I have a backlog of holiday dining experiences worth mentioning and no time for details, so here are the highlights.
Wrapping up the Thanksgiving food marathon, my dad took us and whomever was still hanging around the house to Stonewood Grill and Tavern. My folks like steak and potatoes and this American-themed, oak-grilled steak and seafood place is close to home, a high priority for my "carphobic" mother. Bern's or Charley's would require interstate driving, tranquilizers and a blindfold.
Stonewood is a step below those two esteemed steakhouses but, for a chain, it's above average and offers a decent steak and a comfortable stone and wood (how appropriate) atmosphere. I had an expertly prepared medium-rare ribeye that was tender and juicy, light on fat and heavy on flavor. Good choice.
The totally tasty find at Stonewood is the blue cheese potato chip appetizer. Mississippi Maven tipped me off about it and Hubmeister and I made a special trip to the bar to sample it on a separate occasion. We got it again this time around.
Basically, it's a variety of colorful potato chips covered with a smattering of blue cheese and drizzled with a balsamic reduction. Served warm, this hot mess is strangely addictive and anytime I go to Stonewood, I'll be ordering it. The Maven says she has figured out how to make this ap at home. A mayo component as well as a store-bought balsamic glaze are involved. More about that recipe ripoff in a future blog.
While prepping for Thanksgiving, I missed out on a fine lunch enjoyed by Hubmesiter and Daughtress at The Columbia. Hubs went nuts for the palomilla steak and Daughtress got the Cuban, which she found awesome enough to get one to go for yours truly.
After the lousy Cuban sandwich I recently panned (see "The Sad Cuban" post http://foodandloathingintampabay.blogspot.com/2010/11/sad-cuban-cuban-sandwich-shop.html), I was thrilled to savor the Columbia's flavor-packed sandwich. All of the ingredients were top-notch. There is no denying it was the best Cuban sandwich I have ever eaten, and the care the restaurant puts into making it is evident.
If you missed the "Sad" post mentioned above, it includes the skinny on The Columbia's exhaustive efforts to reclaim the Cuban of old. I can't imagine that they haven't succeeded.
I have had some disappointing dinners at The Columbia but lunch has always been stellar.
Remember Mr. Dunderbaks?
As a teen in Ft. Lauderdale, I went to the one in the old Pompano Fashion Square. We loved going there and getting their overstuffed pastrami sandwiches, Reubens and brats. It occupied a narrow mall space with a long bar and a bunch of little tables crammed in around an assortment of imported German foods, candy and cases of Beers of the World. It was always packed. I recall a similar Dunderbaks at the Edison Mall in Ft. Myers.
Hubmeister tells me this Tampa spot is the only remaining Dunderbaks. Formerly located at the University Mall near USF, it moved about a year ago into a strip center on Bruce B. Downs Blvd., where patrons are less likely to get caught in the crossfire of a gang altercation or get mugged walking to their car, assuming their car wasn't stolen from the mall parking lot.
Extremely popular, this one is also close to USF. You know, beer and sandwiches - the college diet.
If you're smart, you'll stick with beer and sandwiches. Hubmeister and the kids had delicious-looking meaty creations, but I had to stray into German specialty territory.
Sauerbraten. The waitress assured me this was their most authentic German dish. I don't think most Germans would be happy with the piece of shoe leather on my plate. The quality of the beef was this dish's biggest downfall, although I have to say I prefer my gingersnap gravy to theirs, too. I fail to understand how the meat could be so tough when sauerbraten marinates for a couple of days and then stews for hours. The nothing-special German potato salad had that canned look and the red cabbage tasted of cinnamon, but the jovial beer hall atmosphere and the selection of beer - wunderbar!
The verdict: I'm a sucker for the chicken dance and I'll give it another shot.
The drag queen at the hostess station should have been a clue.
Hubs, Daughtress and I popped into Hamburger Mary's while shopping in Ybor. Hamburgers sounded good for an early dinner, so the queen ushered us to an enormous booth, where our waiter introduced himself and asked if we had previously dined there.
"What do we need to know?" I ventured in my ignorance.
They feature karaoke and - uh oh - nightly drag shows. Hmm. This jogged my memory back to a review I read of this place in the Trib. Feeling awkward - albeit everyone was friendly and the sparse happy-hour crowd seemed to be a mixture of straights and gays - we ordered a round of beers, quickly downed a quesadilla appetizer delivered to the table by another queen, and hightailed it out of there.
This actually could be a fun place to go if you're prepared for it. The cast of characters and the decor remind me of "The Bird Cage." Decked out in pinks and reds, the burlesque-y atmosphere is lively and colorful, with a jumbotronlike screen blaring music videos and a circular bar that views the drag show stage. It's a spacious, club-type spot upstairs at Centro Ybor, overlooking 7th Avenue.
Daughtress got a kick out of the fact that Hubs and I were clueless about the theme. Didn't we see the stacks of gay pride T-shirts? Oh, is that what those were? How did we miss the "Eat, Drink and Be Mary" slogan below the logo on the sign outside? Hey, it's not a restaurant concept you see every day.
Regarding the restaurant, the chicken quesadillas weren't bad but my companions didn't care for the over-the-top abundance of onions and mushrooms spilling out of the tortillas.
Believe me, Hamburger Mary's is over the top in more ways than one, and I wouldn't be surprised at anything I saw spilling in or out of there.