By Java and Dune

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.