This week on Food Nation Radio Network (WWBA/WXMR) we talked about what produce is ready right now. However, we’ve been holding out on you, because we’ve been growing our own veggies/herbs with a tower from Prodigal Organic Towers.
The whole container recycles the water in it, there is no soil, no bugs and it’s on a timer. They couldn’t make it any easier to grow your own organic plants at home. Here is their website for more info: http://prodigalorganictowers.com/
In addition to growing things, I’ve been cooking up some menus for the Easter holiday. Here’s a couple of tested menus you can access right here at http://elizabethdougherty.com:
More and more, I’m so proud and excited to live in the Tampa Bay area with chefs and restaurants that are really dedicated to providing fresh, local food. Yes, we eat healthily for the most part, but sometimes you’ve got to just let go and live a little.
This is the Mezza Luna from Bella’s in South Tampa. It’s fried from their fresh Mezza Luna (half moon) pasta stuffed with cheese, however, it still manages to stay light and the sauce has that rich tomato taste without being too acidic.
There are many things I love about this restaurant, there are too many to list. It’s not that it’s full of snooty culinary masterpieces. That’s not the point of this place. It’s a true neighborhood restaurant. When you walk in, you feel warmly at home. The servers are friendly without being intrusive and the food is generally very good. (The tiramisu, which I’ve written about before, is the best I’ve ever eaten.)
The pizza oven does not disappoint with crispy pizzas served all day and on their late night menu. (The only change I requested is I wanted the prosciutto put on after the pizza was baked, otherwise it gets a little tough.)
If you have kids and you are looking for some house-made meals instead of the super-salty overly processed choices, check out Outback. Have you been lately? My son swears by their version of mac n’ cheese made with penne pasta. I tried it too. So cheeeesy.
I had always been taught that when you want a great steak, go to one of those very expensive steakhouses where they tell you the whole story of the cow’s life and how long they age their steaks, etc. When I found out that Zagat had rated Outback’s steaks as the best in the country by a chain restaurant, I wanted to taste it for myself. I hadn’t eaten at an Outback in years, and my last impression was “meh”. That has all changed now.
The filet with a wedge salad is a reasonably priced, very flavorful dish. The filet I tried was fork tender and perfectly grilled over wood. It had that smoky flavor going on in the background and the cool, blue cheese dressing on the wedge was a great counterpart. There are some dishes where simple is just fine by me, as long as the quality is there. This is one of them.
If you want a special night out, away from the franchises and chains, check out one of my favorite restaurants in Tampa, Pane Rustica. These people have a habit of making their meat dishes brontosaurus-sized. About a week ago, I tried their short rib and there was nothing short about it. It was huge and tender and savory and completely satisfying. Wow. I just had a little flashback there. Here’s a picture so you can share the yearning with me.
That’s not all I had that evening. Have you ever had a veal cheek? I hadn’t either and I dig when restaurants use all the “parts” and don’t waste anything. It’s what being a good restaurant/chef is about. That’s the challenge and they really stepped up with this veal cheek and pasta dish. Just when I thought the short rib was the most outstanding part of my evening. This was love on a plate.
You probably already know by now, neighborhood Italian places always have a soft spot in my heart. Well, recently we had Bill Murphy on the show. Remember those great one-tank trips he put together? Yep. That’s the guy. You can still find his books around town. I found some at Haslam’s, but I digress. Bill recommended this little Italian restaurant in St. Pete Beach called Gennaro’s.
It’s not big. It’s not fancy. The food is exactly what you would expect and hope for. The red sauce is made with love, the garlic bread is an actual loaf of Italian bread smeared with garlic butter and baked until toasty hot, the baked pasta dishes are overflowing with cheese, bubbly and browned on top and it’s not expensive. I really debated not even writing about Gennaro’s because I want to go back and I don’t want it to be too crowded! This was my manicotti, hot and steaming right from the oven.
By the way, if you find yourself at the Columbia Restaurant with out of town friends in Ybor or you just feel like taking in the view at the Pier, it doesn’t mean you always have to have a Cuban sandwich. They have several Italian crossover dishes like their version of an eggplant parmesan pictured here. It’s got capers and olives in it, giving it some extra pizzazz and the sauce a good kick. Did you know they also have a gluten-free menu? All you have to do is ask for it.
I’ll see what sorts of trouble I get into over the next several days, fork in hand, eating around. Have a tasty week.