Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Clearwater Beach, Florida

My next stop on my vacation adventure was Clearwater Beach, Florida.  I have some friends living there that I hadn't seen in far too long, so I was looking forward to visiting with them and seeing the sun.  What I didn't realize was that they literally lived in paradise!  Their townhome feels like a beachhouse, is right on the water and has a pool.  It's so safe that the lock on their front door is identical to the lock on my bathroom.  They're a 15-20 minute walk to one of the most post-card worthy beaches I have ever seen and the sand is literally as soft as a baby's bottom.  Oh, and did I mention they get around by Vespa?  It was amazing!  However, the best part was most definitely my amazing friends.  I miss them already and it hasn't even been a week.

Okay, enough sappiness, these amazing friends (we'll call them Mr. and Mrs. Crossfit) know their way around the happy hour and food scene in Clearwater Beach darn well, are amazing hosts and showed me a spectacular time.  So let's get to it!

Island Way Grill
Our first happy hour stop was the Island Way Grill and what a spectacular stop it was!  The restaurant has an amazing deck with a bar.  I felt like I was in Hawaii or Mexico...it was so relaxing.  As always, the company was the best part of the night...but the food and drink that we celebrated with were unreal!

Island Lemonade ($7.50): Tito's potato vodka with home-made lemonade.  AMAZING!  However, for all you Canadians out there, beware.  You can't taste the Tito's vodka in this fabulous drink; however, there most definitely is a lot of it.  Your taste buds will always be happy but I learned the hard way that your liver might not be happy the next day.  So, be careful.  That being said, this is definitely a must-drink if you're at the Island Way.

The gorgeous view from the deck.  Eating outside at the end of November...not too shabby.
Sashimi Salad ($11): wakami, seasoned squid and sunomono salad, topped with chef's choice of marinated sashimi and flying fish roe.  This dish was out of control!  I would eat it ever single day if I could.  Definitely a must-order.


Hamachi sashimi.  I had never heard of hamachi before, but it is very delicious.  It's a lot more of a solid fish, so the consistency was between tuna sashimi and cooked chicken.  Plus, it had much more vibrant flavours than tuna sashimi would.  I'd definitely order this dish again.

Pork and chicken pot stickers with cilantro plum sauce ($7).  After having lived in Vancouver, I'll admit that I'm a bit high maintenance when it comes to pot stickers.  These were not my favourite, so I probably wouldn't order them again.
Stone crab.  Stone crab was also completely new to me, but I'm very glad it was in season when I was in Clearwater!  Its flavour is similar to dungeness crab, but the meat is more of a chicken consistency: solid and not stringy.  The other thing that is interesting is that they only harvest the right pincher of the crab.  The crab's pinchers re-grow, so this way the crab continues to survive and the stone crab population doesn't disappear. 
We ate them in two different ways: hot with lemon juice and garlic butter (above), and cold with a lemon aioli sauce (below).  Eating them cold is the traditional way to eat them and I quite enjoyed it, but us Canadians also enjoyed eating them warm with melted butter.  

 Just be careful...those pinchers pack a wallop!  If you're not careful, you'll lose a finger...just ask Mr. Crossfit!
If you're ever in Clearwater Beach, I'd highly recommend the Island Way Grill.  It was hands-down my favourite place to grab a drink or bite to eat in Clearwater Beach.

Frenchy's South Beach Café
Unfortunately, I wasted the next morning nursing a hangover but I snapped out of it by lunchtime and made my way down to the beach for a gorgeous walk and yummy lunch at a Clearwater Beach staple: Frenchy's South Beach Café.
My view at lunch.  I think I could get used to this!
Normally I'm not a burger type of girl, but I was craving one something fierce today and Frenchy's didn't let me down.  The South Beach Burger: fresh chopped sirloiner fully loaded with cheese, lettuce, tomato, onion, relish, ketchup, mustard and mayo ($9.95).  I think I completely made the server's day when he started listing off the ingredients and I kept saying yes to everything.  I thought he was going to propose when I asked to add bacon, but that look quickly disappeared when I was adamant that my burger and bacon had to be fully cooked.  Seriously, a medium rare burger?  No thank you.

 The burger was nothing spectacular, but it was a good, solid burger that satisfied my craving.
Palm Pavilion
After my nap on the beach, I know...such a tough life, I made my way back home and the Crossfitters and I headed out for happy hour and dinner.  Happy hour was at Palm Pavilion:  this cute beach shack literally on the beach.  There was live music and a great atmosphere.  I'd definitely recommend grabbing a drink or two there.

 My very yummy strawberry margarita.

Bobby's Bistro
After our margaritas, we made our way to Bobby's Bistro for dinner.  A nice restaurant, we had a great server and the food was yummy.  Just be careful, it's in the red light district of Clearwater Beach.  Just joking.  I didn't notice it when I was taking the photos, but I guess the lighting in the restaurant had a red tinge to it, so all of the photos are red.

Half Rack "JamAsian" Baby Back Ribs ($9): Jamaican jerk and Asian spice give this Bistro baby back its mulicultured flavour.  Served with a refreshing dipping sauce.  When this "half rack" came out, I just about fell off my chair.  It was massive!  The best part was that the meat literally fell off the bone.  Very yummy. 

Sherry Garlic Sizzling Shrimp ($11): lightly sautéed with sherry and fresh garlic.  These shrimp were fresh and the sauce was amazing.  All three of us took turns licking the plate to ensure that none of the sauce went to waste.  Okay, okay...we may have used our bread to sop it up.

Bobby's Special of the Day: Seafood Pasta.  Fettucine, a light white-wine sauce, spinach, tomatoes, scrumptious cheese, mussels, clams and every other type of seafood you can imagine.  This definitely hit the spot.  I especially liked the sauce.  It had a lot of flavour but wasn't too heavy.
Mr. Crossfit's Giant Char Grilled Pork Chop served with caramelized Granny Smith apples and Mt. Vernon mustard sauce ($14).  As you can clearly see, the Giant pork chop most definitely lived up to its name.  I've never seen a pork chop that big!  It took some convincing to get me to try it (who knew you could also order your pork chop medium?!), but Mr. Crossfit found me a fully cooked portion on the outer edge and boy was I happy I tried it.  It was the juiciest, most flavourful pork chop I have ever eaten.  Hands down the best dish of the night.  It even rivalled the food at Island Way Grill.
Mrs. Crossfit's Grilled Chicken Campeche ($10): chili rubbed char-grilled chicken slices, torn greens, avocados, black bean salsa, bell peppers, broken tortillas and honey lemon jalapeno dressing.  This looked very yummy and Mrs. Crossfit said she thoroughly enjoyed it.

Our side of steamed asparagus with parmesan cheese on top.  Asparagus has to be one of my favourite veggies.  You can just never go wrong with it.  Now, if only it didn't make your pee smell so funny!

Chocolate Sin ($4): Belgian chocolate mousse cake, chocolate ganache and walnuts.  This chocolate cake was out of control.  It literally flowed out like lava out of a volcano!
When it came to dessert time, I was 100% completely full.  But, when our server said they had pumpkin pie...I officially concluded it was time to take one for the team, so I unlocked the compartment to my hollow leg.  Home-made crust, creamy pumpkin pie filling and cinnamon whipped cream...I was literally floating on clouds in heaven!
If you're in Clearwater Beach, this is definitely a good option for dinner.  Just make sure to go to the Bistro side of the restaurant.  Word on the street is the other side is a bit more uppity and doesn't make for as enjoyable an experience.

Guppy's on the Beach
On my last and final day...sniff, sniff...I started off the day by watching Mr. and Mrs. Crossfit's crossfit workout, which promptly made me very happy that I was still on vacation.  After their session, they kindly took the rest of the day off and we headed off on our road adventure.  We drove all the way down to the bottom of the Island via the mainland, then popped across onto the Island and made our way up it from St. Pete's all the way to Clearwater Beach.  It was such a lovely way to spend the afternoon.  The beachtowns were all so cute and quaint!  We all got the nibblies around Indian Rocks Beach, so we stopped at one of Mr. and Mrs. Crossfit's favourites: Guppy's.

If you like the looks of this coaster now, imagine the most delicious Mango Rita you've ever had standing on top of it...looks a bit better doesn't it!  And, in case you're like me and didn't know what a Mango Rita was, it's a Mango Margarita with tequila, lime, fresh mango and mango nectar for $7.50.  Needless to say, our happy hour got earlier and earlier, day by day.

Lobster bisque: Homemade, thick and rich, dressed with fresh cream, and lobster meat ($5.50).  This lobster bisque was amazing.  I took my first bite and my body was so happy with what I was feeding it that I literally felt it relax.  However, the portion was massive!!!  Everyone had made fun of me when I ordered a cup instead of a bowl, so I figured the cup would be really tiny so I changed my order to a bowl.  What they failed to tell me was that an American bowl of soup is like two Canadian bowls of soup!  I'm not going to lie, though, I licked my bowl clean.  It was well worth the stomach expansion.

Mr. Crossfit's Fresh Grouper Tacos: fresh grouper grilled, on top of warm flour tortillas with pico de gallo, shredded lettuce, adobo aioli and fresh lime ($14.95).  They looked delicious!

My Bronzed Grouper Sandwich ($13.95).  I had also never heard of grouper before visiting Clearwater but it was everywhere!  I knew I had to try a Grouper sandwich before I left, so I figured this was as good a time as any.  The fish itself was white, moist, flavourful and meaty.  I thoroughly enjoyed it.  I also discovered that anywhere you can order something "blackened" you can normally get it "bronzed" as well, which means half-way inbetween grilled and blackened.  Definitely a yummy lunch.
Mrs. Crossfit's Lost Tuna: black-n-blue yellowfin tuna sashimi, with pickled ginger, wasabi & a drizzle of toasted sesame soy glaze ($10.50).
There's no better way to enjoy good food and good drinks than on a patio in the sun.  Guppy's definitely has this mastered.   
Island Way Grill - Round 2
I couldn't handle the thought of leaving Clearwater Beach without another one of Island Way's scrumptious Tito lemonades, so we headed back to Island Way for our last happy hour together.  We were all pretty full after our late lunch, so we just ate some appies at Island Way.

  Salted Edamame ($5).  Yummy as always.

Jalapeno Conch Fritters with island sweet chili dipping sauce ($9).  These were interesting.  They had the same consistency and texture as hot off the presses doughnut holes at the fair, but they were savoury instead of sweet and had little bits of fish in them.  Yummy.  That being said, I would eat them again but I wouldn't go out of my way to order them again.
We also ordered Frankie's Tuna, a tempura roll of tuna, kani-kama, cream cheese and vegetables ($15), which I forgot to take a photo of.  It was a good sushi roll, but I thought the price was a bit steep for what it was.  I'd definitely order the sashimi salad or hamachi before I ordered the Frankie's Tuna.

And, have no fear, my Tito's Lemonade did not let me down.  Delicious as always!

Breakfast in Chicago

 My flight out of Tampa was far too early, so I ended up grabbing a second breakfast during my layover in Chicago.  I discovered Starbucks Perfect Oatmeal this past summer and it's quickly become one of my favourite on the road breakfasts.  My favourite part is the separate bags of almond slivers, cranberries, raisins and brown sugar.  That way you can make it to your liking.  For $3 it's one of the healthiest and quickest on the go breakfasts that I've managed to find.

Snacks on the plane
Due to the odd hour that I woke up, I got some fierce nibblies on my flight from Chicago to Vancouver.  I was flying United Airlines, so I ordered their Asian Noodle Salad with chicken ($5) and the Tapas snack pack ($10).  The Asian Noodle salad was surprisingly tasty, fresh and yummy.  I'd definitely order it again.  However, it's more of a snack size than a meal size.  Hence, the need for the Tapas snack pack, which I was thoroughly impressed by.  It included a bag of plain pita chips, two different little packets of crackers, a container of hummus (at least 1/2 cup of natural, no preservative hummus), an asiago cheese spread (I wasn't a fan of this...barely ate any of it), bruschetta style salsa (good flavours and was refreshing), a bag of green olives (about 10 of them...they were delicious!) and a bag of chocolate covered blueberries and acai berries that were scrumptious. 

To be honest, I wasn't expecting much of the plane food that I ordered.  Don't get me wrong, it wasn't mind-blowingly amazing, but it surprised me enough to want to include it here.  I'd definitely order both again.

All-in-all my time in Clearwater Beach was utterly brilliant!  My only regret is not taking a picture of Mr. Crossfit's gourmet cheese boards.  Every night when we came home from happy hour, he'd make up a cheeseboard that made Mrs. Crossfit and I drool, then we'd cuddle with the doggies by candlelight and enjoy the cheese board with a scrumptious glass of wine.  It was lovely.
To the Crossfits, thank you so much for being such great hosts, for all the catching up and for all of the fun and laughter.  Great big hugs to you both!
'Til next time Clearwater Beach!


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