Category Archives: Travel


Eating SW Florida

The CGP and I were in Florida around Thanksgiving (yeah, this post is nearly a month overdue). We “needed” to attend the annual homeowner’s meeting for our condo down there, so we turned it into a week+ vacation. I don’t usually cook much when we are down there. We have coffee and pastry/yogurt at home for breakfast, and then eat either lunch OR dinner out. The other meal might be light sandwiches or restaurant leftovers. Because we leave no foodstuffs behind when we depart, it can be a challenge to make sure we don’t throw away alot at the end. So breakfast on the last day **might** be ice cream. Just saying.

Our absolute favorite restaurant in Tampa is the Columbia Restaurant, with its Spanish/Cuban cuisine — we always go to the landmark original site in Ybor City. We literally pass the exit as we leave the airport for our condo. So more often than not, we do stop there for a late lunch right after we land. Everything we have ever tried is just top-notch. Ropa Vieja is my personal favorite. Their classic Arroz con Pollo (a special on our most recent visit) is just the best. The Cuban sandwiches are very very well-made. One year, we stopped in on Christmas Eve and got to try this amazing sour-orange roast pork loin that I think is made just for the holiday dinners. Sangria, mojitos, and pisco sours (pictured below) will NOT disappoint. And if you are so inclined, the hand-rolled cigars in the gift shop next door are pretty special, too. Reservations are recommended, unless it’s 3:30p and you’ve just rolled off the plane. Try to plan dinner around one of the Flamenco dance shows, if you can.


Last year with visiting friends, I stumbled on a bayfront bar in a marina in Englewood called Zeke’s. Strong drinks and fried seafood, pretty much as expected, but they served a smoked fish dip that blew my skirt up! I chatted with the chef briefly, and the fish he uses changes daily based on what’s available, but he was personally smoking it and then assembling the dip. So I was thrilled to find that Zeke’s has recently expanded into a standalone restaurant, Zeke’s Uptown Bar & Grill. The fish dip still available, as good as before. The Crayfish Potato Nachos were like the best bar appetizer ever. And a really well-done New England Clam Chowder. I’ll be honest — I don’t think we even ordered an entree because the appetizers were generously sized for sharing — the tuna carpaccio was equally delish. I am looking forward to a repeat visit next time we’re down.

One of our Manasota Key traditions is to split the Fisherman’s Feast (haddock, shrimp, scallops, and ipswich clams) at Flounder’s Restaurant and Tiki Bar. Why split? So we can save room for deep-fried coconut cheesecake with mango sauce. Lots of fun tropical drinks to try — make sure someone is pre-designated to drive, as they pack a punch. We ate a traditional Thanksgiving turkey meal there this year — excellent food with live music and the palm trees waving (it was about 70F that day).



Good Eating: Golden Isles of Georgia


[credit: Laura Butler Olsen]

Over the long Columbus Day weekend, I headed south to coastal Georgia to attend my (ahem) 30th high school reunion. That’s my senior portrait on the badge above (last good photo of me) and in the photo to the right, from left to right: baby me, Laura Butler Olsen (provider of photo), and Laura Gray Strickland, at our graduation (girls wore white gowns over white dresses with white shoes and boys wore red gowns over whatever). I attended Glynn Academy in Brunswick, Ga, for 10th through 12th grades (public school despite the name). The school was established in 1788, and the school’s website claims it is the second oldest high school in the State of Georgia and the fifth oldest high school in the nation! One of the still-in-use buildings on campus was originally built in 1889. And these buildings felt like it. No elevators. Not all were air conditioned. Each building had its own unique smell. Fortunately, the reunion was held off-campus.

SAMSUNGOur first night’s event was held at Ziggy Mahoney’s, with food provided by Southern Soul Barbecue. Griffin Bufkin, one of the co-owners of this 1940s gas station turned BBQ joint, was also in my graduating class. But I think we ran in different circles, ’cause my memory of him is awfully fuzzy. Hell, my memory of EVERYTHING is awfully fuzzy. His restaurant was just across the traffic circle from my hotel, so I was tormented by the smell of smokin’ meat every time I went in and out. I was pretty excited when I saw the stacks of real hardwood where the gas pumps used to be! The catered spread was good solid barbecue. Well-barked pulled pork that needed but a touch of sauce (I chose his Habanero Peach Hot Sauce). And some awfully good collards.

SAMSUNGWent back again on Sunday for lunch with my BFF Laura and her husband David. I stuck with pulled pork since David promised he’d let me sample the brisket. Fried okra and hushpuppies on the side, ’cause I can get french fries at home. Again — the pork was moist and well-seasoned, but I did dab a little of his sweet, tangy, mustardy Sweet Georgia Soul BBQ sauce on there. The brisket was fork tender without falling apart — served unsauced so you could still taste the dry rub (cumin? little cayenne maybe?). Their Brunswick Stew is supposed to be pretty good. I didn’t get offered any by a certain tablemate (sore subject), but you can find their recipe here. Neither Laura nor I could finish our meals — but that’s what a refrigerator is for, right (thank you Hampton Inn SSI!)? So technically I consumed Southern Soul 3 times over the weekend. No complaints from this BGE princess — good Q never gets old!

SAMSUNGAnother Golden Isles culinary destination is Grandy’s – on Cypress Mill Road in Brunswick proper. I got lost a couple of times, because NOTHING looks the same anymore, and oh about the third time I drove by Grandy’s, I hit the drive-thru for a Grandy’s Famous “Sinnamon” Roll. These are the Best Cinnamon Rolls Ever. Delicate, not-too-sweet dough that tastes of yeast, with plump raisins, a touch of pecans, and an old-fashioned icing. I ate mine in my hotel room after the leftover BBQ, and there was much internal turmoil about going out again at 9 at night to acquire another. I settled instead for picking up a half-dozen on my way out of town and bringing them home on the plane. Fortunately the JAX TSA agents don’t know Grandy’s, so they made it through security unscathed. Keith and I each ate two (at different times) and I gave a couple to my dear next-door-neighbors. And I’m wishing now I bought a dozen. And you know how I KNEW I was in the South? I had a ten minute conversation with the nice boy at the drive-thru window, and the car behind me didn’t honk once. In DC, someone mightta pulled a gun on me.

SAMSUNGSo even though I had some tasty (if a littly doughy) fried shrimp for lunch Saturday at Barbara Jean’s near the St. Simon’s Island Pier and boiled shrimp at that evening’s Low Country Boil out at Village Creek Landing, I was still itching for more seafood. So I timed things right on fly-home day to hit the Northside outpost of Seafood Express, tucked away in a strip shopping center just a couple of miles from JAX. This was a leap of faith — I found it on the Internet and decided to trust the positive reviews. I was NOT disappointed. A trio of fried seafood (shrimp, scallops, and oysters) plus fried okra and hush puppies — a very generous portion of VERY well-fried Southern Love. Bonus — the oysters were the little tiny sweet ones like what I get at the Fish House in Ruskin, FL.

My last evening, I headed to Jekyll Island for a quick beach walk (1 live sand-dollar, returned to sea; 1 dead sand-dollar, kept; no sharks’ teeth). I was leaving the island just before sunset, so was able to capture a couple of incredible shots of the amazingly beautiful Marshes of Glynn.




Pennsylvania Eating …

So this past weekend was a little getaway for me, much to the CGP’s dismay. I truly relish solo travel on occasion. It’s nice to get up when I want (usually much earlier than him), eat when I want (again — different biological timetables), and see/do things that would bore him silly. So when I had a weekend where a friend’s college graduation party coincided with a WordCamp, and the CGP was in the trenches at work, well, I was ALL over it!

So Friday afternoon, I made the uglier-than-expected trek from Annandale up to Pottstown, PA. Pottstown is a small town of 22K residents about 40 miles northwest of Philadelphia. My dear friends Paul and Hillary live there — and Paul is the aforementioned graduate. That evening we headed out for Hibachi Teppanyaki at Fujiyama Japanese Steakhouse. I’m a huge fan of the Japanese Steahouse experience — I love the interaction, the variety of food, and the flavors I can never quite reproduce at home. This one was pretty much in line with others I’ve been to, so I’m happy to give a shout-out to a local business!

SAMSUNGSaturday day was all about WordCamp. So what is a WordCamp? WordCamps are conferences for users of WordPress, one of the most widely used softwares for building websites. Yes, I use WordPress for this blog (there’s a parenthetical reference in the footer somewhere), but you can also develop full-on e-commerce websites as well. I’ve heard the stat that over 20% of all Internet websites were built with WordPress. WordCamps generally have something for EVERY WordPress user, from the most casual to hard-core developers. Last fall I went to WordCamp Baltimore 2013 and most recently, WordCamp Philly 2014. My friend Bev did a great write-up of our day at WordCamp on her blog, oneweekcloser.

Sometimes lunch is provided at WordCamps. This one did not, so Bev and I just took a short walk around the corner from the University of the Arts venue and stumbled into Giorgio On Pine, a sweet little Italian cafe. She and I each had the sausage and polenta appetizer, not realizing it was practically an entree! Beautifully grilled sweet Italian sausage served alongside grilled and slightly-charred polenta cakes. These were dressed with a mild vinaigrette and served atop fresh baby spinach that wilted ever so slightly from the heat. We then split the calamari appetizer (previously ordered and too late to cancel) and to our surprise, because I guess we didn’t read the menu carefully, it was a mixture of calamari AND shrimp, and rather than breaded and fried, it was gently poached and then tossed with cannellini beans in a light dressing, served over arugula. What a surprise restaurant find — just a non-descript little restaurant on the corner of a couple of one-way streets in downtown Philly.

SAMSUNGSaturday night was Paul’s college graduation celebration at the SunnyBrook Ballroom in Pottstown. The other guest of honor was a pit-roasted pig. We had a grand time with that guest — I even got to bring some home for the CGP. SunnyBrook was built before WWII and is one of the few remaining dance halls of that era. We partied outside in the pavilion to 80s music and a keg we didn’t quite empty. We are all very proud of our new graduate. We hit SunnyBrook again on Sunday morning for brunch. A small brunch, in terms of items offered, but all very tasty and the service amazingly friendly.

Before I left town for good, I had to hit Corropolese Bakery and Deli in Douglassville for some Tomato Pie (I actually bought a cooler and ice at the Pottstown Wal-Mart so I could transport it home). Tomato Pie isn’t really pizza but it isn’t really pie. Imagine a lightly-cooked foccacia with a 1/4″ layer of the thickest tomato puree imaginable. And the barest sprinkle of parmesan cheese. I bet it’s divine warm — but I’ve only had it room temperature (after transport from PA) or straight-out-of-the-fridge cold the next day for breakfast. It’s crazy crazy crazy good. The tomato puree is addictive. It’s thinner than tomato paste. Thicker than sauce. REALLY intense tomato flavor. Sweet, but not too sweet. Again — just crazy crazy good. Yes, I ate TWO slices in the parking lot before heading out. No Shame.




Vegas Eats

This is the craziest thing. We drove into Vegas from LA on a Monday night and didn’t leave until Friday morning. And I took TWO pictures the whole time. Two. Quite unusual for me. The picture above is from some live show on Fremont Street — Pussy Cat Doll wanna-be’s. I took the photo and texted it to my friend DJ — that’s my thing in Vegas. I send him at least one late night text while I’m in Vegas so he can live vicariously through me. He never texts back though … hmmmm … what’s up with that? :)

[credit: M. Keefer]

[credit: M. Keefer]

So we ate pretty well in Vegas. One of our first off-strip spots was lunch at Rollin Smoke Barbeque (kinda behind Circus Circus) with a Vegas-based friend. Now, you know I take my grilled meats very seriously. And THIS is some serious barbecue. Some pretty nice brisket and pulled pork, but their Hot Links (made in-house I believe) are To Die For. Me and the CGP split The Pit Special (4 meats 3 sides) and fought over the sausage. We shoulda skipped the chicken and doubled up on that! For me, the southern sides are as important as the meat. Especially ’cause I’m not likely to make 3 or 5 sides at home — so I do want a variety when I’m out (and if the CGP orders stuff I like, I nosh on his too). I have a particular weakness for fried okra and these folks do it well. The corn nuggets are outstanding (and not something I’d make at home). They slipped us a slice of cornbread on the house, to go with the CGP’s greens, and man, that cornbread is more cake than bread. Good stuff all around!

SAMSUNGA newcomer to Downtown is Pizza Rock Las Vegas. They have a pizza to suit everyone, from cracker-thin, to New York style, to Neapolitan, to Sicilian, to gluten-free. We went with a classic Margherita — which really showcased the 900-degree wood-fired crust (yeah — you guessed it — I like pizza over flame). A damn fine pizza. So two things happened while we were sitting at the bar. First, we met this really lovely couple who run the Zoe Coffeehouse & Pub in Pullman, WA. They have a BGE like us, so we got to talk about our shared grilling passions. Super nice folks, and if you are ever in Pullman, WA, you need to go buy a coffee or a beer. Second story: the bartender looked really familiar. So I asked her if she had been working in Downtown long, she said no. I tell you, she looked really familiar. So I kept asking, hmmmm, are you from the East Coast, and she says no, local to Vegas area. It was really bugging me, so I pressed a little more, and she says she used to work at the Hard Rock. I’ve walked THRU there, but never really did anything there, and then she says, she used to work Rehab at the pool, and then **ding** I recognize that she was one of the bikini-clad bartenders (Chantel I think). Stupid me, I say something about not recognizing her with her clothes on and she laughs politely. Yes, we tipped well.

Well off the Strip and out of Downtown, on W. Charleston, you’ll find the M & M Soul Food Cafe. Nothing but authentic down-home southern soul cooking. As good as my momma’s. I went for the fried catfish and fried okra with a peach cobbler chaser. Keith had these amazingly tender long-braised short ribs. He couldn’t decide between greens and cabbage, so the server offered to mix them up — outstanding choice. We started a conversation with the man sitting across from us (yeah, happens all the time). He’s from Austin and says he doesn’t get much soul food there, so whenever he’s in Vegas on business, he comes to M&M two or three times to fill up his tank. He highly recommended the chicken and waffles. It’s always a treat to find an unassuming restaurant that serves southern food of this caliber — definitely a stop on our next trip to Vegas.


LA Eats

So last week, the CGP and I took a little trip out to the Left Coast. The first few days were spent in LA watching the World’s Strongest Man 2014 qualifiers, then a little side trip to Las Vegas (aka Adult Disneyland), and then back to La La Land for the WSM finals. Ended with a not-too-brutal red-eye back to the East Coast. It was a busy busy trip but loads of fun.

By far, the best meal of the entire trip was at Sergio’s Tacos at 2216 S. Atlantic Blvd in Commerce. We ate here on our last trip to LA about 18 months ago (also for WSM) and I swooned for it then too. You might not stop in if you were just driving by. It’s a bit of a dump. And the neighborhood is iffy (honestly, all of Commerce looks a little iffy to this East Coast suburbanite). The food is insane. And cheap. Tacos and tamales are $1.30 each (you will be hard pressed to spend $20 for two). The tacos are authentic Mexi-Cali street-style: two palm-sized corn tortillas with a juicy pile of hand-chopped meat in the center, dressed with an onion-jalepeno “relish” and hot sauce (riojo o verde, I vote for riojo). We started with four tacos: carne asada, al carbon, carnitas, and pollo — none should be missed. Just as we polished these off (politely sharing each one), our beef tamale and pork tamale were handed over the cash register. Each was huge, hot, and well-seasoned. Wrapped in corn husk and then in waxed paper, it looked like someone’s grandma had made them that morning. When we were finished, the CGP announced he’d like one more of everything LOL! So we ordered another two carne asada and another two al carbon. I actually muttered a profanity of extreme pleasure under my breath when I bit into this carne asada — another customer overheard me and smirked. He understood.

SAMSUNGI have no pictures of this meal (or, really any meal on the trip). As I handed the first styrofoam plate of tacos to my husband I turned back to the counter to grab forks — and by the time I turned back around, he had polished off half of one taco and started on the next!! So here’s a consolation picture of me with Svend Karlsen and Bill Kazmaier, legends in the field of Strongman.


SAMSUNGAnother memorable eatery was Tid Lom Thai Cuisine at 4809 Melrose Ave in Los Angeles. Another hole-in-the-wall you might drive by — but truly worth a visit if you are in the mood for Thai. We stopped there on our way back to the Commerce Casino and Hotel (WSM sponsor!) after a long day of WSM filming at Paramount Studios. To my delight, they serve Issan Sausage! Issan Sausage is a fermented sausage from the northeast of Thailand — it’s sour and not terribly spicy — and not commonly found on Thai menus. I don’t recall seeing it in any of my East Coast haunts, only in Vegas and now in LA. The CGP ordered his usual, Green Curry, while I ordered Spicy Mint Noodles, only to find out they were Drunken Noodles. Deliciously spicy (they call that “medium” ???) but I was a little disappointed I hadn’t tried something new. Consolation Photo: Me and “Thor” Björnsson on the Paramount lot.

Next post: Vegas Eats!


Notes from Las Vegas

I’ve mentioned elsewhere that my husband likes to lift/carry/move heavy stuff, you know, for fun. So every year (and I think this was our 8th), we head to Vegas for the Olympia Fitness and Performance Weekend. He likes to walk the Expo and collect swag (T-shirts, shake bottles, supplements, protein bars). And we both like to watch The America’s Strongest Man contest.

SAMSUNGThis is me and Mike Burke, America’s Strongest Man 2012. Mike was in the lead this year on Day 1 this year (2013), until he tried to take off the tip of one of his middle fingers in the middle of a medley. Crazy bastard stops midway, raises hand to show wife (who thought he was flipping a bird), and then FINISHES THE EVENT!! Otherwise, he’s an all-around nice family guy!


SAMSUNGThis is me and Nick Best, professional Strongman. My red T-shirt is the one he wore in an event at Worlds Stongest Man last year (2012) and I got it because I screamed the loudest (much to the CGP’s embarrassment). So of course I had to wear it to ASM this year and get a pic. Nick was SO charmed that I did that, he gave me the competition shirt in his left hand! Yes, I will thoroughly launder it. As I did the red one.


Vacations are for reading. I use a Kindle for most of my leisure (chick lit) reading, but my husband prefers used paperbacks. And since he finished his on the plane heading out to Vegas, we had to locate a used bookstore in Vegas. We googled some options and ended up picking Amber Unicorn Books, just off Sahara on South Decatur Blvd., only because a google review said they had a large selection of science fiction (the CGP’s preferred genre). WHAT A FIND!! They had the LARGEST selection of cookbooks I’ve EVER seen in a used bookstore! Lots of contemporary (Rachel Ray), some older (Jeff Smith), and plenty of vintage (Better Homes and Gardens). Large selection of non-American cuisines as well. I wasn’t ready to haul a suitcase of books back home, but they said they ship, no worries. I think I’m going to have to stop by the next time … because you can NEVER have too many cookbooks, right?


We generally eat well in Vegas, aiming for a mix of (higher-priced) casino and (wallet-friendlier) local restaurants. One of our Strip stand-bys is Zeffirino, an Italian restaurant overlooking the Grand Canal and Grand Canal Shoppes in the Venetian. Go for lunch — they have a fixed priced 3-course meal for about $30/pp. I had a seafood salad (poached mixed seafood in a lemon vinegarette) and he had fried calamari and zucchini as starters. I had veal ravioli and he had roasted salmon for our mains. Dessert was a plate of three mini pastries (each!) and coffee. We went here on our first trip to Vegas (when we got married), and try to get back most visits. Lots of good people-watching — the couple sitting next to us were decked out in wedding finery, having just renewed their vows there in the Venetian!

So we’ve got this friend out in Vegas — a competitive athlete (Highland Games, Strongman, Powerlifting) named Mandy Keefer. Mandy and her man C.J. introduced Keith and me to Island Sushi and Grill — way way way OFF strip. We went for their All You Can Eat sushi dinner at $26.95/pp. Now, this is NOT a sushi buffet. No, you ask for whatever you want off the menu and they make it to order. As many times as you want. And I think it was ANYTHING on the menu (only catch — you gotta eat what you order or they will CHARGE you for it). Appetizers too (you need to try the Chili Garlic Edamame, Ahi Poke, and Geso). We had ALOT of the basic tuna and salmon nigiri, but also tried a number of the specialty rolls. It was ALL good. Was some of the nigiri cut a bit thin, perhaps, but made-to-order is so much better than buffet, hands down. Also — this restaurant is a block or two from a Gold’s Gym, so we will combine the two on our next visit to Vegas.

We had a nice lunch at the Burger Bistro in our hotel, the LVH. I had at tasty pink-in-the-middle lamb burger with feta cheese and Keith had the seared-rare tuna steak (dressed as described on the menu). The garlic-parmesan fries (thick cut) were awesome. It hit the spot after a day tromping around the Expo. If you happen to be staying at the LVH, it’s a hearty well-prepared meal that won’t break the bank.

Heading back to the hotel completely famished one evening, we pulled in to the slightly off-Strip SATAY Thai Bistro & Bar, because you can never go wrong with Thai, right? Like every other hole-in-the-wall Thai restaurant we’ve tried in Vegas, this one hit the spot. We split an order of bacon-wrapped scallops to start (mmmm bacon). I had the Mango Tofu with coconut rice and Keith had the Thai Spicy Beef Fried Rice (complete with soft-fried egg on top). I expressed concern about the sweetness level of my tofu as I was ordering, and the waitress brought out a sample of the sauce for me to taste and offered that the chef could make it less sweet if I liked — which I did. Keith’s fried rice was rich with all the Thai flavors we love — the anise-like basil, fish sauce, keffir lime, and chile heat. I couldn’t quite finish my dish and can attest to it’s absolute deliciousness the next morning, cold straight out of the fridge.