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Sunday, April 26, 2015

Jackson’s Bistro & Sushi Bar

Service so bad…..
Jackson’s Bistro is located right on the water near the Tampa Convention Center and boasts a huge wrap around patio with great views and a bar. It was a humid night and so our group had reserved a table for eight inside. Our table was across from the double door entry which blasted us with the setting sun so that one side of the table needed sunglasses while the other remained in silhouette. The very large dining room was so noisy it made conversation nearly impossible. The place was very lively, with quite a lot of teenagers enjoying prom night. We enjoyed seeing the kids all dressed up and marveled with awe that the stunning supermodels passing our table were actually in high-school. How grown up they looked! Ah yes, we remembered those days fondly and compared prom stories.
I ordered Jackson’s signature Kale Salad topped with Grilled Salmon and have to say it was delicious. Hubby and a couple others ordered the Mushroom Chicken Marsala and they loved it but alas hubby did not. Do you see a recurring theme here? The Sushi Nigiri was very good as was the Lobster Bisque. So we gave it pretty high marks for food. But the service was just terrible.
Our waiter claimed to have worked at Jackson’s for almost as long as it’s been open. It appears he’s still in training. He seemed overwhelmed by how busy the place was and eager to rush away from our table. He mumbled and seemed to resent having to repeat himself. Half the drink orders were taken, and he never asked the other side of the table so had to come back twice.
When the entrees were brought, he hadn’t first taken the time to buss the empty appetizer dishes out of the way so there was an awkward moment of him expecting you to move your salad plate to make room for your entrĂ©e plate….very bad form. Mike ordered a burger but received a steak sandwich. When he mentioned this error the waiter actually argued with him about it and asked several times “why don’t you just take it”, until Mike got tired of protesting and ate it. It turns out to have been a real good steak sandwich but that’s not the point is it? When he found my dish on his cart he actually handed it to me across the large round table forcing me to stand and reach for it. Really? It was hectic and strange. He had to be reminded to refill sodas and water, often times leaving the empty glass when he dropped off a fresh one.
At the end he messed up our checks charging us for two Chicken Marsala dinners while not charging someone else for theirs. He seemed annoyed at us for his mistake and for having to redo the checks. It was a very strange experience to say the least.
Would I go back?
Maybe for lunch sitting outside on the patio and certainly checking first to make sure we weren’t in this particular waiter’s section. It really is a beautiful spot. By the way parking is in the underground garage and Jackson’s will validate your ticket for up to two hours. After that you’re charged $1/half hour.
Dessert afterwards at Hollie’s was a yummy blueberry cobbler and a sinfully good lemon cake all washed down with some Mexican Coffee (add a spoonful each of cinnamon and cocoa powder to your coffee brew basket and Ole – good stuff.
Jackson’s Bistro & Sushi Bar, 601 S Harbour Island Blvd, Tampa, FL 33602 Jackson's Bistro on Urbanspoon

Monday, April 13, 2015

Derek's Rustic, Coastal Cuisine, Bradenton

Our group headed south to Bradenton for our March Great Escape. This second location of Derek’s opened in 2009 to rave reviews from Zagat. The original is in Sarasota. Chef/owner Derek Barnes has some impressive culinary credentials including the title of Most Innovative Chef in the Best of SRQ Magazine, Florida Trend’s Golden Spoon award, and inclusion in Zagat America’s Top Restaurant listings. Derek went to culinary school in Denver then worked for Emeril Lagasse in New Orleans for four years where he learned to develop flavors and use spices. He gets all his unique and international spices from
With that many titles and accolades, we expected the menu to be a pricy one. But hey you only live once, and we budget for our monthly splurge. The exterior of the restaurant is lovely and looked brand new. The interior is tastefully decorated, sleek and homey at the same time with an assortment of lovely paintings of fish and other coastal themes all painted by local Sarasota artist Tim Jaeger who earned his BA from Ringling College of Art & Design and now works and paints there. Derek supports the local art community. For more information on Jaeger visit
Now about the food… was very good. Having said that, there were some flaws. Hubby ordered the short ribs dish and said it was delicious but alas the portion was too small for him and he left hungry. He might have filled up on some bread but the only thing our waiter brought us was one tiny cheddar biscuit each. We might have ordered an appetizer but as I said the menu was pricy and we decided to focus on the main course. I had a very tasty Red Snapper dish with a very small amount of roasted fingerling potatoes and a few thin string beans. That dish was $27 and I was fine with my portion size. The others in our group ordered Pork Shank, Flank Steak, Kale Salad, Flatbread, or Classic Burger and Fries. There were high marks all around our table for the food.
Cheryl and I opted to split a bottle of wine, and our waiter Zach brought us a bottle of Gouguenheim Malbec. It was so delicious that I snapped a photo of the bottle so I’d remember the name and buy it next chance I got. What would we do without our smart phones eh? We finished every last drop!
Derek's, 5516 Manatee Avenue West, Bradenton, FL 34209 Tel: 941-794-1100

Monday, March 2, 2015

The Pierogi Grille

We took an hour long drive this weekend to have dinner at the Pierogi Grill. Now some of you might balk at the drive, but I'm here to tell you it's worth every minute of the trip. The Pierogi Grill has been around for at least 10 years that I know of. We'd happened upon it years ago while driving around Gulf to Bay Blvd exploring our new town of Tampa. For whatever reason (too busy schedules) it fell off our restaurant radar for several years until this weekend when hubby recalled the fine food. My husband was born and raised in Little Italy NYC, and being the melting pot that the lower east side is he was exposed to a myriad of ethnic cuisines and Polish food was just one of them. Kapusta (sauerkraut) and Kielbasa (sausage) oy! I had the Pork Schnitzel with half a dozen Pierogi (dumplings). The four of us each selected a different flavor Pierogi and then we shared and tasted and licked our chops. Potato, Potato with Farmers Cheese, Mushroom, and Pork with Sauerkraut......I couldn't decide which was better - they were all fabulous. Hubby had a dish charmingly names The Polish Prince Platter which consisted of a Stuffed Cabbage, Kielbasa, and half a dozen Pierogi. We all licked our plates clean.
One of the charming eccentricities of this restaurant is the incongruous Egyptian decor. Yes you heard me right. There are sarcophagi, sanskrit writings and other oddities along with indoor trees. The wait staff is friendly and very efficient, happy to explain their Polish dishes to the novice. In fact as I walked around the restaurant I heard snippets of Polish conversation coming from several tables, a sure sign of the authenticity of the restaurant as it attracts the Polish people from far and wide.
As a bonus, you can visit the Delicatessen at the back of the restaurant and pick up some wonderful international groceries and best of all a butcher section that sells Kielbasa and other meats as well as frozen Pierogis. Of course we took some goodies home so we can replicate the meal at home without having to make the drive.
Pierogi Grill is one of those places you lament is kind of far away, and in the same breath you are grateful that it is because surely if was closer we'd be there every week over indulging the most delicious food we've ever tasted.
Pierogi Grill on Urbanspoon

Monday, December 29, 2014

There's No Escaping The Holidays

Recently someone asked me about how we run our dining out club "The Great Escape" and it got me to thinking how lucky I am to be blessed with good health, a wonderful family, and really true friends.
Our dining out club affords us the opportunity to reconnect on a regular basis with each other, something we might not do if it wasn't right there on our calendar the last Saturday of the month. Friendships need to be nurtured and its so easy to get caught up in day to day stuff. Make time for your friends and you'll be rewarded with a deepening connection while you build some wonderful memories.
Despite our taking November and December off we just had to get together anyway but did it at our home instead. A casual meal, a few drinks, and hours of conversation made the evening pass quickly and pleasantly. Time flies when you're having fun, eh?
Wishing you all a very Happy New Year filled with good food and good friends to enjoy it with.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Plan B Doesn't Have to Suck

This month's Great Escape proved to be a real challenge. Here in the Tampa Bay area we've been deluged with rain....monsoon type rain. Frankly I'm sick of it. So we were all looking forward to our escape and the restaurant we were headed to was Joe's Crab Shack in Clearwater. Alas we never made it. Our four couples headed out in two cars around the same time and it soon became apparent that the weather was against us. Seasoned Floridian drivers, we're not cowed by a little rain....but this was ridiculous. So about twenty minutes into our trip with only ten feet of visibility in front of us I called it "Abort" "Abort" "Abort" - we're not going to Clearwater in this mess. We texted the others and let them know we were getting off in Brandon and would head to Leroy Selmons on the Causeway if they wanted to find us. They were farther ahead and ended up near the Int'l Mall at a place called Lime Fresh Mexican Grill.
LEROY SELMON'S, 11310 Causeway Blvd, Brandon, FL 33511
This is one of our favorite Go To places when we're shopping in Brandon. We can always rely on good service and good food. I had my usual Grilled Chicken over Caesar Salad. What I like about it is that it has a little heat to it and makes my taste buds dance. Shaken by the rainy ride I ordered a Shock Top on draft with a slice of orange and it was delicious but I could barely finish it. I'm a light weight drinker (cheap date). Hubby had the meatloaf and critic that he is I was waiting for some negative remarks but lo and behold he liked it! The portion was generous and he ate every morsel. Our friends had brisket and it was as good as ever.
We are members of the Leroy Selmon's Victory Club and enjoy racking up points from our dining that earn us free appetizers or $5 off next time we come. Excellent value.
LIME FRESH MEXICAN GRILL, 1824 N. West Shore Blvd., Tampa, FL 33607
Under the premise of 'any port in a storm' our second group washed ashore at a restaurant near Westshore and Spruce (right across from the Container Store which they managed to avoid visiting despite the come hither lights that sparkled midst the beating rain). It was more upscale than a Moe's, but you ordered at a counter like Moe's. The fajitas were great as was the Cantina Steak Salad. The fajita sides were served in these cute tin trays.
Oh, and they had a salsa bar with several different kinds, including a delicious pineapple salsa. All in all, very enjoyable - but we were sorry our original plans were thwarted by the weather. (as reported by Hollie!) We'll have to check out this place next time we shop at the Westshore Mall since we definitely need to go back and shop at the Container Store, right?
What really saved the night was the after party - we eventually all made it back to our house for coffee and darts! With levels of dart experience ranging from nil to champion, we set out in couple teams to play a rollicking game of Cricket and it proved the perfect activity to get us moving and laughing and competing. Lots of fun followed by coffee and cheesecake. As I said, Plan B didn't suck at all. I like a group that's able to be spontaneous!

Dining Out On A Diet

Our dining out group gets together for the company as much as the food. We enjoy taking turns selecting the restaurant and discovering one that the group will enjoy. Through the years we haven't had too many bad experiences. How do we pick them? There are quite a few sites devoted to restaurants. Urbanspoon, Yelp, Trip Adviser, etc. Sometimes we search by type of food. Sometimes by neighborhood. We read the reviews and make a judgement call and take a leap of faith that it will be a good experience. We're rarely disappointed but if we are we take it with a sense of humor and a more satisfying dessert. Live and learn, eh?
This past year it seemed that more than half of us were on some kind of diet or another and while that posed a challenge at first, we somehow managed to find restaurants that accommodated everyone's dietary restrictions. There's lo fat, lo carb, gluten free, paleo, weight watchers, etc. So how do you pick a restaurant that can satisfy the dietary needs of eight people? Here are some tips for selecting one that everyone will enjoy.
First of all, know your group and understand their particular dietary restrictions and tastes. I wouldn't select a restaurant that sold only fish if I knew there was someone in the group that hated fish.
Second, search by the particular diet name. For example, a search for "gluten free" served up over 300 options in Tampa Bay, an astonishing number I thought. We're seeing that more and more restaurants are featuring special diet offerings on their menus in an effort to attract more people.
Libby's in Sarasota for example, had a section on their menu called "Simply Grilled Gluten Free" much to the delight of our gluten challenged friend.
Of course, it you're the one with the dietary restriction, you have to do your part as well by researching the menu, calling ahead to ask questions on how food is prepared. There's always something you can find on a menu that will work for you. I've been on Weight Watchers for a couple of months now and the program has given me some good tools and tips for navigating the temptations of a good restaurant. I've learned not to be embarrassed about asking to have my meal prepared a certain way (sans butter). I've enlisted the help of my hubby by asking him to keep the bread basket at his side of the table out of sight. And if I'm really worried, I will eat a big juicy apple just before we leave the house to make sure I'm not starving and more susceptible to temptation. It works.
Lastly, if I'm hosting the after dinner coffee I try to make sure to serve one sumptuous dessert for those who can happily indulge, and a big fruit salad for those who are watching their waistline. If I'm not hosting, I toss a little weight watchers snack bar in my purse so I'll have something sweet to nibble on with my coffee and not feel deprived. So don't let your diet stand in the way of having a fun night out dining with friends. Eat (less), Drink (more) and be Merry - you can't chew if you're talking so keep the conversation going!

Sunday, August 31, 2014

220 EAST Restaurant, Davis Islands

For our August escape we headed out to a restaurant on Davis Islands called 220 EAST which was located at…....220 East Davis Islands Boulevard….hence the name. As a sometimes directionally challenged person I think its nifty to make finding your establishment so easy to plug into the GPS.
Just down the street from 220 EAST is a wonderful little Thai restaurant called…..Thai Island Restaurant. (Another example of how to make finding a particular cuisine a little easier for customers) We visited Thai Island a couple of years ago and enjoyed it very much (especially the Sake). As we were leaving I had walked down the block and peeked into 220 EAST and put it on my mental list for future escapes.
So I have no one to blame but myself for this month’s escape as it was my pick. Now to be fair it wasn't all bad, but it wasn't all good either.
I was eating light and opted for an appetizer of Satay Chicken with Teriyaki sauce. It was very good and the portion was more than generous. To round out my meal I had Field Greens with oil & vinegar. When you’re eating light like this it’s a great option to order an appetizer and a salad and have them served together.
Two in our group had the Chicken Thai Cobb salad and gave it very high marks – it was a generously portioned dinner salad.
It went downhill from there. Two others ordered the Beef Stir Fry with Oriental Sauce and both of them were very disappointed. The sauce was overly sweet and the beef was tough. Two strikes against it. One of the specials that evening was Rainbow Trout and unfortunately it wasn’t special at all. And we were bothered by the add-on charges like $1.50 more for Almondine and another charge for a side, things that should have been explained when she ordered.
As for ambiance, it strives to combine a hint of elegance with a rustic pub like atmosphere but I'm not so sure they pulled it off. The outside of the restaurant doesn't match the inside at all except for a large wine cellar displayed in the entry. Once inside its like any other pub. The restaurant was busy including young families probably drawn by the pizza menu. With an evenly split thumbs up and thumbs down vote from our group, we won't return. But I could be tempted to head back to Thai Island down the street some time to have a little more of that Sake along with some delicious Thai food.
Fun Facts: Davis Islands (plural) is an archipelago made up of two islands (a third island was filled in to make room for a landing strip when they built Peter O. Knight Airport). With a population of about 6,000 it has a charming small town neighborhood feel. I look forward to exploring more restaurants and points of interest in this somewhat out of the way section of Tampa.
220 East on Urbanspoon