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.