Our Visit to Florida (Finale)

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Now you know about a couple of our “destination” restaurants during our recent Florida trip. In this installment, I will talk about the final two Florida specialties we were determined to enjoy.

 

Have you ever had smoked mullet? If not, there’s only one place I know of that does it right. That place is Ted Peter’s Fish House in South Pasadena, FL. South Pasadena is in Pinellas County and is adjacent to St. Petersburg (between the city and the beach).

 

Believe it or not, while growing up in St. Petersburg, I hated (or thought I hated) fish. The only thing I would eat that came out of the water was shrimp. For a while, I wouldn’t even go into the water in the Gulf or Bay because a school of small fish had rushed through my legs when I was quite little. They scared the poo out of me at the time. Yes, I got over that, but didn’t get over “hating” fish until I met Ted Peter’s smoked mullet. What a wonder. Flaky fish with just enough smoke that ate more like “meat” than what I had always considered fish. No strong fishy taste. Just delicious smoked morsels in every bite (do look out for pin-bones, though). If I hadn’t learned about fish from Ted Peter’s, I may have never learned the joys of grouper (see previous post).

 

Ted Peters was featured on “Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives,” but more for their terrific burgers. I’ve had the burger there – it IS special, but the real specialty is the smoked fish. You can have the mullet (my favorite), mackerel, or salmon. The main thing to remember is to come hungry. They serve a huge plate full. The fish comes with pickle, lettuce, tomato, onion, cole slaw and a small bowl heaped full of delicious German potato salad. They also have smoked fish spread that they serve with crackers. This is good enough to make a meal out of.

 

The final local specialty I really was wanting was a Cuban sandwich. Even before the troubles of the late 1950s and early 1960s, the Tampa Bay area was a destination for Cuban émigrés. Tampa had a thriving cigar industry (and still does). The classic Cuban dishes started to become widely available after the large influx due to the difficulties in Cuba. My particular favorites are “Spanish Bean Soup” (garbanzo), black beans and rice, and Cuban sandwiches.

 

Since we really didn’t have the time to travel to Ybor City, we looked for a place closer to find a Cuban sandwich. We’d seen a big crowd at a bar across the street from Sloppy Joes, so we thought we’d check it out.

 

Ricky T’s is exactly the kind of bar/grill I used to go to (as a local) 30 years ago. Every age group was represented and it is completely laid-back and fun. We went for lunch, so the crowds hadn’t started to gather. They serve an excellent Cuban. It’s not quite as authentic as one found at either the “Columbia” or in Ybor, but it was pretty darned good. The bread was authentic and they pressed it properly. Jim got a fried grouper sandwich. Again, the fish was about twice the size of the bun, fresh and delicious.

 

While not a destination at the time, we were introduced to a new favorite by our dear friends Richard and Julie Lilly. Caddy’s on the Beach is on Sunset Beach and is one of the last, true beach bars in the area.

(From their website) No where near this many people on Sunday morning

 

We went to Caddy’s for breakfast. I wondered how good breakfast could be in a beach bar. I should have had more faith. The coffee was really hot and fresh. The food was plentiful, delicious and inventive. While we were there, people started getting very excited about several dolphin who were cruising right along the shore. One of them was in an especially exuberant mood and was leaping clear out of the water.

 

We didn’t do too badly for only being in Florida from Friday noon until early Monday morning. Most of the time was spent attending the reunion and with friends; but we still found time to see a few birds and dolphin and to check off all the restaurants / foods on our “bucket list.”

 

 

Up Next: A True Scary Story – Just in Time for Halloween!

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Our Fantastic Journey – Day 3

Day 3 (Memorial Day): Nashville, TN

 Our last day in Nashville. It was rather surprising to find out that Nashville traditionally doesn’t have any large Memorial Day functions. All the little suburban areas are left to do their own things. This year, I’m sure due to the floods, we didn’t find anything of note going on.

 Our sightseeing target for the morning was Belle Meade Plantation. This was especially interesting to me as it was one of the earliest – and best – thoroughbred nurseries in the U.S. The entry foyer was jam packed with portraits of the stallions who stood at Belle Meade. Our guide told us how the master of the house would invite guests in and spend 4 hours extolling the virtues of each of the stallions. I imagine I would have been enthralled by the whole thing, but understood that the majority of those there that they would have run screaming. This was the home of Bonnie Scotland who is one of the most important American foundation sires. His blood runs (what little there is from all those generations back) in every Derby ENTRANT for the past 10+ years. The house was really very nice, but the BARN… Those horses had lights (gas) and running water even when the house barely had them. The stalls were absolutely enormous and so plush – even by today’s standards. We could surely see that the real focus of the whole endeavor here was on the horses.

From there, we went to lunch at a restaurant we’d read about in “Urbanspoon” (an on-line website that has reviews of restaurants in cities all over the place). Havana Grill is a Cuban restaurant that had received excellent reviews in Nashville. We both love Cuban food, so we were anxious to try it out. The restaurant is in a decidedly Hispanic part of town, so we expected we were in for a treat. The building was pretty non-descript, but the food… DEVINE! We had Cuban sandwiches (which we should have split because they are HUGE) and split some black beans and rice. Everything was so good! Going to pay attention to Urbanspoon suggestions from here on out.

On to the Ryman Auditorium! The Ryman Auditorium is the former home of the Grand Ole Opry. Growing up, I’d never had any exposure to country music. The closest thing would be hearing the barn dance caller when we would visit Aunt Jean and Uncle Frank in North Carolina. In the evenings on weekends, we could hear the music and the calls from down the road. I always remembered that as part of the most idyllic times in my life, but had never cultivated an affection or real knowledge of early American music or country music. Of course, later on I’d heard of the “Opry” and many of the performers (such as Patsy Cline, Tennessee Ernie Ford, Loretta Lynn, Minnie Pearl, Johnny Cash, and others), but was still not really a fan. I guess I still am not a huge fan of “Country,” but I do love Bluegrass. The Ryman is the “home” of bluegrass music.

We took the full tour, and it was completely enjoyable. However, the highlight of the whole Nashville experience might just have been when Jim got up on the stage of the Ryman Auditorium. The look on his face was one of pure joy! He tried to get me to go up on stage with him (God bless his heart), but this was HIS moment. He really does play guitar pretty darned well, and this is his favorite music to play.

I think he looks right at home on that stage!

After our exhausting day, we went back to the hotel to pack and get ready for the continuation of our trip south. There was only one more dinner target we had to hit. Martin’s Barbecue! We had heard about this place on “Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives,” and it sounded like just the kind of barbecue we love. We were both anxious to try the “red-neck tacos” that they had featured on the television show. Their “taco” is a large, cornbread, fry-cake filled with massive quantities of pulled, smoked pork and topped with really excellent coleslaw! Again, I think there was easily enough food in one “taco” to split, but we didn’t and were completely stuffed. They also advertised that they had Cheerwine! Cheerwine is a memory from North Carolina. It’s still made in the small town in western NC.