Monday, March 19, 2012

An Oldie and So Goodie

  Columbia Restaurant in Ybor City, Florida (right outside of Tampa) is the oldest, continuously run restaurant in Florida.  It was established in 1905 and has been serving up delicious cuban and spanish food ever since.  The restaurant itself is beautiful and offers live flamenco shows nightly.  Columbia is huge (the world's largest Spanish restaurant as a matter of fact) and still has a packed house with a waiting line out the door every night. 
   They have a very extensive menu so I followed my tried and true tradition of asking our server what their favorites are.  Ours replied with the "Boliche Criollo".  It is a slowly roasted eye round of beef, stuffed with chorizo, in gravy.  It is served with black beans, rice, and platanos.  I was sold.

    It was wonderful!  The beef was super tender and soaked up the flavorful gravy beautifully.  You can never go wrong with adding chorizo and, while there wasn't a huge amount of it, it was a great added flavor and kick in the beef.  I think the gravy is the super ingredient in this meal.  It added so much flavor and juice and was unlike any gravy I've ever had.  The platanos were sweet and ripe and the rice and beans were fantastic.  All in all, this was a fantastic meal in a very memorable place.    

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Give me food in a bucket anyday

  Our next stop in the Sunshine State was Tampa, Florida.  My parents got to come down for a visit (yay!) and I knew exactly where I wanted to take them their first night there.   I had heard rave reviews of a local favorite called "Crabby Bill's".  They have a few locations in the Tampa area, so I chose one for us right on the bay at Rocky Point.
   We started with an order of "Alligator Bites".  I had never tried alligator and I figured when in Rome... These were bites of gator tail, dusted in seasoned flour and then flash fried:

   I hate to sound completely stereotypical and generic, but alligator really does taste a lot like chicken!  These were delicious.  Slightly chewy, which apparently alligator always is, but still pretty tender.  They had a nice, fresh, and light taste to them.  And call me a redneck, but just about anything is going to be tasty if you fry it.  I loved these, but am interested in trying alligator that hasn't been covered in flour and fried. 

   For dinner, I ordered "The Steamer Bucket".  It's exactly like it sounds, a bucket filled to the brim with Crab legs, shrimp, mussels, and clams with a side of drawn butter.  (Cue choir of angels singing "Ahhh!")

     If this does not look like a heavenly bucket of deliciousness, then you are a fool on a fools journey.  This was amazing.  Some of the best, freshest tasting seafood I've ever had.  Crabby Bill's is doing something very right.  The crab legs were so tender and succulent, the shrimp were big and seasoned perfectly, the mussels and clams were soft and not overcooked at all.  My Mom and I split this bucket and, while we were very full by the time we reached the bottom, wanted 5 more.  This is a meal you work for but worth every crack, peel and pull.  There is something very communal and fun about eating this food with friends and family; everyone sitting around cracking crab legs and peeling shrimp, laughing and talking, and then enjoying their delicious end result together with messy hands and butter all over your face.  We had a blast.