Red River St., Austin, TX.
Tel.- 512-236-9599

You guessed it...I spent Thanksgiving in Austin, TX. Never been there before but sure hope to go again The people are friendly and the food is delicious. We dined out several times in our four day visit, but Moonshine outshone them all. This lovely multi-room restaurant is located on a dry river bed in the middle of the city in what used to be, in the olden days, a general store. They claim that their cooking is, 'an innovative take on Classic American comfort food that satisfies even big city tastes.' That's a good description.

My friends and I had already had our Margaritas earlier at a saloon so we just set right in to ordering the 'chow'. I had the Broiled Rainbow Trout with cornbread stuffing and chile sage butter served with Seasonal vegetables and Grilled Polenta with parmesan and fresh herbs that melted in your mouth. The cost was $19, but that was higher than most of the 'suppers'. Two of my friends chose the Green Chile Macaroni and loved it. The four of us shared a huge portion of the White Chocolate Bread Pudding with raisins, pecans and bourbon sauce. Fantastic! We were all so stuffed. Good thing we weren't tempted earlier by the 'Starters'; Homemade Potato Chips with warm sour cream and scallion dip, or the Beer Battered Asparagus with Buttermilk Ranch....or the Crispy Calamari with spicy marinara, and on and on. This place is a must next time you're in Austin. It's popular so you may want to make a reservation.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

A Thanksgiving Pie Story

He sat perched in a window. Seductive in his white trappings and surrounded by the colors of the season. I ran my fingers along his curves and decided in an instant that he had to be mine. Emile Henri in the form of the most beautiful pie plate ever created. I admit that the perfect pie crust has eluded me over the years and that there was hope for something better in this French pottery. My idea of heaven is a trip to Williams Sonoma to stare and gawk at all the possibilities for my kitchen and dining room. It's not my only idea of heaven, it just comes to mind during the holidays. So after my purchase, I headed home with my dreams of flaky crust, gooey fillings and perfect slices that slip out of the dish. On Thanksgiving eve, I pulled Emile Henri from the cupboard. The chosen pie was pecan, one of Paul Prudhomme's recipes. I prepared the dough and chilled it as recommended, but when removed from the refrigerator it was troublesome to roll it out. I love to bake, but I think I'm not precision enough for perfection. After beating the cold dough into submission and rolling it to the appropriate thickness, I slid it into the dish. I wasn't quite sure how to handle the fluted edges. At the store it seemed like it would all just naturally fall into place. That's what we always think. Next, the filling went in. It looked good, but how would it taste? I watch carefully for about an hour. As it emerged from the hot oven I carefully set it out to cool. The crust wasn't perfectly shaped, but it tasted great, was the right thickness and yes, was easily coaxed out of the pie plate and onto each dish. He may have lured me in with a pretty face, but Emile Henri certainly proved he can stand the heat. I'll never let him go.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Emilio's Bistro, Bakery and Bar

437 Central Ave., St. Petersburg, FL. Tel. 727-258-4891

Always on the lookout for a new dining experience, my partner and I were cruising down Central Avenue this afternoon when we heard live jazz and thought....that's odd for a Sunday. The music turned out to be a very talented one man band who, like the pied piper, led us straight to Emilio's for Sunday brunch. What a find! Within the hour many stools were occupied at the long bar, while other music lovers were dining outside under the yellow umbrellas closer to the music
The decor is very artsy, huge colorful oil paintings hang on rust colored walls, lots of wood and stainless steel throughout. Everything is immaculate. We were seated at a table along the wall opposite the waitress's pickup station. She breezed by us first with a dish of the banana, caramel french toast made from challah bread, next a beautiful prawn and strawberry salad, a variety of croissant sandwiches and for the big guy we had a quick glance at the Chipotle meatloaf baguette. I just can't tell you how good this food looked. It was beautiful. We had already ordered the goat cheese and roasted red pepper panini which was very good, the bread was light and the side salad and dressing delicious, but next time I have to try the french toast. They'll also make your omelet to order outside.
The dessert menu changes daily. Today the baked goods, on display as you enter, included pumpkin cheesecake, a chocolate bomb cake, key lime pie, fancy cupcakes, scones and more. Someone ordered the berry parfait made with greek yogurt served in a sundae glass. Yes, we saw all of these delicacies and if you don't eat anywhere else this week, get to Emilio's. This is one talented chef.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Chattaway

358 22nd Avenue South, St. Petersburg, FL 33705
Tel: 727-823-1594

Small and medium sized groups can take advantage of the picnic style seating in the garden area of the Chattaway Restaurant. I felt like I was walking back in time, through my grandmother's back yard when I rounded the corner from the parking lot. Of course, her house was only about 30 blocks north of here and probably built about the same time. The decor is more like that of a dotty aunt though, with whimsical signs and garden statues here and there. Tropical foliage planted in old footed tubs and a fish pond with a bridge make for a fun atmosphere and one that is mostly kid friendly. Smokers are allowed to do their thing out in the garden area so beware or be happy whichever your stance. The inside seating is a little clausterphobic, restrooms are on the side of the house. The food is good, fast and fresh. The staff is super friendly which is not always the case in these classic joints. The burger is a must try since it's been named "best of" in a few contests. For those who don't partake in beef, there are veggie burgers, salads, soups and sandwiches. The Chattaway should undoubtedly be on your visiting friends and family list. They're open for breakfast and lunch. The prices are reasonable for what you get and for the most part remain under $10. Remember though, it's cash only.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Blog Launch Party

Java hosted a fabulous launch party for the blog Saturday night. I met a lot of people, garnered technical advice and fielded questions about the idea for the blog. People wanted to know the philosophy behind blogging and what our future plans are. In many ways blogging is easy, you find a focus, sit yourself down and begin to type. Well if it were just that easy anyone would do it, right?  There are millions of blogs out there, so distinguishing ours is key. Getting people interested in your topic and finding an authentic voice is a big hurdle. Meet2EatStPete is in its infancy and we will undoubtedly learn a lot and endure twists and turns along the way. Our motive from the beginning was to enlighten people about this area and have some fun. Many thanks to the well-wishers who came out to cheer us on and to celebrate the creative spirit.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Red Mesa

4912 4th St. No., St. Petersburg, FL. Tel. 527-8728

Okay, I love to dine at the original Red Mesa (not to be confused with their Cantina of the same name)....that is, when I can get in. Twice we've given up and left those loyal followers still waiting on the porch for diners within to relinquish their cozy table and sangria for that lonely ride home. I love those southwestern flavors that blend together so well, those black beans, cilantro, jalapenos, chorizo sausage and chipotle. My personal favorite is the Chilis Rellenos, long green peppers stuffed with either steak and chile verde or jack cheese and salsa roja. Vegetarians can do well here. This is another place that challenges you to make that hard do we want to have breakfast, lunch or dinner at Red Mesa? Mornings try the Huevos Rancheros with some black bean chipotle sauce...Yes!
Another plus is the pricing. The menus are all so extensive that you will find a tasty dish in your price range. There's also a Sunset Menu for $14. Don't expect fancy, it's showing a few years of wear and tear. The bar stools are always taken and there's plenty of chatter, but try it if you haven't already. This Mexican food is delicious.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Papa Angelo's Ristorante & Pizzeria

536 1st Avenue North, St. Petersburg, FL 33701
Tel: 727-623-9018

My husband suggested this new pizza place he found in downtown St. Petersburg for dinner recently. He's been working near there, popped into Papa Angelo's for lunch and fell for the stromboli. I was game to try something new in the pizza arena and since our family is anti-chain when it comes to Italian pie, it seemed like a great idea for a Friday night. Not to mention, it was close by and he was willing to go get it. We ordered a sausage pizza and a spinach/cheese calzone. The toppings were good qualtiy, fresh and delicious. My husband and I disagreed over the crust though, I thought it was too oily, he thought it was perfect. Much like red sauce, each person has there own tastes when it comes to crust. Overall, I was pleased to try this see this new pizzeria's menu that hovers at a price point of $5 to $14.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Red Mesa Cantina

128 3rd St. So., St. Petersburg, FL. Tel. 727-896-6372

The English translation for Cantina is 'bar'. important is the food?
Not very. This place is all about ambience. The entrance is in a lovely courtyard hidden behind a brick wall on the corner of 3rd St. and 1st Ave., downtown St. Pete. It's not too hard to find, just listen for the sound of the happy hour crowd. Yes, it's 2 for 1 from the bar located even further inside where there are alot more tables and happy people. The menu consists of the usual Mexican fare; tacos, cerviche, tortas, ensalada and more and it's not bad. I had the chicken tacos, which arrived open faced so they were not hot and could have used a little more seasoning but my friends were happy with their choices. One had the mahi mahi torta and the other consumed an entire El Gordo, a very 'fat' burrito. Everything we had was under $10. The chardonnay, 2 glasses for $6 was surprisingly delicious. I will definitely return.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Savannah's Cafe

1113 Central Avenue, St. Petersburg, FL 33705
Tel: 727-388-4371

I met my friend Crystal for a birthday treat at Savannah's Cafe this week. It's one of those places I keep hearing about, in a good way of course, so I've been wanting to try it. The interior is painted a deep golden yellow, which makes you feel welcome the minute you walk in. The staff is friendly too. There is outdoor seating if you are in the mood, perfect for people watching on Central Avenue. The vintage space was lovingly brought back from its 1930's roots.
Art work depicting scenes of the low country adorn the walls. Savannah's more that captures the flavors and hospitality typically associated with Southern cooking. We were there for Saturday brunch so we had an abbreviated menu to choose from, but I still had trouble deciding what to eat. Many of the dishes included one of those rare treats that I love, tasso ham. A peppery cajun style bit of pork that adds salty goodness to sauces and other dishes. I indulged in the Low County Omelet that combined eggs with crab, onions, goat cheese and a delectable tasso cream sauce. My friend had the build your own omelet and the brioche toast. I was coveting the toast because I was going low carb with a side of bacon. Thinking about going back for Shrimp and Grits or the Seafood Jambalaya at dinner time. Brunch and lunch prices are below $10. Dinner prices range from $10 to $20.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Pia's Trattoria

3054 Beach Blvd. So., Gulfport, FL. Tel. 327-2190

Pia's boasts fresh, natural foods and no preservatives. Each meal is prepared to order. When they warn you that it might take a little longer to prepare, believe them. It's all okay though, and worth the wait. The old building with its odd arrangement of rooms and long hallway leading to the bar offers a different feel than other restaurants in our area. The covered patio allows for most seating to be outdoors.
The breakfast menu is my favorite and very international with prices ranging from $5 to $13. Don't plan on Monday,though, they're closed.
Lunch and dinner can be pricy. Remember this is not a chain so you may pay up to $15 for a salad.
Pia's will be open on New Year's Eve check out their 4 course menu at $39 on their website. It really looks fantastic!

Monday, November 15, 2010

Habana Cafe

5402 Gulfport Blvd South Gulfport,FL 33707
Tel: 727-321-8855

The owner of the Habana Cafe is the real deal. Ms. Gonzalez-Hastings came to America from Cuba as a child bringing with her a tradition of cooking and later a desire to celebrate her heritage. She wrote a cookbook by the same name, Habana Cafe Cookbook, a few years ago. Meats are slow cooked and deliciously seasoned with garlic, cumin, oregano and lime just to name a few ingredients. The black beans and rice are tasty and one of my son's favorites. One thing that was recommended to me that I may have passed over, is the Chicken Salad Cuban Style. The meat is roasted and includes apple, mayonnaise, hard boiled eggs and green olives.  It mixes together to make an addictive mash. Sandwiches and salads are under $8 and entrees hover at around $13.95. The restaurant itself is a pleasant to be. If you just want a quick bite or sample, Habana Cafe makes an appearance at the St. Petersburg Saturday Market.  The pork wrap and the guava pastries, not to mention the portable black beans and rice make a great little mid morning meal.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Ceviche Tapas Bar and Restaurant

10 Beach Drive St. Petersburg, FL
Tel: 727-209-2299

The best place to sit at Ceviche Tapas Bar and Restaurant is on the porch. It's a great vantage point for watching the downtown foot traffic and special event mayhem. The tapas menu has something for everyone with more than 100 diminutive works of art on a plate.  Everyone loves the Patatas Bravas, fried potatoes tossed with homemade aioli and you can't go wrong with Solomillo A La Parrilla, prime filet served in a brandy cream sauce. If you go with a group order multiples since the portions are only a few bites. The fun is trying something different each time you go. The sangria (white or red) is a great compliment. Ceviche's was the first white sangria I really liked the taste of. The accompanying fruit is crisp and fresh and makes this cocktail healthy in my book. Ceviche is a great place for Sunday brunch too, starting at 11:00 am. A scaled down version of the tapas menu is available, as are traditional breakfast favorites including French Toast, Omelets, and Eggs Benedict. This Ceviche location also has the Pincho y Pincho, a 7-day a week coffee shop and bar open for breakfast and lunch located just West of the main dining room.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

4th Street Shrimp Store

1006 4th Street North St. Petersburg, FL 33701
Tel: 727-822-0325

4th Street Shrimp Store is a fun place to take visitors and to meet up with friends and family for lunch or dinner. The portions are generous, so you won't go away hungry. There are specials throughout the week and early bird deals for those who can get there between 3 pm and 6 pm. Since 1984, this St. Petersburg favorite has offered shrimp boiled or fried, with a side of slaw and buttery red bliss potatoes. There are great fish sandwiches, and typical fried fare like french fries and onion rings. The clam chowder is some of the best in this area and it is something the whole family will enjoy. The decor is whimsical and clever, seating is abundant and everyone has a noisy, casual experience. It's a few blocks from the water, but you can almost hear the waves crashing as you sit down to order.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Acropolis Greek Taverna

515 Central Avenue, St. Petersburg, FL. Tel. 727- 823-1010

Choices! The menu of this mini franchise offers more variety than you'll find on a typical menu in Greece. Their newest location opened in St. Petersburg just about 4 weeks ago, where Bella Brava used to be. Outside, Greek music seems to come from above (and it does) falling over large umbrellas and tables. The food and ambience are Mediterranean with maybe a slight Florida/Latin twist. For example, Margaritas are available, two for the price of one, all day. I had a late lunch there on a Sunday and kept my choices traditional. First the Greek salad. I still don't understand the potato salad, definitely another Florida addition, but it was all very fresh with a flavorful dressing. Next came the Lamb gyro platter with tzatziki sauce on the side, fries and salad for $10.00.
On the weekends there's live entertainment including latin music, jazz and a belly dancer. These acts alternate weekends at the 4 restaurants. Oh yes, this taverna is open into the wee hours so plan to make a night of it.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Guilty Pleasures

The other day I heard the McRib is back. This fact was so important, it actually made the local news. To prove how lip smacking they are, the newscaster ate a McRib on camera. Don't get me wrong I like the McRib as much as the next guy and will partake in eating one before they go back to wherever it is they come from. What struck me was the McRib Locator on the web (really?) and the big news being that it's the first time McRib is being served in all McDonalds nationwide since 1994. This pork patty dipped in barbeque sauce and smothered in onions and pickles is something many people feel nostalgic about, including me. I remember my mother and I going to get our McRibs when the sandwich occasionally appeared in our local McDonalds. She ordered hers with extra pickle, extra sauce and lots of napkins. We would fly out of the drive thru, get home and devour them, raking our french fries over the barbeque sauce that squeezed out the sides. A lot of joy for $1.99.

Over the weekend, another guilty pleasure caught my eye as I drove past Popeye's Chicken. The Crawfish Tackle Box is back for $4.99. A tasty representation of Lousiana from this unique fast food chain. The crawfish were crunchy, a tad spicy and fairly abundant in the little box. What is it about these limited time offers? Is the brevity that reels us in or the continuity of our lives? One thing I know for sure, I won't tell you is how many grams of fat are in either of these guilty pleasures. Let the scale tip in favor of pleasure rather than guilt and don't peel out of the drive thru too fast.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

JJ's Deli

10535 Gandy Blvd., St. Petersburg, FL 33702
Tel: 727-258-4883

If you are heading back from South Tampa on the Gandy Bridge and need a bite to eat, stop in JJ's Market & Delicatessen. I got a tip from a fairly recent transplant from Philadelphia about this place. They serve his favorite Dietz and Watson cold cuts that aren't as prevalent here as they are up north. We ordered a variety of sandwiches to take home including, the BLT, Chicken Pesto and The Italian. The meat portions were generous and tasted fresh. The sandwiches are big, so some folks could definitely share a sandwich and chips. They don't break a  reasonable $6.95 price point either. Loved the fresh mozzarella slices on the Chicken Pesto and the sauce was good. The slaw on The Italian was tangy and crunchy, making a tasty accompaniment to the tender meats. They serve local Kahwa coffee and have a good selection of beer and wine. It's not your typical neighborhood deli with its earth friendly jewelry and accessories section, but the food, staff and atmosphere make it a very friendly stop.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Cafe Alma

260 1st Avenue South, #100 St. Petersburg, FL 33701
Tel: 727-502-5002

From their famous Bloody Mary Bar to their sumptuous omelettes, Cafe Alma is a great place to meet friends for a weekend brunch. I loved the Blackstone, a type of Eggs Benedict that starts with a baguette and is topped with applewood smoked bacon, tomatoes, poached eggs and hollandaise. "Delicious" is all I could proclaim in between bites. This meal is accompanied by fruit and sets you back $11. The salads are a refreshing change from most carb load brunches and the Hummus Platter ($9) is a great thing to share with a group. Entrees and sandwiches are available too. The setting, with its exposed brick and ductwork has an urban feel. It was one of the first downtown restaurants to pique my curiosity and my discovery of Cafe Alma enabled me to see some potential in the Burg. I've had dinner here too and found the low lit atmosphere and tucked away tables for two to be very intimate. Check the web site for some really good daily specials.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Hangar Restaurant and Flight Lounge

540 1st Street SE., St. Petersburg, FL. 33701 Tel. 823-7767

Dining at The Hangar is an experience. The modern 2 story structure at the tiny Alfred Whitted airport downtown serves as both check-in lounge and restaurant. Breakfast, lunch and dinner are served. Add a long oval shaped bar and you've found another fun spot. An open metal staircase opens onto a large room and with windows that go from floor to ceiling to give an open air feeling. The wrap around balcony with outdoor seating provides an even closer look at the runway action. There's live jazz on Friday and Saturday nights for those music lovers. Prices are reasonable on a menu that shouldn't be confused with 'in-flight' food. Choose from a list of finger foods like shrimp and wings and fresh salads to hangar steak (of course) and waffles with fried chicken. Parking is easy on their lot, no valet needed.
This place could easily become one of your favorite spots. A place to take those winter house guests, and believe me there will be plenty this year. I'm experiencing 27 degrees in NYC as we speak, brrrrr.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

The Cupcake Spot

405 Central Avenue St. Petersburg, FL
Tel: 727-825-0572

The Cupcake Spot will tell you they didn't invent cupcakes, they just make them in a special way. I would agree after sampling some of their many varieties on a recent visit. These baked gems can be purchased for a special event or enjoyed as a decadent snack right there on the spot. The storefront has a fun, retro vibe.  Tempting choices include, "The Chocolate Elvis" (yes, it's a banana cupcake with peanut butter cream and a dollop of chocolate) and "Paint the Town Red Velvet" (the baby sister of the classic southern cake.) Cupcake Spot's Signature "Better Than..." cupcake has won local awards (Best Small Dessert of Tampa Bay 2009) with it's chocolate chip foundation and cream cheese frosting. A single is $3.00 and goes up from there depending on quantity. Luckily, the prices go down with volume purchases, so you can try 'em all.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Biff Burger

3939 49th Street North St. Petersburg, FL 33713
Tel: 727-527-5297

It takes a measure of confidence for a restaurant to call itself a "Florida Attraction," but Biff Burger lives up to the hype. I recently went back to my teen years by visiting this landmark and ordering a Biff Burger, Tater Tots and a Vanilla Milkshake. The burger is dipped in a special sauce which I assume is barbeque and placed between a classic style hamburger bun. The tots are deep fried to a golden color, crispy on the outside, tender on the inside. Shakes are hand dipped and have an old fashioned thickness that require you to let them sit a few minutes before slurping. Companions of mine have been known to dip their hot tots into the frozen shake for a sweet/salty snack. Prices are reasonable, especially if you stick with the classic fare. Biff Burger is one of a kind and an attraction worth visiting.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

El Cap

3500 4th St N, St Petersburg, FL 33704
Tel: (727) 521-1314

The burgers are tasty and the shoestring potatoes are an absolute must. El Cap is a St. Petersburg landmark worth visiting, but be prepared for the fact that the service is a little brusque. People, especially sports fans, love to hang out here with friends. Dress your handmade all beef burger or cheeseburger with lettuce, tomato, pickle, onion, etc. The ketchup and mustard are on the table within easy reach. Other bar food is available, as well as cold beer. A steady stream of people makes weekends difficult to find a seat in the dining room or a spot in the parking lot. The feeling among diners is relaxed and casual.

El Cap on Urbanspoon

Friday, October 29, 2010

Gennaro's Ristorante Italiano & Pizzeria

2004 Pass-A-Grille Way, St. Pete Beach, FL. Tel. 360-0563
Heading home after a fun day at the beach we spotted a sign for Gennaro's Pizza. We hadn't been there before, but it looked homey so we went in. Long story short, we had a terrific dinner. I went around raving about the food to all my friends and soon discovered that I wasn't alone in my thinking. This little storefront restaurant has been around for awhile and it is better than ever. For me the hard part is deciding between the pizzas, all are delicious served on an elevated tray at your table. or the spinach, garlic and oil served over penne. But they have everything; Subs, soups, salads, veal dishes, shrimp alfredo....okay enough. I've never had enough room left for dessert but have always wanted to try the Cannolli. Give it a try it and let me know how good it tastes.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Fresh Market

2900 4th Street North St. Petersburg, FL
Monday - Saturday 9-9
Sunday 10-8

The new Fresh Market opened in St. Petersburg this month with a lot of fanfare and yes, a few parking issues. The interior is upscale, clean and bright, festooned with pumpkins, sunflowers and robust Fall fruits and vegetables. This Fresh Market has the distinction of being the 100th store opened in the chain. I was in search of comfort food as I was headed to a dear friend's house whose father passed away over the weekend. The bakery drew my sweet tooth in and wouldn't let me go empty handed. I packed a new burlap Fresh Market bag with Orange Cranberry Walnut bread, Pumpkin Whoopie Pies, Almond Stuffed Sugar Cookies and imported English Breakfast Tea, preparing for an afternoon of photo sorting and reminiscing. The Whoopie Pies went first, because well, who doesn't love spice cake sandwiched by a lovely cream center? Speaking of love, the not too sweet, but very satisfying Cranberry bread was a hit, and the cookies had a wonderful rich center that went along nicely with the tea. There was much more to experience in this brand new space, but the weekend crowd was a bit overwhelming for in depth shopping. Not sure there is anything new here, but the family owned business is bringing quality prepared foods and groceries under one roof. They deliver the goods, inspire the gourmet (or gourmand) in us, and maybe provided a little comfort to my friends.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Museum of Fine Arts -- MFA Cafe

255 Beach Drive NE., St. Petersburg, FL. Tel. 822-1032

On recently becoming a member of the MFA I planned to take full advantage of everything it had to offer. The museum is very good at promoting their exhibits and gallery talks through both website and newsletter. Quite often though, there's the urge to explore first hand, take a closer look, and so I discovered the Cafe. Actually, I can't take any credit, it would be hard to miss. When the new Hazel Hough wing was built a cafe was placed in the very large atrium beneath a wall of windows that look out onto the sparkling waters of Tampa Bay. Ingenious! Who could resist wanting to dine on stark white tablecloths in such a setting. It oozes sophistication. I've found the lunches and dinners to be light and flavorful and am always pleasantly surprised by their presentation. Salads and seasonal soups are fresh and healthy, but a heartier meal can be had. Dine al fresco on the terrace beneath the palms even tour the museum when you're done. It's all worth the visit and you might even become a member! Prices are reasonable and there's no entrance fee to dine in the cafe or to visit the museum store.

M.F.A. Cafe on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Munch's Restaurant

3920 6th Street South St. Petersburg, FL 33705
Tel 727-896-5972

Munch's Restaurant has been around since 1952 and they've certainly perfected the "diner" experience. I was there on Sunday morning, along with many other people looking for a hearty breakfast. The interior is clean, well kept and takes you back to the fifties with its counter and booth service. The service is fast and friendly, so you won't have to wait long for these homemade dishes. You could sense that most of the people happily waiting for their order were on a return visit. I chose the Gulfport SOS which turned out to be a delicious mountain of toast, cheese grits, ham and eggs. They served it with a little parmesan cheese on the side, which added some tang. I don't usually like white toast, but the heat caramelized the ingredients into a irresistible combination. My friend ate every bite of his Field Hash (I had a smidge), a perfectly seasoned combination of pork sausage, onions, peppers, and spiced potatoes. Munch's is unique in their ability to improve upon classic fare. Breakfast entree prices were mostly under $7 and there was plenty to fill up on. I'll be back to indulge in the Munch Burger, their Fried Chicken and the Fried Green Tomatoes. I'll let you know how that goes.

Munch's Sundries on Urbanspoon

Monday, October 25, 2010

Bella Brava - The New World Trattoria

204 Beach Drive, St. Petersburg, FL. Tel. 895-5515

The definition of trattoria is, 'an informal restaurant or tavern serving simple Italian dishes'. Bella Brava - The New World Trattoria offers cuisine that is far from simple. Yes, their menu offers the familiar pasta dishes that we know and love but there are many very creative dishes too. Such as the Lobster and White Truffle Mac-n-Cheese? Need I say more.
Thin crust pizza is made to order in their Woodstone stove. My dining partner and I shared a BLT pizza; gorgonzola cheese melted over pancetta, oven roasted tomatoes, arugula and red onion. Sounds light? It was, and delicious. We each had a salad, my friend had the conventional Caesar and I tried the House Misticanza, so green and fresh with a light citrus dressing. Very good. We each ordered a glass of pinot grigio and escaped with a check of less than $36 for two. If we hadn't been late for the MFA talk on Egyptian art we definitely would have stayed for dessert. Next time.
Bella's large corner location with outdoor seating sits just across the avenue from the new French restaurant, Cassis (see my review), creating a very festive corner. It might be my imagination but to me the food at Brava seems to taste better since their move to Beach Drive. At the moment Beach Drive is bringing out the best in a row of new restaurants and St. Petersburg residents are making the most of it.
Bella Brava - The New World Trattoria. Well, if this is the new world I want more!

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Worden Farm

Saturday Morning Market
Downtown St. Petersburg
Al Lang Stadium/Progress Energy Park
1st Street & 1st Avenue South
Every Saturday, October - May

I went to one of my favorite spots at the Saturday Morning Market in downtown St. Petersburg last Saturday. I missed them the first week, but was very happy to see the return of the Worden Farm booth on my return trip. They only have organic offerings and all the choices are fresh, green and unlike some of the choices at the surrounding grocery stores --- local. The upscale restaurants I've visited throughout the country lately seem to be putting an emphasis on local farms and organic choices. Until recently it was a challenge to buy quality organic vegetables and fruits in St. Petersburg. At Worden's, I picked up a huge bag of basil, some kale and a bucket of zucchini. It seemed like everyone in this part of the market had an armload of fresh picked basil. Its fragrance was intoxicating, but a family of three has a hard time consuming this much of the delicious herb. So I made plans to have people over and set about figuring out what to cook. I visited the Worden Farm website and found a great recipe for pesto. Yes, some people think that pesto has a checkered past, based mainly on its meteoric rise and fall in popularity in the nineties. I remember a particularly cheeky friend announcing after a few glasses of wine, "pine nuts are very underrated," (circa 1996.) We all laughed at the ridiculousness of it, but we were caught up in the fervor of the era too. The simplicity of the recipe, mainly basil, garlic, pine nuts, cheese and olive oil and a quick whirl in the food processor makes pesto an easy meal. Add a little fettuccine, simple salad, some bread and "voila," you have something to impress your friends. Everyone loved the pesto and for me, it brought back a great decade to my mind, one that saw the debut of the Food Network, a Pottery Barn catalog in every mailbox, and a full set of Calphalon listed on every bridal registry.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Dairy Inn

1201 Martin Luther King Jr. St. N., St. Petersburg, FL. Tel. 727-822-6971

Their slogan 'Almost famous since 1947' tells it all. Every generation, since its invention has loved soft serve ice cream and of course hard ice cream is available too, their claim is a choice of 90 flavors. Today, though, I'm not going to discuss the yumminess of ice cream but to tell you (what is to most) a well kept secret. The friend I met for breakfast today was raised in St.. Pete and she didn't even know this little secret. Here goes. Been to New Orleans? Loved those beignets? Well, of course you did and now you can run right over to the Dairy Inn on 9th St. N and have three on a plate for $1.99, add a small coffee and the whole deal is only $2.99. and they are good! The coffee's darned good too.
Of course, they're not exactly the same as those in New Orleans, but I attribute that to a lack of southern drawl from the next table and no flowing Mississippi River near by nor is there someone blowing Dixieland on a horn. Of course, if we had those things we wouldn't be in St. Pete., and we really like it here. For those on their way to work the kind cashier will place those beignets in a little white bag, nice and neat. Seating is at picnic tables and don't forget to take some home with you.
You'll need at least one bag per person. Yum.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Parkshore Grill

300 Beach Drive NE
St. Petersburg, Florida 33701


In my world, the Parkshore Grill is often the place for special meet ups with friends and this week was a shining example. My good friend Tracy is moving away and about a dozen or so of the St. Paul's "girls" had a farewell dinner for her. The restaurant staff set up a banquet table for us outside so that we could partake in the buzz that surrounds the sidewalk crowds. I enjoyed Chef Tyson's special pan roasted duck, seasoned with Asian spices and served with rice and veggies. The avocado tempura that accompanied the meal was a delicious first for me. There are wine suggestions listed with the entrees for people like me who recognize some of the wineries, but who are a bit indecisive when a committment has to be made. Those around me enjoyed the Hanger Steak and Fries, the Tomato and Buffalo Mozzerella Salad, Somona Goat Cheese Spinach Dip, and the Beef Carpaccio just to name a few of the menu items. Saying goodbye to Tracy was sad, but as we toasted, someone said, "our paths will cross again, they always do!"

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The Moon Under Water

332 Beach Dr. St. Petersburg, FL Tel. 727-896-6160

Almost everyone, resident, snowbird, tourist, has been to The Moon Under Water and probably more than a few times. And why? Because you’re never disappointed. The food and drink are consistently good. Service, no matter how crowded, is always good. Prices are more than fair. So why am I writing about a place you already know about? To make sure that you’re not missing one of the best things about The Moon and that’s the Curry. Oh yes their fish and chips are enjoyed by many, their salads served in that taco shell are had by all. But the Curry, that takes some courage. They offer mild, and you can certainly begin with that, but don’t be afraid, next time move on to the hotter version. You’ll be glad you did. It’s a PUB, don’t forget, and those Brits love their Curry. Find out why. Enjoy it with the nain bread and a COLD draft beer. Okay, we don’t have to like everything the Brits like, do we?

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Spice Routes Global Soul Food

460 46th Av N, St. Petersburg, FL 33703

I first discovered Spice Routes at the Saturday Morning Market in downtown St. Petersburg. The booth was centrally located and their fresh, colorful dishes caught my eye immediately. When I was told they had a cafe at the Unity Church, I knew I had to give it a try. It turned out to be a wonderful place to meet, centrally located in St. Petersburg and just barely off the beaten path. No GPS needed to find the route to these exotic flavors. I had the Butternut Squash Salad which was comprised of fresh greens, roasted butternut squash, dried cranberry, walnuts, feta and onion. This healthful combination was dusted with paprika, so it not only tasted like Fall, it looked like it too. My friend had the Vegetarian Black Bean Soup and grilled cheese sandwich. The soup had a flavor reminiscent of chili, just the right smokiness and a little bit of tang. We shared a slice of Gooey Butter Cake which was light as air but rich in flavor. The iced African red tea was a refreshing compliment to the meal. Service was fast and very friendly. Prices for lunch start at $6.50. Takeout and delivery available.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Woody's Waterfront Cafe and Beach Bar

7308 Sunset Bay, St. Pete Beach, FL.
Tel. 727-360-9165

On Thursday I attended an art show, followed by a very pleasant social hour. I met up with a friend and as we walked together to the parking lot we decided that we needed No problem, we made a quick decision and took the short drive over to Gulfport. As we feared, it was too early for Gulfport, the town was DEAD and restaurants empty. So we moved on to a place we knew would be ALIVE…. St Pete Beach! As always, there was a crowd at Woody’s, and a table for two. Which was nice because most of the tables are picnic tables for six. Of course, sometimes you have to share. The menu consists of the regular barfare; chicken in the basket, wings, shrimp, but these guys go one step further….. this food is really good. We both had the fish and chips. I’ve never tasted better and for $6.95 they can’t be beat. Frozen drinks of different pastels are on almost every table. Oh yes, those tables and umbrellas are crowded onto a wooden deck that sits at the waters edge on Blind Pass looking towards the Gulf of Mexico. You can always catch a cool breeze at Woody’s and a little night music. Parking is available, no charge.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Cassis American Brasserie

170 Beach Drive NE, St. Petersburg, FL. 33701

The beautiful Cassis opened this summer at a terrific location, the corner of Beach Drive and 2nd Ave. NE. You can't miss the huge modern metal sculpture in the middle of a very large outside area with it’s typically French café chairs and huge umbrellas. You'll want to just sit and chat while watching the people go by, and you can because it’s still a sidewalk! (just like in Paris). The interior is just as lovely, stark white tablecloths contrast with the dark tables and seating. The large white globe ceiling lights give a feeling of yesterday. But the sophisticated decor is just the beginning because the service and the food are fantastic. Five of us were seated in a u-shaped booth. Made to order, it seated the five of us perfectly. Service is just right and not too fast, if you know what I mean. We had our drinks, time to decide on dishes from a terrific menu, and then just enough time to enjoy each other’s company before we were served, by more than one waiter I might add. Our meals, all hot, actually arrived at the same time. I had the grilled salmon on a bed of udon noodles that were crispy on one side encircled by three al dente baby bok choys all covered with a deliciously light ginger sauce. It’s the best meal I’ve had in at least 12 months, one of which was spent in Europe. What was I thinking! Everyone was very satisfied with their order. Best of call ahead. Reserve a table outside along the Beach Drive while the weather is still warm, there will be plenty of time later to eat inside. Almost forgot, take advantage of the valet service….why not! You are in for a wonderful evening.

Friday, October 15, 2010

La Petite France Mobile Creperie

Saturday Morning Market
Downtown St. Petersburg
Al Lang Stadium/Progress Energy Park
1st Street & 1st Avenue South
Every Saturday, October - May

One of the best booths at the Saturday Morning Market in downtown St. Petersburg is La Petite France Mobile Creperie. Not only do they offer delicious breakfast and lunch treats, but the vendor has decorated the mobile creperie to look as if it's parked on the coast of France. Watching the owner/operator create these tasty treats is definitely part of the experience. When he handed me a beautiful crepe and said "Merci," I felt transported to France. Well maybe, just for a second. Java and I shared La Crepe Tatin, a heavenly mix of cooked apples, caramel, pecans, and whipped cream artfully assembled on top of a well executed crepe. Choices range from the simple cinammon and sugar to a more complex mix of eggs, cheese and herbs. Quiche topped with fig preserves rounds out the menu. Prices range from $4 to $6. The brevity of the market and plethora of food offerings makes it difficult to choose an entree. I'm going back next week to sample some more. Quel dommage!

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Cafe Bohemia

937 Central Avenue, St. Petersburg, FL.

How many cafes around the world have the name Bohemia? Wow, that many? Well, no need to travel so far, we have our very own cafe right here in old St. Pete. They might even look similar, a combination of avant garde, bohemian, hippy like. Hard to imagine this downtown until you see it for yourself. No coffee for me this time, although their espresso and homemade pastries are a draw so I will return soon. A friend suggested we meet for lunch at Bohemia and from the extensive menu I ordered a hummus wrap, served with their homemade German potato salad. Delicious. Everything is fresh and lots of vegan dishes on the menu. Catering? Yes. Movies? Yes. Full length films sponsored by St. Pete for Peace are shown on the patio, free. They invite you to bring your own chair since seating is limited.
This is a fun place, nothing flashy, but you're sure to have a good time. Bring an appetite, they're here to please. Wine and beer are available.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

ABC Chinese Seafood Restaurant

2705 54th Avenue North #3, St. Petersburg, FL 33714

It sounds crazy, but last week while I was having my birthday pedicure, I received the best tip ever for a Chinese restaurant. The woman who filled me in was decked out in Rays gear (very little interest to me) and was talking to the technician about her upcoming trip to the "orient" (slightly more interest to me.) When she looked over at me and said she loved Asian food, well she had my attention. "Best Chinese restaurant in St. Pete is ABC Seafood," she announced. People nodded politely, yet no one seemed to care but me. It's probably because I have been extremely disappointed with Chinese food in this area. It's either too greasy or too salty or just plain bad, so I've turned to the more modern fusion places for my noodle and fried rice fixes. Since it was my birthday, I told my husband this was where we would go for dinner. My son loves wonton soup so it was an easy sell. When we drove up, the phrase "hole in the wall" came to mind. How many times have you thought this and were suprised by one of the best meals of your life? Once inside, we found a very clean restaurant with a pleasant staff and many enticing smells. We had hope when we saw the fish tanks filled with future entrees much like the restaurants of our Chinatown experiences. Their slogan, "all live and fresh" was true. The mixed seafood platter we ordered was delicious and had a variety of tasty fish and crustaceans. I had vegetarian fried rice which was crunchy and flavorful, infused with some unexpected herbs. The chef uses basil in many of the dishes served, giving the meals a Thai-like twist. Of course, once I discovered this place I started talking to people about it. One of my friends had already been there and felt the bold assertion by the Rays fan (that it was the best) was true. Now I think so too.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Saturday Morning Market

Al Lang Stadium parking lot 1st Ave. & 1st St. , St. Petersburg, FL.

Yes, another visit to the Market and it's just before 9am so we head straight for Paciugo's Gelato Cafe. No delicious gelato this time, just their great Kenyan coffee. A generous cup for $2 that certainly rivals our locally roasted Kahwa. Now to find that quick breakfast, well, actually we know what we're looking for. Last week the line was too long for Uhuru's morning wrap filled with eggs, sausage and herb seasoned potatoes, all blended with a spicy tomato sauce. Next time though, we'll ask for more sauce. Splitting that big wrap we still had room for dessert. Leaving our comfortable chairs we headed for the Parisian booth for a tasty Crepe Tatin topped with whipped cream. Huge for just $6.00. Totally satiated we got down to business, checked out the musicians, this week it was Kevin Wilder on keyboard making you want to dance over towards the produce, which we did and purchased a bag full of veggies for a song, literally. haha. Next time promise to tell you about the craft section which seems to be growing.

Monday, October 11, 2010

St. Petersburg Octoberfest 2010

Central Avenue and 21st Street, St. Petersburg, FL

This was the first annual Grand Central Octoberfest, highlighting an eclectic St. Petersburg business area and celebrating craft brew. There was a good sized crowd of several hundred people waiting patiently for the beer tastings. My husband is a imported and craft beer afficionado so he was able to point out the special brands to me. All those beer guides as Christmas gifts finally paid off. A few food vendors showed up including a tasty taco hut manned by Tijuana Flats. Theme appropriate brats and sausages sizzled on temporary grills. The scent wafted along on a cool Fall breeze and a variety of live music gave the evening a festive feel. The best part was walking along Central and feeling safe. Having grown up in this area, sometimes I take my town for granted. I love the architecture of the buildings and appreciate the people who have come along in the last few years to adopt and take care of them. The Grand Central business district has a lot to be proud of and I'm reminded by this event that these stalwart folks deserve my patronage.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Banyan Coffee & Tea Co

689 Dr. Martin Luther King St., St. Petersburg, FL. 33701 Tel. 896-6100

Careful, you might drive right past this cafe the first time just like I did. Hidden behind the trees, it's an old fashioned American coffee shop with a modern twist and lots of color. A chalkboard menu is a sharp contrast to the colorful fiestaware cups and saucers that line the shelves behind, yes, another long bar. The wooden barstools get filled up fast on a Saturday morning. Not to worry, there are small tables for two, indoors and out. The coffee is Kahwa again, that local brew, but it's not as strong and flavorful as the Kahwa shops. The food is good however, with lots of morning sandwiches to choose from. Although, you have to place your order and pay when you arrive, the Banyan Tree has waitresses who pass by offering to fill your cup….they filled ours twice! For you jazz enthusiasts, Sinatra was singing in the background. Nice place and, we’re told, it's a popular hangout for local celebrities.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Saturday Morning Market Downtown St. Petersburg

Al Lang Stadium/Progress Energy Park
1st Street & 1st Avenue South

Every Saturday, October - May

Was that you? I heard a collective sigh of relief from the downtown area as the first signs of Fall appeared and the Saturday Morning Market re-opened. Cooler, dryer weather and fresh fruit and vegetables are part of it, but the thought of breakfasting at the market with a friend made me leap out of bed. Touted as the largest fresh market in the Southeast US, the market is a must for local shoppers and a "worth the trip" experience for out of town noshers. The 120 + vendors provide a colorful selection of produce, prepared food, plants and crafts. Live music rounds out the experience. Local favorites like Paciugo Gelato and the Banyan Coffee and Tea Co are there, serving up some specialties, and vendors from out of the area offer the opportunity to taste new flavors. I tried a sampling of baked goods from Sweet Carolines Bakery and Desserts by Milly, had some some delicious Kahwa coffee and bought a unique plant that garnered many compliments on the way to the car. There's so much to write about, Java and I are headed back next week to try the Uhuru breakfast which had the longest line. My advice is to get there when it opens at 9 and don't wait to get your veggies like I did. Since it was opening weekend, by 10:00 the line went on forever.

The Buzz: Lot of friends and neighbors spotted here. Dogs were in abundance.

Thursday, October 7, 2010


900 Gulf Way, St. Pete Beach, FL.33706 Tel. 727-360-8280

Make a change in your week and have coffee on the beach. Pass-a-Grille Beach in the City of St. Pete Beach has two popular coffee spots so let’s take a look. The first, and my personal favorite, is Paradise Grille which opens daily at 8am and stays open til sunset. Only outdoor seating is available here with picnic tables and umbrellas. Orders are taken at the register, get there early on the weekends or you may find a line., but all of this is worth it because you are literally ON the beach. The food is good and the Gulf view spectacular. The menu is large and the food is good yet simple. Omelettes, pancakes, french toast and that old southern staple, Biscuits and Gravy. You can even take your puppy along.
Just across the street is the Hurricane, a well known night spot, it has a breakfast window that opens at 7am. Looks like they’re trying to beat the competition by opening earlier, but one problem…..the up close and personal view of the Gulf is missing. Coffee in both restaurants is okay, but let’s face it, we’re really not here for the coffee this time. Give it a try, it’s a popular hangout.

Saturday Morning Market

Al Lang Stadium Parking Lot, 1st Ave. & 1st St. St. Petersburg, FL.
The Saturday Morning Market reopened for the season on October 2nd and what a turn out. EVERYONE was there! I kept running into people I knew. So much to talk about. Let’s begin with the obvious, the food booths. Whatever your taste; French crepes, Cuban sandwiches, Italian coffee and gelato, Cajun dishes, British meat pies, Jewish blintzes, Mexican Tacos, they’re all there and more. I was most impressed by Paciugo who made their iced coffee with coffee ice cubes. Can you STAND it? How generous and delicious is THAT? Talk about going above and beyond. Of course the produce booths had long lines. My personal favorite is the fresh pineapple stand where it’s sliced for you. The aroma in the air from the pineapples just draws the non-suspecting passerby. Not even a caring glance at how long the line. Okay, I’m giving it all away (not really) see for yourself next Saturday, early at 9AM sharp!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Banyan Coffee & Tea Co.

The Banyan Coffee & Tea Co. is a true gem just waiting to be discovered in downtown St. Petersburg. Judging by the number of people I saw there on my visit, many have already discovered it. This restaurant offers a creative menu and a warm, friendly interior. Outside seating is available for those who want the benefits (smoking, dog friendly and some times a cool breeze), but I prefered the feeling inside. Taupe walls, bankette style seating, and a full pastry case reveal the attention to detail that you will experience in the food. Breakfast is served 7 days a week, opening at 7 am on weekdays, 8 am on weekends. Lunch is served on weekdays until 2 pm. AM offerings include sandwiches, burritos, omelets, and other specialty items. The sandwiches are served on cuban bread or bagel. Spinach is a nice addition to what could be considered standard fare. PM offerings include a soup and sandwich deal for $7.95. A sandwich can just be a meat and cheese combo without the addition of a tasty condiment. Banyan does offer a bit of zing with things like apricot salsa, wasabi mayo, and balsamic syrup. Guaranteed to liven up your taste buds. Greek salad, risotto du jour, and a black bean frittata round out the menu. Prices range from $6 to $8.95. Banyan's friendly staff serve Kahwa coffee with their flavorful menu and bring a lot of class to the regentrified storefront.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Messineo's Gourmet Market

179 1st Ave. N., St. Petersburg, Fl 33701 TEL: 727-895-1500

On entering Messineo’s you can’t help but notice the colorful décor, modern fixtures with an old fashioned market appeal. The staff is eager to please and the overall feeling is ‘this place may be around for awhile.’
No need to search for the coffee and pastry counter. Just like the previous tenant, Atlanta Bread, it’s located just near the front door. Sorry, not too many choices yet, but a variety of tasty fresh bagels. I tried the Flax/ Raisin, delicious. The coffee however, is lacking in flavor with an odd aftertaste. An increase in critical clientele may bring improvement.
Remember now, this is also a market so there are choice cuts of meat, fish, fresh fruits and veggies. Even salads to go. You won’t find that in every coffee shop! Priced by the pound, some of this local produce is cheaper than our favorite supermarkets. With lots of growing room, Messineo’s (hard to remember?) could become a favorite. Wooden tables and chairs reminiscent of Smith and Hawkins await you outside.

The Buzz: Not a big crowd but this new establishment's location next to Starbucks means they must lure people looking for a unique experience.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Kahwa Espresso Bar

475 2nd St. N., St. Petersburg, FL 33701
Tel: 727-823-4700

Kahwa coffee kept coming up in coversation as I was going about my daily business. Friends were asking, "have you tried Kahwa coffee yet?" Well, I had to admit, I hadn't. I was stuck in a name brand coffee rut and needed a change. One day I decided to break the cycle and met up with Java at the Kahwa Espresso Bar to find out what all the buzz was about. From first sip, this coffee was a strong competitor for becoming my new favorite. It has a balanced flavor that falls into a mid-range that I deem, not to strong and not too weak. The Kahwa folks know how to roast it and they know how to brew it. I chose an almond croissant to accompany the coffee and it made a tasty breakfast. The decor of this Kahwa location has an urban chic feel with lots of texture and organic touches. It feels like a place to be seen, especially if you choose an outdoor spot perched on the edge of 5th Avenue. An eclectic crowd starts gathering at 7 am on weekdays, 7:30 am on weekends, hanging out until 6:30 pm. As for the cost of this experience, this nosh in the city won't break your wallet with prices for coffee drinks ranging from $1.60 to $3.70. If you've tried it, let me know what you think.
The Buzz: Spotted the owner of Studio @ 620 chatting with friends.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Kahwa Cafe

204 2nd Ave. So., St. Pete., FL. 33701 Tel. 727-821-1942

Bright, friendly, warm, sophisticated, all at the same time! The large windows give it an open and airy feel. The coffee is that same delicious brew that you’ll find in their original shop, Kahwa Espresso. Strong, but not bitter. If you like it sweet their helpful bartender will add their homemade brown sugar syrup and their delicious pastries are made on the premises. Cookies are from Central Cafe and Organic nearby and there’s a French chef that delivers special delicacies. A light lunch can be had to eat in or takeout. Tables and umbrellas outside and free wifi add to the enjoyment.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Java and Dune Who?

Just who are Java and Dune? We are friends who love to meet, talk for hours and enjoy great food and drink. The idea for this blog came about because people always ask us for recommendations about where to eat in St. Petersburg. The downtown area is hotter than ever and there is a palpable buzz surrounding "the burg." The Museum of Fine Arts, the Chihuily Gallery and the Dali Museum create this wonderful artistic triangle with lots of fine restaurants in the middle of it. Lots of folks want to find a snack before going to a show at The American Stage, while others want to be somewhere hip to see and be seen. Of course, some restaurants are the destination itself. Our screen names keep us somewhat anonymous as we stealthily sip coffee, while drinking in the crowd and the decor of whatever establishment we are in. In theory, Java represents the modern downtown coffee bars and Dune represents the beachy diners and kitschy places of Florida's past. Our goal is to talk about our culinary adventures and our hope is to have input from like minded foodies. Join us on this journey by giving your opinion and suggestions on the restaurants you love.