I’ve been wanting to try the new PF Chang’s at Countryside Mall, but the wait has been outrageous since they opened. We happened to be over there early today and were able to get a table in the bar area. We started off with the salt and pepper calamari.
Definitely not worth the wait and we waited a long time for the appetizer to come out of the kitchen. They don’t put the salt & pepper on it when it comes out of the fryer, instead giving you a container to sprinkle it on. It loses its appeal because it doesn’t stick to the calamari properly. As for the calamari, it was chewy. The dipping sauce that came with it tasted like it came right out of a jar. It was not good. For his entree, Loren chose the sesame chicken.
He liked the flavor of it, but the veggies didn’t taste fresh at all. The chicken was tender and the sauce was sort of sweet and spicy. I tried the honey chicken.
Again, the flavor was ok, but the chicken wasn’t tender enough for me. Overall, it tasted like overpriced chain restaurant food. Nothing we ate had any sort of freshness to it. It was all just very generic. The wait was ridiculous for both the appetizer and the entrees. It’s just not an efficiently run restaurant at this point. When we got up to leave, a woman came barreling at us to grab the table since the wait for the dining room was so long. Total bill with a drink was $41.
P.F. Chang’s China Bistro
27001 US Highway 19N #115
Johnny’s Italian Restaurant on a Friday night is a very crowded place. We had to wait about 20 minutes for a table. Salads and bread started off the meal while we waited for our calamari.
The Johnny bread is one of the best things about this restaurant. The oil & garlic dipping sauce will have you warding off vampires for a week. The bread is just perfect and we ended up getting a second loaf. It’s hard to resist. Next up, calamari.
It was very tender and had a nice crunch. The dipping sauce that came with it was rather spicy with lots of red pepper flakes. I was feeling the heat for a while. Loren ordered the Tuscan Steak with Portabella Sauce.
The interesting thing was that he actually tried to order something else, but the waitress talked him out of it. I can’t remember what the other item was, but she said it didn’t have a lot of flavor and that he’d enjoy this one more. And he did. I went for the chicken marsala with a side of fettucine alfredo.
The chicken was tender and the marsala sauce had a really nice flavor to it. When they get their alfredo sauce right, it’s really good here. Tonight was one of those nights. I could have eaten an entire bowl of just that. I felt the need for chocolate tonight so we ordered the chocolate cake.
This was an incredibly rich and chocolately cake. It had thick ganache layers and just melted in your mouth. Perfect ending to a very good meal. Total bill with a drink was $45.75.
Johnny’s Italian Restaurant
2907 SR 590 #1
The Sea Dog Brewing Co opened up recently in Clearwater. Though we’re not drinkers, their menu looked interesting enough to draw us in. The restaurant is big and open and a bit on the loud side. We started off with the calamari and some clam chowder.
Both were very good. The calamari had a nice crunch, but was also tender. I didn’t like the kalamata and caper aioli that came with it though. I’m not a fan of olives, but Loren liked it. The clam chowder was very creamy and had nice chunks of clam in it without any grit. Nothing worse than getting clam chowder with gritty clams. Loren thought it was a little too thick, but I thought it was perfect. For his entree, he got the pot roast dinner.
He said the pot roast was very tender and tasty. He liked the potatoes, but wasn’t quite as thrilled with the broccoli rabe. I saw whole belly clams on their appetizer menu and ordered that as my entree with a side of mac & cheese.
Unfortunately, I wouldn’t order either of these items again. The clams were very crunchy with very small bellies. The quality just wasn’t there. The mac & cheese is made with a beer cheese sauce that was very overwhelming. Not a flavor that I liked at all. Our waiter ended up taking it off the bill since he realized that I just didn’t like it. He recommended that I try the lobster mac & cheese next time as it’s made with a different cream sauce. We finished off the meal with the apple crisp.
When it came out, it was nothing like we had expected. It was more like a slice of apple pie than what I had imagined a crisp to be. The apples were very tart, but they actually blended well with the soft crust, ice cream and caramel. I expect that we’ll try the food here again. There were a lot of other things on the menu that peaked my interest. Total bill with a drink was $55.
Sea Dog Brewing Co
26200 US Hwy 19 N
We usually spend our Sunday mornings at the movies and then head out for a late lunch. Today it was Star Trek and Thirsty Marlin. We started off with some calamari.
We order calamari almost every place we go, and this was surprisingly good. It had a crunchy and flavorful batter and was pretty tender. It came with marinara sauce, but I got a side of ranch which made it even better. For his lunch, Loren ordered the blackened mahi sandwich.
He said the fish was cooked well and had good flavors. I went for a steak philly and onion rings.
Though the first few bites were good, I found the saltiness became overwhelming after a while. It just continued to build until I couldn’t take anymore. I didn’t like the onion rings at all. They lacked the appropriate crunch and were also overly salted. I did enjoy the cole slaw though. Total bill with a drink was $37.
1023 Florida Ave
Palm Harbor, FL
Always on the lookout for places we haven’t visited yet, we ended up at Pensare Italian Bistro in Dunedin for dinner tonight. The place was packed and really loud. We were seated in this little alcove and I felt like the sound just reverberated off the walls. Our waiter came over and explained the specials and brought bread and oil to the table.
The bread was warm and crusty and the dipping oil was very flavorful. We were optimistic about the rest of the meal only to be quickly disappointed when our appetizer arrived.
It was a fried platter of calamari, shrimp and zucchini. The calamari was thin and like rubber. The breading had no flavor whatsoever. The shrimp were overcooked and the zucchini was burnt. If our waiter had actually come back to the table in a reasonable amount of time, I would have sent it back. Salads came with our meal and we both got the mixed greens.
Loren likes mixed green salads, I’m not a fan. They also brought oil & vinegar to the table & you can have the waiter dress the salad or you can do it yourself. Eventually, our entrees came out. At this point, I felt like we had been there for quite a while. Loren ordered the Salmone Asparagi which was salmon in a lemon buerre-blanc sauce and asparagus.
He said it was pretty good. I found the sauce to be a bit too tart and sour for my tastes. I went for the pappardelle bolognese.
This was not a good dish. The pasta was undercooked and the sauce was flavorless. It was just very uninspiring. Our waiter disappeared at this point, I think he had tables out on the patio, so we didn’t see much more of him. My expectations were so low at this point that I didn’t even bother with dessert. We won’t be back. Total bill was $59 with a drink.
Pensare Italian Bistro
799 Highland Ave
I’ve been wanting to try the new Yummy House out on Hillsborough for a while and we were finally out that way today so we stopped in for lunch. It was really crowded. The restaurant is a lot bigger than the other one, but the waiting area was very small and people just kept coming in the door. We had to wait about 15-20 minutes, but the food was worth the wait. We started off with the salt and pepper calamari.
This is one tasty appetizer. Granted, I shake off most of the pepper and other stuff on it, but Loren enjoys every last bite. The batter it’s dipped in is light and crunchy, the calamari is tender and the salt just adds an amazing little zing to it. There are a lot of items on the menu and it’s all very reasonably priced. Loren settled on the beef short ribs with black pepper sauce.
He said it was good, but he probably wouldn’t order it again because it was difficult to eat since the ribs were still on the bone. It had a very intense black pepper flavor to it. I ordered the orange chicken.
It was very tender with a sweet mandarin orange flavor. You do have to order rice separately here, but with a drink the entire meal was $36. Everything is just very fresh and flavorful. They also walk around with dim sum and other items on carts that you can order, but we both had leftovers as it was, so we didn’t try anything else.
Yummy House China Bistro
2620 E Hillsborough Ave
We went out to the Garden Grille Cafe for dinner tonight and had a waitress in training. Luckily, she had another waitress working with her whispering in her ear everything she forgot to do. We started off with some clam chowder and some calamari.
The clam chowder was a bit on the gritty side. They definitely needed to rinse the clams more. It needed some salt, but was ok otherwise. The calamari also needed some seasoning. Loren got a Greek salad with chicken.
He said the chicken was very tender and the salad was ok. I ordered a mushroom burger.
It was cooked way past medium and was pretty dry. They brought out the dessert tray and I was surprised at how many choices there were. We settled on a raspberry cake with cheesecake filling.
Unfortunately, this cake must have come frozen and was not thawed out properly. Parts of it were frozen solid, part of the cake was dry and the other part was wet. Not moist, but wet. The actually cheesecake filling was pretty tasty. Service was lacking in some areas as there were dishes left on our table way longer than they should have been. Total bill with a drink was $36.
Garden Grille Cafe
8425 Hillsborough Ave
We wandered around Universal Studios all morning and then decided to get lunch out on City Walk. We didn’t realize so many of the restaurants didn’t open until late afternoon. We finally ended up out on the patio at Pastamore. The waitress brought bread & dipping oil to the table first.
The bread was wonderful. Soft and warm and very tasty. The dipping oil, on the other hand was served in a rather large bowl and didn’t have any herbs in it. It was just odd. We started off with the fried calamari.
I felt the portion size was small for a $9 appetizer, but I had to remember we were in a theme park. Realistically, though, it was enough to share without totally spoiling our appetites for our entrees. The calamari was cooked well and had a nice crunchy exterior without being too chewy on the inside. The balsamic glaze and garlic aioli added a nice flavor, but the marinara sauce was pretty bland. Loren got the salmon salad.
He said the salmon was cooked perfectly and he enjoyed the salad. He likes olives and there were plenty in the salad. I went for the chicken marsala.
This was the lunch half portion, though to be honest, I didn’t realize that’s what I was ordering. Again, I had to remember theme park prices. The chicken was very tender and the pasta was just the right tenderness. The dish could have used a bit more of the marsala sauce, but overall, it was pretty tasty. I was also craving chocolate, so we settled on the chocolate sabayon for dessert.
It was a pretty little plate with a very tasty raspberry sauce. It was a light and fluffy sort of dessert, just what I was craving. Total bill with a drink was $47.
6000 Universal Blvd
We’d already eaten at two new places for us this weekend, so I decided to try for a third. We ate dinner at La Bella Eva over in Clearwater. It’s a small Italian pizza place in strip mall on Belcher. It was nice and toasty inside which was perfect on this rather chilly evening. We decided to try the potato soup.
My first bite was very flavorful, but cold. We had to send it back to the kitchen to get heated up. After that, though, things went much better. The soup was really good. Thick & rich with a wonderful flavor. Loren kept trying to slide it closer to his side of the table. The bread was crusty on the outside and soft on the inside. You know it’s good when Loren reaches for more before I get a chance to. We also got some calamari.
The calamari was a little chewy and needed some salt, but otherwise pretty good. You can get a medium or spicy sauce to go with it and we chose the medium. It wasn’t really spicy, but definitely had some red pepper in it. At this point, we both realized we had already ordered too much food, and then the entrees came. Loren got the linguine with meatballs.
He liked it. It was a rich sauce. I though it tasted like there was wine in it that hadn’t been fully cooked off. I got the eggplant rollatini.
It was like lava when it came to the table. The eggplant was cooked very well. It still had some texture to it and the cheese and sauce were tasty. Too many places overcook the eggplant to mush, but this was a really good dish. We both had leftovers and decided to split a Manhattan truffle for dessert.
Vanilla and chocolate ice cream covering a cherry & almond center and completely enrobed in dark chocolate. It was delicious. They had several different varieties of these truffles and I think we may have to go back just to try some of the other ones. Total bill with a drink was $38.
La Bella Eva
1469 S. Belcher Rd
Loren was craving a steak tonight, so we headed out to the Longhorn in Palm Harbor. The wait was about 40 minutes, but we figured anywhere we went on a Friday at 6pm was going to be busy. The Longhorn currently has a Steakhouse Dinner for Two deal going on. It includes an appetizer or dessert, salads, and two entrees for $25. While we waited on our appetizer, we dug into the bread.
This is the way bread should be. It was warm and slightly chewy and oh so yummy. We just kept eating more & more of it. Luckily, our calamari appetizer arrived before we completely stuffed ourselves on bread.
The calamari was cooked pretty well, but any longer in the fryer and it would have been tough. It had a nice crunch and the smoky tomato ranch dipping sauce was awesome! I need to figure out how to make that at home.
They really had the timing down perfectly tonight. As soon as we finished our appetizer, the salads came right out and our entrees were served just as the waiter was clearing the salad plates. As busy as they were, I was happily surprised to not be sitting around wondering where our food was. Loren went for the Renegade steak & baked potato.
He said the steak wasn’t quite tender enough, but was perfectly cooked and seasoned. The 6 oz size was just the right amount for him too. I went for the salmon with a side of sweet potato bites.
I’ve found my new favorite side dish. These things were amazing. They had a sweet, maple syrupy aroma, but had the texture of a tater tot. It was almost like a butterscotch candy, but not overly sweet. Yummy! The salmon was perfectly cooked and very good. The only thing I didn’t like was the rice. It was way too spicy for me. I don’t know what kind of peppers were mixed into it, but I took one bite and my mouth was not happy.
We don’t go to too many chain restaurants, but we both agreed that this was one of the better dining experiences we’ve had recently. The restaurant was large and crowded, but they’ve figured out how to control the noise level so we could carry on a conversation. The service was attentive, but not intruding. Each course was served and plates were cleared in a timely manner and the food was very good. Total bill with a drink was $30.
35645 US Highway 19
Palm Harbor, FL
When we were at Sabai Thai last night we noticed that a new Greek restaurant just opened up next door called Taverna Skara. It’s a light and airy looking restaurant and they weren’t busy at all when we got there. They brought pita and olives to the table while we looked at the menus.
Loren said the olives were really good and I enjoyed the pita, though I would have liked something to dip it in. We decided to try the fried calamari for an appetizer.
This was a mixed bag of tender and chewy pieces of calamari. It seemed as though the pieces that kept their coating were fairly tender, but other pieces ended up being overcooked. The dish definitely needed salt and I didn’t like the way it was served in the cone. It made it very hard to get pieces out and dripped oil and crumbs all over the table.
For his entrée, Loren got the pork souvlaki platter.
It had pork, rice, pita, Greek salad and tzatziki sauce. He enjoyed it and ended up with way more pita and rice than he could eat. The tzatziki sauce had an interesting flavor to it. I can’t quite put my finger on what was different about it, but there was something. I tried the pastitsio.
This was a very good version of the dish. The flavors were all there, the pasta was tender and the béchamel sauce was creamy and had good flavor. My only criticism was that they melted some cheese on top that formed a hard crust. I just didn’t care for that. I also would have liked if it had been served with a small Greek salad. Most of the other entrees on the menu were served with a side or salad, so it seemed odd that the items on the Traditional Greek Entree list were not.
Service was very attentive, almost too attentive, but I’m guessing it’s because they’re new and there weren’t too many customers in the restaurant. Overall, the food was good and we’ll probably be back again to try some other dishes. Total bill with a drink was $43.
2454 McMullen Booth Rd
We had a AAA coupon for 25% off at Olive Garden that expired today, so we headed over there for a late lunch. We weren’t sure how busy they were going to be on Christmas Eve, but when we got there at 1pm, we didn’t have to wait for a table. We started off with soup, salad and breadsticks.
I think we could have stopped right here and been very full and very contented. The breadsticks were fresh and soft and both the salad and soup were yummy. I like the pasta fagioli soup here. It has a nice blend of flavors and textures. For some reason, we felt the need to order an appetizer.
Calamari & stuffed mushrooms… oh so good! They prepare a really tender calamari here. The mushrooms were also flavorful and filling. As if this wasn’t enough food, we ordered entrees as well. Loren got the braised beef tortelloni.
It was definitely more tortelloni than beef, but he said it was very good. I ordered the fettucine alfredo.
This is my favorite dish here, though it could have used a little more sauce on it. It’s very creamy and the noodles are cooked perfectly. There’s a reason we don’t come here very often; we eat too much. We both took home some leftovers. For a chain restaurant, they really do prepare the food very well. After the coupon, the total bill was $26.
29461 Us-19 N
Another quiet dinner tonight, this time at Bascetti’s in Dunedin. The restaurant was pretty empty when we got there around 5:45pm. We liked the calamari the last time we were here, so had to get it again.
The calamari was very tender and flavorful, though some of the pieces were stuck together and didn’t get quite as crispy on the outside as I would have liked. It’s a really tasty dish though, especially with the dipping sauce. Next up were the salads and bread.
The last time we were here, neither of us were too keen on the housemade salad dressing. It was better this time, but I’d still prefer a nice ranch dressing. The bread was warm and delicious. The dipping sauce is addictive. Loren decided to try the catch of the day which was mahi.
He said it was good, though he didn’t like all of the veggies that came with it. I ordered the bolognese pappardelle.
This dish was quite unexpected. Any other places where I’ve ordered the bolognese, it’s been a tomato based sauce. This was a very thin, white sauce. It almost reminded me of a stroganoff. The meat tasted like sausage and the pasta was homemade and cooked perfectly. I just have mixed feelings about the dish. It was ok, but I don’t think I’d order it again. It just lacked depth of flavor. Total bill with a drink was $49.
1568 Main Street
It’s not often that emailed offers work on me, but when I got the limited time $16.90 offer for a pound of stone crabs from Bonefish Grill, I just couldn’t resist. I haven’t had stone crabs in quite a few years and we figured there probably wouldn’t be a wait on a Tuesday night, so off we went. We started off with bread and calamari.
Bonefish really does make some of the best calamari in the area. It’s tender and comes with an Asian dipping sauce that’s really tasty. It’s both sweet and spicy. The bread was fresh and warm and delicious as well. Loren got a salad and I got some of their crab corn chowder.
Their corn chowder is really thick and creamy with lots of crab in it. It’s almost a meal in itself. Loren got the mahi for his entrée.
He said it was perfectly cooked and tasty. He didn’t care for the carrots side dish though. He said they were too sweet and too hard. I, of course, got the stone crabs with some drawn butter.
I didn’t like the fact that they were served cold, so the waitress took them back to the kitchen to get heated up. Cold crab just doesn’t work for me. Otherwise, though, they were just how I remembered them. It cracks me up (no pun intended) that a pound of crab is only 5 claws, but I was so full from the calamari, chowder, and bread that it was fine. Our server was very attentive and friendly. Total bill with a drink was $55.
2519 McMullen Booth Rd
We were planning to eat at another restaurant that had been featured on Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives when we got back to Vegas, but it was mobbed so we ended up at Kung Fu Plaza Restaurant instead. We started off with some fried calamari.
It was crispy and tender and really yummy. I could have eaten this for my entree. Loren got the garlic beef and I went for the orange chicken.
Both dishes were very flavorful and cooked perfectly. You could just tell there was someone in the kitchen who knew what they were doing. It also didn’t look like there were a lot of tourists eating here, mostly locals, which is a good sign in my book. Based on everything I ate in Vegas, if you get the opportunity to eat off of the Strip, I highly recommend it. The local flavors were much more reasonable in price and had better flavors. Total bill with a drink was $32.
Kung Fu Plaza Restaurant
3505 S Valley View Blvd
Las Vegas, NV
We decided to give Bella Kouzina another try, but unfortunately, this visit wasn’t any better than the last. It started with the fried calamari.
We order calamari almost every place that has it on the menu, so I think I’m a pretty good judge of how it should taste. This was just beyond chewy and had no flavor whatsoever. When the waitress stopped by and asked how it was, I told her it was chewy. She looked at me and said, “But, it’s calamari.” I’m guessing she’s just never had calamari cooked the right way before. She took it back to the kitchen and we heard someone say “drop another order of calamari”. Since nothing else was said as to cooking it differently, we ended up sending the second batch back as well & they took it off our check. The waitress said they must have just gotten a bad shipment. Personally, we both thought they just didn’t have the oil at the right temperature, so it was getting overcooked. But, on to the soups.
Loren got the clam chowder and I got the pasta fagioli. His had a decent flavor, but it wasn’t thick and creamy. My first bite tasted like baked beans and each subsequent bite had sort of a metallic taste when it hit my tongue. Loren said he could taste what I was tasting as well. The bread, however, was the highlight of the meal for me.
Loren ordered the salmon Cleopatra which had artichokes, celery and mushrooms in a white wine lemon sauce.
He said it was ok. At first, he didn’t like the sauce on it. I tasted it and thought it just tasted like olive oil with a little bit of lemon in it. His dish also came with pasta. He said it was overcooked and the sauce wasn’t great. I decided to try the pastitsio.
Again, this is a dish I order at most Greek restaurants, so I expect certain flavors. This one didn’t deliver. Instead of being cooked as one large dish and portioned out, it looks like an individual serving was made. The pasta wasn’t drained properly, so there was water in the bottom of the bowl. The meat filling had no flavor and the pasta sauce was tart. It hadn’t cooked anywhere near long enough to develop any decent flavors. This was a pretty disappointing meal for $29.
3101 SR 580
Safety Harbor, FL
The last time we drove into Dunedin, I noticed a new Italian restaurant had opened up at the end of one of the strip malls on Main St. It’s called Bascetti’s and is owned by the same folks that own Spoto’s down the street. From the exterior, you’d never guess that there was such a nice little gem inside. The décor was classy and they definitely didn’t have any issues dealing with the Florida August heat. It was downright cold inside. They started us off with some bread that came with a tomato pesto for dipping.
The bread was warm and soft and tasty on its own. The dipping sauce was interesting. I’m not really sure how to describe it. As soon as it hits your tongue, there’s this burst of flavor. I think it was Balsamic vinegar, but I’m not positive. Whatever it was, it didn’t let up no matter how much you ate. It was a very fresh flavor that packed a punch. We tried the fried calamari which also came with a spicy sundried tomato and roasted red pepper dipping sauce.
This was perfectly cooked calamari. Crispy on the outside and very tender inside; even the tentacle pieces were tender. It also had some fried artichoke pieces which were good, but somewhat unnecessary. There was a lot of calamari in the basket. Between that and the bread, I was pretty well full by this point. The dipping sauce with the calamari wasn’t spicy as indicated on the menu, but it did have some unique flavors to it. Loren’s only complaint was that there wasn’t enough of it. Next up were the salads that came with our meals.
Neither of us was fond of the mango dressing. It just wasn’t a flavor we liked. For his entrée, Loren got the cannelloni.
It was flavorful, full of meat and cheese. You can get it with red or white sauce. There were two in the dish and he ended up only eating one and bringing the other home. I went for the chicken marsala which came with mushroom risotto.
This was a really tasty dish. The chicken was incredibly tender and the marsala sauce was thick and flavorful without being overwhelming. Plenty of mushrooms and tomatoes in the sauce and the risotto was perfectly cooked. I would absolutely order this dish again. I ended up taking half of it home as well. We also tried a piece of their cannoli cake.
This was the only disappointment of the meal. Loren liked it more than I did. The texture was too dense and the flavors were just too mellow. It tasted slightly cinnamon-like, but lacked creaminess. I should have tried the chocolate dessert instead, but this was the one the waitress had recommended to another table as her favorite, so I thought I’d give it a try. As for the service, it was just ok. Our waitress seemed to disappear for a while and our drinks were getting low. Overall though, it’s a restaurant we’d go back to. Total bill with a drink was $53.
1568 Main Street
We were on our way back from Orlando and stopped at Yummy House in Tampa for dinner. I’d read some reviews that said how awesome the food was, so we had to check it out. It’s not a very big restaurant and it was packed. We weren’t greeted when we walked in and that always bugs me. From the get go, it just wasn’t a friendly environment, but the food was really amazing.
We decided to try the salt & pepper calamari since a lot of people had recommended it.
I wasn’t sure what to expect from the name, but this dish had some amazing flavors in it. The calamari was thick and tender with a wonderful crunchy coating on it. The pepper in it was hot red pepper, which I ended up scraping some off since it was really intense. Loren liked the combination of scallions and cilantro that it was tossed in. Very, very yummy. Our entrees came out almost immediately after the calamari, so timing of the meal wasn’t great. I guess since the line at the door never stopped, their main goal is to get you in & out as quickly as possible.
Loren ordered the Kung Po chicken.
He said it had a depth of flavor to it that just kept him eating more. The chicken was tender and it had zucchini, celery, peppers and peanuts in it, plus a few of those really spicy peppers too. I ordered the orange chicken.
This dish had a really tangy sweet orange sauce and perfectly cooked chicken. It was really good. Our waiter asked us if we wanted rice and then forgot to bring it out. When we asked about it, he finally brought it out, but I was a bit dismayed to find out that a bowl of rice costs an extra $2.
Service was strange here. I’m not sure if the same server came to our table more than once. We had different people taking our order, bringing our drinks, bringing our food, our bill, etc. While they were at the table, they seemed friendly, but otherwise they all seemed rather aloof. I think this is a restaurant where I’d order take-out because the food was delicious, but probably not want to eat inside the restaurant again. Total bill with a very flat Pepsi was $30.
2202 W Waters Ave
We know better. We really do know better than to try to go to BJ’s at Countryside Mall on a Friday night. Besides the half hour wait, the noise level inside was deafening. You could barely hear yourself think, nevermind try to hear the person you’re with.
We started off with some calamari.
It was very tender and had a nice crunchy texture on the outside. It came with two dipping sauces a marinara and a lemony mayo sauce. Both were tasty. If you’ve seen the menu at BJ’s, you know it’s huge. We thumbed through it a few times before Loren settled on the chicken fried steak and I went for a mini pizza.
Loren liked the chicken fried steak. It was way more than he could eat in one sitting along with mashed potatoes & veggies. I didn’t like the flavor of it. My mini portobello mushroom pizza was somewhat disappointing.
For one, there weren’t a lot of mushrooms and the balsamic dressing on it was very overpowering. The outside edges were a bit too crunchy for me as well. For $38, it definitely wasn’t our best experience. I do like their appetizers, but from now on, we’re going at off hours when they aren’t too crowded.
BJ’s Restaurant & Brewhouse
27001 US Highway 19N
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