Saturday, January 26, 2013

Get Out of Town: Lunch on Limoges

Feel like getting out of Dodge for a day? Head to Dade City. With its quaint courthouse square, hilly green countryside and Mayberry-esque downtown, you'll think you left the state. But don't expect much more than a change of scenery and lots of antique stores. Go with the mindset of spending a lazy afternoon browsing through junk from decades past and enjoying a relaxed meal at Williams Lunch on Limoges, a Southern Living magazine favorite located across from the historic Pasco County Courthouse.

Williams Lunch on Limoges. Part retail, part restaurant. Works for them!

I have been to Lunch on Limoges several times and it's always enjoyable. The theme is straightforward Southern fare -- big on calories and buttery flavor -- served by "seasoned" waitresses wearing uniforms reminiscent of Flo's from the '70s TV show "Alice." These gals can hustle, and they mean business, as in "I'm not here to chat it up or put up with a lot of nonsense, but I'll be polite and efficient." You go, Granny!

The atmosphere is one you won't find every day, unless you hang out in eateries that share space with retail stores. This restaurant cohabitates with a store that is part gift shop, part fashion boutique. A smattering of colorfully covered dining tables are intermingled with the merchandise.

Lunch on Limoges has Red Hat ladies written all over it, but last Saturday's crowd actually included a bunch of middle-aged guys. I have to say that I don't recall ever seeing a kid in this restaurant, and I got a kick out of a sign near the front door that reads "Minimum of one entree per person." How diplomatic! How about: "If you plan to share a plate, get out!" Oh yeah, we aren't in Brooklyn.

Now for those entrees...After we got settled at our inviting, fresh-flower-topped table, Flo carried over an easel-type chalkboard that listed the day's menu. Hubmeister got the pecan-encrusted chicken breast entree -- the house specialty that I have scarfed down on previous occasions -- and I ordered soup and a sandwich.

The pecan dredge on the chicken also is offered with a grouper entree.

Deliciously simplistic, the chicken breast was breaded, coated in pecan pieces and perfectly cooked, sauteed in a buttery, sugary praline sauce. It was accompanied by two sides: butternut squash casserole and potatoes. The butternut squash was a dead ringer for sweet potato casserole sans marshmallow. It was smooth and sweet. The potatoes were soft, chunky and rather boring. In fact, I am having a hard time remembering them, except for the fact that I recall their lack of pizazz.

Gobble, gobble...This is real turkey.

Soup of the day was French onion, which came alongside a turkey-stuffed croissant. The soup featured chopped onion in a light broth and, although the stock lacked a rich and beefy complexity, I didn't detect any cheap bouillon cube component. Served with a floating toasted baguette slice, the soup contained a blob of melted cheese that had mysteriously disappeared into the soup by the time the bowl reached me. All told, the soup was fair at best.

What impressed me most about my lunch was the turkey in the croissant. It was REAL turkey, not processed turkey lunch meat. Sliced from an actual turkey breast, the meat was very tasty combined with a berry-laced mayo, bacon and Swiss cheese. The croissant was pedestrian but passable.

If you look to the left of the waitress, you'll see a gigantic cake and a big ol' pie.

Desserts displayed on the service counter of the open kitchen would tempt most sweet tooths. I spied mile-high coconut cake and a towering apple pie. Things don't come small in the South, ya'll. After polishing off the basket of mini-muffins and pineapple butter that were brought to the table before lunch was served, we felt we needed to skip dessert and enjoy another round of coffee, which Flo and Alice refilled tirelessly -- after all, we did order two entrees!

Verdict: A pleasant diversion from Tampa

Lunch On Limoges on Urbanspoon

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Boca Kitchen: Cookin' Good

It's a little disconcerting to see a car wreck as you are being shown to your dining table, but Sister Foodie and I were focused on lunch when we stopped by the comfortable and creative farm-to-table oasis that is Boca Kitchen, Bar and Market.

Who doesn't like tablecloths? Nice touch.
Thanks to an impressive expanse of windows lining two sides of the Hyde Park restaurant, Sister and I -- and the other patrons lunching at the much-ballyhooed eatery -- witnessed a typical Tampa smash-up at the intersection of W. Platt St. and South Blvd.

While the victims emerged unscathed from their mangled vehicles, we, without a moment's hesitation, proceeded to order Blistered Shishito Peppers, the Kimilwick Sandwich and the Staff Meal.

Fire up your mouth for Shishito Peppers.

Sipping our iced teas to temper the spiciness of the peppers, we agreed that they would be a great diet-friendly appetizer to pair with Boca's craft beers. Although we liked the pile of peppers, I imagine that not everyone would care for them. True to their "blistered" description, they have a charred taste. Don't be fooled by the initial bites because, by about the seventh pepper, you will begin to sweat. The heat creeps up on you, but in a good way.

Bring on the sandwiches...and a ravenous hunger! These heifers are not for the timid eater. In fact, I have a bit of a bone to pick with our friendly, young server because I asked about portion size and she said the sandwiches are a "perfect" portion. Maybe for a competitive eater with a bottomless gut!

Terrific take on tuna.

We managed to eat only half of our meal but nodded our approval of the flavors as we chomped. The Staff Meal featured fresh tuna -- coarsely chopped and tossed tuna-salad-sandwich style -- placed between thick slices of sourdough bread, then grilled. Eating a tuna fish sandwich made with fresh tuna will forever sour you on StarKist, but what took this sandwich to the next level were the additions of caramelized onions, cheese, tomato, avocado and "Boca bacon," thick slices of awesomeness that the restaurant smokes out back. Let me just say that the staff was freaking lucky that day!

Plan on a nap after you down this beefer.

The Kimilwick Sandwich was piled high with juicy roast beef, horseradish sauce, garlic Boursin cheese and a fried tomato. The tomato added nice moisture, but that was some potent cheese! I would have preferred something milder, but the sandwich, served on a brioche bun (I think), was delicious nonetheless. Both sandwiches were accompanied by french fries that were so good that I believe duck fat had to be a player.

On a subsequent visit with the Mississippi Maven, we tried the Farmer's Bacon, Lettuce and Tomato and the Heirloom and Swine Flatbread. The highlight of the BLT was the incredible, thick and juicy bacon, reason enough to order it, but the smoky stack also featured a creamy avocado mayo and -- you know me by now -- an egg! I actually could have done without the egg because it didn't have a runny yolk and it wasn't hot, but this sandwich was decent and made better by the buttery grilled bread that encased it.

Keep the bacon coming.

If you still want bacon but served pizza style, go for the Heirloom and Swine Flatbread. Combined with Manchego cheese, caramelized onions and heirloom tomatoes, this thin-crusted concoction will take your taste buds for a pleasantly spicy spin.

The caramelized onions at Boca would be good on just about anything.

My only complaint -- and it pains me to complain about this foodie-pleasing place -- is the fries were soggy on my second visit. They were greasy and as limp as noodles, and at the height of lunch service when they should be at their best. (Sorry, guys, but you need to know.)

Oh, how could I forget! We got dessert. I hardly ever get dessert but it was the Maven's birthday lunch and this place rocks, so we ordered the strawberry shortcake crumble or some such thing.

Dessert took us right to the Land of Oz.

It came out blazing hot in a six-inch cast iron skillet and went somewhere over the rainbow of expectations. Whole strawberries glistening in their own juices were clustered atop half of a shortcake biscuit, then topped with a bit of crispy, sugary crumble and crowned with a scoop of French vanilla ice cream. The freezing ice cream over the piping-hot, locally grown and in-season berries, combined with the contrasting textures of the moistened cake, crunchy crumble and delicate fruit, make this one outstanding dessert.
Boca reminds me of trendy Atlanta restaurants that deftly put a Southern twist on fresh, straight-from-the-farmers-market ingredients and serve their creations in an atmosphere that reflects amped-up country sophistication. The aura is inviting at Boca, if not a bit noisy when things are hopping. Yep, I'd say it's downright hospitable -- and a welcome addition to the local dining scene.

Verdict: A breath of (organic) fresh air!

Boca Kitchen Bar Market on Urbanspoon