Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Can't Escape? Then Dive In...to The Seafood Dive

While this blog focuses on The Great Escape from Sun City Center, it's nice to know that we finally have a great seafood option right here in town!
The Seafood Dive opened in February 2011 with a clever name (think diving into the ocean for your meal) and a casual, friendly atmosphere. Decorated with a beachy fishing theme that was inspired by the owner's love of fishing, the real hit here is the food. Well prepared favorites like Alaskan Cod, Farm Raised Catfish and Mahi Mahi are a hit and you'll enjoy their Gator Tail, Fried Pickles and Sandwich Baskets.
On my last visit I chose the diet friendly Broiled Alaskan Cod with steamed greenbeans and coleslaw. The portions are very generous and I had to take some home which I enjoyed the next day for lunch. The cod was deliciously seasoned and cooked perfectly. Sure I cheated a little and had one hush puppy but it was worth the few extra calories.
Owner Kaz with his many years of restaurant experience has been successful in overcoming the biggest hurdle facing restaurant businesses in Sun City Center - he offers delicious affordable food and provides excellent customer service.....and people keep coming back. The Seafood Dive is here to stay and cares about giving back to the community by generously participating in local chamber and church group fund raising events.
An altogether pleasant dining experience with a friendly and efficient waitstaff. And now that the cooler weather has arrived, you'll enjoy eating outdoors on the Dry Dock. www.theseafooddive.com
Ella’s Americana Folk Art Cafe on Urbanspoon

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Restaurants Remembered (1)

Since our group was dining out for quite a while before I started my blog, I will from time to time write about some “Restaurants Remembered”. One that stands out is Ciccios/Water. Here you get two restaurants in one. Ciccio’s California Cuisine and Water Unique Sushi. These two restaurants (owned by the same group) adjoin each other and share a kitchen that happily serves either menu to either side. So diners truly get the best of both worlds.
Our group arrived at 6pm (yes we’re seniors but we’re not looking for the early bird special!). We like to do a social activity AFTER dinner so that’s why we dine at 6pm. (yes we’re seniors so we start getting tired about 10:30pm – don’t judge us – you’ll get there some day).
We ordered from the Ciccio’s menu and quite a few of us tried the California Bowls – yum. And the Penne with Italian Sausage garnered some rave reviews. Everyone was quite happy with their meals. The wait staff was young, attractive and very professional. They gave us lots of attention and when the manager came by to ask how everything was we complimented the food and service.
I mentioned that it was our first time at Ciccio’s and that we were a Dining Out group that met monthly and he chatted with us good naturedly for a while. In a move that proved his marketing genius he sent over a gigantic platter filled with a sample of every sumptuous dessert they offered – on the house! Now that’s classy – and smart.
We will definitely go back to Ciccio’s – it was a great experience. And on our way out it was lovely to see the place now filling up with young, beautiful people. The parking lot was abuzz with valets and limos – it promised to be a lively fun night at Ciccio’s – and we left feeling satisfied and catered to and I’m sure we ended up at a Dunkin’ Donuts somewhere to sip a coffee and recall our more youthful days of partying into the wee hours and wearing fabulous clothes and dancing all night without our feet hurting.
http://soho.cicciostampabay.com/?page_id=3 Billy's Stone Crab Seafood on Urbanspoon

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Ella's Folk Art Cafe

This weekend our gang of eight headed off to Ella’s Folk Art Museum….errr…Cafe. Confused? Me too, at first. We followed our GPS directions to Seminole Heights, not your typical fine dining neighborhood we thought, as we passed a myriad of used car dealers and Popeye’s Chicken stores. Let’s keep in mind that the mandate of our Great Escape Group is that members can pick ANY restaurant their heart desires. That includes a hot dog stand if it pleases them. So we were ready for anything.
I’m always amazed at how easily a neighborhood can transition from depressed to avant garde at any given turn. In this case Ella’s Folk Art Cafe rose up out of the debris laden establishments surrounding it and presented itself as a big gaily painted harlot. The 2-story terra cotta stucco façade was beautiful and welcoming. Some really cool metal sculptures dotted its landscape and the lawn was edged with rows of half buried bowling balls in every color of the rainbow. Delightful! A side patio with more crafty iron works provided for dining al fresco when the weather cooperates. Inside was a variety of folk art paintings, art installations, sculptures that drew the eye up and down and around. Very entertaining.
When their small parking lot fills up you'll want to find something within a block given the less than desirable neighborhood. We were there on a quiet Saturday but they feature live music on Fridays and Sundays. In a nod to our vintage past, they also offer Wax Wednesdays where a DJ spins classic vinyl records. Remember them? They’re making a comeback!
The room filled up quickly with a nice mostly youthful crowd proving that old adage “if you build it they will come”, no matter what neighborhood you’re in. Service was very friendly and efficient – sometime a challenge with a party of eight. And for the most part everyone enjoyed their food. Delicious and generous salads. Sandwiches and entrees to suit any appetite or budget. Hubby regretted not ordering the special when he watched jealously as a waitress delivered a Neanderthal sized short rib platter to a nearby table. An excuse to go back. And I would definitely return, maybe on a musical night.
They offered some awesome looking desserts but we opted to head back to one of our homes where we partook of drinks, coffee and donuts, swapped stories and shared some laughs. Another successful escape plotted and executed.
www.ellasfolkartcafe.com Ella’s Americana Folk Art Cafe on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Escaping to LIME

Our latest Great Escape was to a pretty cool place called LIME located in Hyde Park on Howard (LINK) http://www.thelimetampa.com/ and it was a successful "escape" all around. While you all know the purpose of our escape is to get out of the "bubble" which is our gated community, sometimes the escape leaves you with mixed feelings. Why? Cause you end up realizing what you're missing - youth, vigor, vitality. One could easily sink into nostalgic despair when you realize all that is in the past for you. So our adventurous group tries hard to spin it in a positive light. LIME is a lively, fun place - a lot going on - TV screens playing sports games, gorgeous waitresses in skimpy attire flashing million dollar smiles and silicon enhanced chests, loud alternative rock filling the room. Do we ladies begrudge these young girls their gorgeous youth? No. Happily we are secure enough in who we are to admire them like pop art. "Hey look at her 6" heels, aren't they gorgeous?" to which I can self deprecatingly reply "oh, my hammer toe would look stunning in those strappy creations". We all giggle. If our husbands are caught checking them out we just smile and pay extra close attention to the equally buff and hot male waiters (can you say cougar?). It's okay - we're all admiring the art of it. None of us would stand a chance and we all know it. As for the food, it was really good! Rice bowls with veggies and protein of your choice; quesadillas, and I had a Caesar salad with grilled chicken. Nothing gourmet, just good casual food at decent prices. This weekend I also happened to explore two other Great Escapes. The old Steve McQueen movie in which American prisoners of war are incarcerated by the Germans in WWII whose duty as officers is to escape by any means. The movie is delightful and you find yourself pulling for the officers and delighting in their escape. True heroes. The other Great Escape I watched was a new TV show in which 3 teams were locked up in Alcatraz and challenged to escape and endure all sorts of roadblocks. I didn't like any of these people and won't watch the show again. They were narcissistic, arrogant, unable to perform simple math problems in their heads (duh where's my calculator) and frankly didn't deserve to escape. I say throw away the key. Our group seeks only to escape for a little while. We know life in our bubble is actually quite nice. We'll continue to escape for as long as we can - but like Dorothy said "there's no place like home". Billy's Stone Crab Seafood on Urbanspoon

Monday, May 28, 2012

Dessert and the After Party

So your group has finished the meal and lingered as long as the waitstaff will allow. What next? It's too early to head home and so I want to share with you some of the after dinner options we've enjoyed.
We've gone from the restaurant to our community's billiard hall, stopping along the way for Dunkin' Donuts coffee and donuts to go. Pairing up in odd couples we throw down a just-for-fun pool tournament. Its always a surprise to see who's got some talent in this area and shooting pool while shooting the breeze is a nice way to end the evening.
As long as Love Bugs and Mosquitos aren't in season, this is a fun after dinner activity. Fueled by a couple glasses of wine our group can be quite competitive and I always get a laugh out of the good natured "trash talking" that goes round.
Many of us have the Nintendo Wii game and sometimes one of the couples will host dessert and coffee and a Wii tournament in their living room. Believe it or not one can get a nice workout playing Wii tennis or bowling so its a good way to 'work off a meal'.
We've all done Bern's, the famous steak house and enjoyed it immensely but its not on our regular rotation cause hey, its kind of expensive. But here's a tip for you that we keep saying we'll do. Try Bern's for Dessert Only! Go find a cheap meal in town (Bob Evans or your local hot dog eatery) and then head over to Bern's for Dessert. If you've never experienced it you'll be in for a real treat. Separate from the main restaurant, you reach Bern's Dessert via elevator from the main lobby. Upstairs you walk down darkened corridors past private booths that seat 2, 4, 6 or 8 - each is enclosed with wood paneled vertical slats that give the impression of being inside the belly of an old galleon. Our booth had an individual control panel that offered several music 'channels' including the live piano player who would take requests. Dessert was AMAZING (try the bread pudding) and the atmosphere is really unique. http://www.bernssteakhouse.com/BottomMenu/HarryWaughDessertRoom/tabid/59/Default.aspx

Tis' The Season

Happy Memorial Day!
While flipping through the channels I discovered an old movie starring Steve McQueen that spurred me to write my latest review. The Great Escape. Like the film of the same name our group headed out this past Saturday for our monthly Escape. We didn't have to tunnel out although when our community is "in season" and overcrowded with SNOWBIRDS taking up every last available seat poolside and crowding the streets with traffic etc., that's when we really like to ESCAPE, even if it means tunneling! This month's pick was
Billy's Stonecrab, Seafood & Steaks - http://www.billysstonecrab.com/map.html located in Tierra Verde, a lovely town near Fort De Soto Beach that boasts expensive 'bungalows' and waterfront properties. The restaurant is nice enough looking, very beach themed with a relaxed atmosphere. But we were seated at a long table that was rather a tight squeeze and the bench I sat on was uncomfortable. Maybe they don't want you to linger? The menu featured Stone Crab and despite the fact that signs declared Stone Crab season ends May 15th, they were still serving it on the menu. That should have been our first clue. We realized after tasting the so-so crab that it had been frozen, left over from the 'season'. The waiter even mentioned they were still serving it because they wanted to 'use it up'. It wasn't BAD but it wasn't GOOD either. So here's my basic Tip Of The Day ...duh... don't order food that's not in season, even if the restaurant still offers it! I enjoyed a fillet of grouper that was prepared well and some of us got the shrimp. However, the scallops were too small even for sea scallops (I prefer the larger bay scallops)
In Summary
Altogether an unremarkable restaurant, but hey, the company was good as usual. Most of the time we're pleasantly surprised and end up in places we'd never dream of trying. So the occasional ho-hum place doesn't bother us. There's always dessert! We enjoy jumping in our cars and traveling to a secondary location for coffee and a little treat. It extends the evening and gives us a chance to critique the meal and also catch up on our individual stories. Billy's Stone Crab Seafood on Urbanspoon

Sunday, May 20, 2012

The Speakeasy - Tampa - April 28th

When I made the reservation I made sure to ask the usual questions... What kind of seating did they have? We always prefer a round table for 8. A long table means that people on either end won't be able to talk much. If we're stuck with a long table we make sure the 4 gals are in the center seats and two guys on each end. This ensures that the women have clear and easy talking access. The guys are less worried about this and it just makes for a more congenial atmosphere all around. Happy wife - happy life. The Speakeasy as it's name implies has a dark and private atmosphere. A bunch of little curtained rooms that seat 2 or 4 and 2 private rooms to seat either 8 (cramped) or 16 (cramped). Because I mentioned that we were a dining out group we were given the larger room. The room was movie theater dark with banquet seating on 3 sides and small cocktail table scattered around the room you could draw toward you and place your food and drink upon. It took a while for our eyes to adjust but the atmosphere was fun. Atmosphere - The Speakeasy tries real hard to make you feel like you've been transported to prohibition times. When I made the reservation I was given the password "Roosevelt" and sure enough as we arrived the valet in hushed tones asked for the password and then led us down a path that led to an unmarked door. I knocked and a little hatch door opened and a hostess asked again for the password. Cute. I had also been told the dress code was formal - dress to impress. And our group did its best to comply - the ladies laid on the bling and makeup and the fellows put their best foot forward, especially one who showed up in a white tuxedo jacket. Our waiter made a big fuss over him..."sir, I really appreciate your attire this evening". Worth some giggles. Service - for the most part it was good although there was a drink made incorrectly and a second drink forgotten. Our waiter was dressed for the period and took delight in explaining the menu and how they didn't serve anything that wasn't served during prohibition (hence no olive in your martini). Food - the menus arrived and we were delighted to open them and find them to be backlit for easy reading. We weren't so delighted with the prices. They were steep and the portions were small - little more than appetizer size. Our beef tenderloin was really delicious but for $27 you got about 5 oz. of it. Really everything we ordered was very good quality but the prices were just too much. And as for the drinks, talk about sticker shock. The single barrel Jack Daniels turned out to cost $15 and my Gin and Tonic was $9. The atmosphere is so conducive to having that second drink that it wasn't till the bill arrived that we realized we'd spent $50 just on booze. Shame on us! Summary - I'm glad we experienced it but none of us would return. And that's okay. Our group is adventurous and willing to try something new. Tip to remember---always email your group a link to the restaurant's menu so they can either plan their meal accordingly or voice an objection well in advance if they feel the prices are too exorbitant. But hey, next time it could be a hot dog stand and we'd approach it with the same gusto (sans tuxedo). If you'd like to experience it don't go for dinner - dress up fancy, go for an expensive drink and maybe one appetizer and then go to your local diner for a real meal. Billy's Stone Crab Seafood on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Eight is Enough

Want to start your own "Great Escape"? Here's some tips that may help you along the way. #1 - size matters! We think the perfect number to dine out with is 8 (or 4 couples) which allows for a nice mix of conversation, personalities and opinions. #2 - ask for a round table! You want to avoid a long table where the people seated at either end feel like they're in no-mans-land, especially in a noisy crowded restaurant where your voice doesn't carry. #3 - set the date in stone! You want to pick an appointed time so you can mark your calendar and always know this is your Great Escape night. Schedule it monthly or quarterly or whatever suits your busy lives - but once you do make sure you mark your calendar and respect the date. Others are counting on you. #4 - reservations! - At least one week before your outing call for a reservation. This is very important for such a large group. And a little trick I've learned is that you should announce to the restaurant manager that you are a "Dining Group" that meets monthly. I learned this one by accident when after telling a manager that this was our first time at his restaurant and that we dine out monthly as a group...he sent a platter of dessert to our table ON THE HOUSE! Smart marketing on his part - we enjoyed every crumb and left with such good will in our hearts we're sure to go back, and that's what he's counting on. #5 - notify the group - now that you've made your reservation, email your group with a reminder to note the day and time you've reserved...the address and any driving directions available, and whenever possible a link to the restaurant's website or at least a review from a site like www.urbanspoon.com. This will afford the group a chance to look over the menu and take their time planning what they will want to eat. Whether its a dietary or monetary issue, this step will be very appreciated by all. This should be enough to get you started. I'll get a little more detailed in a later post with options and opinions on handling waiters, tips, tabs, and in general the group dynamic. Enjoy!

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Word of Mouth - When to Believe it.

Moving to a new community in a new state is scary. It takes a while to get acclimated to your new surroundings. Find a doctor? A beautician? A mechanic or handyman? Etc. What we learned is that you can glean a lot of information by bobbing in the clubhouse pool on your noodle. Yes we have noodles in every color - an accessory we never needed in NYC that has become essential in Florida. So there you are bobbing around the pool talking to this person or that group and the subject is always who do you go to for medical, hair or plumbing? And of course, where to get the best pizza, or pasta, or burger. What we've learned the hard way is 'consider the source'. You don't take an Italian food recommendation from someone raised in Michigan or Ohio. Especially since we're from NYC and my husband was raised in Little Italy! So we've gotten very selective about referrals. A great resource is a website called www.urbanspoon.com where you can get reviews and menus about any type of restaurant you might be looking for. We've found this very helpful. And now of course, y'all have ME and my reviews of our monthly Great Escapes. Hope you enjoy!

Where are we going to eat tonight honey?

My friends and I enjoy eating out at restaurants that take us AWAY from our retirement community. That's right - out of the 'bubble'. Each month I will write a short review of the restaurants we pick. Which were the home runs, which were clunkers (yes we've experienced both). I will post a link to the restaurant so you can do your own research and check them out yourselves. And I'll give it a rating based on the following criteria: Ratings from 1-5 (with one being least favorable and 5 being most favorable) Categories like Venue, Food, Price. I can't offer you the opinion of whether I'd return or not because we'll always want to try a new restaurant. And for sure there are hundreds of restaurants in Tampa Bay to keep us busy for a long time. We'll keep going till either our digestive tracts fail us or our eyesight renders us unable to "Drive at Night"!