Restaurant Spotlight

Taco Bus

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It’s hard to find a person in the Tampa area who hasn’t heard of Taco Bus. And out of those, it’s just as hard to find someone who doesn’t love it. Much like how I feel about Four Green Fields, it’s hard for me to be in the vicinity without stopping in.

In case the name didn’t tip you off, the original Taco Bus is indeed a bus, a school bus to be exact. The original location is right off of Hillsborough Avenue, but they have other locations (some that are a little more brick and mortar style) around the Tampa area. Hillsborough Avenue and the Downtown Tampa spots are probably my two most visited locations.

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The atmosphere is extremely casual with a small cluster of buildings and picnic tables among the two school buses. You order your food at the side window of one of the school buses and your meal is prepared in the kitchen of the other bus. Their menu is an array of recipes from the streets of the many regions in Mexico prepared fresh every day. The food is designed to be fresh and simple, and turned around quickly. You choose the dish, filling, and style. Whether you’re in the mood for tacos, burritos, tostadas, tortas, quesadillas, or ensaladas, Taco Bus has got you covered.

J. almost always gets a burrito with Carne Asada, hand cut steak marinated in Mexican seasonings. I typically switch between tacos (on corn tortillas) or their loaded quesadilla. This last visit I opted for the later. Two tortillas filled with your choice of protein (I go for Pollo Chipotle – chicken smothered in a creamy chipotle sauce), cheese and topped with guacamole, sour cream, and all the veggies (which I highly recommend). The pollo chipotle is tender and flavorful without being overly spicy. It almost reminds me of a curry chicken, but with Mexican flavors. It pairs well with the freshness and crunch of the cilantro, cabbage and pico de gallo.

I consider it a Tampa staple that everyone should try at least once.  It’s a fun quirky twist on your normal food truck, with great food to back it up.

P.S. Be sure to check out their new location at MLK & US 301. It’ll be open 24 hours!

Until next time!

–BrunchBabe

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Recipes

Apple Praline Pie

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Last Friday, my office had a pie contest in celebration of Thanksgiving. Having just gotten a beautiful Kitchenaid stand mixer at my bridal shower, I was so excited to try out a new pie recipe – this time with the dough from scratch too. My original choice was to try out a bourbon cherry pie, but unfortunately cherries are out of season and Publix didn’t have any good choices for canned pie filling. So I settled for a twist on a classic, and one perfect for Thanksgiving, with my apple praline pie.

Apple Praline Pie

Pie Dough

  • 2 and 2/3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 cup vegetable shortening
  • 8 TBSP cold water

Pie Filling

  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup chopped pecans
  • 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 8 green apples
  • 3 TBSP unsalted butter

Glaze Topping

  • 1/4 cup light brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup chopped pecans
  • 2 TBSP half and half

In a stand mixer bowl, mix 2 2/3 cups flour and 1 teaspoon salt. Add in your shortening a little at a time. Turn on the mixer at a low speed and add in the cold water, 1 tablespoon at a time, until the dough comes together and the pastry starts to come away from the side of the bowl. 

On a floured surface, divide you dough in half and flatten into 2 rounds. Wrap the dough in wax paper or plastic wrap and refrigerate for about 45 minutes.

Peel your green apples and slice them thin. In large bowl, mix the sugar, pecans, 1/3 cup flour, cinnamon, nutmeg and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Add in the apples and toss together.

Heat oven to 425°F. With floured rolling pin, roll one pastry round into round 2 inches larger than your pie plate. I rolled mine on my wax paper and then carefully flipped the wax paper over my pie plate. Otherwise, you can fold the pastry lightly into fourths and place into the plate, then unfold. Press the pastry dough firmly against the bottom and sides. 

Spoon in your filling and top with the 3 tablespoons of butter. Trim overhanging edge of pastry 1/2 inch from rim of pie plate.

Roll the other round of pastry for the top of the pie. Place over the top of the filling and trim the overhanging edge. Fold and roll or crimp the edges of the pie to seal it. Cut a couple slits into the top so steam can escape while it cooks.

Cover with aluminum foil and bake for 50 minutes. Then remove the foil and cook for an additional 10 minutes for the crust to brown.

During those last 10 minutes, in a small sauce pan, add the brown sugar, 1/3 cup pecans and the half-and-half. Cook on low until the sugar is melted. Spoon over the hot pie and serve warm.

The pralines add a nice crunch to this classic apple pie. And the caramel sauce, nutmeg, and cinnamon really bring out those perfect fall flavors. Serve with some vanilla ice cream and you’ve got yourself a new holiday favorite! 

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! I hope you all have a fun and safe holiday with your friends and family full of lots of delicious food!

Until next time!

–BrunchBabe

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Recipes

Stuffing

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In honor of Thanksgiving this week, I’m foregoing my normal Monday post to share an extra recipe perfect for the holiday. Growing up, we always just used boxed stuffing. It was the perfect quick and easy extra side dish that you could make in just a few minutes before carving the turkey. J.’s office had a potluck last Friday and I wanted to try something different and decided to finally make stuffing from scratch.

(P.S. Technically this is “dressing” as it’s not cooked inside of the turkey, if anyone asks)

Stuffing

  • 1.5 sticks unsalted butter
  • 1 lb day-old white bread (I grabbed a nice loaf from my Publix bakery)
  • 2.5 cups sweet onion
  • 1.5 cups celery
  • 2.5 cups chicken broth (unsalted or low sodium)
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup fresh parsley
  • 2 TBSP fresh sage
  • 1 TB fresh thyme
  • 1 TB fresh rosemary
  • 2 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 tsp pepper

Preheat oven to 450°F. Tear up your loaf of bread into about 1 inch pieces. (I used a bread knife to cut slices and then tore them apart from there.) On a baking sheet (I used my pizza pan) scatter the bread in a single layer and toast for about 10 minutes (until it begins to brown) to dry out the bread. Do this in two turns if your baking sheet isn’t large enough. Let your bread cool and transfer to a large bowl.

In a sauce pan, melt your butter. Chop up the onion and celery into small pieces and add to the butter. Cook down for about 10 minutes until the veggies are browned and soft. Add this mixture to the bowl with your bread. Finely chop your herbs and add them to the bowl with salt and pepper. (I recommend stirring and tasting as you season, as you may not need all of the seasoning depending on the bread you bought). Mix in 1/4 cup of chicken broth.

Turn your oven down to 350°F. In a small bowl, whisk together the rest of the broth and 2 eggs. Add this to your bread mixture and stir gently to combine. Pour this into a baking dish, cover, with foil, and bake for about 40 minutes. If serving immediately, take off the foil and bake for an additional 10-15 minutes to brown the top.

This easy side dish is the perfect compliment of thanksgiving flavors. The use of fresh bread and herbs really take it up a notch from dried seasonings or a box mix. It’d be a great base to add in cooked sausage, dried fruit, or nuts – whatever your family’s tradition may be! And plus side, it tastes even better leftover!

Until next time!

–BrunchBabe

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Restaurant Spotlight

Four Green Fields

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One of J.’s greatest accomplishments is making me a hockey fan. And not just a hockey fan, but a Tampa Bay Lightning fan. We frequent a handful of games throughout the season and try to make it to at least one playoff game (if we are that lucky!) And as part of our Lightning date-night tradition, the night always starts with a quick bite to eat at Four Green Fields a few blocks away.

Four Green Fields is a quaint, inviting little Irish cottage style pub hidden away behind the convention center off of West Platt Street. Also known as “America’s only authentic thatched roof pub.” The minute you approach the green door with family crests in the windows, you know you are in for a real Irish experience. Inside, you’ll be greeted by a large dark wooden bar that wraps around to the back of the pub, photos and old historical news articles hung all over the walls, and soccer jerseys and scarves hanging from the ceiling. A great place to come remember the old and celebrate the new.

img_9778Their menu has a variety of options from corned beef, shepherd’s pie, fish and chips and burgers as well as a wide selection of Irish beers and whiskeys. The majority of the time I go for the turkey Reuben – thin sliced turkey, coleslaw, cheese, and thousand island dressing served on toasted marble rye  bread. While not an Irish classic, I crave this sandwich. I’ll look forward to it all day, all week even. All of the flavors meld together so well with the tangy dressing balancing the sweet coleslaw perfectly. Served with fries, they are always served hot, crispy and fresh.

J. typically goes for a real Reuben or patty melt (which is my second favorite menu item!), but this last time went for a classic burger. It was cooked perfectly, super juicy, and served on a delicious onion roll. So whether classic American or Irish pub food, the Four Green Fields kitchen knows what they are doing.img_9777

Before hockey games, Rowdies games, or really anything else going on at Amalie Arena, this little pub gets very, very busy. Not a bad thing, as it makes for a great pre-game atmosphere.  If you’re looking to get food, get there early.

Lightning, Rowdies, Tampa, and Ireland fans alike love to make Four Green Fields home. It’s one of those places that is full of regulars, and trust me, after one visit, you’ll want to be one too.

P.S. Check out a night with live music, every weekend has traditional Irish musicians. The pub comes alive with everyone singing along together.

Until next time!

–BrunchBabe

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Restaurant Spotlight

Steak Rattle and Roll

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In celebration of Halloween weekend, J. and I decided to head over to Cigar City Brewing for their cleverly named “Jaialaiween.” Along with specialty beers and a costume contest, the event also had a couple food trucks hanging out front for the patrons, including Steak, Rattle, and Roll.

Steak, Rattle, and Roll is a new food truck to the area, just getting their start a few months ago. Their menu is built around the flavors of fresh NY strip steak. Yum! Nearly everything on the menu is made from scratch – there is no frozen, processed, or precooked food. While this does add a bit to your wait, you know the food you’re receiving will be fresh and delicious, and well worth it.

I went for The Roots – NY strip, cheese, peppers, mushrooms, onions and garlic aioli. A fun spin on a philly cheese steak. The meat was tender, well seasoned, and easy to bite through. The cheese and aioli added a nice creaminess. The bread was thick and well toasted and held up well to all of the sandwich toppings. All in all, a great sandwich – that also paired perfectly with a cold beer!

Did I mention they also serve breakfast?! They travel all around Tampa, so check out their website to see where they are posted up each day. I can’t wait to go back, and I wish them the best of luck!

Until next time!

–BrunchBabe

P.S. Don’t forget to check us out on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest & Instagram!

Recipes

Mahi Club Sandwich

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I’ve been sick for the past week and take-out soup and tea have been the major staples of my diet. Finally feeling better today, I wanted something more filling but still somewhat healthy and easy to put together. With some frozen mahi fillets in the freezer, I decided to create a spin off of a club sandwich with my Mahi Club.

Mahi Club Sandwich

  • 2 mahi fillets
  • Buns (or nice thick bread)
  • 1 avocado
  • 1 tomato
  • Handful of spinach (or watercress, lettuce, or arugula)
  • 2 tsp lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup mayo
  • Salt
  • Pepper

Preheat oven to 400°F

In a bowl, mix together your mayo and lemon juice. Season with salt and pepper and refrigerate until ready to serve.

Season your mahi with salt and pepper, place in a baking dish and bake for about 10 minutes. While this is cooking, slice your avocado and tomato. The last few minutes in the oven, stick in your bread to toast. Toast it heavily so it will hold up to the many toppings on the sandwich.

Last but not least – assemble your sandwich with all of your ingredients! A very fresh sandwich, with creaminess from the avocado and a bright acidic balance from the lemon mayo. Delicious!

Until next time!

–BrunchBabe

P.S. Don’t forget to check us out on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest & Instagram!

Recipes

Kung Pao Zoodles

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I love Chinese food, but sometimes I want the flavors without the guilt of takeout. Enter: vegetable noodles. Zucchini, yellow squash, and spaghetti squash (just to name a few) make great substitutes for noodles as they cook quickly and absorb the flavors of your sauce well. For dinner last night, we went a little spicy, borrowing Skinny Taste’s Kung Pao Zoodles recipe.

Kung Pao Zoodles

  • 2 zucchini
  • 6 oz skinless chicken breast
  • 1 TBSP canola oil
  • 1 tsp sesame oil
  • 2 TBSP minced garlic
  • 1 tsp fresh ground ginger
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • 2 scallions
  • Additional veggies optional (carrots, red bell pepper, mushrooms, onions)
  • Crushed peanuts (optional)

For the sauce

  • 1 1/2 TBSP soy sauce
  • 1 TBSP balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tsp hoisin sauce
  • 2 1/2 TBSP water
  • 1/2 TBSP red chili paste
  • 2 tsp sugar
  • 2 tsp cornstarch

Use a spiralizer (if you have one) or a julienne peeler to cut the zucchini into long noodle-like strips. If you don’t have either of those tools, a normal peeler will work too, the noodles will just be a little wider.

In a small bowl, whisk together your soy sauce, balsamic vinegar, hoisin, water, red chili paste, sugar and cornstarch, and set aside.

Chop up your chicken into bite size pieces and season with salt and pepper. In a nonstick pan, heat your canola oil over medium-high heat and cook until the chicken is cooked through. Set aside.

After removing the chicken, reduce the heat on your pan to medium and add the sesame oil, garlic and ginger to the skillet. Cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add any of your additional vegetables and stir in your sauce. Bring to a boil and then let simmer until the sauce begins to thicken. Stir in your zucchini noodles and mix everything together for about 2 minutes to cook the zoodles through.  Finish by stirring in your chicken and top with scallions and peanuts, if desire.

This dish is a perfect combination of sweet, salty, and spicy. I served mine with some frozen chicken dumplings to give it that “takeout” feel (they also tasted delicious dipped in the zoodle sauce!) All the flavor and none of the guilt!

Until next time!

–BrunchBabe

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Restaurant Spotlight

Cask Social Kitchen

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My actual birthday this year was on a Sunday (a month ago now! Time sure does fly) and that always makes it a tad harder to celebrate with work the next day. So I figured what better way to celebrate than with my favorite meal – brunch! With the intention of getting some birthday shopping in afterwards with the girls, we decided to hit up Cask Social.

A few things to get out of the way: 1) Make a reservation in advance. We did so with Open Table, but this place was packed, and isn’t very large, so the wait would be long. 2) The restaurant itself only has valet parking. This isn’t uncommon in South Tampa, but can be a nuisance nonetheless. We waited for over 20 minutes to have our car valet parked. Find street parking if you can.

Now for the fun part, developed to specialize in both Southern cuisine and hospitality, Cask Social Kitchen looks like that fun hangout spot you want to go for brunch with friends or to watch some football and play corn hole out on the porch. Their motto says it all – Eat. Drink. Be Social. The inside of the restaurant is contemporary with exposed brick and concrete walls, tile ceilings, and bright yellow booths.

Their brunch menu isn’t overly large, but has plenty of options for every appetite, from pancakes and benedicts to breakfast tacos and chicken and waffles. They also have a large drink menu, including *drumroll please* unlimited mimosas! Considering it was my birthday after all, I partook in that.

img_9413I went for the breakfast tacos, corn tortillas with sausage, scrambled eggs, cheddar cheese, wild mushrooms, and béarnaise sauce. The combination of all of those ingredients was perfection. Salt from the sausage and earthiness from the mushrooms pair perfectly with the eggs and cheese. The béarnaise sauce adds the creaminess and richness that makes sure that the tacos didn’t get too dry. Three tacos were a lot for me personally, but all the flavors were really good.

 

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J. got the Croissandwich, whipped farm style eggs, provolone cheese, sausage, sun dried tomato pesto, and served with a sweet potato hash. The croissant was perfectly soft and flaky and the addition of the provolone and sun dried tomato pesto elevated this somewhat basic sandwich. The sweet potato hash was ok…it was a mix of sweet potatoes, red potatoes, onions, and peppers. The potatoes were cut into too big of chunks for my taste and seemed to be more boiled and soft, than fried/pan fried and crispy. Extra salt and ketchup were needed.

Other members of our group got the chicken and waffles, French toast, biscuits and gravy, and the classic breakfast platter. All agreed the food was great and our waiter was so nice and accommodating. We will definitely be returning! The shrimp grits are calling my name to try.

Until next time!

–BrunchBabe

P.S. Don’t forget to check us out on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest & Instagram!

Restaurant Spotlight

The Grand Siam

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My coworkers and I love going out to lunch to celebrate new hires to the team, birthdays, or just a fun Friday lunch because we made it through the week. There are plenty of places to choose from where I work, whether walking distance, or just a short drive away. But one of my favorites, is right across the street at The Grand Siam in St. Petersburg, FL.

Now,  I’ve only been here for lunch, but most of the time they are packed! We always try to beat the lunch crowd or call ahead for a reservation. Inside, the room is very open and spacious, with a bar and lounge area on one end (for the night crowd) and tables and a sushi bar on the other side. Overall, the restaurant and decor are simple, which lets the food shine through.

Even the lunch menu here is extensive, with many options for sushi, curry, and other Thai dishes. Every time I go, I plan to get something new and different, but always end up with my favorite – Box #8 – a Bento box with a bit of Pad Thai, California roll, rice, and seaweed salad. I love being able to get a little variety of everything and the portions are definitely large enough that you could have leftovers (although I never do). Lunch is also served with a chicken and rice soup and spring roll for a well rounded meal. You can tell all of the ingredients are fresh and that everything, including the sushi, is made to order. The Pad Thai is my favorite, hitting the perfect balance of peanut, sweet, salty, and spicy, without it being too oily.

Along with dine-in, they also offer takeout during the week. My mouth is literally watering just thinking about this place. And I’m thinking a group lunch may be in order soon so I can return.

Until next time!

–BrunchBabe

P.S. Don’t forget to check us out on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest & Instagram!

Restaurant Spotlight

Bern’s Steak House

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As a special treat for my birthday last week, J. took me to Bern’s Steak House. He had been before, but this was my first time going and I was SO excited. This won’t be my typical type of review, as I’m sure you all know the reputation that Bern’s has, but more of just the story of my experience here.

img_9172Bern’s from the outside is so discreet and unassuming. But you walk inside and it’s like you’re transported to another world with dark lighting, tiled and red velvet walls adorned with paintings with ornate frames, and a large chandelier hanging from the ceiling.

The restaurant is quite large, and was very busy, but as we were taken back to our table, tucked away into a small room, it seemed as though we were one of the few in the restaurant. The level of customer service here is phenomenal, every interaction with our waiter was so kind, generous, and helpful.

We started with a bottle of light-bodied red wine recommended by our waiter. When it came to ordering I loved that my steak was all inclusive. The french onion soup, the salad with home-made salad dressing were served quickly. I ordered the filet and can quite honestly say it was the best steak I’ve ever had. Whether it’s because it’s aged, the precision to which it is cooked to the absolutely perfect temperature of your liking (I ordered mine between medium rare and medium), or just being a part of the overall experience of the night, it was a steak I will not soon forget. It was served with carrots, squash, onion strings, and a large baked potato. All of which were delicious and cooked with care.

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After dinner, we took a tour of the kitchen and the wine cellar. The wine cellar has 6,800 unique wine labels, 5,500 red wines, 1,000 white wines and more than 200 sparkling wines! Our guides were so knowledgeable and it was amazing to go behind the scenes and see the way the restaurant ran so smoothly. It’s quite imprimg_9171essive.

After the tour, we went up to the Harry Waugh dessert room. The table was tucked away into a little nook that resembled a wine barrel. It was dark and music was softly playing, quite a romantic atmosphere. We ordered dessert wine and the “Brown Sugar” – with samples of cheesecake (with cookie dough crust), a blondie, and an ice cream sandwich. We were stuffed from dinner, but we couldn’t resist.

All in all, an absolutely amazing birthday celebration. And now it’s my goal to find more nice occasions to celebrate, so we can return!

Until next time!

–BrunchBabe

P.S. Don’t forget to check us out on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest & Instagram!