Hard to believe January is over already. Looks like we visited 23 different restaurants and spent about $560 between the two of us. There were definitely some memorable dining experiences… both good and bad.
Here’s my best and worst of January dining:
Best Appetizer: Mexican roll at Thirsty Marlin
Best Dessert: 7 Layer Dark Chocolate Cake at Green Springs Bistro
Best Bread: Garlic bread at Panos Kouzina
Best use of Cheese: Queso Supremo at Tia’s
Best Fries: Sweet potato fries at Whistlestop Grill
Best Value: 2 for 1 Fajitas at Chicos
Best Atmosphere: Green Springs Bistro
Worst Service: Ozona Pig
Worst use of Cheese: Wild Mushroom Risotto at Kuzina Mediterranean Grill
Worst entree: Shrimp Lo Mein at Hin Lee II
Worst Side Dish: Potato Salad at Thirsty Marlin
After going to the 11:30am showing of “Edge of Darkness” (good movie, definitely worth seeing), we were ready for some lunch. Chico’s Wood Fired Grill on Linebaugh offers two-for-one fajitas on Sundays, so off we went.
We didn’t get there until almost 2pm, so they weren’t very busy. It’s nice to be able to eat a quiet lunch. They start you off with some colorful chips and salsa.
We didn’t even need to look at a menu. I ordered the chicken fajitas and Loren got the steak and chicken combo fajitas.
Chico’s makes a pretty good fajita. Fresh and tasty with lots of onions and peppers and all the fixin’s. You can easily get 3-4 fajitas out of the lunch serving.
You just can’t beat this deal, two orders of fajitas and a soda for $16. If you like fajitas this is definitely the place to go on Sundays.
This was the mural above our table:
Chico’s Wood Fired Grill
12217 W Linebaugh Ave
On our quest to try new places, we set out to the Green Springs Bistro in Safety Harbor for dinner tonight.
It’s an eclectic little restaurant. Lots of bright colors and artwork in the three dining rooms and outside. We wanted a quiet part of the restaurant and were seated on the back porch. The restaurant is in a 1930′s house. The live music was in the dining room in front of ours. It was very soothing and we knew every song.
Loren ordered an iced tea which turned out to be a raspberry blend that he really liked. He normally doesn’t like fruity teas, but he was really impressed with this one. We were served a complimentary taste of their potato soup. It was tasty.
Because we just can’t resist appetizers, we ordered the Saganaki, an oven-roasted Greek Kefalograviera cheese, bathed in olive oil and fresh-squeezed lemon.
It had a strong parmesean cheese taste to it. I don’t think I’d order it again, but it was good with the bread. The salad had a poppy seed dressing on it that was good, though the onions were really strong.
For my entree, I ordered the Roasted Duck with a blackberry orange sauce. It came with mashed red potatoes and roasted veggies.
The duck was tender, but it had the skin still on and it was just the wrong texture. The same with the blackberry orange sauce, great flavor, bad texture. I kept getting blackberry seeds between my teeth. The mashed potatoes were really good. The roasted veggies were peas and sweet potatoes. I thought it was odd to serve a roasted potato with mashed potatoes, but I liked them nonetheless.
Loren ordered the special, a swordfish in a Beurre blanc sauce with the same mashed potatoes and roasted veggies as mine.
He really enjoyed the swordfish. He joked about having leftovers, but there wasn’t anything left on his plate except a bite or two of mashed potatoes.
We were both pretty full by this point, but I kept hearing the waitress describe the desserts at other tables. All I had to hear were the words “7 Layer Dark Chocolate Cake” and I was sold.
At first glance, and even in the photo, the cake doesn’t look all that appealing. My first thought was that it was going to be really dry. Boy, was I wrong. It was one of the moistest, freshest cakes I’ve ever tasted. One bite and I tried to steal the plate away from Loren. It had a decadent thick chocolate frosting on top and rich, dark chocolate mousse between 7 layers of cake. Even though we felt like we couldn’t eat another bite, we managed to finish the entire thing. I’d go back for the cake alone.
The only downside was the bill. This was not a cheap dinner. $72 for the two of us. We’re not likely to go back often, but this is definitely a place I’d recommend if you want the occasional special night out.
Green Springs Bistro
156 Fourth Ave North
Safety Harbor, FL
My friend Cathy and I went to the movies this morning and saw “When In Rome”. One of those chick flicks I can’t drag Loren to. We enjoyed the movie, it was cute and so was Josh Duhamel as the leading man.
Since it was starting to rain, we wanted to grab lunch close by so we headed over to Eve’s Family Restaurant which is in the same shopping center as the AMC Theater in Oldsmar.
Eve’s is a local place that seems to have a big clientele from the retirement community across the street.
I ordered a Belgium waffle with blueberries and whipped cream.
The waffle was ok, but nothing spectacular. I would have liked it more crispy throughout. The edges were good, but it was kinda mushy in the middle. I don’t think I’d order it again.
$5 for the movie, $7 for the waffle, and good conversation with my buddy Cathy. Not bad for a rainy Saturday morning.
Eve’s Family Restaurant
3150 Tampa Road
Got home from work around 5:30pm and decided to see if I could get any decent photos of the full moon since it was supposed to be its biggest and brightest of the year tonight. Unfortunately, it was cloudy over the horizon, so I wasn’t able to get any shots of the moon rising, but did manage a few decent ones once it got above the clouds.
I got back home around 6:30pm and Loren had a hankering for steak, so we drove out to Longhorn Steakhouse in Palm Harbor. The drive through the parking lot showed a large crowd of people waiting on tables and there weren’t any parking spots, so I suggested Outback instead. I saw some empty parking spaces when we had passed it on the way to Longhorn.
We parked at Outback only to go in and find there was a 50 minute wait. By now, we were both fairly hungry and being the geeks that we are, Loren whipped out his cell phone and searched for steakhouses near our location. The gps came up with Ozona Blue in Palm Harbor, so we headed out there.
Unfortunately, though, the gps didn’t have the address correct, so we drove right by the restaurant and headed into Ozona. We were at the Ozona Pig before we knew it. We’d eaten there before and the food was good, so we pulled into the parking lot and our steak dinner turned into BBQ instead.
The last time we were at The Ozona Pig, it was almost empty. Not so tonight. It was packed and noisy. So noisy that we could barely hear each other from across the table. Our waitress brought our drinks and then it took a while before she returned to take our order. It was an omen of things to come, but we didn’t know it at the time.
I ordered the pulled pork dinner with macaroni and cheese and potato salad for my sides.
Loren got the half rack of ribs, garlic mashed, and baked beans. Both dinners came with a deviled egg and we ordered a couple of extra too.
The ribs and the pulled pork were really good. They definitely know how to do BBQ. We even had some leftovers. The sides were a different story though. The potato salad and the beans were ok. The macaroni and cheese was dry, the deviled eggs were tough, and the garlic mashed could have warded off Dracula and all the vampires from Twilight and True Blood combined.
All during dinner, we didn’t see our waitress. In fact, for at least 45 minutes after we’d finished eating, we didn’t see hide nor hair of her or any other waitstaff for that matter. I get that they were busy, but you can’t just ignore tables all night.
Evenutally, she made her way over to us and said, “Ya’ll haven’t been feeling neglected back here, have you?”. Ummm.. yeah.
Total bill was $28 and the BBQ was good, but the service was horrible. Perhaps take-out would have been a better option.
The Ozona Pig
311 Orange St
Don’t you hate it when you get scheduled into meetings where the one that was supposed to end at noon ends late and your next one starts at 1pm? I needed a quick lunch, so ordered some take-out from China Taste in Oldsmar again. Surprisingly, this is the first repeat visit to a restaurant I’ve had this year.
Had to order the crab rangoons again. I just can’t go here without getting them and decided on the Beef with Broccoli lunch special.
One of the things I like about China Taste is that you almost always have leftovers. Their beef and broccoli is tasty. Personally, I like the broccoli not quite so crunchy, but I usually don’t eat all of it anyway.
For under $10, got my crab rangoons, rice, entree, a drink, made it to my 1pm on time and have leftovers for tomorrow. This is why I have their take out menu in my purse and phone number on speed dial.
13887 W. Hillsborough Ave
I brought my lunch to work today, but as it got closer to lunchtime, I just didn’t want what I brought. So, called up the hubby and we went over to Hin Lee II in Oldsmar.
Since I have a hard time passing up sushi, I had to order a Mexican roll.
It was ok. No where as good as the one we had at Thirsty Marlin the other night.
The lunch specials at Hin Lee are fairly inexpensive. I ordered some shrimp lo mein and Loren got the Kung Bo Chicken. Both come with an egg roll and fried rice.
I like egg rolls and these were ok, but they didn’t taste fresh. It was like they had made a bunch up awaiting a lunch crowd that never came.
My lo mein was an even bigger disappointment. Again, it just didn’t taste fresh. The shrimp were overcooked and the fried rice tasted like it had been sitting there for a long time. It also had a lot of soy beans in it, which I really don’t like. I wish their menu listed all of the ingredients so I didn’t have to spend half my time picking things out of the dish.
Loren seemed to like his Kung Bo chicken, but he said the sauce was more like a sweet and sour sauce rather than spicy though.
All in all, I would have been better off saving my $22 and eating the Fluffernutter sandwich I brought to work.
Hin Lee II
4013 Tampa Road
After a day of geocaching in Dunedin, Ozona, and Palm Harbor, we headed over to the Thirsty Marlin for dinner.
We’ve been to the Thirsty Marlin a few times. This was the first time I noticed sushi on the menu.
I ordered a Mexican roll which is fried shrimp, avacado, and mayo. I was very impressed. The shrimp was cooked perfectly, nice and crunchy, the avacado was very fresh and the rice had great flavor to it. I should have just ordered another one for my dinner.
Instead, I ordered the ahi tuna and Loren got the Mahi Mahi. Don’t get me wrong, I like my tuna rare, but I thought this one could have been seared just a bit longer. It was covered in sesame seeds and the whole thing was cold. I got Miss Bliss potato salad and Smugglers sweet potatoes for my side dishes.
I ended up sending the potato salad back. I took one bite and realized it was full of raw onions. I don’t like raw onions in anything, so I got another order of the sweet potato casserole. At first, I really liked it. It was sweet with brown sugar and marshmallows all melted on top, but as I got further into it, it had a bitter flavor to it, but I couldn’t figure out what it was. When I scooped the second order into our to-go box, there were really dark parts of it that turned out to be mollasses. Ruined the entire thing for me. All that awesome sweetness, turned bitter because it wasn’t mixed well.
Loren enjoyed his mahi, baked potato and salad. I should have just stuck with the sushi. Our total bill was around $50 and there’s plenty of leftovers for tomorrow.
As we were leaving, there were cop cars out where we parked asking if we had locked our car because several cars had just been broken into. Luckily, there wasn’t anything in ours to steal, but I’d suggest locking your car if you’re eating there at night.
1023 Florida Ave
Palm Harbor, FL
Benedict’s is a small restaurant with a bit of kitzch going on. Looks like a place where the locals hang out.
We both opted for breakfast option #2, 2 eggs, 2 sausage or bacon, and 2 pancakes. We ordered our eggs scrambled with cheese and a side of seasoned potatoes.
The eggs were really cheesy and that’s a plus in my book. I’m usually disappointed when I order scrambled eggs because most places cook them until they’re dry and rubbery. Not these eggs though. They were just the right texture with the cheese melted in. The seasoned potatoes were very seasoned with garlic.
And though we’re no pancake professionals like our friends Andy and Marek of Tampa Bay Breakfasts, I gotta say, these pancakes were pretty darn tasty.
It took a while to get our food, but right on the table, it says every meal is made to order, so please be patient. Our patience was rewarded. All in all, a good, tasty breakfast for $16.50.
2676 Bayshore Blvd
We were heading out to John Chestnut Park to search for some geocaches today. Needed something filling to keep us going all afternoon, so stopped at Vetture’s Restaurant in Palm Harbor for lunch.
I like cheesesteaks and the one at Vetture’s is very yummy. Lots of cheesy goodness, onions and mushrooms. Loren got the Italian sub and we were both stuffed by the time we were done. Their 6 inch subs seem a lot bigger than any other 6 inch subs I’ve had elsewhere.
Two subs and a drink ran us $16.
Vetture’s Restaurant and Pizzeria
36137 East Lake Road
Palm Harbor, FL
They have live music several nights a week, though I’m not sure who was playing tonight. I gotta say, I was glad we weren’t seated near the stage. The band was good, the singer didn’t do much for me though.
Although fried green tomatoes are their specialty (yeah, just think ”Steel Magnolias”), I opted for the corn fritters instead.
They were crispy on the outside and had some corny goodness going on inside. Loren was craving a burger, so he got the Santa Fe burger. It had jalepenos, onions, cheese, avacado, and crushed tortilla chips on it. I thought the crushed chips were weird, but he seemed to enjoy it.
I went for the Portabello Mushroom wrap with goat cheese. I ordered it without the roasted red peppers, but somewhere between my mouth and the waiter’s ears, that little tidbit got lost. Otherwise, it was pretty tasty. I got some sweet potato fries with it and those were awesome. I could have just sat there and eaten those for dinner and been quite happy.
For $24, we got an appetizer, two dinners, and a drink. Their appetizers are half price during happy hour, 4-7pm.
My only sadness tonight was that they stopped carrying the raspberry truffle ice cream I loved. It had the most delicious dark chocolate hearts with raspberry filling in a vanilla/raspberry ice cream. I think it was a Working Cow ice cream, so I’m going to have to see if I can find it somewhere else.
At least they still have the cow…
915 Main St
Safety Harbor, FL
Another Friday, another decision on where to go for lunch. Decided it was a good day for sushi, so we headed over to Sakura Japanese Restaurant in Oldsmar. It’s in the little plaza in front of the Lowe’s in Oldsmar. I think they opened in December 2009.
They have a good deal for lunch, any 2 rolls on the lunch menu for $8.99 or 3 rolls for $11.99 plus soup and salad.
They serve a miso soup. Unfortunately, neither of us really like the taste of it. The salad had a nice ginger dressing on it though.
We got a 2 roll and 3 roll lunch to split between us. A California Roll, Salmon and Avacado, Salmon and Cucumber, Spicy Tuna, and a Shrimp and Cucumber roll. The shrimp roll was the only one that wasn’t very good. The shrimp had no flavor whatsoever. Like it had been boiled or something. Just a very bland roll. The rest of the rolls were pretty tasty. I love fresh avacado and the salmon had good flavor too.
They have some other lunch specials as well. A Bento box with soup or salad, vegetable egg roll, California roll and white rice for $8.99 and a Japanese curry for $8.50. They also have about 30 special rolls on their menu, ranging from $8.00 to $13.99 each.
Total for our lunch today was $22.
Sakura Japanese Restaurant
13823 W. Hillsborough Ave
My buddy, Jeff, has mentioned this to me several times, and I finally tried it tonight. Restaurants.com allows you to search your local area for restaurants that are registered with them and they sell gift certificates at a significant discount. You can usually get deals like $10 for $4, $25 for $10, etc. Good stuff if your local restaurants are listed. Fortunately, a lot of restaurants in our area ARE listed. In fact, two of them are places we go regularly!
But, wait, it gets better… they offer discounts on their discounts! There are always discount codes available, up to 70 or 80% sometimes. You can find discount codes here. (also a great resource for any other website that will accept a discount code) Currently, the code “INDULGE” will get you 80% off. So, I just spent $14.60 on $145 worth of gift cards. If we have no issues with these cards, you can bet I’ll be doing this again!
Since I was off work today, we headed out to a matinee of “The Book of Eli”. It was an interesting movie. Stopped for lunch at Niko’s Pizza and Seafood in Oldsmar.
They had a lot of items on their specials board today. I chose the meatball parmesean sub and Loren got the turkey club. Both were served with fries. The meatball sub was good. I’m picky about meatballs and these were homemade and tasty. Lots of cheese and the sauce was good too.
Niko’s is a small, local restaurant and we’ve always gotten good food there. Their prices aren’t bad either. $18 for two subs, fries and a drink.
Niko’s Pizza and Seafood
3705 Tampa Road
We drove out to Tampa tonight to have dinner with an old high school friend, Paul Zabodyn. He drives a charter bus and had just dropped off a girl’s basketball team at USF. We headed over to Tia’s Tex Mex on Fowler Ave.
We used to have a Tia’s down on Gulf to Bay in Clearwater, but they closed, so I’m happy whenever we get to the one in Tampa. Two words… queso supremo.
It’s ooey, gooey cheesy goodness mixed with taco meat. Mmmmm…. I don’t even need to order an entree, I could just eat that and be happy. It also comes with guacamole, so Loren’s happy too.
I did order an entree, though I only ate half of it. Too much queso. I got a Su Casa Combo. You pick three items plus rice and beans. I got two chicken cheese empanadas and a taco.
Like I said, I brought half of it home. Way too much food for me. The empanadas were tasty. Very cheesy and crispy.
Loren ordered his usual, steak fajitas.
And Paul got the chicken quesadillas.
Tia’s gives you big portions and we’re always stuffed when we leave. The fajitas, queso, and my combo plate ran us $33. Not bad considering I have lunch for tomorrow too.
Tia’s Tex Mex
2815 E Fowler Ave
What to do when you need to discuss a potential $100,000 project? Have a cajun lunch!
Went to one of the boss’ favorite lunch dives today, the Cajun Cafe in Pinellas Park. Situated right on the waters of Cross Bayou right next to the Wagon Wheel flea market, it’s the only real Cajun restaurant that I know of in Pinellas county. Their food is very authentic and quite good. Most of it is also spicy! There isn’t much on the menu that isn’t at least somewhat hot. Cathy doesn’t do spicy food, and she absolutely loves their Shrimp Étouffée… but won’t touch anything else on the menu other than maybe the Gumbo because she thinks it’s too spicy.
We started off with a basket of their Cajun Popcorn (spicy batter-fried crawfish), which is worth going there for by itself.
I usually go for the Chicken Étouffée, same sauce as Cathy’s Shrimp Étouffée, just with chicken. A little less expensive and just as good. (in fact, sometimes I just get their “Mama Lynn’s supper”, which is the plain sauce over rice!) That’s what I had today, but sadly, for the first time ever, I had an iffy meal. The chicken tasted funny, and I don’t like taking chances with chicken. So, I just ate around it and enjoyed the sauce and rice! It was more than I needed to eat for lunch, anyway. When our waiter came around, I told him the chicken was a little off, he took it back to the kitchen and took my entree off of our bill. Even offered to bring me something else. Great service, as always.
Fritz had his usual Aligator Sauce Piquant, which comes with a written warning on the menu, and they are required to caution you when you order it to be sure you understand that it’s HOT. No complaints from Fritz, but I don’t even like my food to get too close to that dish! Ash had a bowl of Jambalaya, which is REALLY good stuff, just a little spicier than what I wanted today.
Cajun Cafe on the Bayou
8101 Park Blvd
Pinellas Park, FL
It just seems wrong to bring your lunch to work on Friday, so I ordered some take out Chinese food from China Taste in Oldsmar.
I go to China Taste mainly for the crab rangoons. I order them at every Chinese restaurant, and China Taste has the best ones. They’re crunchy with a lot of filling. Mmmm…. To go along with my rangoons, I ordered honey chicken today with white rice. The chicken is tender and the sauce isn’t too sweet. Lots of food, even have some leftovers for later. Their lunch specials are a great deal, $4.95 for the entree, fried rice and a drink. Add in the $3.95 for the rangoons and I’ve got a yummy lunch for under $10.
13887 W. Hillsborough Ave
(It’s in the Publix/Lowe’s shopping center right on the Oldsmar/Tampa line)
Didn’t feel like cooking dinner tonight, so we headed out to Poblanos Mexican Grill on McMullen Booth. We eat at Poblanos pretty often. It’s quick, relatively cheap, and tasty.
Loren got the burritos tipicos, burritos made from beef tips, topped with queso dip. I decided to try something different tonight, the grilled shrimp chimichangas. The shrimp chimi was tasty, but needed to be deep fried a little longer. It wasn’t crispy at all, more like a shrimp burrito. They smothered the whole thing in queso which is ok by me. The cheesier, the better. Plenty of food for $24.50.
Poblanos Mexican Grill
245 McMullen Booth Road
We braved the cold a second night in a row in search of food. A new restaurant, Kuzina Mediterranean Grill & Bar, opened up recently where Winners used to be, so we headed out to Oldsmar to check it out.
The interior was cozy. The naked trees were an interesting design. They brought bread and hummus to the table to start with. Loren liked the hummus, said it was very garlicy. I liked the bread, though it would have been better if it had been warmed.
Because we just can’t say no to appetizers, we ordered the calamari. It was very good and the sundried tomato sauce that came with it was excellent.
For dinner, I ordered the Wild Mushroom Rissoto and Loren got the Salmon Farfale. I was disappointed in the rissoto. All I could taste was parmesean cheese. It was completely overwhelming. The cheese even began to solidify on my spoon, it was so thick. Loren enjoyed his salmon pasta dish and I took his leftovers to eat tomorrow. I’d probably order his dish again, but I’ll pass on the rissoto.
Since I didn’t eat all my dinner (yeah, I’m using that as an excuse), we ordered dessert. Let’s face it, I’m not passing up a chocolate dessert. It was listed on the menu as “Molten Chocklate Lava Cake”. I’m not real sure what “chocklate” is, but I figured I’d take a chance anyway.
Because they make the dessert to order, it took about 15 minutes to get to the table. They should probably let you know that ahead of time so you can order it early. Though it was an ooey, gooey chocolate dessert, it really didn’t have the deep dark chocolate flavor that I crave. The cake was really bland and the interior “lava” didn’t have a strong chocolate taste either. There was a darker chocolate sauce on the outside that was good. It could have used some whipped cream or ice cream on the side to make it sweeter. Don’t get me wrong, we ate the entire thing, but I probably won’t order it again.
The service at the restaurant seemed very inexperienced. Granted they just opened, but our drinks went unfilled at times and when we sat down, our table was set for four and even though there were only two of us, the waitress never took the other settings away.
We probably will go back again and try some other dishes. Appetizer, two dinners, dessert, and an iced tea ran us $46.
Kuzina Mediterranean Grill & Bar
3980 Tampa Road
The temperature rarely gets into the 30′s in Florida, but we’re in the middle of a cold spell right now. I wasn’t sure I even wanted to leave the house, but the thought of comfy Cuban food was enough to get me to dig out my winter coat and head out to Cuban Breezes in Oldsmar.
We started with a couple of appetizers, a chicken empanada and a cup of chorizo soup.
We eat at Cuban Breezes a lot, but this is the first time I tried their Fricase de Pollo. It’s shredded chicken and diced potatoes in a tomato based sauce over rice. It was yummy. Shad got his usual Lechon, marinated shredded pork, and some beans and rice.
Appetizers, two dinners and a Pepsi ran us $25.
13980 W. Hillsborough Ave.