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

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Escape to the Hospital Cafeteria?

There are all kinds of escapes and/or reasons to do so.  Yesterday I needed to escape from my thoughts and fears over hubby's back surgery....scary stuff as any of you who've been through this can attest to.  I sought solace first in the hospital's serene little chapel and then in the cafeteria, which was a pleasant surprise.
Hubby is doing fine thank God, and since I'm staying by his side for the duration I figured I would make some observations about the food here at Brandon Hospital.

Nobody likes hospital food right?  It always sucks, has no taste, who needs it...sneak me in a juicy burger or a big deli sandwich while the nurse isn't looking, eh? 

But i have to report that things have improved greatly.  Check out this restaurant quality menu!

For dinner hubby had beef pot roast, mashed potatoes and mixed veggies while I partook of the grilled salmon with mango salsa, rice pilaf and green beans. Both were quite delicious.  

Today for lunch I had a cheeseburger and fries that was superior to many I've had at neighborhood restaurants.

And here's the thing --- it's very reasonably priced.  Call me wacky but I know people who drive to Ikea for a bargain breakfast.  My tip to anyone with a limited dining out budget is to drop by the hospital and dream up some reason to be there (I guess you'd need a patient's or doctor's name?) and head over to the Tower B Cafeteria.

Mention that you're a senior for an additional discount and for example, you can get a very good burger with a ton of fries for under $3.00 - I'm not kidding!

There's a salad bar, soups, and a variety of hot and cold foods. You can take it to go and sit outside on a bench overlooking a lake - al fresco hospital food - who'd a thunk it? And oh yeah, don't forget there's free parking.

We're home now and hubby is doing very well. We're grateful for how beautifully the staff at Brandon Hospital treated us - highly professional and also warm and friendly. His private room was spacious and sitting on the edge of his tray table when we arrived was an artfully folded towel shaped like an animal - just like they give you on cruise ships! Quite amazing that they go the extra mile to put a smile on your face.
I hope you never have reason to stay at any hospital, but if you do or are visiting a loved one, don't forget to grab a bite to eat while you're there.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Escape to St. Croix

Hubby and I just spent a glorious week in St. Croix, US Virgin Islands. It was our first time there and the purpose of the trip was to spend some quality bonding time with a sister my husband never knew he had and vice versa. Its a long story that reads like a Lifetime TV Novella but suffice it to say that sometimes life can deal you a twist of fate that turns out to be the most lovely surprise. We had a terrific time and I would like to share with you some of the restaurants and attractions we visited in case you have an opportunity to go there. Our new sister was a fabulous guide since she was raised there and could give us the perspective of a local.
La Reine Chicken Shack - 24-1 Estate Slob, Kingshill, USVI, St. Croix, +1 340-778-5717
This was probably our favorite meal of the week in an open air restaurant that started as a shack some years ago but has grown steadily in response to the hordes of people lining up for the most delicious chicken you'll ever eat. Order, take a number and then pick up your styrofoam box and head to one of the family style picnic benches. Reasonably priced large portions, all finger licking good. Don't forget the plantains, the perfect side dish that for me reads almost like a dessert. Que rico.
Coconuts On The Beach - 72 LaGrange, Frederiksted, St. Croix, USVI +1 340-719-6060
After a day at Dorsch Beach, Frederiksted with our new found family, we were tired and hungry and full of sand and grit and too much sun. I've discovered that I'm too old to lug beach chairs and tote bags around - where's a cabana boy when you need him?! We drove for miles looking for a place still serving food. It was a hot summer Sunday night and there were swarms of young clubbers milling around in front of the clubs and spilling out onto the road making it hard for us to pass. Did I mention that most of the island's roads are small and winding and they drive on the left (wrong) side of the street? A little stressful but sis was a great driver and got us through the week without incident. Finally we found a quiet spot called Coconuts and our party of 9 was greeted with some surprise by a very cute friendly bartender/manager named Jameison, originally from Philadelphia who had been living in St. Croix for a few years, just chillin' out. It was late and he was having a slow night till we dragged ourselves in. We ordered our food and settled in for a long wait - that's island life - take it slow. In fact here's the island motto.
We amused ourselves with the kitchy decor and the mysterious night view of the surf.
When dinner finally arrived it was all quite delicious. My fish tacos were tasty. Hubby got the ribs and they were tender and juicy. Of course by this time of night as tired as we were, probably anything would have tasted good to us. Tonight's rum concoction was called The Pain Killer, rich and coco-nutty with a sprinkle of nutmeg. Thanks Jameison!
The Palms at Pelican Cove - 4126 La Grande Princesse, Christiansted, VI 00820 800-548-4460
Since our rented condo was right next to the Pelican Cove resort, we took quite a few meals there including breakfast, lunch and one night their buffet dinner which included a show that featured Moko Jambi stilt walkers performing poolside in a reenactment of the folkloric Moko Jambi who used their height and masks to scare away evil spirits. They were delightful and I actually danced under the stilts of one of them. Then came Kiki and the Flaming Gypsies, a group of lovely young women practiced in the art of dancing with fire. Their act was a nod to the fabled Queen slave who led rebelling slaves to set their masters' plantations on fire.
The buffet included ribs, fried chicken, creole fish and a wide variety of sides. It was good but not great but made better by a couple of rum drinks. For $30 it was a great value and we actually enjoyed an additional discount once the waiter learned that he and sis had graduated from the same school. St. Croix is a very small island....only 22 miles long and about 7-8 miles wide...and everyone knows everyone it seems. We were delighted to see our Coconuts friend Jameison there and he greeted us like old friends.
Virgin Kayak Tours of Cane Bay Bryan Updyke, owner
My biggest adventure of the week was first time kayaking at night in the bioluminescent bay at Salt River Bay National Park. It's something I never fathomed doing and yet spurred on by my adventurous sis and bro-in-law I got swept along by their enthusiasm. And I'm so glad I did! Here in clockwise order is me looking over my shoulder as new cousin Medina snaps my photo....then me with Medina after the excursion looking tired but happy....then sis and bro in law Tara and Warren paddling alongside of us....and finally Tara and I listening closely as Owner/Guide Bryan gives us our instructions. Bryan has lived in St. Croix since 1989 and is passionate about its history and conservation and the Taino culture and art. Read more about this very interesting guy on his website.
Bryan led our small group through a winding bumpy road studded with tree roots to a small beach on one side of the lagoon. He was keen on introducing us to his colorful friends. Living in a camp with an elaborate tent system in a clearing under some trees was a group of authentic Taino Indians who welcomed us and shook our hands as we were introduced one by one. A mother and baby, a couple of preteen girls, and a few men with guitars and red stripe beer occupied the camp and they were friendly and easy going people.
Soon we were loaded into the kayaks and I took the front which made me "Captain" in charge of the rudder. Okay, I can do this I told myself. No turning back now. And the truth is I DID IT! It was exciting and thrilling and quite exhausting but I loved it all the same. Several of our group jumped in the water to swim about stirring up the tiny one celled organisms called Dinoflagellates that light up the water when agitated. They call it 'fairy dust' and its the most beautiful thing to see. I passed on the swimming, content to watch the others and swish my hand and foot through the water to make my own little magic fairy dust. We headed back after a couple of hours and seeing the Taino campfire finally appear in the distance like a beacon calling me home was a welcome site as I was pretty much running out of steam by now.
We are left with many fond memories of new discoveries and beautiful warm hearted people and of course our new sister and we look forward to building many more memories to make up for lost time.