Archive for March, 2009

Hella good

March brings our annual pilgrimage to Tampa to visit my Dad and his wife, Brenda.  After living in Tampa for ten years, these two know their way around the region’s culinary hotspots.  Past trips have taken us to Bern’s Steak House and less-well known, but delicious, restaurants, like Red Mesa. 

After taking a few years off to try new places, we had dinner on Friday in Tarpon Springs, which is located outside of Tampa and has the highest percentage of Greek-Americans in the U.S (according to wikipedia).  Dad and Brenda’s favorite restaurant in Tarpon Springs is Hellas and, judging by the crowds at the restaurant, they aren’t alone.

The enormous Greek salad (a salad for two serves four easily) is the right way to start a meal at Hellas.  Buried like a treasure in the middle of vegetables and fresh feta dressed with yummy vinaigrette is a scoop of the tastiest potato salad, which I promise will be among the best potato salad you’ve tried.

There are a number of appealing entrees (I suspect that you can’t go wrong if you stick with Greek specialties), but I was particularly pleased with the basic gryro on our recent visit.  I tend to steer away from gyros as the lamb flavor can be too strong, but the thinly-sliced gyro meat at Hellas was excellent and it was accompanied by divine fresh pita (an entirely different beast from the pita pocket that you get at the corner falafel store) and delicious tzatziki sauce.

Every trip to Tarpon Spring should end with a visit to Hellas’ bakery, where little old Greek ladies serve up Greek pastries like baklava and melomakarona (honey-soaked spice cookies).  Baklava is an odd dessert for me to like because I don’t like honey and I don’t like exceedingly sweet desserts, but like it I do and I haven’t tasted better baklava than Hellas’ version (same goes for the melomakarona, but I haven’t eaten these elsewhere!). 

My husband declared that Hellas should be a mandatory stop when we visit Tampa, and I recommend that if you find yourself in the area, you heed his advice.


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Peasant – take one

My husband and I went to Peasant last month before a show (Blitzen Trapper) at Bowery Ballroom.  I’d heard universally good things about Peasant and was excited to try it out.  The trip to Soho was traumatic and included our subway train stalling underground for a full 15 minutes.  We arrived at Peasant late and the hostess couldn’t find our reservation.  Our reservation was located on a hard copy printout of the night’s reservations, but we were not in the computer system so there was no table available immediately.  We were in a rush to get to the show so the manager offered to accommodate us downstairs in the less-formal wine bar, which is reserved for walk-ins.  The downstairs menu does not include pasta, but we were allowed to order from the upstairs menu.  To further make amends, we were given two complimentary glasses of sparkling wine, which were most welcome and appreciated.

We were squeezed in to a communal table, I wasn’t armed with a camera and we were rushed so this is my first take on Peasant, which I hope to elaborate on if/when we return for the full experience.  The fact that I want to return should tell you everything you need to know – Peasant was very pleasant.  (more…)

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Sorry for the long delay between posts – it’s been one of those weeks!  Continuing my tale of two Mexican restaurants, my husband and I went to La Esquina last week with a last-minute reservation.

We entered the restaurant via the upstairs “diner” where two men who have the appearance of bouncers were guarding a door that leads down to the restaurant.  After the bouncers cleared our reservation, we were permitted through the door and directed down a set of stairs to a hostess stand.  The hostess checked us in and sent us to wait at the bar, which you access via the kitchen.  This all sounds very pretentious (and it was), but everybody on the staff was extremely nice.

We waited for fewer than 10 minutes for our table, which was perfectly fine because the people watching was exquisite.  Such a scene!  The space is quite unique and since I can’t come up with the words to describe the underground lair, I will borrow from Frank Bruni’s review – “Within weathered brick walls are wrought-iron gates that recall the bars of an ancient prison cell, chandeliers that hold fat wax candles and murals made with tiles painted in Mexico. If the Phantom of the Opera hired Zorro as an interior designer and asked him for something in contemporary Torquemada, this might be the result.”  I couldn’t have said it better myself….

We followed the instructions provided by my friend who got us the reservation and is a regular and ordered the following: (more…)

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