We avoid chain restaurants, but there are a few that I really do like. They just opened a BJ’s Restaurant & Brewhouse at Countryside Mall and their menu is filled with so many yummy options. They have a little bit of everything on their menu, so it really is hard to choose. Today we opted for some appetizers and small bites.
The first time we ate at a BJ’s we ordered the avocado eggrolls and that experience stuck with me. If you like avocado, this is the appetizer for you.
These are so awesome. The crunchy shell with the soft avocado plus a bunch of other flavorful ingredients. They have just a hint of spiciness and they make my mouth water just thinking about them. Yum!
We also tried the spinach stuffed mushrooms, mini meatballs, and gourmet mac & cheese.
Out of the three, I’d say the mini meatballs were my favorite. They had an interesting flavor that was tangy and sweet, yet had a little bit of spice too. I really liked them. The stuffed mushrooms were good, but fairly generic. The mac & cheese was like lava when it was served, so we ended up eating everything else first and taking most of it home. It was very creamy & had a nice flavor though. Loren really liked the bread that came with the dishes too. It was toasted perfectly, crunchy, yet not hard. With a drink, the total was $27. They make some really tasty comfort food here.
BJ’s Restaurant & Brewhouse
27001 US Highway 19N
If you’ve even been to Cracker Barrel on a Sunday, you’ll notice that they really push the Sunday homestyle chicken special. I swear everyone we come in contact with at the restaurant just raves about it, so tonight Loren decided to try it & I got the chicken fried chicken, which we normally get.
The homestyle chicken comes with two chicken breasts & two sides. Loren got mashed potatoes & collard greens. The chicken fried chicken comes with one piece of chicken, gravy, & three sides and is 30 cents more. The verdict? The homestyle chicken was good, it had a much different crunch than the other chicken, but I didn’t think it was that much better. The chicken fried chicken is always tender here and I like the gravy on it. I’m also more about the sides anyway, so I’d rather have the three side dishes versus another piece of chicken. I couldn’t eat two chicken breasts if I tried. So, it’s a toss up really. If you’re really craving chicken, go for the homestyle, but if you’re really just there for the mac & cheese, the other chicken with do. Total bill with a drink was $26.
13833 West Hillsborough Avenue
I felt the need for tater tots tonight and the best place I know to go for them is Pete & Shorty’s. Actually, we couldn’t even come up with another restaurant that served them since the Sonic close to our house closed down.
Mmmmm… little bundles of crunchy potato joy. I can’t explain it. There’s just something about tater tots that make me happy. I’m pretty sure I didn’t even need to order a burger, but I still did, the mushroom swiss.
Ok, so I order the mushroom Swiss with American cheese instead of Swiss, but it’s still one of the tastier burgers around. The buns they use here are very soft and doughy in a good way. I really like them. The burger was juicy and quite messy. Loren went for the tenderloin sandwich.
The piece of pork on this sandwich was enough to fill two sandwiches. He said it was tender & crispy. With a drink, the total bill was $21.
Pete & Shorty’s Tavern
2820 Gulf to Bay Blvd
Stopped by Eli’s BBQ today & picked up a couple of BBQ pork sandwiches & headed down to the water to enjoy them.
Eli’s is it when it comes to BBQ for me. The pork is always tender and moist. There’s always a line of people there since it’s open Friday & Saturdays until 6pm, but always worth the wait. It’s also cash only and the best $15 we spent this week.
360 Skinner Blvd
We were looking for a quick dinner tonight, so we went down to Greek City Cafe over by the mall. Ok, so maybe it was because I had a chocolate craving and wanted one of the Chocolate Bomb desserts they sell, but we’ll get to that later.
I went for a gyro with Greek potatoes and a Greek salad.
The gyro was good. The meat was flavorful and the tzatziki was tasty without being overwhelming. The overwhelming part were the potatoes. I found them to be rather inedible. They were so sour as though they had been drenched in vinegar. Loren actually liked them and said they tasted more German than Greek. They just made my mouth pucker.
Loren decided to try one of their specials, the portobello flatbread with a Greek salad.
The flatbread had a nice crunch and really good flavors. It’s something I’d order again. You’ll notice a slight difference between our two Greek salads. I remembered how much stuff they put on them and they dice up everything, so I had them build mine without the onions and peppers.
And then there’s the thing that keeps me coming back to this restaurant.
This is just one delicious dessert. It’s got layers of mousse inside and it’s so creamy and decadent. They brought over two forks and I tried to hide Loren’s, but he still managed to grab a few bites. Yum! Total bill was $24 with a drink. Speaking of that drink, it’s not something that I mention often, but most places do such a horrible job with their soda fountain mixture that it’s such a wonderful treat to actually go to a place that does it right. I’ve never had a bad soft drink here. Whoever sets up their machine actually knows what they’re doing.
Greek City Cafe
2518 SR 580, Ste C
Went for a quick lunch with a friend of mine today & she chose Applebees. Chain restaurant food pretty much tastes the same wherever you go. I opted for a lunch combo with a half roast beef sandwich and fried chicken salad.
For $9, it was ok. The edges of the sandwich were toasted a bit much, but otherwise it was pretty good. I liked the honey mustard dressing they put on the salad.
4016 Tampa Road
Time for too much sushi as usual. This time around it was back to Ocean Blue in Safety Harbor. Loren wanted a salad and I wanted some egg rolls to start off with.
Now, you would think that we’d order less sushi since we got an appetizer, but sadly, that wasn’t the case.
I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again, the Super Crunchy is my most favorite sushi roll around. Everything else was fresh & tasty as well. I really like the no rice cucumber roll too. I think what we both like most about this place is that they don’t drench all the rolls in mayo or sauces. They let the fish be the star. $60 later and we had to roll ourselves back out to the car.
Ocean Blue Sushi Bar & Kaiko Japanese Restaurant
2475 McMullen Booth Road
Went up to Tarpon Springs back to Nana’s Restaurant for lunch today. It was pretty crowded, but luckily we didn’t have to wait for a table. We were there for lunch, but I wasn’t going to pass up the cup of danish they dropped off.
They were a sweet little snack while we waited for our food. Loren started off with a bowl of black bean soup & then we split a Danny Burger.
He really enjoyed the soup. It had a lot of good flavors going on. The Danny burger has onions, mushrooms, and a burgandy wine sauce on it & it was tasty. Extremely messy to eat, but tasty nonetheless. The homefries weren’t as good as I remembered from the last time, but they hit the spot with some honey mustard to dip them in. Total bill with a drink was $15.
857 E Klosterman Rd
Tarpon Springs, FL
Leo’s Italian Grill opened up 3 weeks ago in Palm Harbor so that was our destination for lunch today. It’s a huge space with a patio, banquet room, and large bar area. We were seated in a booth that seemed rather awkward to me. The table was too long for us to sit opposite each other, so we sat in the middle & looked out at the other diners in the restaurant. The experience didn’t get off to a good start when the waitress brought Loren sweet tea instead of unsweetened and just went downhill from there.
Both our entrees came with soup or salad. Loren chose the wedding soup & I got the pasta fagioli.
Both were desperately underseasoned. A little salt can go a long way. This was the theme of the meal though, it was all very bland. I certainly prefer non-chain restaurants, but I compared everything I ate to that at Olive Garden and the chain definitely wins out this time. The bread sticks were really tough and thick.
Even the dipping oil was lackluster. I also noticed a definite lack of consistency in how the waitresses handled their tables. When another waitress brought out the bread & oil, she explained what was in it. When another table said the bread was hard, she brought them out a different basket. When ours went to clear some plates, she asked if she could take the bread basket & I said yes because it was hard. Her answer was oh, well, sometimes they just come out that way.
We tried the calamari.
It had a very thick coating of batter on it, so they were very crunchy and also in need of some seasoning. The marinara sauce had an undercooked taste to it. It was almost a metallic taste from the tomatoes not being allowed to simmer long enough.
For his entree, Loren got the chicken piccata.
Now, this is a dish he gets at a lot of restaurants and the key flavor you expect to taste is lemon. It was non-existent in this dish. In fact, the sauce tasted like eggs & butter. He did say the chicken was very tender though. I went for the eggplant rollatini.
I’m not sure how to describe the taste on this. It had a lot of mozzarella which I guess ended up being the predominate flavor. The eggplant was very mushy and the ricotta also tasted like eggs. There just weren’t any Italian spices or even salt & pepper to give it any flavor whatsoever. I ate half of one. Needless to say, this isn’t a restaurant we’ll be returning to. I’d choose Olive Garden over this any day. It was a very disappointing $29 lunch in both food and service.
Leo’s Italian Grill
33286 US Hwy 19 North
Palm Harbor, FL
We got a recommendation on our Facebook page to try Marley’s Monster Grill, so that’s where we ended up tonight. I had checked out the menu online beforehand and it gave me the giggles, so we just had to try it. It’s not a very big place, but from the moment we walked in, we had a good feeling about it. The walls are covered with monster movie memorabilia and the owners were very nice. As people walked in, they were greeted by name, so this seems to be a place people come back to again and again.
They brought over some homemade chips & queso.
I liked the chips, but the queso was a bit too Cheez-wizzy for me. It had some heat flavorwise, but wasn’t warm temperature wise. I just prefer my queso warm to the touch. We ordered some garlic monster toes. Seriously, how could you pass up ordering something called Monster Toes??
Yummy little pizza dough munchies. They asked if we wanted garlic butter or marinara to dip them in & since we hadn’t tried either before, they brought out both. I actually liked both & ended up dipping the dough in the garlic, then the marinara. I had to stop eating them or there was no way I was going to be able to eat my sandwich… which was huge, by the way.
This is the way I like my Philly cheesesteak. The Amoroso rolls are so soft, the meat is finely shaved and it’s covered in onions, mushrooms, mayo & cheese. I’m not a Wiz gal, so it’s American cheese for me. I only managed to eat half of it, but the other half will make for some tasty leftovers. And I’m a fan of anyone who serves sweet potato fries.
Loren got the chicken grill sandwich which came with fries.
One minute, I was taking a photo and the next, the sandwich was gone. He really liked it. The chicken was thin, but very tender, the veggies & bread fresh and he liked the mayo-dijon spread on it.
The first thing listed on their menu is dessert, because why wouldn’t you want to eat dessert first, so I just couldn’t resist ordering a chocolate covered brownie cheesecake on a stick.
It was pretty good. It had a layer of brownie inside plus a chocolate cheesecake. Plus the plate & chocolate sauce design made me giggle. The food did take a while to come out of the kitchen, but when it comes out fresh & tasty, it’s worth the wait. They also have a monthly Face Trivia game, so we were quite occupied trying to figure out the who’s who. It was a fun way to pass the time. Total bill was $27 and this is definitely a place we’ll be back to.
Marley’s Monster Grill & Pizza
29835 US Hwy 19 N
Loren & I headed over to MecaFresh for lunch today. They had a chicken and portobello special that sounded good to me, so I gave it a try with a bowl of lobster bisque.
The description of this sandwich was chicken and portobello mushrooms with onions and a mayo aioli. Unfortunately for me, there was a rather important key word left out of that aioli description… horseradish. After a few bites, I realized there was horseradish in the sauce, but by then, the damage was already done. That burning sensation built up in my sinuses and grew into a lovely headache that lasted for the next 6 hours. Did I mention that horseradish is evil? I don’t mind the taste of it at all, the panini was actually very tasty and I did eat it all. There was no point in stopping after those first few bites, but I did regret it for the rest of the day. And though the lobster bisque here is quite tasty, they’ve been surpassed by the bowl we had at La Trattatoria in Dunedin.
Loren got a half roast beef sandwich & salmon salad.
His had the same mayo aioli on it, but he likes it and doesn’t have the reaction that I have to horseradish. He said the salad was a little wilted, but overall it was good. MecaFresh is also now offering free frozen yogurt with the purchase of an entree.
My guess is they’re now competing with the Green Market Cafe that also offers free yogurt with a meal. They only had vanilla, but for frozen yogurt, it was pretty good. Total bill was $19 with a drink.
3235 Tampa Road
Palm Harbor, FL
Our plan tonight was to eat at Marley’s Monster Grill, only to discover they’re closed on Sundays. Luckily, we had driven by Marathon Grille the other night & noticed they were open, so that’s where we ended up. For some reason, I always thought they were a breakfast & lunch only place.
They started us off with some bread.
The bread was buried under a bunch of crackers & butter, but once we got down to it, we were happy campers. I prefer my bread to be warmed, but even though this wasn’t, it was really tasty. I actually think Loren ate more of it than I did. A little plate of oil to dip it in would have been a nice touch rather than the butter.
We started off with some stuffed mushrooms.
The crab stuffing was very flavorful and we could have easily eaten a few more of these. They were yummy. My entree came with a Greek salad that I ate half of before I remembered to take a photo. You’d think by now, I wouldn’t forget.
I liked their Greek dressing. Loren went for a Marathon salad for his entree which came with a side of pita bread.
He said the chicken was very tender and the salad had a nice variety of veggies and greens. He enjoyed it. I ended up taking the pita bread home with my leftovers because I definitely had leftovers.
Pastitsio, that wonderful Greek lasagne that so many restaurants don’t get quite right. This was a very tasty version of it though. It wasn’t dry, the seasoning was just right, and the bechamel layer wasn’t too thick. I’d order it again here. Total bill with a drink was $28. Compared to the $28 we spent for lunch today, this was the much better deal.
33675 US Highway 19N
Palm Harbor, FL
We ate lunch at Hurricane Grill today and the place was deserted. Granted, it was about 2pm when we got there. It’s amazing what the power of suggestion can do for you though. We passed Burger King on the way to the restaurant and when I think of Burger King, I think of onion rings, so I had to order some.
They were nice & crunchy with a mild beer battered flavor. They were served with a honey mustard sauce that was tasty. Loren ordered some chicken sliders.
He said they were ok. He got them with the mango BBQ sauce, but ended up dipping them in the remaining onion ring sauce. I ordered some boneless wings, half with the raspberry sauce and half with honey mustard sauce.
They really need to offer a smaller portion of boneless wings. Ten really is too many for me. I found the wings to be rather tough overall. They’re just too crunchy for my taste. I enjoyed the raspberry sauce; it had a nice sweetness that went well with the chicken. The other one just paled in comparison. I ended up bringing most of them home.
Total bill was $28 with a drink. For the price, I just don’t think it was worth it.
Hurricane Grill & Wings
33086 US Highway 19 N.
Palm Harbor, FL
We’re always up for a new restaurant, so we checked out Ugies Smokin’ Good Seafood for dinner tonight. It’s in the Fountains Shopping Center where Bawarchi & Vallarta’s are. I want to preface this review with a few comments first. One, this restaurant just opened this week. Two, we didn’t order any entrees, just side dishes. And three, this isn’t the type of restaurant we really like to go to anyway, so perhaps that skewed our experience from the get go.
Though I’m pretty sure this isn’t a chain restaurant, it felt like one. It’s an order at the counter and they’ll bring the food to you type of place. Sort of reminded me of the Louis Pappas restaurants. I found the entree menu to be rather small. The two smoked items were mullet or salmon, neither which appealed to me and then they had shrimp or crawfish steam pots, tacos, fish sandwich, chicken sandwich & a burger. Instead, we settled on some sides and appetizers to share.
We started with the shrimp queso dip.
The queso dip had a very familiar taste to it, sort of like that recipe on the back of the Cheez-wiz bottle. There were pieces of shrimp in it, but it just tasted very generic and bland. In fact, those are the words we used to describe everything else we ate as well. We tried the Boston Clam Chowder, the jambalaya, mac & cheese, and the shrimp & grits.
The chowder and corn muffin that came with it were ok. Let’s put it this way, we’ve been to restaurants where we fight over the last spoonful of chowder and sometimes even lick the bowl, this wasn’t one of those kinds of chowder. This was very bland and definitely did not taste homemade. We didn’t even finish it.
Out of all the things we got, Loren liked the jambalaya more than the rest. It had chicken, sausage and shrimp in it, but not the flavors that would wow you. I thought it was a bit watered down and it wasn’t spicy at all.
The shrimp & grits suffered the same fate as everything else. It just had no taste. The texture on the grits was fine, but, let’s face it, grits are bland unless you add some seasoning, garlic, cheese, and herbs to them. The mac & cheese was also very dry. The one thing this place has going for them are the prices. Virtually everything is under $10. These five items plus a drink was $21. They were certainly overstaffed while we were there. I counted at least 10 people just standing around. Two different people checked on our table, which as a word of advice, I’d assign specific tables to specific people or they’ll end up like Tiajuana Flats where you’re constantly being interrupted.
Ugies Smokin’ Good Seafood
34726 US Hwy 19 N
Palm Harbor, FL
We tried the Surf Shack when they first opened and went back again today for lunch. The weather was gorgeous, so we sat out on the patio. They had a good crowd for a Friday lunch and we both tried something different. I opted for the Seafood Stack with a side of mac & cheese.
The Seafood Stack was interesting. I love fried flour tortillas and they added a nice crunch to the mix of shrimp, cod, and veggies inside. The shrimp was a bit overcooked, but otherwise the dish was very tasty. It was served over some rice, but really didn’t need it. It was messy to eat though. The cheese sauce on the mac & cheese was very thin, so it sort of settled on the bottom of the bowl, leaving the macaroni to be a bit dry.
After munching on some chips & salsa, Loren got a Baja chicken burrito with a side salad.
The ranch dressing on the salad had some spice to it. The burrito, on the other hand, was a bit on the bland side. Loren said it was just ok. With a drink, the total bill was $27.
Surf Shack Coastal Kitchen
12217 West Linebaugh Ave
Most restaurants are pretty crazy on Saturday nights, but we ended up at Deeya Indian Cuisine in Clearwater and it wasn’t very busy tonight. Actually, the front room was full, so we ended up by ourselves in the back room for a nice peaceful dinner.
We started out with some keema samosas and Loren also got some chicken soup.
The samosas were pretty tasty. Just a bit of spice with a nice crunchy exterior. I like to use the sweet dipping sauce from the papadum with it.
The chicken soup had a bit of kick to it. I also ordered a cucumber salad, but that didn’t show up until much later in the meal. For our entrees, I went with my usual butter chicken. I’ve found something I like and just refuse to get anything different.
It just has that perfect balance of flavor and spice. The chicken was very tender, though it was in some rather large chunks. Loren was the adventurous one tonight and ordered the Bhindi Masala. It’s a spiced okra dish.
He enjoyed it. It wasn’t overly spicy, but had an interesting texture and flavor. My cucumber salad finally showed up after we got our entrees.
For something so simple, cucumbers, tomatoes, and a little bit of lettuce, it was actually a nice pairing with the spiciness of our entrees. It was lightly dressed and well seasoned. Service tonight wasn’t great. Our server was nice, but not exactly on the ball. Total bill with a drink was $50.
Deeya Indian Cuisine
5166 East Bay Drive
Aki Sushi has opened up in the space where Hapa Restaurant used to be in Oldsmar. They’ve only been open a couple of weeks and we really enjoyed our dinner there tonight. It’s not a very big space, but it’s open and airy. Our server was very friendly and she engaged with all the customers in the restaurant.
They have a happy hour from 4-7pm daily with reduced prices on some drinks, appetizers, and sushi rolls. We ordered several rolls off of the happy hour menu and a couple of others because we always order too much sushi.
Loren started off with a mixed greens salad. He said the dressing was a little sweet for him, but overall, it was a nice sized and well put together salad.
I had to try the krab rangoons.
The shells were light and crispy and the filling was really tasty. Unlike a lot of places, you could actually see pieces of the krab in there. It wasn’t just a cream cheese filling.
Off the happy hour menu, we ordered a California Roll, Spicy Tuna, and Dragon roll, then a shrimp tempura and Rainbow roll off the regular menu.
From the first bite to the last, my taste buds were happy. Very fresh ingredients all the way around. The Rainbow Roll was especially fresh & tasty with the crunch of fresh veggies inside. Although the menu said the California Roll had a krab stick inside, it was actually a krab salad, which I really liked. That was the first roll I tasted and it had an interesting flavor which I’m sure was from the mayo. The shrimp tempura and dragon roll both had eel sauce on them which Loren doesn’t particularly care for, but I like, so he gets his spicy tuna and I get a couple just for me.
The menu isn’t very big at this point as they’re still experimenting with what people like. I overheard the waitress say when they’re not busy, they come up with new items and put them on the specials menu to see whether or not to add them to the regular menu. Total bill with a drink was $49. We’ll definitely be back, especially during happy hour. The whole experience was very pleasant, the food was fresh and tasty, and the staff was friendly. What more could you ask for in a new restaurant?
3970 Tampa Road
We drove up to Tarpon Springs tonight to have dinner at The Plum Tomato. It’s a little Italian restaurant and though our first impression wasn’t great, the food made up for it. When we walked in the door, we weren’t greeted by anyone. Waitresses walked by and no one acknowledged us and then an older gentleman (I’m guessing the owner) sort of looked at us, but I honestly couldn’t tell if he was a customer or worked there. He eventually came all the way over to us & directed us to a table being cleared.
They started us off with some homemade bread.
The bread was warm and tasty. Would have been nice to have a plate of oil & herbs to dip it in. It was gone in a few minutes though. Our entrees came with soup or salad and we both chose the clam chowder.
It was really creamy and had some rich flavors to it. Very, very tasty and had a nice assortment of ingredients that weren’t mushy and a good depth of flavor. We also decided to try the calamari.
It was good, but not great. Loren liked it more than I did. It was a little on the chewy side, mostly because the pieces were very thin, but the breading was flavorful and the marinara sauce was very good.
Loren got the chicken mediterranean which was chicken & eggplant in a lemony sauce which also came with a side of pasta.
Eggplant is not the easiest thing to get right and they did a really good job with it here. It still had texture and the flavors blended together very well. The chicken was tender and the sauce was good. He even ended up with some leftovers.
I ordered the pasta bolognese based on another review I had read.
I swear there was a pound of pasta in this bowl. I absolutely had leftovers. The sauce was slow cooked and you could really taste the deep flavor of the wine that only comes from letting the sauce simmer for hours. Really tasty.
I also had to get a cannoli to go.
It was pretty good. One of the better ones I’ve had lately. I think for to-go orders though, any toppings should be put in a separate container on the side, otherwise the shell gets soggy. Honestly, it didn’t even need the chocolate sauce & chocolate chips.
Overall, the food was really good. We sat in the booth furthest to the back, so we heard & saw a lot of the service delays. The were busy tonight and we could hear the upset customers waiting on late pizza deliveries as well as the wait staff going back & forth with the kitchen on orders. We had both a waitress & waiter that tended to our table and they were really good, but where we were sitting, I felt a definite tension in the overall air. It also didn’t help that the guy I’m assuming is the owner, sort of hung out at the back of the restaurant where we were and it felt awkward. Total bill with a drink was $43.
The Plum Tomato
1988 Pinellas Ave S
Tarpon Springs, FL
We haven’t been to YoYo Sushi in Oldsmar in a while, so we headed over there for lunch today. Though they have some lunch sushi specials, the options didn’t call to us today, so we went for some other rolls instead.
Along with a salad, we got a California Roll, a Rainbow Roll, and a Jessica Roll and we weren’t wow’d. In the past, this was the place we went to for really fresh sushi, though on the expensive side. Our lunch was just as expensive, but didn’t have the overall awesomeness that we expect from here. The avocado had a lot of brown spots and the fish just wasn’t as vibrant and fresh as we’ve had before. All the rolls had crab salad inside versus a chunk of crab. Loren doesn’t really like it that way (I kinda do), but it made the rolls lack texture and they all just seemed sort of mushy. Perhaps our choices were just too similar, but they all tasted the same and bland. Also, charging $3.95 for this side salad was a bit much.
It was an expensive lunch at $35 with a drink and definitely not the best sushi we’ve had here.
300 State St E, #110
Sure, we eat at Cuban Breezes a lot, but it’s not often that one of us tries something different. Well, it wasn’t me, I went for an empanada and a mahi cuban.
Still my favorite dish on the menu, though the mahi was a bit on the thick side today making it not want to stay in the sandwich very well. The chicken empanada is so yummy. We split it, but I could easily eat a couple of them by myself and not think twice.
They had jamabalaya on the specials menu today, so Loren decided to give it a try with a salad.
He said it was pretty good. It had chicken and sausage and a bit o’ spiciness. Somewhat different than what you get at the Cajun Cafe, but still something he’d consider ordering again here. With a drink, the total bill was $21.
13980 W Hillsborough Ave