Sunday, July 22, 2012

California Tacos to go

I love Mexican food when it's done right. Here in Tampa we've got a few good Mexican places. I'll certainly tell you more about a couple of my other favorites like Vallartas and the magic that is Molcajete, or the famous Taco Bus in future posts, but this one is all about a place my brother Matt first turned me on to, California Tacos to go.

First of all, you know you're doing something right if you get Guy Fieri to show up to record an episode of Diner's Drive-Ins and Dives as both California Tacos to go and the Taco Bus both have. As much as a visit from Guy Fieri is a great thing for any restaurant, what really sold me on this joint was a group of devoted foodies on a rainy day in Tampa. I was driving through a rain storm one afternoon and as I got close to California Tacos it dawned on me that a day of rain must be absolutely devastating to a place like California Tacos to go, which features no indoor seeting. Thoughts like, "I'd probably just close up shop" were creeping through my mind when I looked over and saw probably close to 15 people outside, huddled under umbrellas, waiting through a strong rain, for their California Tacos to go. Sure, having food good enough to bring out the Food Network is a massive sign that you're slinging some good food around, but to me, having the guy who can be there any day of the week, waiting outside in the rain to get their fix, is even more impressive.

Knowing my love of food and trying new and unique stuff, my brother one day asked me if I had been to California Tacos to go. Not only had I not been, I somehow hadn't even heard of it. (Shame on you if you knew and didn't tell me) He had my attention right away when he began to describe the California Burrito. His description, was short and sweet. It's basically a massive burrito you can get with beef or chicken,  (and I later learned pork!) oh, and they put french fries in it. What? Yea, french fries in the burrito. In my expert culinary opinion, I'll just say, it's fantastic.

If you're not new to this blog, you know I'm very excited to have recently started working at the #1 sports talk radio station in Tampa, 620WDAE The Sports Animal. On my second day at the Animal I decided to celebrate by taking the long way home, and hitting California Tacos to go. I was not disappointed. Some people celebrate with cigars or champagne, but I cuddled up next to a California Burrito, big enough to defend yourself with if mugged. You can get chicken or beef, which I'm sure are fantastic, but I went with the carnita pork. A warning, if you're expecting a shredded pulled pork like experience, don't! This pork is in small pieces and almost crunchy. It's very different, but very delicious. Don't be afraid to get it!

After my California Burrito experience was so good, I had to take my wife to try the California Tacos for herself. The California Burritos are fantastic, but I found my favorite item (so far) on their menu upon my second visit. I saw the Diners Drive-Ins and Dives episode above after my first visit and immediately knew I had to try the fish tacos that Guy had during the episode. Why? Because they just can't look as good in person, when you're just a regular customer, than it did on the show. Right? Wrong.

Just about everything you see on TV looks a lot bigger and more delicious than anything you experience when you arrive at a restaurant. I mean everything. From fast food to fine dining, nothing ever lives up to what you'll see on a commercial or Food Network show. That is, nothing, except the fish tacos at CTTG. I should have started the CTTG thing earlier. Anyhow, my experience with fish tacos is, no matter how good they are, they're all kind of small. Well not here. I ordered three to be sure I'd be full. Well, I was full after one. Yes,  one fish taco. For any taco, this would be enormous. For a fish taco, it was even more surprising.

I know what you're thinking, great a huge fish taco. Well the size isn't the best part. Everything is. This is, the perfect fish taco. First, the fish is grouper so they aren't just putting anything on that taco. Then, the best part is, with all of the stuff they put on top of the grouper, it stays amazingly crispy, because they do fry the fish tempura style. As I mentioned above, I was full after one of the three tacos I ordered. I took the other 2 home and ate them nearly an hour later. Still freaking crispy. If you like fish tacos, I demand you try these. Don't look at me like that. Because, because I said so. Now just do it or go to your room. I couldn't tell you everything they put on top of the grouper, only that it works. All of it. There are so many flavors bouncing around your mouth from the first bite of this magic little taco, I mean, magic enormous taco, and every one of them work.

I don't have a rating system. Who knows, maybe one day I will. For now, I'll just say, try California Tacos to go, and thank me later!

If you read this article, be sure to read the one below it and learn about Best of Tampa. It's gonna be super awesome. Seriously. Honest, I mean it. OK, off to produce some morning radio! Be good kids.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Help Out A Monstah And Get Some Great Grub

After moving here, one of the few things I didn't like about Tampa was that it was far too hard to find good shellfish here. Well, it was, until I met Allen "Monstah Lobstah" Berube. Allen has been serving the best Maine lobster and other great seafood for years in Tampa. Unfortunately for all of us, but mostly for him, he's kind of between locations right now. A while back Monstah Lobstah moved from it's Dale Mabry location to a nice spot on Platt in Hyde Park. Unfortunately, much to Allen's surprise, his landlord wasn't a big fan of paying his mortgage, and the building was foreclosed on, forcing the Monstah out, without notice.

Until Monstah Lobstah finds a new location Allen will be focusing on catering, and serving his amazing lobster rolls and more, at a couple of unique locations. Lobster probably isn't the first thing that comes to mind when catering a party, but I think you should give it a shot. Not only would you be helping a great guy, but you might just find yourself having more fun, if you're busting up some lobster claws and tails, instead of just putting down a couple boring ham and cheese sandwiches, or deviled eggs. If you're interested in having Monstah Lobstah cater an upcoming event, you can call Allen at (813)532-6090. This is a great opportunity for you. Be forever remembered as the one who's party was awesome enough to have the most delicious Maine lobster, and help a guy who's raising two young kids, who's been unfairly put in a very tough spot. DO IT!

Outside of the catering, there are a couple other ways you can get your hands on some Monstah Lobstah. As a matter of fact, if you're thinking of catering, you could always hit one of these events first, to get a taste of the magic Allen brings in from Maine. It's awesome to see our community come together and to see businesses step up to help one another. Every Tuesday night you can find Monstah Lobstah food being served at The Retreat (123 south Hyde park avenue) from 6-9. Four Green Fields (205 W Platt St) will also be serving Monstah Lobstah fair on Thursday nights from 6-9. How often can you do a good deed by going out and enjoying mouth watering, butter soaked nuggets of lobster gold? Not often, so do yourself a favor, and get yourself some Monstah Lobstah and walk away feeling like a philanthropist. Win, freaking, win. 

I'll leave you with one final challenge. If you think you're not just a philanthropist, but a damn good competitive eater, I've got a challenge I know you can't defeat. I tried it myself, and failed miserably, but if you think you have what it takes, call Allen and see if you can take on the Monstah Losbtah challenge at either of these locations. The Monstah Lobstah challenge consists of eating a massive lobster roll, loaded with two pounds of lobster meat. Now, I'm sure you're sitting there (as I did) thinking, that's no problem. Perhaps you could finish the whole thing, as I'm pretty sure I could. But the challenge is only defeated, if you can eat the beautiful monstrosity in record time! That's right, not only do you have to take down this bad boy. You've got to take it down, in under 10 minutes, 39 seconds. Check out the video of me being defeated by the Monstah Lobstah challenge below.

Check out my 620 WDAE sports blog and Animal on the Street Podcast
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Saturday, June 23, 2012

Introducing The Greatest Wings On The Planet

I know what you're thinking. This guy hasn't had every kind of chicken wing on the planet. Well you're right. However, until you show up at my door step, or at my radio station with better wings for Darek Sharp and I, shut up. Ever since my boy Eric told me to try them, I've been telling anyone who would listen about these amazing wings I was calling Abomination Wings. Well, apparently the wings aren't called Abomination Wings at all.  Because these wings are a variation of their "Freedom Wings" The Power Play Grill actually calls these beauties "Obama Nation Wings."
Let me just say, I honestly couldn't care less about your political beliefs. As a sports talk radio guy, I care about two things, sports and food. I'm not a moron, and I do follow politics, but the fact of the matter is, I'd like all of you left wing lunatics, and all of you right wing lunatics, to listen to my opinions on food and sports. So please, for the love of sports, if you're going to comment on this article, don't let it be about politics, regardless of the name of these wings. I'm sorry I had to start this blog with a disclaimer, but I'm trying to save you normal food and sports loving folks from this thing getting all douchey!

If you were smart enough, or lucky enough to be listening to The Sharp Edge with Darek Sharp last weekend, you heard him and I talking a little bit about food, when I decided to tell him about the greatest damn wings I've ever had in my life! I'm not sure Darek was convinced, but he did say he'd give them a shot, since like myself, Darek likes himself some good grub as well.

Much to Darek and my surprise, he didn't have to wait long! This afternoon I answered the phone to what I thought would be another caller with a sports opinion. As much as I love our callers at the Sports Animal, I must admit, I was excited to learn that wasn't the case. When "the caller" gave me his name, I asked him what he called to talk about. "I got the wings from the Brandon Ice Sports Forum" he said. My first thought was, oh cool, another of our listeners went to try out the wings. Then I asked the next question I always ask our callers. Where are you calling from. "I'm in the parking lot." This wasn't a caller, calling to tell me he had tried the wings, this was Brent and Cardie from the Power Play Grill at the Brandon Ice Sports Forum, in our parking lot, bringing us wings! Talk about an awesome surprise on a Saturday afternoon.

Once, when ordering the wings I asked for the recipe so I could try to duplicate these at home. They came out OK, but when I tell you what's on them, don't think you can just do them at home. You can't. These wings are part mild buffalo sauce, part jerk sauce, and part sweet BBQ sauce, topped with garlic and Parmesan, (The Freedom wings are the same, minus the Parmesan and garlic) and just unbelievably delicious. The Power Play Grill has some good stuff on the menu. Their cheese filled "Bosco Sticks" are very good and the deep fried steak and cheese wrap was fantastic also, but I haven't ordered anything else (I used to be there every Friday) on the menu since trying the "Obama Nation Wings."
I want to be clear that the Brandon Ice Sports Forum and the Power Play Grill are not paid sponsors of 620 WDAE so this isn't a plug. Until they showed up at the station today, I've never gotten free wings there, (OK once, but a customer bought them for me after I turned him onto the wings!) or anything else for talking about these wings. They're just that damn good.

For the next week (but hey give it a shot after that just to see if it works right) if you go to the Power Play Grill and get an order of "Freedom" or "Obama Nation" wings, and tell them you heard it from Pat Donovan and Darek Sharp from 620 WDAE The Sports Animal, they'll toss in a free beer. Yea, that's right, I just told you about some great damn chicken wings, and got you a free beer. You're Welcome.  Oh yeah, since I just did you that favor, maybe tell them they should re-name the wings after me. After all, I'm pretty sure I've sold more orders of "Obama Nation Wings" than anyone who actually works there! What can I say, I'm hooked!

Check out my 620 WDAE sports blog and Animal on the Street podcast
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Sunday, June 17, 2012

Chocolate Covered Peanut Butter Bacon Bars

Every now and then you come across something so good you need to share it. The other night I came home to find that my wife had made me these little beauties. I've heard very mixed reviews when it comes to chocolate covered bacon, so I wasn't quite sure I was going to like these. Well I do. Bravo to Betty Crocker for this wonderful concoction. Earlier today I mentioned how thankful I was for spell check after writing my sports blog. Well, I guarantee you I spelled concoction wrong before I used spell check on this article! You know, I really wish their was a spell check feature on Twitter or for my Facebook Fan Page! OK, when you're done clicking on the fun links make sure you make you make these, because they are freaking amazing. 

Monday, June 11, 2012

Whether you call it gravy or sauce, this is a good one.

I tend to be very modest, except when it comes to my spaghetti sauce. When it comes to sauce, well, mine is the best I've ever had. Given that I think it's the best, you'd think I'd want to keep my process a secret. The fact is though, I want to be a broadcaster, and a damn good spaghetti sauce is never gonna help me advance as a sportscaster. Actually, hold on while I go find out if my program director is into pasta!

Ok, let's get down to business. When it comes to making a great sauce the most important ingredient is time. I don't even consider making a sauce unless I have at least 6 hours to cook it. I typically only make sauce when I have the whole day to devote to it. If you're looking for a great vegetarian sauce,'re gonna have to find it on your own. This is a story of a sauce loaded with meat. I mean, so much meat, you can stick a large wooden spoon in the middle of the pan, and it will stand straight up.

Making a great sauce is simple and doesn't require a million ingredients. I'm sure you can go to a website where someone who's actually been trained to cook can give you a recipe loaded with oregano, bay leaves, and all kinds of other crap. Not this guy, I don't need any of that. By the end of this article, you'll know how to make a sauce that will blow any pasta lover away with nothing more than meat, crushed tomatoes, tomato paste, garlic and garlic and onion salts.

You're gonna need a big pot because this is a large recipe. You could scale it down, but why not make a huge pot when it's just as good the day after than it is the day you make it. Plus, once you make a sauce this good, you're gonna want to share it. So go get your big pot already!

Put the pot on medium heat and add a little olive oil. Crush a few cloves of fresh garlic with the flat side of a large knife. Rachel Ray taught me that. You can chop it and leave it in the pot if you'd like, but I leave the cloves whole and just crush them to let out the oils. I leave the garlic in the pan while browning the whole meats, and remove it before adding the ground beef.

You may notice linguica in one or two of these photos, but my sauce is almost always, sweet and hot Italian sausage, chicken (boneless because I'm lazy) and ground beef. Once the oil is hot and ready, begin to brown the sausage and chicken. Just get it some color on all sides to help hold it the flavors. After browning the sausage and chicken (you'll likely need to do them separately because of room)remove them from the pot.Then remove (unless you've chopped it and are keeping it in) the garlic cloves and add the ground beef.

Once the ground beef is browned through add the previously browned chicken and sausage back into the pan. I don't measure anything, so as far as how much of this stuff to use, it's up to you. I typically will have a package (5) of hot and a package of sweet Italian sausage, 3 or 4 boneless chicken breasts, and about a pound of ground beef. Depending on just how large your meat mass is, and how thick you want the sauce, you're gonna need 2 or 3 cans of crushed tomatoes.

Add the crushed tomatoes to the pan and then a can (or two if you want, I never use more than one) of tomato paste to thicken it up a little. You may find you don't need it thicker. I make a sauce so thick you can't get it to stay on spaghetti. I use penne every time so it can hold the thick sauce.

Once everything is happily in the pot together I leave the heat on medium until I know it's all hot and I've stirred it enough for all the paste to be mixed in. Then I turn the heat to low and other than stirring it every 15 minutes or so, I don't touch or season the sauce for at least 3 hours.

After 3 hours add onion salt, garlic salt and pepper to taste. For me, pepper to taste, is lots of freaking pepper. Once it's seasoned to taste, just continue to stir regularly (nothing worse than a burnt sauce) until you're tired of stirring. Like I mentioned above, I never make a sauce if I can't cook it for at least 6 hours, but you don't have to cook it as long as I do.

You'll notice that the longer you cook the sauce, the more the chicken will begin to break apart. I use the spoon to find the bigger pieces of chicken and break them apart as well. By the time your sauce is done the chicken will be completely shredded through the sauce, leaving the sausages as the only whole pieces of meat in your sauce. The shredded chicken and ground beef will only add to the thickness of the sauce. Seriously, don't use spaghetti! This sauce need a pasta with some backbone,

When done, enjoy the best freaking sauce you've ever made! I told you, I'm modest, but not about my sauce.
Chipotle Chicken And Jalapeno Scrambled Eggs with Swiss and 3 Pepper Jack Cheeses

I'm pretty creative, and fat. That leads to some interesting things going down in the kitchen. Sometimes it leads to an entire meal in the trash, but it often leads to things that taste pretty damn good. Someday I'll share my accidental chicken and black bean magic, but today it's another meal that falls into the category of accidentally awesome. 

I'll often just hit the fridge and start looking through whatever I have and randomly deciding on things that I think will taste good together. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't, and sometimes magic happens. If you like spicy, you'll likely agree this one ended up pretty awesome.

In the picture is a pretty damn simple scrambled eggs. A lot of people add milk or water to scrambled eggs, personally I don't get it. I guess it makes the eggs lighter or something, but as I've mentioned I'm no pro. I leave the water and or milk out and just scramble eggs in butter with whatever ingredients I want to include.

In the eggs there's the new Boar's Head Chipotle Chicken, the new Boar's Head 3 Pepper Colby Jack and a basic aged Swiss. If you'd rather use an amazing Swiss, for me, nothing compares to Boar's Head's Gold Label Swiss. Other than those meats and cheeses, all there is on that plate is 4 eggs and some jalapenos from my mom's garden. Although, I should probably call it my step dad's garden since he does all the work! I often use pepper in my eggs, but I didn't think it was necessary this time. I never add salt. While I'm untrained and slightly stupid, I'm a pretty damn good cook, and I never use salt. Don't ask me why, I just don't usually find I need it.

Let me know if you try this or any of my recipes or suggested restaurants. Also if you're a sports fan, check out my podcast and sports blog for 620 WDAE, the Animal on the Street and make sure to follow me on Twitter for all my random thoughts on sports food or whatever else pops into my noggin.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Check out my new page over at 620 WDAE. Here we'll house my podcast, The Animal on The Street, where I talk to Tampa sports fans.

Animal On The Street - 620 WDAE - The Sports Animal