Harry’s Seafood, Bar & Grille, St. Augustine, Florida, February 4, 2017

Yet more birthday celebrating in St. Augustine. A day or two before we headed down to St. Augustine, ConnieLou found out that our friends, Robbie and Dottie, were going to be in town too so we took advantage of the opportunity to get together for supper. ConnieLou and Dottie were close friends in middle school and high school. Robbie and Dottie live about thirty minutes away from us. We try to get together every now and then but we haven’t been very good about it lately so we all thought it was sort of funny when we made plans to get together somewhere six hours from home.

A couple of weeks ago Jenna told us about a new restaurant that had opened on St. George Street called Prohibition Kitchen. She’s been there once and said she enjoyed it. We looked over the menu and decided that it would be worth checking out so we planned to meet Robbie and Dottie there around 7:00 for supper…on Saturday night. OK, you probably know where this is going…new restaurant, prime time, Saturday night…yep, we were gonna have a wait. What we didn’t expect was that it was going to be a three hour wait. Needless to say we decided to shift and adjust.

Jenna told us that some of her friends at Flagler had mentioned that nearby seafood restaurant called ‘Harry’s’ was pretty good. ConnieLou gave Harry’s a call, got us on the seating list and found out that the wait there was a much more tolerable 45 minutes. About that time Robbie and Dottie walked up, Connielou explained the situation and we started walking over to Harrys which was only a couple of blocks away. Harry’s Seafood, Bar & Grille, as it’s properly named, is part of a local chain with five locations including the St. Augustine location and is described as “A New Orleans Style Restaurant”.

Once we were seated we ordered our drinks and looked over the menu. Yeah, we could have been looking the menu over while we were we were waiting but hey, we were having a good time catching up. As usual, there were way too many dishes that sounded really good but as often happens, one stuck out to me…Shrimp and Grits. I’m a sucker for shrimp and grits. ConnieLou decided on Chicken and Grits and Jenna chose Shrimp and Crawfish Pot Pie. Robbie and Dottie ordered the Blackened Chicken with a side of Grits and the Fresh Market Pasta.

With our orders placed we resumed catching up. Yep, more catching up…I said it’s been a while since we got together, right? Once our plates arrived our table got strangely quiet…like our selections were really good and eating was more important than talking quiet. OK, maybe we weren’t all that quiet but the food was quite good. We all decided that we had room for desert so slices of key lime pie and pecan pie were ordered along with an order of bananas foster bread pudding…none of which lasted very long. After dessert and some more catching up we paid our check and waddled out to go our separate ways.

So how did Harry’s rate on the Thumbs Scale? They got an easy ten out of a possible ten. Harry’s definitely made our St. Augustine repeat list but there are so many places to try in town that it’s hard to say when we’ll make it back…but I’m pretty sure we will. Someday.

The Cuban Cafe & Bakery, St. Augustine, Florida, February 4, 2017

The birthday celebrations continue. ConnieLou’s birthday was week before last and mine is next week. With the two being only 18 days apart we usually end up celebrating with friends and family for at least a month. With Ashley and Jenna in school at different colleges several hours apart, it didn’t work out this year that we were able to get all of us together in the same place at the same time. We spent some time last weekend in Athens with Ashley then headed to St. Augustine to spend some time with Jenna.

This is our first trip to St. Augustine that our schedule hasn’t been, at least in part, dictated by a schedule of events so we got to spend our time just being tourists and doing tourist stuff. We spent the morning checking out the old Spanish fort, the Castillo de San Marcos, and then checked out a few of the shops along St. George Street. Lunchtime rolled around and before we could get our usual ‘where do we want to go for lunch’ non-debate going, ConnieLou said “Hey, how close are we to that place Robby told you about?” The place she was referring to was The Cuban Café & Bakery. My buddy, Robby Richardson, and his wife Kim have been recommending this place and raving about it since I first mentioned that we were heading to St. Augustine to take Jenna for a campus visit at Flagler College a little over a year ago. It’s been on our list of places to try but we just haven’t managed to be in the right place, in the right mood, at the right time…until now.

The Cuban Café & Bakery is a tiny place, as many of the restaurants in St. Augustine’s historic district are. There is a service counter, a small prep/kitchen area and eight, maybe ten tables.

ConnieLou and Jenna placed our orders while I occupied the last open table. I decided on a classic Cuban sandwich, ConnieLou and Jenna opted for the hot ham & cheese sandwich and we split an order of fried plantains.

It took a little time for our order to arrive but after walking around most of the morning we didn’t complain too much about having as few minutes to sit. We also weren’t complaining when our sandwiches and plantains arrived piping hot. My sandwich was as good as any Cuban sandwich I’ve had before and ConnieLou and Jenna didn’t seem to be complaining about their hot ham & cheeses. The plantains were quite tasty too.

So how did The Cuban Café & Bakery rate on the Thumbs Scale? We gave it six out of a possible six despite having to wait a bit on our orders…yeah, it was that good and yeah, we’ll be back.

Many thanks to Robby and Kim for the recommendation!

Amici, Greensboro-Lake Oconee, Georgia, January 27, 2017

I have to make a trip out to a jobsite near Lake Oconee once a month for work. Most of the time I try to make the trip on a Friday because I get started early so I can finish up early and extend the weekend by a few hours. Last Friday was my day to make the trip and it also happened to be ConnieLou’s birthday. We usually celebrate birthdays by going out to eat with the girls but since Ashley is in school in Athens and Jenna is in St. Augustine and it wasn’t a long weekend for ether of them, getting all of us together at one time just wasn’t going to happen. We’d already planned to take a long weekend and go to St. Augustine next weekend so I suggested to ConnieLou that she take the day off, ride to my jobsite with me, and then we’d swing up to Athens to spend a little time and have dinner with Ashley.

Even though we were running a little behind because of having to make an unplanned side-trip to the office before heading to my jobsite, I was still finished with work by about 12:30 and it was time to find some lunch. We were going through our usual ‘where to eat’ debate when I remembered Amici, an eatery in the little shopping plaza near my jobsite. I’ve been there a few times before and knew it was good so I suggested it to ConnieLou. She thought it sounded pretty good so that’s where we ended up.

Amici is an ‘Italian café’ that wants to be a sports bar or a sports bar that wants to be an Italian café, depending on your perspective and there are seven locations generally situated in east-central Georgia . Their menu includes pizza, calzones, stromboli’s, pasta dishes and salads as well as burgers, sandwiches and wings.

We grabbed a table, checked out the menu and somehow both of us managed to order the Philly Cheese Sub (thinly sliced steak with onions, mushrooms, green peppers and provolone), fries and a Coke. We were there after the lunch crush and our orders were out quickly and piping hot. I don’t know that many would consider the sandwiches true Philly Cheese Steaks but they were darn good nonetheless. And the fries…well, the fries seemed to be fresh cut rather than frozen, which is always a good thing.

So how did Amici fare on the Thumbs Scale? We both gave them two thumbs-up for a total of four out of a possible four…no deductions for frozen fries here! I have to admit, I’ve eaten at this Amici location before. I’ve enjoyed their burgers and buffalo chicken sandwiches so I had a pretty good idea what was in store. Needless to say, we’ll be back.

If the Greensboro-Lake Oconee location isn’t convenient, try one of the other locations in Athens, Conyers, Covington, Madison, Milledgeville and Monroe.

Christy Lee’s Courtyard Grille, Blue Ridge, Georgia, October 1, 2016

Saturday was me and ConnieLou’s 28th anniversary and our first anniversary as empty nesters. Most years we’ve kept things simple and just exchanged gifts and went out somewhere for supper. This year we decided to get out of the house and go do something different. We batted around a few different ideas but finally settled on taking a ride on the Blue Ridge Scenic Railway from Blue Ridge, Georgia to McCaysville, Georgia/Copperhill, Tennessee and back. I bought tickets for the afternoon trip so we would have time to have lunch somewhere in Blue Ridge then spend some time piddlin’ around town before it was time to board the train…or so we thought.

During the drive up, ConnieLou did some internet searching for a restaurant for lunch. We finally narrowed it down to a place called Christy Lee’s Courtyard Grille. I dropped ConnieLou off across the street from the restaurant and went to find a place to park…not an easy task on a beautiful fall morning in Blue Ridge.

Once at the restaurant we stepped up to the hostess’ stand. Shortly a girl came out and asked us how many there were in our party. We told her two and without any acknowledgement, she picked up a few menus and a wine list and headed toward the door. When she turned and looked at us I told ConnieLou “I think we’re supposed to follow her.” No ‘please follow me’, no ‘please come this way’, not even a curt ‘follow me’…nothing…just walked to the door and assumed we’d be hot on her tail. It sort of set the tone for the rest of our experience with Christy Lee’s.

Once seated we waited on our server…and we waited, and waited and then waited a little more. Once our server finally visited us we placed our drink orders and also ordered our entrée’s…which I think threw her for a little bit of a loop but hey, we had a train to catch.

ConnieLou ordered the Angus Burger and fries. The burger was described as ‘a half-pound angus burger with spring mix, tomato and onions’. I ordered the Prime Rib Sliders and fries. The prime rib sliders were described as ‘house favorite slow roasted prime rib, mozzarella and au jus’. Our drinks arrived shortly then we waited, and waited and waited a while longer before our orders arrived. Had the restaurant been crowded, I might have been able to understand the wait, but the lunch rush had passed and there were more empty tables than occupied tables.  ConnieLou mentioned that there was a sign on the wall outside that stated “This is NOT a fast food restaurant.” Apparently they meant it and were going to milk it for all it was worth.

Our food (finally) arrived. The ‘spring mix’ on ConnieLou’s burger turned out to be a small mountain of arugula lettuce. My sliders turned out to be two smallish rolls, split down the top with a small amount of overcooked prime rib covered with melted mozzarella in each. Worth the $13.99 they were charging for it? Nope. So how was it? Mine wasn’t great but wasn’t flat out bad. ConnieLou said her burger was pretty good. She gave me a bite and I have to agree. And the fries…frozen, not fresh cut. Somehow I expected that.

So how did Christy Lee’s fare on the Thumbs Scale? They earned a grand total of one thumb out of a possible four. ConnieLou gave them a thumb because her burger was actually pretty good. Between the fries, the wait and being generally unimpressed with my overpriced meal, I really couldn’t find a good reason to give them a thumb or even a partial thumb. Fortunately I didn’t decide things were bad enough to get into thumbs down territory. We haven’t had terribly good luck with the trendy restaurants in Blue Ridge. Maybe we should just stick with the barbeque joints out on the edge of town.

Fresh Air Barbeque, Jackson, Georgia, September 30, 2016

When you’re driving state highways through central Georgia and you come across a barbeque joint whose sign indicates they’ve been in business since 1929 and the building looks like it’s had at least three or four additions, do you:

A. Pass on by and go home and eat leftovers for lunch;
B. Pass on by and hit the McD’s in town; or
C. Slam on the brakes, cut the wheel hard and skid to a stop in the gravel parking lot?

Hopefully you answered C. If not you probably should stop reading now and go on to McD’s…

OK, I didn’t exactly just come across Fresh Air Barbeque. I had some work to do out near Lake Oconee early in the morning and then some work at another location near Jackson around lunchtime. It’s not like I planned it that way or anything. Nope, not at all.

OK, so maybe I did…

Fresh Air Barbeque is a Georgia landmark and is claimed by many to serve some of the best, if not the best barbeque in Georgia.

I really can’t disagree.

When I stepped out of the truck I was greeted by the sweet aroma of hickory smoke and cooking pork. With a little luck that’s what Heaven will smell like. I could have sat out in the parking lot and just inhaled the aroma…but there was chopped pork and Brunswick stew to be eaten and it was calling to me.

Unless you’re ordering a la carte, ordering at Fresh Air is fairly simple as there are three ‘platters to choose from, chopped pork and Brunswick stew, chopped pork, Brunswick stew and cole slaw, and two chopped pork sandwiches. Simple, right? I ordered the chopped pork and stew plate and a Coke and my order was ready in the amount of time it took to fill my drink cup and for the folks at the counter to ladle up a cup of stew.

Once I sat down at my table I noticed right away that the consistency of the stew was a fine grind and exactly to my liking. I’m sorry, I just don’t care for chunky Brunswick stew. I took a taste, added a generous squirt of their vinegar/tomato based sauce and my cup of stew was just about as close to perfect as it can get.

A few words about their sauces… They have two to choose from, their original vinegar/tomato sauce and a spicier version. Normally I like things on the spicy side but the original sauce had a little kick to it and, again, was just about perfect in my book.

About the pork… Many moons ago the subdivision we lived in had a Labor Day barbeque (or maybe it was Fourth of July…doesn’t really matter) and my dad was the pitmaster…not because he made excellent barbeque (which he did) but because he was the only one in the subdivision that knew what the heck to do with a hog, a couple of pieces of rebar, some chicken wire, a bunch of concrete blocks, a stack of split hickory, a shovel, a mop and a bucket of salty brine. My dad would build the pit and start the fire before dark and build up a good bed of coals, once the coals were going good they’d be shoveled into the pit and the pig, suspended by the chicken wire and rebar, would be placed over the coals for a long slow overnight cook. Of course Pop and a few others would stay up all night tending the fire, shoveling coals and mopping the pig down with the brine. By late morning the pig was done and ready to chop and serve for lunch. Once finished the meet was sweet, smoky and just a little bit salty…and dang was it ever good. When I put the first bite of Fresh air’s in my mouth without any sauce I had a major flashback to those subdivision picnics and the que that Pop made.

So how did Fresh Air fare on the Thumbs Scale? I gave it two thumbs up…and threw in the rest of my fingers and toes and…errr, we’ll just stop there. Yeah, it was that good. Don’t believe me? Bypass McD’s and go try it for yourself. You can thank me later.

Aunt Kate’s, St. Augustine, Florida, August 19, 2016

It was move-in day for the new freshman class at Flagler College. Since we have a nearly six hour drive, OK, make it seven-plus if you count a stop to eat, a stop for gas and a pit stop, we headed down a day early. Once settled into our hotel room we began the usual search and debate about where to go to eat. We finally settled on Aunt Kate’s across the Tolomato River up in Vilano Beach.

Aunt Kate’s website describes the restaurant as follows: “Situated in a grove of live oaks on the bank of the Tolomoto River, you can dine on the outside decks under the trees or inside in either the main dining room or the Victory bar. The trees, scarred by fire, still lean over the water, framing the ever-changing sunset. Wading birds feed along the shoreline while pelicans beg from fishermen on the docks. Occasionally, a manatee or dolphin will swim along the shoreline while passing boats cruise the channel.” I couldn’t have described it better myself.

When we arrived we had our choice of seating inside or out on the deck overlooking the river. There was a nice breeze blowing and it wasn’t too hot at the time so we chose to sit out on the deck. Our server took our drink orders and gave us a few minutes to peruse the menu. Jenna chose grilled shrimp with black beans and rice and mac and cheese on the side. ConnieLou got the fish sandwich with cole slaw. Since shrimp and grits were on the menu and described as “sautéed shrimp served over cheddar cheese grits topped with bacon and mushroom country gravy and served with a house salad”, I just had to give ‘em a try and paired ‘em up with a side of mac and cheese instead of the standard house salad..

Our orders arrived and our table got quiet…a good sign

So how did Aun’t Kate’s fare on the Thumb’s Scale? We gave ‘em an easy 6 out of a possible 6. My shrimp and grits and mac and cheese might just have been the best I’ve ever had and Jenna and ConnieLou didn’t have any complaints about their orders. Aunt Kates definitely made the repeat list.

So far I’ve avoided including pictures on this blog but the comment about the sunset in the description and the sunset we saw as we waited for dinner inspired me to take the rare opportunity to post a picture. Check it out…

Aunt Kates Sunset

Donuts a Go-Go, Mariposa, California, July 14, 2016

We stopped into Donuts a Go-Go almost as an afterthought as we were about to leave Mariposa and head on toward Anaheim for a visit with The Mouse. We had already ‘enjoyed’ (‘endured’ maybe?) the continental breakfast at the hotel but we were in the mood for something sweet to take with us for the drive. The folks at the front desk at our hotel included Donuts a Go-Go in their list of recommended eateries so we stopped in.

To describe Donuts a Go-Go as unassuming might be a bit of an understatement. But, as we all know, looks aren’t everything. Right? Right…

Anyway, we picked out a mixed half-dozen, paid and hit the road. We stopped for lunch near Bakersfield and afterward the girls broke into their donuts for dessert. Since I was driving I decided to wait for mine…and it wasn’t easy listening to everyone tormenting me about how good they were. ConnieLou mentioned that they were more of a caky donut like Dunkin Donuts instead of light and airy like Krispy Kremes. Now I’m not a fan of Dunkins and their metallic aftertaste, so I cringed a bit when ConnieLou compared Donuts a Go-Go’s donuts to Dunkins.

When we finally reached our hotel I finally got to try mine. Without going into a lot of detail we were all quite pleased with our selections…and there was no metallic aftertaste.

So how did Donuts a Go-Go fare on the Thumbs Scale? We gave ‘em a solid 8 out of a possible 8…and wished we’d given them a try sooner rather than eating the hotel continental breakfast.

Happy Burger Diner, Mariposa, California, July 13, 2016

After returning to Mariposa late after our first day at Yosemite and having supper at the local BK, we made sure we returned early enough the next day to give one of the local restaurants a try. The folks at the front desk at our hotel gave us several recommendations when we checked in, one of which was the Happy Burger Diner.

The Happy Burger Diner is billed as a ‘fun and authentic 60’s diner’, ‘featuring the food you love and “Mother Lode” portions.’ The first thing we noticed as we walked in was that the walls and ceilings were covered, and I mean completely covered, with album covers from records cut in the 60s. You remember records, right? They were those black vinyl disks about twelve inches across with tiny grooves on both sides and a hole in the center that one played on a record player or stereo turntable?

They have a fairly extensive menu so we sat down in a booth for a few minutes to read it over and figure out what we wanted before stepping up to the counter to place our orders. ConnieLou settled on the BLT, fries and a strawberry shake, Ashley and Jenna both ordered the patty melt with sweet potato fries and peanut butter shakes and I ordered the guacamole burger with fries and a peanut butter shake.

We sat back down in our booth and enjoyed the AC while we waited on our food to arrive. After a short wait the server brought out our orders and our table grew quiet. My burger was hot, juicy, messy and very good. ConnieLou and the girls were quite pleased with their sandwiches. The shakes were also quite good. In fact, the PB shakes were easily as good as those at Gibson’s in Young Harris, Georgia, and possibly a little bit better. Now about the fries…not fresh cut and if you’ve read a few of my previous entries, you probably have a pretty good idea about how I feel about frozen fries. That said…the fries were still pretty darn good.

So how did the Happy Burger Diner rate on the Thumbs Scale? We gave it a 7 ¾ out of a possible 8. Yep, I took off half a thumb for the frozen fries but added ¼ of a point for the excellent shakes. If we ever get back to Mariposa the Happy Burger Diner will definitely be on our repeat list

The Oink Joint, Newnan, Georgia, July 9, 2016

Back to barbeque…

We were planning to grill some chicken on the Egg last night but ConnieLou and I both forgot to take the chicken out of the freezer before we left for work yesterday morning. Ashley and Jenna were both away for the night and we had a few errands to run so we decided to get something while we were out and about. I suggested trying the Oink Joint, a fairly new barbeque joint just off the square in downtown Newnan.

Being that it was Friday night and the Oink Joint is still fairly new we were a little concerned about a long wait but when we pulled up and parked we saw that the line wasn’t out the door…which was a good sign for us. When we walked in we saw that the dining area was not quite full and there were only a few folks in front of us in line to order…another good sign.

We placed our orders, got our drinks and sat down at a table in the draft from one of the air conditioning vents. Somehow we both managed to order the same thing, the pulled pork plate with mac and cheese and Brunswick stew for our sides. We barely had time to start sipping on our drinks and talk for a bit before the server brought our orders from the kitchen.

OK, first things first…try the pig, straight from the kitchen, no sauce. It was good…damn good. Moist, tender and smoky, just as it should be. I almost decided to forego the sauce…but then I tried the sauces. There were three squeeze bottles of sauce on each table, one labeled ‘Spicy’, one labeled ‘Vinegar’ and one labeled ‘Sweet’. The Sweet sauce seemed to be a sweet, ketchup-based sauce (think Sweet Baby Ray’s but better). The Vinegar sauce was a Carolina-style vinegar sauce with a little bit of a kick. The Spicy sauce seemed to me to be a vinegar sauce on steroids with a little something else that I couldn’t quite put my finger on…and it was my favorite of the bunch. OK, sorry, I’m a bit of a sauce nerd…I LOVE barbeque sauces!

Now for the mac and cheese and the stew. The mac and cheese was hands-down the best I’ve had at a restaurant. Creamy, cheesy pasta shells with a crispy, crunchy topping. The stew…very good in my opinion and again, possibly the best I’ve tasted at a restaurant. The grind is a bit coarser than one would find at Sprayberry’s but finer than most other BBQ joints that I’ve tried. ConnieLou wasn’t quite as crazy about the stew as I was (she likes a finer grind and a slightly different flavor profile) but still thought it was pretty good.

So how did the Oink Joint rank on the Thumbs Scale? Four out of a possible four thumbs…easily. OK, let me caveat that score somewhat…I noticed that some of the folks on neighboring and nearby tables had fries on their plates and, although I didn’t ask, the fries appeared to be frozen and not fresh cut…a travesty. Normally I’d dock a restaurant a point for frozen fries (yes, it’s that much of a thing for me)…but they weren’t on my plate so the Oink Joint got a bit of a pass this time around. Needless to say, we’ll be back and I probably won’t be ordering the fries.

Puccini’s Pizzaria, St. Augustine, Florida, June 25, 2016

How about another review from St. Augustine?

We headed to the beach for a little while Saturday morning before heading home.  Since we drove south down A1A along St. Augustine Beach the evening before, we decided to head north and check out the Vilano Beach area.  After we crossed the bridge over the Tolomato River we noticed a Publix store off top our right and a pizzeria sign at one end of the small strip shopping center.  We took it as a sign (literally and figuratively).

We found the beach park/beach access that we were looking for, parked and headed down to the beach with our towels and cooler.  ConnieLou spent some time soaking up some rays while Jenna and I splashed around in the water.  After having all the heat and sun we could stand during the heat of the day, we headed back to the city park at the beach access, rinsed off and changed from our swimsuits into travelin’ clothes.  Then it was off to find something for a late lunch.

We all remembered the pizzeria sign by the Publix so we decided to stop by and give it a look before deciding whether to look elsewhere.  Turns out it was a good thing we did.

When we pulled into the parking lot we discovered that the name of the restaurant was Puccini’s Pizzaria.  Pizzaria…what is it about the word pizzeria, combined with an Italian name that makes even a strip-center pizza joint sound much more enticing than say ‘Joe’s Pizza’?  We decided to give it a shot.

We walked in, sat down and enjoyed the AC while our server brought us menus and took our drink orders.  There was plenty to choose from on the menu but we kept things simple and ordered a medium meat lovers (ground beef, Italian sausage, ham and bacon) pizza.  Our pie came out in fairly short order and we dove in.  Either we were really hungry or the pizza was really good because we finished it off in fairly short order.

So how did Puccini’s fare on the Thumbs Scale?  Six out a possible six…easily.  Definitely a keeper.  Now we know two good pizza joints in St. Augustine.