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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

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Cine Bistro - Dinner IN a Movie

As self proclaimed FOODIES we were dying to see the new Steven Spielberg/Oprah Winfrey movie - The Hundred Foot Journey. When I scanned the internet to find out where it was playing I chanced upon CineBistro in Hyde Park. My curiosity piqued, I delved further into their website and decided if ever we were to try out this movie going concept, this particular film was the perfect pairing for it.
The concept of Dinner and a Movie is an old one, but we found this new twist of Dinner IN a Movie to be extremely pleasant. I'm sure not all Movie/Dining venues are created equal, but CineBistro in Hyde Park excels in every way I can imagine. With an extensive upscale menu that includes Wagyu Beef Sliders, Brie and Pear Flatbreads, Kale Salad, a variety of artisan sandwiches served on delicious brioche breads, and a lovely assortment of desserts, this is surely not the kind of movie food we've all come to expect. No more do you have to settle for hideous microwaved hot dogs and cheeze whiz nachos-ugh! There's a new chef in town. And what a pleasure to be served on real china with cloth napkins - it was like dining in a 5 star restaurant albeit in semi-darkness - but then again don't we all look better in dim light? The food was very good and even the popcorn was served in a large trendy looking ceramic bowl.
Here's how it works. You must arrive at the theater 30 minutes before the movie starts. Once seated your waiter or waitress will smoothly greet you and welcome you to CineBistro. You order your food and beverages and pay right away. There's a 17.5% tip automatically added. They return within 5-10 minutes with your food and check back with you several times until the movie is about to start so if you eat quickly enough they can clear the plates for you. If you care to have anything more after the movie has started, you may walk down to the lobby cafe and get it.
The seating is marvelous. Rich, comfy leather recliner rockers with side trays that slide out or away for your meal. And while there are no bad sight lines, clearly the best seats in the house are in the back row where they provide leather ottomans so you can really lean back, put your feet up, sip your wine or espresso, and settle in for a relaxing movie experience. It's awesome.
Reservations can be made online and there is a $5 service charge added. You can also purchase your tickets in the lobby. No one under 21 is admitted to the theater - something else that adds to the elegant experience. And here's a seating tip - as I mentioned, the last row of every theater has the uber comfy ottomans so take note of that when you select your seating. Also, the schedule changes on Tuesday of each week so to ensure your good seat reserve a few days in advance.
Hyde Park is known for its trendy upscale eateries and I noticed some people coming in to enjoy a relaxing meal in the beautiful lobby cafe even if they weren't staying for the movie.
Another nice touch in the lobby was free strawberry and mint infused chilled water. And keep in mind that you don't have to dine at all - just come for the comfy movie watching experience. I think next time we'll do dessert and coffee. Because yes, there will definitely be a next time.
CineBistro on Urbanspoon

Monday, July 28, 2014


This week's ESCAPE brought us to the Lakewood Ranch section in Bradenton. The Texas Roadhouse was doing a brisk business and the place was mobbed. That's always a good sign that they're doing something right. While they don't take reservations, you can call ahead and it will make your wait time a little shorter. There was one hiccup when they first seated us at an oddly shaped large booth that would have been a very tight squeeze. So it was worth the wait for a better table. When you're planning an outing to a new restaurant it's not always possible to know what seating will be like for a group of eight. We've already established that we don't want to sit at high top tables (several in our group have bad backs). And of course a round table is always preferred if possible. But now to that list we can say no to booths for such a large party. Live and learn, eh?
This is a fun place. It's LOUD and lively and everyone seems to be having a great time. If you've got a cowboy hat in your closet - now would be the time to dust it off and wear it proudly. Grab some peanuts while you're waiting and yeah, go ahead and toss the shells on the floor. The wait staff is is young and charming and eager to please. At any moment a bunch of them will line up and entertain you with a Texas style line dance. And if it's your birthday, don't mention it if you're the shy type cause they'll bring a saddle on a saw horse to your table and chant "Saddle up! Saddle up!" till you well......saddle up and become the center of attention for your birthday song. Hilarious!
The best part of it all was the food - cause atmosphere means nothing if the food ain't great. Hubby is a meat and potatoes kind of guy and he had the prime rib served with au jus gravy and mashed potatoes - and gave it high marks.
The burgers are gigantic and delicious - you might need a doggy bag. I had the steak dinner salad which included a generous portion of tender steak tips over a fresh garden salad, and although it was delicious and I ate every morsel, it wasn't perfect. I had asked for Ranch dressing but when I tucked into my meal I discovered that underneath, the salad had been dressed with vinaigrette.
I mentioned it as a comment, not a complaint, to a manager who stopped by to see how everything was and she said that they always dress the salad that way. I told her it didn't make any sense if I wanted Ranch to have two dressings competing on my plate and she agreed it was odd and said she'd advise the chef of my observations.
The service was excellent and although we'd forgotten a coupon for a free Blooming Onion appetizer, it didn't take much convincing before our waiter offered us one for free. It was plenty enough for the eight of us and we all agreed it was better than ones we'd had at Outback.
They've got a nice array of beers on tap to wash it all down with, but I opted for a bottle of Blue Moon, my once in a while indulgence. And given the generous portions, none of us could handle dessert then or even later on that evening as we sat around with coffee and recapped the evening. It's my pick next month so I've got to put on my thinking cap and find something interesting - but hey, this is Tampa and you can never run out of new and fun restaurants to try here.
Texas Roadhouse on Urbanspoon