Monday, June 7, 2010

Is this Russia, Danny?

An Orange Mojito from Z Grille in St. Petersburg. Wicked good.

When one thinks of Florida, Destin, Miami, and Key West certainly come to mind. St. Petersburg likely does not. St. Petersburg sits south of Tampa on the tip of a peninsula which juts out into the crystalline waters of the Gulf of Mexico. To borrow fromJFK, St. Petersburg has the charms of the South, with the location of Florida. Legend lives there, and he promised us a long weekend of sailing around the area, working on base tans, and abstaining from alcoholic beverages.

We started Thursday afternoon riding through the neighborhoods just steps off the downtown area to go find groceries and liquor (Promise broken). Here, large homes built long ago, hug the gentle rolling lagoons and waterways leading to the bay. That night, dinner at Ceviche, where halfway decent tapas compete with a Moroccan decor and thumping house music. Large ceramic pitchers of sangria and caipirinhas hold down the table with an impressive jolt of alcohol.

The next morning we headed for Longboat Key in our rented boat for the weekend, a thirty-five foot Catalina named Comfortably Numb. Obviously the owner is a fan of morphine. Since the wind was slack, not much sailing occurred. (Second promise broken.) The ride to Longboat, fueled by rum drinks, cold beer, and a few brief tugs at the end of the fishing line, shook out the remaining cobwebs from the previous night.

Before dingying to the beach, we had lunch. Some sandwiches on white bread; it might as well have been filet mignon. What is it about eating outside (particularly if on the water) that makes the food taste so good? The next morning we headed back to St. Petersburg so Legend and Megorita could go to a wedding and we could hit up a Hall and Oates concert.

By far our favorite meal in on the trip took place at Z Grille, home of James Beard nominated chef, Zack Gross. The kitchen slings out bacon and pork fueled dishes inspired by California cuisine. West Coast food never had it so good. Take for example the wok spicy jumbo shrimp lettuce wraps. These little cups held tender and succulent shrimp awash in a fiery sambal butter with a little jicama to provide crunch and sweet.

Z Grille's quesadillas stuff chipotle glazed pork and Gouda cheese into big floppy tortillas and serve them alongside a dynamite barbecue sauce. Smoky, creamy, spicy, porky - if it tastes good, it is in this quesadilla. Well, besides foie gras. They left that out, which is probably for the best.

The deviled eggs were angelic. Here that Hank! Each day, Z Grille has a special deviled egg to go along with their California deviled eggs. The California version was the best with avocado, bacon, and jalapeno blending with the rich yolk into a stunning bite. The barbecue and chive crab were also very good. If Peter had been here, he would have eaten 300 deviled eggs again like he did at the SOFAB opening.

But for me the real star was the Dr. Pepper Fried Ribs. Yes, you read that correctly. All of it. While I didn't ask how they do it (was on vacation, people), I am pretty certain the ribs were braised in Dr. Pepper until tender. Then cooled in the braising liquid, fried, and then coated with some of the reduced liquid. Next to the ribs sat a pile of cabbage and under that a puddle of pepper jelly sauce. A platter of them would have been ideal, but destroyed this beach body.

Then the next morning a cruising sail to Egmont Key, an abandoned military base with beautiful beaches. Bases were worked on, but resulted in mostly weird tans and peeling. (All promises broken.) Dinner Sunday night was at Fish Tales, a place where you go for the atmosphere and buckets of ice cold Presidente beer. Which is all you really need with good friends and a vacation winding down.

Stay tuned tomorrow to see how the idea of those ribs turned into a Wednesday night meal. Is the anticipation killing you? I thought so.

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