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Monday, March 31, 2014

The Clam Factory - Bradenton

Hubby was hankering for Clams on the Half Shell - a Raw Bar - something that was readily accessible when we lived in NYC. But down here in sunny Florida they are hard to find as most establishments feature only Oysters on the menu. So a quick internet search led him to The Clam Factory in Bradenton. Now don't be fooled by the rather dull and sad looking exterior you see in this photo
as believe me you can't judge a book by its cover. Located near the historic Cortez Fishing Village, The Clam features live music, great seafood and house smoked barbecue. It's run by co-owner John Medico who greeted us warmly and told us not to be fooled by the decor - he and his partner came from a fine dining background and the food would be great. And it was!
Sorry I didn't get a photo of the dozen clams served on a bed of ice (chilled and appetizing as they should be) - you see we laid into them so quickly they were gone in a flash. You'll have to go see for yourself. We lucked out by arriving on Steak Night at The Clam - a confusing concept to find steak in a seafood place...but these guys do it right. With a gigantic smoker grill set up outside the restaurant, you park your car and are immediately assaulted by the most appetizing grilled meat aromas. They offer Prime NY Strip from Bradenton's own Chop Shop - a 12-14 oz. steak with baked potato and salad for only $15.00.
Half our group went for it and the meat was absolutely delicious. One even stated that it was the best steak he'd had since he moved to Florida - wow.
There's music almost every night and the band was just setting up when we were leaving - the crowd looked ready for the fun night ahead. Alas loud music isn't our cup of tea any more but that didn't mean the night was over for us. It was back to our house for coffee and dessert and a lively round of our favorite new game - Guesstures, a Charades game that we've had so much fun playing lately. A nice way to end the evening with lots of laughs and frankly some light exercise as we run around the living room gesticulating wildly in an effort to get our teammates to guess right. And yes the girls won AGAIN. But we were all winners for this Great Escape and you can bet we will be going back to The Clam Factory very soon!
The Clam Factory on Urbanspoon
http://clamfactory.com/

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Libby's Sarasota

Notice anything about Libby's Logo? Check back on my previous post for O'Bricks in Bradenton and you'll note that the logos are almost identical. Hmmm....so either they are owned by the same corporation, or they've used the same graphic designer. Take what you will from that - perhaps I'll investigate further.
Our Escape this month led us to Libby's where we enjoyed the food, the atmosphere and each others company. It must be stated that whether the restaurant is a hit or a miss - our company is always a hit. This Sarasota neighborhood is lively and filled with restaurants and bars clustered within a few short blocks. I'm always delighted to discover these pockets of cool, hip eateries. Libby's is a large beautiful place with additional sidewalk seating where you can dine alfresco even on a cool evening as they are equipped with some futuristic groovy furnace towers.
We were able to get a round table which is always our preference as it promotes conversation for all. I had my once-in-a-blue moon Lemon Drop Martini and as we got there before happy hour ended at 7 pm we scored. The menu is varied and interesting, including a whole section of Gluten Free options - a growing concern for many people these days including two of our group members. So it was nice to be able to accommodate their needs while not compromising the needs of the rest of us. Taking your group's dietary concerns into account can make it challenging to find a restaurant that will please all. Libby's did it beautifully.
I had a flat-iron entree spinach salad, hubby a flat-iron steak with pomme frittes. Two of our group had the special - meatloaf made with beef, veal and pork and topped with a fried egg, a generous portion accompanied by green beans. The food earned high points from everyone, even though it was pricy. Be prepared to spend but know that you'll enjoy the food. (Hey that's why we do this splurge only once a month!)

Thursday, January 30, 2014

O'Bricks Irish Pub & Martini Bar - Bradenton

Our original Great Escape pick last Saturday had been for a restaurant in Tampa and we’d all looked forward to it until someone remembered it was Gasparilla weekend. A couple of years ago we had found ourselves gridlocked in Tampa’s most celebratory weekend and vowed to forever more avoid the pirates and pirate lovers. We quickly changed the venue to O’Brick’s Irish Pub & Martini Bar in Manatee. Sometimes last minute Plan B’s work out great and this was one of those times.
I confess I have driven past Manatee Avenue and 12th Street (Old Main Street) a hundred times on my way to Holmes Beach and Anna Maria Island. So it was with surprise and delight that we found ourselves on a charming street of restaurants, bars and lounges that reminded me very much of NYC’s Greenwich Village (ah the good old days). I encourage you to explore those little side streets as you never know what treasures you’ll find.
O’Brick’s sounds like an Irish Pub but really doesn’t feel like one. I had a dear Irish girlfriend who introduced me to Irish Pubs in NYC when I was in my twenties, so I know the difference. O’Brick’s interior has brick walls (hence the name?) and there are quite a lot of stylized paintings and plaques of fish. They do have Shepherd’s Pie on the menu. But there the similarity to an Irish pub ends.
This deconstructed version of Shepherd’s Pie was surprisingly delicious according to a fellow in our group who regularly orders this in Irish Pubs. He really liked it even if it did come with a fancy flower on it.
My grilled salmon with Balsamic Glaze was perfectly cooked and the roasted potatoes and al dente green beans were the perfect accompaniment.
O’Brick’s offers a myriad of martini’s (mmm). I had a Lemon Drop that was quite delicious but they had dozens of flavors to pick from.
The service was very good and our waiter was extremely nice. Note that while groups of 6 or more customarily get 18% gratuity added to their bill, at O’Brick’s it is 20%. Not a bad thing as we’d tip that much anyway for good service. But I’m guessing you’ll see this small increase at other restaurants soon. http://obricks.com/main.html
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Tuesday, December 3, 2013

NO GREAT ESCAPES FOR THE HOLIDAY SEASON

With the holiday season upon us our group is taking a break for November and December as Escape seems impossible. We'll spend these months doing more entertaining at home as family and friends come from near and far.
I'm flexing my long dormant 'chef' muscles and find that when I have enough liesure time to spare I actually enjoy doing some cooking. Hold on hubby I'm not ready to take back my apron full time - you're still the master of the kitchen. But I've been preparing one meal a week and enjoying it.
I make killer black beans, wicked good hot dog onions, GREAT pizza, yummy quesadillas. I'm not fool enough to try my hand at one of Jolly's specialties. I focus on things he doesn't cook and am so pleased when he likes them. Validation.
Recently we invited a friend over who wanted to learn how to make hubby's Eggplant Rollatini - a dish that has earned him high praise through the years. I filmed it for our kids to enjoy but its too long to share here. I will say that looking at him perform his culinary magic through a camera lens helped me focus squarely on his incredible precision. His style is so regimented that he does it almost on auto pilot with culinary muscle memory. Viewing it back on film even he was struck by how calmly he went about his process. I think that's the mark of a genius cook. I'm more likely to get distracted and forget that somethings on the stove.
I've made my mother's bread pudding recipe twice in the last two weeks but haven't been happy with the results. I had asked her for years to please give me her recipe and she couldn't do it. So I set about ammassing all the ingredients and invited her over to make it for me. As she put it all together I followed her around with pen and paper and wrote it down for posterity. I lost mom just a couple of years after this and so I treasure this recipe in her memory. Bread pudding is one of those things that changes each time you make it depending on the ingredients at hand. I'm ashamed to say these two efforts didn't cut it and its because I took liberties with her recipe thinking that's what I was supposed to do - make it my own. So this weekend I will try again and this time stick to her recipe. That's what hubby does and why his dishes always come out exactly the same - delicious. Lesson learned.
Merry Christmas and Happy Hannukah and Happy New Year to all!

Monday, October 28, 2013

The 4th Street Shrimp Store

It was my turn to pick the restaurant and the 4th Street Shrimp Store was a last minute spontaneous choice for me. You’d think with the hundreds of restaurants in the Tampa Bay area I shouldn’t have a problem choosing one for my Great Escape. But I was having diner’s block I think. A couple of weeks ago the universe had me stopped at a light right in front of this charming bungalow on 4th Street in St. Petersburg and so I decided to give it a try. Sometimes you have to be daring and take a chance, right?
The atmosphere is Kitchy Key West fun with seaside memorabilia scattered all around. I laughed out loud at a seafaring bloke peering into the painted on window – so realistic it gave me a start (it was either Trompe L’Oeil or maybe I’d had too much to drink ;) We eight were a little crammed into a table more suited for six but we settled in and ordered a round of drinks.
Some tips for dining out in groups – if possible, stop by the restaurant before you book it and see where you’ll be seated. When you make your reservation for eight people, ideally you want a round table so conversation flows evenly. Do specify that you don’t want a high top table (unless you do). Most restaurants will try to accommodate you especially if you mention that you’re a dining out group. We have some in our group with bad backs or knees and being cramped at a table can put a damper on the whole experience. (Alas we boomers are holding on by a thread but putting up a brave front). For those times when we are seated at a long table we ladies have contrived a seating plan that allows us to put our heads together and chat in the middle while our husbands each take a corner. Our chatty communication requires close proximity - our hubbies indulge us.
The gal who seated us recommended the Clam Chowder – and she was right – it was delicious. Just the right amount of creamy and lots of clams and potatoes. I had shrimp over a salad of field greens and wasn’t wowed with the shrimp which were steamed then chilled and had lost some of their taste. Hubby had a shrimp hoagie and complained the shrimp was frozen and tasteless. Some of the others fared better with blackened scallops or shrimp – perhaps the seasoning helped revive the taste. I must say the service was impeccable. Very friendly and attentive. I could be persuaded to give it another try and order something different, maybe the crab cakes. But hey, there are so many restaurants to choose from that it’s not likely we’ll be back any time soon.
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Monday, September 30, 2013

Yachtsea Grille, River Walk, Bradenton

Another Great Escape with our good friends. This time we headed south to Bradenton River Walk’s Yachtsee Grille. I’m guessing the name infers that you can dine and watch yacht’s go by but that’s not the case. Situated within a short walk to the River Walk, the outdoor dining room affords no view at all. It’s more of a hideaway albeit a pleasant one. Canvas panels keep the sun out while allowing the breeze in. What you hear is an awful lot of traffic noise from the access road just beyond the property line. Happily, a singer with his guitar arrived soon after we got there and provided soothing, not-too-loud sounds ranging from Billy Joel to Jimmy Buffet that very effectively drowned out the traffic noise.
We sat at a large granite table with a built in fire pit for a centerpiece and as soon as the night sky approached we got the owner to ‘light our fire’. He obliged and regaled us with stories of how he and his dad had built these special tables. He told us that Yachtsee Grille is the only restaurant in the River Walk complex which certainly credits him with some foresight in procuring the location when the project was still on the drawing board.
If you haven’t yet visited River Walk you must put it on your To Do List. It’s a beautiful planned recreational area that debuted in October 2012. On a previous visit we’d stopped by to observe some daring youngsters at the architecturally awesome Skateboard Park risk broken bones to outdo each other. (not for the squeamish) Check out the park’s event calendar for concerts and other fun stuff they offer http://www.realizebradenton.com/index.php/calendar/week.listevents/2013/09/29/-
As for the food, I was very pleased with my grilled salmon over yogurt dill sauce with fresh veggies and a salad. Hubby had a large chopped salad and an appetizer of lightly breaded, tender calamari. Everything was fresh and tasty and all eight of us were pleased with the food and service.
Have you ever gone to a restaurant and filled up on appetizers so that you end up taking your expensive Entree home in a doggie bag? It seems like such a waste since it never tastes the same reheated. There are times when I’ve finished my meal and SO wanted a dessert but - not yet – better to wait an hour. So what we do now and then is just order a couple of appetizers, a salad and then share a dessert. It all equals out to around the same cost and the best part is you get to try all those Appies and Desserts that look so tempting.
http://www.yachtseagrille.com/ LocalEats featured blog YachtSea Grille on Urbanspoon

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Cooper's Hawk Winery & Restaurant

You can never run out of restaurants in Tampa. The choices are as plentiful and varied as your imagination, palette and wallet can handle. The challenge for our dining out group is to pick from hundreds. We put a lot of thought into our choices, trying to find a restaurant that will appeal to various dietary concerns and culinary sensibilities. Remember the mission statement of The Great Escape is to ‘escape’ from Sun City Center while we’re still able to!
This weekend we visited Cooper's Hawk Winery. Not the actual vineyard, but one of their many restaurants that feature the Cooper's Hawk wines and offer a ‘Scratch” kitchen. I asked our waitress Barbara what that meant and as the word implies, everything on the menu is made from scratch. Our waitress graciously served us all a tasting of their special cask wine blended from five grapes. It was delicious. She happily granted requests for a few other tastings before we all settled on our picks for the evening. One couple in our group ordered a “Flight” of wine – something we’d never heard of before. It consisted of four samplings of wine thoughtfully selected to offer the guest a progression of tastes - it’s hard to pick one when they were all great so this was a delightful way to get the full wine tasting experience.
Here you see the Restaurant Manager Joseph Busicchia demonstrating how they draw their featured wine from the cask into a glass tube and then dispense it into our wineglass. He graciously posed for my photo as recognizing a kindred spirit he swapped NYC memories with my husband.
But let’s get to the food now – enough about the wine – or can there ever be enough wine? My husband and I shared the Ahi Tuna appetizer and an iceberg wedge salad – absolutely delicious. I chose the chopped salad with blackened tenderloin, he chose the Jambalaya which was prepared beautifully with flavors rivaling those we sampled during our recent vacation in New Orleans.
All eight of us were very pleased with our choices. The menu offers a wide range of options so you can choose wisely to meet your budget. Hubby and I are of the mindset to “go big or go home” so maybe we’ll be tightening our dining out budget for the coming month. But once in while you gotta splurge, and you don’t mind doing that when you’re getting a quality meal and excellent service. https://coopershawkwinery.com/menus/restaurant-menu