Tag Archives: Pinellas County FL
“Twas” an awesome Christmas. My son came over and he brought with him some amazing steaks. We cooked crab, salmon and asparagus along with the meat and had some laughs over dinner. Typically our Christmas dinner was spaghetti and meatballs, but this year we broke with tradition and had the fish and steak. Before dinner we headed down to Clearwater beach for a long walk. I was surprised at how crowded it was – thousands of stark white sun deprived tourists littered the beach, and as such, there was no parking available. For the record, Clearwater beach was once a magical place, as most of Central and Southern Florida, but thanks in large part to a clueless local governments and overpaid consultants, the pristine magnificence of the region has vanished. That is why my wife and I save up for a cruise every year or so and head to the Caribbean or Mexico to take advantage of their beaches where the magic still exists.
To distance ourselves from the tourists, we drove South to Indian Rocks Beach. We know a small street with available free parking about 50 yards from the beach. There was no sun out, the water was calm, no wind, quite a change from the last time we were here and the sand hurt the bottom of our feet as the temperature soared toward 100 degrees. We walked along the water for about a 1/2 mile, turned around and headed back home. A woman came up to me and asked if I would take a photograph of her family on vacation and I was happy to comply. Why me I don’t know, there were plenty of other folks walking along – perhaps because I was holding my professional looking Pentax or maybe I just appeared friendly and or safe.
After dinner we drove around in search of Christmas light displays, but with the economy still in the dumps and the “fiscal cliff” looming over everyone’s head few homes put out anything. I found it depressing. The three or four displays we did find were over the top with the home owners obviously making this a priority in their lives and possessing the financial resources and time to erect such elaborate exhibitions. In front of our home we have a Santa “family” that arises with hot air when you plug it in. It also lights up. At the time we bought it a year ago I thought $60 was extravagant at Wal-Mart, but it’s fun and I don’t believe being “dark” at Christmas. When my son was younger he took the time to light up our house, but he works a 60+ week and spends most of this free time attempting to recharge his batteries.
We all enjoyed watching the lousy weather up North and throughout the Mid West with the temperature here in the 70′s. I spent far to many years driving around in that mess wishing I were home for Christmas. And now I am and very grateful. I continue to read “American Wife” by Curtis Sittenfeld when I go to bed.
Photo credit: CHARLIE NEIBERGALL / THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
One of my toughest critics is my 24 year old son. “Dad, you go on and on, don’t you know people lose interest after 200 words? And”, he continues, “what do you expect for a $25 meal?” Point taken son, I’ll try to keep reviews brief, but FYI, your mother and I do expect a lot from our $25. So in one of the most boring cities in America, with as much style and panache as a Trenton truck stop, we drove over to Pinellas Park and tried the Hao Wah Chinese “buffet” restaurant.
It’s small, very clean and comfortable. The physical buffet is much smaller compared to others in the area. They have “real” hot tea which is becoming hard to find with people requesting funny “cocktail” teas – green tea, blue tea or similar. Nothing is as good as real “Chinese”hot tea. During the meal at no time did we need to ask for more tea or water, the waiter always keep us well supplied.
It was the usual Chinese buffet food interspersed with American “samplings” for kids and reluctant seniors who get squeamish eating eggrolls. We didn’t see any crab Rangoon’s which is essential to any Chinese buffet meal – eat in or take out. For those of you who are not familiar with the popular appetizer, it’s a deep fried triangle shaped “puff” filled with cream cheese, crab and seasoning. I moved on and filled my real ceramic plate – plastic being the norm – with a variety of other items.
So, the green beans were terribly undercooked. I tried the spring roll but after one bite put it aside. The egg roll was better. The white rice was perfectly cooked – warm, soft and fluffy, but the Lo Mein was overcooked and mushy. I really wasn’t too thrilled about anything else because it all lacked that distinct Chinese food flavor that makes one (temporarily) crave these places. I won’t say it tasted as if it came out of a can, it wasn’t that salty, but nothing, other than the white rice was cooked up to par enough to call it good.
Because there were none on the buffet, I asked the waiter if they had crab Rangoon’s and he said no. Strange, but there was no peanut chicken either, and we just let it go. My wife decided to eat only 1/2 of what was on her plate and got up to check out the if the u want “Mongolian” grill the chef will (maybe) come out from the back deal. She didn’t like the look of the raw chicken or meat, but noticed fresh crab Rangoon’s had been put out.
We both tried them. Do you know what a “blintz” is? It’s kind of like a rolled crepe or pancake created by Jews back in Poland. With blueberry jam on top they’re delicious. Well, these crab Rangoon’s, completely devoid of crab or seasoning, reminded me exactly of blintzes. We ended the meal with very frozen vanilla soft ice cream (the chocolate wasn’t working) and over sugared pastries. The bill was $21 + $2 tip. Bottom line, the owners were delightful and accommodating, but I have to give them a “D”. Once again, we proved to ourselves that a great Chinese restaurant does not exist in Pinellas County.
It’s not good to begin writing a restaurant review when your pissed at the place your reviewing. I’ve been eating at both Pickles Plus locations – now one – for many years. I was there today and when paying my bill, I was informed they were out of chopped liver. This has never happened to me. Pickles Plus chopped liver is one of the truly amazing joys of existing on this planet. I prefer it in the morning with my hazelnut coffee on an “Everything” bagel toasted. The fact that they had none left is bound to just screw up the rest of my week. If I wasn’t going out of the country for a week on assignment, I would be back there tomorrow asking when a new batch will be ready for “me”. Until then I will be cursing Joe Benedettini, the owner, and I’ll have to wait to return for my world to be right.
So, Pickles is a kind of an under the radar screen “NY-style” deli – you either know about or you don’t. It’s located at the Northwood Plaza strip mall at 2530 McMullen Booth Rd. in Clearwater. You can spot the Boar’s Head black and red umbrellas outside. Inside, I’m not crazy about the plastic tables and chairs, the old green carpeting or the leaky ceiling that, I see, has finally been repaired. I tend to eat outside more, until the Florida heat and humidity becomes so oppressive that it drives customers inside for cool air. There are couple of “sports-bar-ish” flat screens inside on either side, which nobody except the servers pay attention to. The deli was established back in 1989 by folks that merged their talents from New Jersey and Michigan.
There used to be a downtown Clearwater location, but since the various commissions and politicians destroyed the business section and the beach front of the place I so loved when I first moved down here – certainly nothing to do with Pickles, there is just the Northwood Plaza location. Personally, I never liked that downtown location. I felt the service was slow and wait staff poorly trained. My “regular” waitress, she always wore a Freeport Islands hat or something, doesn’t seem to be there anymore. Our waiter this afternoon, my wife was with me tonight, was a nice young eager man, but kept saying awesome or fantabulous or something like that either every time we made a request. I appreciate his, what shall I call it, passion and positivity, but a simple “your welcome” would suffice.
The speed – the power and most definitely, the danger, is what you feel when the cars pass right in front of you at 175 miles per hour. When the first cars passed me, for some reason, I was actually a bit scared. What if one of these powerful cars bouncing along and flying by – on what is a city street not a race track – crashes or loses a tire right in front of me? I calmed down after about the fifth pass, but remained “cautious.”
I had never been to an auto race before. It was my son’s idea to take his disabled dad that could barely keep up with him – bad knees and all. I had no preconceived notions about what it would be or should be like. I’ve seen a lot of movies, watched a lot of television and read a great deal about NASCAR and Formula 1 racing. But nothing can substitute being there in person. It is definitely a bucket list item.
Getting to the race site was easy, after all this is St. Petersburg, FL not Miami or much worse, NYC or Ontario CA. The beauty of living here is that you can go anywhere relatively fast and easy. That is as long as you don’t live close to US19 in Clearwater. With the ever-lasting indefinite road work going on there, it can take you 1/2 hour just to go 3-5 miles. But getting to St. Pete from anywhere in Florida is a quick trip on I-75 to I-275, by car. Of course, if you’re a VIP like team owner and industrialist Roger Penske, you fly in your “G” whatever into Tampa International or St. Pete airport which places you 15 minutes from the track and downtown. You can also get there by boat.
The winner of the race was Mr. Personality himself – Helio Castroneves in the Chevy – Penske – Shell car. It was his third St. Pete win. He was on the back of a Honda (the main sponsor of the event) pick-up going around the track smiling and waving to the crowd before the start of the race. To me, he is the Brazilian dude from Dancing With The Stars. He won that too. The vivacious Julianne Hough was his instructor/partner. I think he was the only driver who passed by that I waved to. Of course, that gave him the luck, skill and stamina he needed to win the race. Yeah right. Hey, he’s not a stiff kid – a robot of some corporate sponsor or scumbag like Tiger Woods. I like the guy. I waved. He won. A win – win situation if you ask me. By the way, he also is a three time Indy 500 winner.
The St. Pete race aside for a sec, I’ve got to mention NASCAR. The problem there is all the gas – tire strategy nonsense, the childish bureaucratic penalties for manly stuff like giving the finger to another driver or going to fast into the pits and the family-oriented goody-2 shoes posture of the middle aged white men that control the sport – it doesn’t interest me at all. Need I mention the incessant and annoying sponsorship of EVERYTHING? Watching NASCAR on television at home or wherever I am on the road, well, I usually fall asleep. Round and round they go, restrictor plates limiting the speed of the cars, all of whom are almost exactly alike. The only interesting about NASCAR is my “gal” – the talented Danica Patrick.
Now one might say all that about Formula 1 – Grand Prix racing as well. That’s Ms. Patrick’s old turf. But, so unlike NASCAR, they’re racing on the SAME street that I drive on. They go over the same bumps, lines, man hole covers and under the same traffic lights. That’s awesome. They don’t around a circle or oval, they go around city streets with turns and parking meters and fire hydrants. It’s just “more” real than NASCAR. And there I’m doing what I didn’t mean to do, make the comparison. I’m going to stop in all fairness to NASCAR fans, because I’m going to hold judgment until I “experience” a NASCAR race, like the Daytona 500, in person. I’ll just need an RV, some camo duds and a Dale Earnhardt, Jr. ball cap to get in.
Let’s move on. Listening to and watching the race “mano a mano” was fantastic. To hell with ear protectors. You know who won the race. Let’s discuss what I would like to see changed to make the whole “experience” better for everyone and anyone that pays $50+ to get in the gate. First, I don’t want to and didn’t sit down on an aluminum hot “bleacher” in the hot sun for the pre-race stuff or the entire race. I was “attempting” to photograph the event, so just staying in one place didn’t interest me. Outside of the main “stands”, it’s like being outside Yankee Stadium during the playoffs.
The only way I knew what was going on was to follow – and it was hard to do in the bright sun – the Twitter feed of the race. So when Clay Aiken was singing the National Anthem, from my “position” at turn #3 – the Firestone crossover – all I heard were the birds and television helicopters. Now I quite honestly don’t have any desire whatsoever to see or hear Mr. Aiken do anything, so I wasn’t too bummed out. But, the hundreds of good folks and kids, would have liked to be part of it, as they paid good money to get in were yearning to be included. So, to the “operators” of the event, you need to put more PA speakers – everywhere. If the condos and apartments across the street don’t like the noise – screw them. They can put up with it for a few hours once a year.
Next on my list is the food. It was excellent. Kudos to the vendors. But the event “operators” – shame on you. When you’re at the supply house picking up those PA speakers, get some tables, chairs and umbrellas so – in violation of the American’s With Disabilities Act – people who have trouble walking (and everyone else) can SIT DOWN and eat. Does it make any sense for me to buy a gyro and drink for $15 and have to sit on a street curb? Right across from me are tables, chairs and cover for the volunteers who work the event. The “public” is not allowed in. Approximately 25 food vendors and no place for “us” to sit. Not very smart.
How about better signs? I guess I have one of those faces – my son as well – where the lost seek our guidance. It’s a curse. Yes, they handed out maps. So what? Rest rooms – porta potties this way – main grandstand that way – food there – souvenirs and displays that way. I wonder if their intention was to keep things secret? How ridiculous. If you’re going to open “acres” for the event – then for goodness sakes open it for all to enjoy – signs, tables, chairs, PA speakers and whatever else it takes to make people want to come and know what is happening as it happens.
From observing the crowd, you’ll sell more clothing merchandise, if you stop making the guys who should be wearing 3-5XL, walk around stuffed like Polish sausage into XL’s. I noticed the 3rd, 2nd place and winner get “real” Firestone hats with long bills. Do you hear what I just said? Long bills! Not the short child ones you put on all the promo hats for $29. Is this what America has come to? Overpriced balls caps with short bills? Give me a break,
I will be back next year, hopefully being able to get better “access” with a press or photographers pass. I hope to see some changes made. I’m “rooting” for Castroneves to win a 4th time. I would welcome Danica back in a second. We need more women in the cars, not on the sidelines. For more information on the event, here is their link, http://www.gpstpete.com/.