Eat It, Damn It!

Reviews, raves, slams, and damns.

Category Archives: Florida

Bodega on Central

Bodega Storefront
In Florida? Gotta’ get some Cuban food. Granted, MFG and I were in St. Petersburg, not Miami, so we may not have been in the ideal locale for Cuban cuisine. Nonetheless, we found Bodega on Central.

Bodega is a nice little lunch spot, but their seating is mostly outdoors. The menu is not huge, but what they do, they do nicely.

Cuban Sandwich
I opted for the Cuban Sandwich. It was very nice. Everything was in good proportion, from pork to ham, from pickles to cheese. The exterior was crisp, the interior was meaty and salty. A very nice rendition.

Ropa Vieja
MFG got the Ropa Vieja platter. It arrives in something that resembles an oversized Chinese take-out carton. Definitely more environment friendly than plastic. The portion is good. The meat was tasty, and the accompanying rice, black beans, and plantains make it a very good lunch option.

Sugar Cane Sprite Sugar Cane Coke
The soda selection features the cane sugar versions of soft drinks.

If you are in the St. Petersburg area and are willing to travel a little off the beaten path, Bodega is a nice option. There are some shops in the area, so you can do a bit of browsing before and after your meal. It is a little too far to walk from the waterfront area, but is only a few minutes away by car.

Bodega on Central
1120 Central Ave.
St Petersburg, FL 33705
727-623-0942
(Google Map)

Advertisements

Meze 119

Wow. I haven’t put up a new review in nearly a year. I feel derelict in my responsibilities as a food blogger.

I can put the delay down to a few reasons. One, like many people, I am a creature of habit. I tend to frequent favorite places over and over. Many of my favorites have been reviewed already, and I don’t really want to go over a restaurant’s entire menu. Therefore, I avoid updates to existing reviews. Second, I’ve been cooking at home most of the time. I could start adding my own recipes to the site, but that’s not the purpose of this blog. Finally, MG’s dietary requirements have changed. She is gluten and diary free. This point kind of relates to point one. Because of these restrictions, going to new places can be a pain in the ass. Heck, finding new places can be a pain in the ass.

Sometimes, my reason has just been good old fashioned laziness. I go to a new place and I just forget to pull out my phone and take a few snaps. On other occasions, I am with a group of people and get tired of answering the same questions.

Why are you taking pictures?
For my food blog.
You’ve got a blog? So what are you, some kind of restaurant reviewer?
I’m a guy that likes to eat out and is sharing my opinion of the places I’ve been.
So what makes you such an expert?
I’m the guy that plunked down my hard earned cash for a meal. Just like you can tell your friends that you tried a new place and it was awesome, I can write a journal of my opinions.

Nevertheless, there is one surefire way to find new restaurants: Travel.

MG and I were once again in the Sunshine State, and we needed to eat. Near the Museum district of St. Petersburg, we found Meze 119.

Meze 119 Signage
As you can see from the sign, they are a vegetarian bistro. They also have a bunch of gluten-free, dairy-free, and vegan dishes. I have no problem with vegetarian or vegan meals. What I’m not crazy about are phony meat options. When I eat vegetarian meals, I don’t want something that tastes like meat or tries to imitate the structure of meat. If I did, I would eat meat.

Everyone calm down. I know that some people can’t eat meat for religious or physical reasons. It just ain’t me.

Hummus Array
Instead of getting entrees, we decided to pick various appetizer options. We started with this little sampler plate of the classic hummus, garlic hummus, and baba ganoush ($8.50). The usual options for dipping are white or wheat pita. I asked our waitress which one she preferred, and she recommended the white. (Good call.) The pita was fluffy and tasty. The stuff at the top of the picture is gluten-free chips. They were not to my liking, but MG was pleased to have the option and found them tasty. The classic hummus is uncomplicated. The garlic in the garlic hummus is a nice element, but I’m not a huge fan of big chunks of roasted garlic. I found myself cutting it into smaller pieces to smear on my fluffy pita. The baba ganoush is a must-order. The texture was wonderful, almost creamy like the hummus, but bursting with flavor.

Roasted Cauliflower
The cauliflower was roasted with some curry and possibly a little garlic. The dipping sauce was some sort of mustard and other spices. I really enjoyed the dish, but I am a fan of cauliflower anyway. MG was not a fan. Then again, she does not really like cauliflower.

Falafel
What MG did really enjoy was the falafel ($8.00), as did I. I was skeptical when I first saw them. Take a good look at the photo. That’s not a trick of lighting, the falafel really does look burnt. However, they were not. They were really crunchy on the outside but tender on the inside. The tzadiki sauce was also very good. This is also a must order.

Mezze119 is a nice option for the meat and/or dairy free. If you’re visiting the Dali Museum or some of the many bars that are around this area, I highly recommend giving them a try.

Meze 119
119 2nd St N
St Petersburg, FL 33701
727-498-8627
(Google Map)

La Creperia Cafe

Crepes are not an item that I go out of my way to find. I do not gush over them. That’s not to say that I have a particular dislike for them, I’ve just never been very impressed by them… until now.

MG & I were wandering about Tampa’s historic Ybor City. There are a number of clubs, cafes, and restaurants that line the streets. There was a little place that caught my eye. I’m not sure what the attracting quality was, maybe it was the little fellow in the window. Garbed in full chef’s regalia, he looked like a caricature of the hard-bitten, determined, and stubborn artisan. Well… as it turned out, he made our crepes.

La Creperia
La Creperia Cafe is quaint. There is a large espresso machine sitting behind the counter. In the refrigerator are the requisite juices and sodas, but there is also another fridge dedicated to wines and other alcohols. It is small and pleasant. Enough about the ambiance, on to the crepes.

There are at least 30 sweet crepes listed on their menu. It takes up an entire page. Savory Crepes take up another page with another 20 or so items. There are another 10 or so Breakfast Crepes. The menu is rounded out with sandwiches, panini, pasta, soups, and so forth. However, MG & I were looking for a little something sweet. Their sweet listings cover all sorts of permutations that include fruit, Nutella, Baileys, bananas, strawberries, and the like. Everything can be customized to your liking by adding jam, coconut, Grand Marnier, and more. We went with one of their standard offerings, the Ana Lucia ($8.50). It contains Dolce de Leche and strawberries. The final product was topped with powdered sugar and whipped cream.

Ana Lucia Crepe
This is worlds apart from the crepes vendors that are always found in New York City street fairs during the summer. This was incredible.

Crepe Innards
First, the fillings. The inside was loaded with fresh strawberry slices, and when I say “loaded”, I truly mean LOADED. There was not so much to overwhelm the pastry (which we will get to shortly), but they certainly did not skimp. The Dolce de Leche was also generously applied. It was not cloying sweet, but was like the most perfect caramel I’ve ever tasted. It went so well with the strawberries, I wondered why other dishes have not utilized this combination. Strawberry and Dolce de Leche ice cream. Dolce de Leche and strawberry jam. The list is endless.

Second, the pastry. Many crepes that I’ve had in the past have been one little pancake of pastry rolled to create a “crepe in a blanket”. Not so at La Creperia Cafe. The little triangle was the result of numerous folds, but the pastry was not heavy at all. It was superb. There was enough substance to create a filling desert, but little enough to not become a huge meal unto itself. The flavor? It was the best balance of sweet and bready that I can recall having in a long, LONG time.

Finally, the whipped cream. It was pretty good. Not heavy, not sickeningly sweet, not too creamy, it was like a sweet, buttery cloud. By the way: I HATE WHIPPED CREAM! Maybe if I had this stuff instead of Cool Whip first, my opinion on the food would be different.

Crepe Aftermath
As you can see, MG & I plowed through this dish sighing and groaning with each forkful. Any visit to Ybor City, or anywhere near the area should include a stop at La Creperia Cafe.

La Creperia Cafe
1729 East Seventh Avenue
Tampa, FL 33605
813-248-9700
(Google Map)

Taco Bus

Taco Bus Preparation Bus
Nearby Busch Gardens Tampa, there is little place that is open 24 hours. While it is called the Taco Bus, it is actually a couple buses and a small building. If you blink, you’ll miss it, but the locals clearly have not. MG & I went during lunch hour and the lines kept coming and going. The parking lot was at least twice the size of the cooking and dining area, and it kept filling and emptying. The local populace was trying to tell us something. “Eat here.”

Butternut Squash Centro
We started with the Butternut Squash Centro ($2.50, small). It is advertised as “prepared Yucatan style with sweet peppers, topped with pico de gallo and queso cotija”. I think the chips were freshly made, as they were very crisp and hearty. I would describe this dish as a sort of butternut squash salsa. The tomatoes, peppers, and squash combine to make a very savory, but not terribly heavy dish. If you are a fan of squash, definitely give it a try. MG loved it.

Taco Bus Medley
To get the most from our Taco Bus experience, MG & I got a medley of tacos ($2.69) each. Each comprises two soft shells, tomatoes, onions, cilantro, shredded cabbage, and a lime to zest up the entire affair. We had to do a little poking and prodding when the dish came, since we weren’t sure which was which on first inspection. The Carne Asada (grilled steak marinated in Mexican seasonings) was nice, but won’t be replacing Baja’s for my favorite Carne Asada anytime soon. The Carne de Res Desebrada (Northern Mexico style meaty shreds of beef with tomatoes and chiles) is a nice medley of flavors that should not frightened the pepper-aversed. The Barbaca (braised beef) was okay, tasty, but ultimately a little dull. The Cochinita Pibil (shredded pork marinated in achiote and bitter orange, then wrapped in banana leaves and slow roasted in a smoker / based on a 5,000 year old Mayan recipe), is well prepared, but does not live up to the hype of that long-ass description. The Lengua (beef tongue) was very good. It is a very savory flavor cooked until very tender and cut into nice cubes. It was my favorite of the bunch.

It may sound like I’m dismissing many of the tacos, but I’m not. They were tasty and nice, but did not blow me away. However, the fact that they are open all the time, their prices are good, and their service is quick, makes up for not being a culinary masterpiece. If you are on your way to Busch Gardens, this is certainly a better bet that amusement park food. In addition to the beef and pork offerings, they also have seafood (fish and shrimp) and a wide variety of vegetarian options, including roasted Poblano pepper, tofu, tempeh, and soy “steak strips”. Also, anyplace with a sign like this is worth a shot.
Broken English Sign

Taco Bus
913 East Hillsborough Avenue
Tampa, FL 33604
813-232-5889
(Google Map)

Munch’s

Munchs Sign
Well into the Tampa portion of our Florida vacation, MG & I decided to try out another restaurant that had been visited by a certain spikey-haired host of a gastronomic program. We were going out to lunch with MG’s uncle, and he was also interested in trying a new restaurant.

Munch’s is definitely a popular place with the locals. The parking lot was full, and there were plenty of people that were leaving the restaurant on foot. The ambiance is quintessentially diner. There is a counter area, and plenty of bench-style, booth seating. A sign in the front tells customers to seat themselves, the Maitre d’ is unavailable. Munch’s specialty is what would generally be considered comfort food. They are only open for breakfast and lunch.

Fried Green Tomatoes
To start, MG’s uncle ordered the Fried Green Tomatoes ($3.25). I’ve never had this dish before, neither had MG. It was good. MG’s uncle also proclaimed the item, “very nice”. They were not greasy, and the batter did not overwhelm the tomato. I was expecting something tart, but this dish was definitely more savory than sweet. The accompanying ranch dressing was great for dipping.

Onion Strips
The Onion Thins ($3.25) were very light. They were the perfect balance between batter and onion. These might be contenders for some of the best onion rings I’ve every had. They are quite thin, but because the batter does not overwhelm the onion, they can be had in big handfuls without being too salty. If you are an onion ring fan, give these a shot.

Meatloaf
For an entree, I got Munch’s Famous Baked Meat Loaf ($7.75). It comes with mashed potatoes, green beans, and toast. The potatoes and meatloaf come smothered in gravy. As I was telling, MG’s uncle, I did not grow up with meatloaf. In fact, I only started eating it a few years ago. This particular offering was pretty good. Beef and pork combined to create a really wonderful flavor. The loaf is clearly not crammed with filler. The gravy was slightly sweet, but mostly savory, a great compliment. There were bits of bacon on the outside of the loaf’s edge. MG, who is a bit of a loaf aficionado was impressed. The mashed potatoes had the texture of boxed, but they were very good.

Green Beans
The green beans were fresh, and while not outstanding, very good.

Chicken Finger Basket
MG got the Chicken Finger Basket ($5.95). Again, the frying was very good, creating a wonderful balance between fresh chicken and crunchy breading. Not salty, not heavy, this was some really good fried chicken. The fries, though frozen were good as well.

Fish and Grits
MG’s uncle ordered the Fresh Fried Mullet or Catfish ($8.25). Unfortunately, they were out of both and only had Tilapia. They were also out of biscuits and could only offer toast. The dish came with grits. Generally, the lack of this many items would cause me to give a restaurant major demerits. However, we were there near the end of their hours on the Sunday before MLK day. Their business may have been a little more brisk than usual. I’ll give them a little pass. The fish dish came with grits. I tried the tilapia and though it was very well made. MG’s uncle also enjoyed it, and he said the grits were good as well.

The folks at Munch’s are very friendly, and the dishes are extraordinarily wholesome and tasty. Stop in for a bite if you want some “stick to your ribs” cooking.

Munch’s
3920 Sixth Street South
St. Petersburg, FL
727-896-5972
(Google Map)