The Restaurants at My End of the Universe

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Spicy Lunch


Craving some etouffee, so that meant a trip down to Pinellas Park to the Cajun Cafe.  We really enjoyed sitting on the back patio watching people drift by in their kayaks.  Loren got Mama Lynn’s supper with okra and a side salad.

The Mama Lynn’s supper is just their etouffee sauce with rice.  The okra was a bit mushy this time.  I usually like it with a little more crunch.  My crawfish etouffee was mighty tasty though.

They definitely don’t skimp on the crawfish.  Sometimes the sauce is fairly mild, sometimes it has a bit of a kick to it.  Today was one of those days where it had a spicy kick, but it was soooo good.  $31 with a drink and so worth the drive.

Cajun Cafe on the Bayou
8101 Park Blvd
Pinellas Park, FL
727-546-6732

Cajun Cafe on the Bayou on Urbanspoon

Food4/5
Service3/5
Atmosphere4/5
Value3/5
3.6/5

We were in Lakeland today test driving a Miata and on the recommendation from the guy at the car dealership, we ate lunch at Harry’s Seafood Bar & Grill.

It’s a pretty big restaurant and was fairly crowded, but we were able to get a table without a wait.  One waitress came and took our drink order and then another came to the table to take our order.  What was impressive about this was that the original waitress came back to our table and apologized for having to give our table to another waitress because she had three other tables that just got seated and felt that she wouldn’t be able to give us the service we deserved.  I really appreciated that, especially since we’ve been to several other restaurants lately where the server was obviously overwhelmed but unwilling or unable to ask for additional help.  Kudos for Harry’s for being staffed appropriately and allowing the servers to judge their own workload.

As for the food, I ordered the shrimp etouffee and Loren got the Taste of Orleans platter which had jambalaya, etouffee, and gumbo, plus they started us off with some nice warm bread.

The herbed butter had a lot of garlic in it and melted wonderfully on the toasty bread. 

The shrimp etouffee had good flavor, but didn’t have that simmered for hours taste about it.  It was fairly generic.  The rice had a few too many pieces in it that were crunchy, like the rice had too much time to dry out from when it was cooked. 

The gumbo was the best thing on the Taste of Orleans platter.  It had a deep, rich flavor to it.  The jambalya was ok, but a little dry.  Total bill with a drink was $28.

Harry’s Seafood Bar & Grill
101 N Kentucky Ave
Lakeland, FL
(863) 686-2228

Harry's Seafood, Bar & Grille on Urbanspoon

Food3/5
Service3/5
Atmosphere3/5
Value3/5
3.0/5

We headed out to Tarpon tonight to go back to the Zante Cafe.  We needed some awesome food and they didn’t disappoint.  The owner seemed a bit frazzled as the restaurant filled up, but they still managed to bring out one delicious course after the next.  Their kids tend to the dining room and the youngest was more interested in playing than helping out.  But, our drinks stayed filled and they were pretty good at clearing away plates.  It’s a very laid back place, so expect to spend about 2 hours here for dinner.  Everything is made fresh and well worth the wait.

First out were their homemade rolls.

Crispy on the outside, soft on the inside with a slight hint of garlic, served fresh out of the oven.  It’s a good thing they just serve these one at a time, otherwise, I’d fill up on bread without thinking twice about it.   Next up was the gumbo.

The flavors are delicate in this gumbo, but you can taste the freshness of all the ingredients.  Chicken and sausage in a light, flavorful broth.  Again, I could eat so much more of this and be incredibly happy. 

We ordered the Crawfish Vol Au Vent for an appetizer.

Crawfish, mushrooms, and onions in a creamy sauce served over heart shaped puffed pastry.  I’m guessing the heart shape was because it’s Valentine’s weekend, but regardless it was yummy.  There were lots of crawfish and mushrooms and the sauce was lightly spiced.    

Loren ordered the seafood fra diablo with a spice level of 2 out of 5.

Crawfish, shrimp, mussels, scallops and veggies in a creamy, spicy sauce over spaghetti.  It had a lot of flavor and it all blended well together.  Loren would have preferred rice to spaghetti and he’s not a fan of cauliflower, but he still enjoyed the dish. 

I ordered the Paneed Tilapia w/ Crawfish and Tasso in Brandy Cream.

The tilapia filet was thick and cooked perfectly.  It was flaky and tender with a crisp breading.  The crawfish and mushroom brandy cream sauce really complemented the fish well. 

At this point, we really were quite full, but I wanted to try the bananas foster.

The owner/chef comes out and flambes it right at the table.  It was delicious served over vanilla ice cream and whipped cream.  It had a nice carmelization and was a perfect ending to a wonderful meal. 

And even better, we had a $25 Restaurant.com coupon, so the bill before tip ended up being $42.  Absolutely the best $42 we’ve spent on food so far this year. 

Zante Cafe Neo
13 N Safford Ave
Tarpon Springs, FL
727-934-5558

Zante Cafe Neo on Urbanspoon

Food5/5
Service3/5
Atmosphere4/5
Value5/5
4.3/5

After our trip to the Morean Arts Center, HotShop, and the Chihuly Collection, we still weren’t ready to eat dinner, but decided to get some take out from the Nola Cafe for later. 

We got the combination platter which had red beans and rice, gumbo and jambalaya, some beignets, and a bowl of crawfish etouffee.

Out of the combo, the gumbo was definitely the best.  It had a very smooth, velvety texture to it, plus some really nice flavors.  The red beans and rice was ok, and the jambalaya was smoky and kind of plain.  There was some spices in all three, but they weren’t overly spicy.  The crawfish etouffee, however, was really spicy.

The spice doesn’t hit you when you first put it in your mouth, but once it hits the back of your throat, you feel some heat.  Unfortunately, it had more heat than flavor going on. 

As for the beignets, I don’t know if it was the drive home or if they’re always this way, but they were kind of doughy.

They weren’t great.  Overall, nothing really stood out about the food.  It was ok, but I still prefer the Cajun Cafe.  The food here just didn’t seem as fresh and homemade as I was hoping for.  Total bill was $32.

Nola Cafe
300 Beach Dr NE
St Petersburg, FL
(813) 258-8778

Nola Cafe on Urbanspoon

Food3/5
Service3/5
Atmosphere3/5
Value3/5
3.0/5

We drove into Tarpon Springs tonight to have dinner at Zante Cafe Neo.  We walked right by it thinking it was a thrift shop.   This has to be the most unusual decor I’ve ever seen in a restaurant and there was lots of it.  It was like someone emptied out grandma’s attic, hit a few garage sales, and then dug in the back of everyone’s closet.  The photo below is the view from the entryway.

We were seated by the owner’s 13 year old daughter who was also the waitress.  There were other kids doing homework at a nearby table and another young lad brought us some dinner rolls. 

These were some mighty fine rolls.  Buttery and slightly crunchy on the outside, soft and delicious inside.  They also came right out of the oven. 

Everything here is freshly made, so takes a while to come out.  Trust me, this is a place where the phrase “Your patience will be rewarded” is so true.  Luckily, while you wait, you have quite a bit to look at.  Every time I turned my head, I found something else odd and unusual around me.  From the full sized cut out of Johnny Depp dressed as the Mad Hatter to funky lamps to a drawing of Sean Connery. 

Our dinners both came with a choice of soup or salad and we both went for the gumbo.

Delicate flavors in a thin broth with chicken, okra, and other veggies.  It was so warm and cozy on a chilly night.  There wasn’t a drop left in either of our bowls.  

We ordered the Louisiana crab cakes as an appetizer.

All crab, no fillers and quite delicious.  The Creole Remoulade wasn’t spicy, but added a nice flavor to the crab cakes.  Everything we’d eaten so far left us craving more. 

Did I mention the rolls?  Yeah, we needed another batch of those.

Fresh out of the oven a second time around.  Normally, I don’t like such a long wait for food, but it was well worth it.

And then came the entrees.  Loren ordered the jambalaya and I ordered the crawfish etouffee.  Our waitress asked what spice level we wanted on a scale of 1 to 10.  I picked a 1 and Loren picked a 6 for his dish.  I also asked to have the scallions left off of mine.

This is my etouffee with scallions on it.  There weren’t that many, I just assumed she didn’t hear me when I asked that they be left off.  She saw me picking them off the dish and said the chef must have mixed up the dish because Loren’s didn’t have any scallions on his and normally the jambalaya has scallions. (I’d already transferred a few of mine on to his plate before I took the photo)

So, as I’m picking off the remaining scallions, Loren starts to eat his and says it’s really not all that spicy for a spice level 6.  Just as I’m about to take my first bite, it dawns on me that if the scallions ended up on my dish, there’s a good chance the spice level did too.  Oh yeah, wimpy me ended up with a spice level 6 etouffee.  If it hadn’t been so tasty, I probably wouldn’t have eaten it.  It definitely had some spice, but it wasn’t a killer.  They had to refill my water glass a couple of times though. 

Both dishes had wonderful flavors to them.  The jambalaya had a smoky flavor and had chicken, shrimp, and sausage in it.  Mine had tender crawfish, onions and mushrooms in a dark roux etouffee sauce. 

They also brought us a slice of pumpkin pie and pecan pie to make up for the mistake with the spice levels. 

They were both pretty good.   The table next to us had bananas foster and when the chef came out and flambed it at the table, I was thinking that’s what we’re having next time.  And yes, there will definitely be a next time. 

Total bill was $51.  Absolutely worth every penny for the made from scratch, authentic food we were served.  Though I’m not a fan of having children as waitstaff, I have to say, she was very polite and took care of us just fine.  And when we got the bill, she had absolutely written down our order correctly and the kitchen mixed them up.

Zante Cafe Neo
13 N Safford Ave
Tarpon Springs, FL
727-934-5558

Zante Cafe Neo on Urbanspoon

Food5/5
Service4/5
Atmosphere4/5
Value4/5
4.4/5