One or two more spring training stories and a visit with James Lohse

When you are next in the Tampa area and ready for a culinary adventure try Latitudes at Madeira Beach. Madeira Beach is on that wonderful spit of land off Tampa and St. Pete that runs from 35th Ave. to the south all the way to Clearwater to the north. Madeira Beach, and more importantly, Latitudes, is just slightly to the south of the Tom Stewart Causeway (15th St. or St. Hwy 666) at 13205 Gulf Blvd. The restaurant is on the third floor of what looks like a beachfront office building. The stairs aren’t bad and the elevator works. I admit that this is sort of an unusual place for a restaurant, but it overlooks the Gulf and a great marina, and the seafood is really exciting. Look them up at http://latitudesmadbeach.com/.
After we left the Braves game at Disney we drove to Gainesville so we would be able to see The Devil’s Millhopper in the morning. This is a 10,000 year old, ½ mile in circumference, 180’ deep sinkhole on SR 232 in Gainesville, and worth your while. To my amazement I made it down and back up the 228 steps, but my panting efforts pale compared to the woman who runs those same steps 22 times daily.

As is our want on these “One Eyed Parrott” spring training adventures we try to stay in the roadside motels that made Florida before Disney famous, and we may have broken our own record in Gainesville. We found “The Bambi Motel” quite near the University, and I believe we have never stayed at a better known facility. In fact, most of the people with whom we spoke the next morning, not only knew of the place, but few ‘lowed as how they would ever tell anyone had they themselves ever stayed there. I must admit that none of the same cars that were there when we arrived in the evening were there in the morning. We had a great breakfast at David’s BBQ, 5121 NW 39th. This may have been my first BBQ breakfast, but when you are next in Gainesville, try it. All of the folks at David’s, even the waitress, knew of Bambi’s, but none knew anyone other than us who had stayed the whole night.
Enough of a traveling feast, and back to Atlanta. Lloyd and I went to Kevin Rathbun’s Steakhouse following a very nice dinner at 4th and Swift (621 North Ave., NE; www.4thandswift.com) so we could have a drink and cigar on Rathbun’s back patio. We had a long conversation with James A. Lohse, Chef de Cuisine for Rathbun’s. If one is not actually engaged in the process of eating food, one of the best things to do is to be thinking about food and talking about food with someone who really knows and cares about the subject.

Lloyd and James
Both restaurants we visited that night buy and grow locally (with the exception of Rathbun’s steaks, which are some of Chicago’s finest). In fact, the salad we had at 4th and Swift was picked on property.

On April 20 I lucked into the Top Chef tour in Atlanta at the back of the parking lot at Star Provisions, and saw Kevin Gillespie (Woodfire Grill) and Richard Blais (Flip Burger) doing a “quick fire” demonstration of a microwave sponge cake on a Thai peanut butter with some grapes that had been frozen into a kind of a grape caviar. You can see a much better description of the event at Betsey Metcalf’s blog “Glutenfree” (http://glutenfreedomatlanta.com/2010/04/top-chef-the-tour-in-atlanta/).

One Eyed Parrots

Baseball, spring training baseball, and once again the One Eyed Parrots are back on Blue Highways. Each spring since 1998 at least some of a group of us who taught at West Georgia College in Carrolton make a trip to see spring training baseball and to keep the penny ante poker game that we started in 1966 going. This year six of us piled our luggage and two airbeds into Kip’s Suburban and headed to Tampa. We saw four games and probably had the best culinary adventure of our trips. We began at the Hellas Restaurant, 785 Dodecanese Blvd, Tarpon Springs, FL 34689-3131, where the grilled octopus was the favorite of the day. I had the octopus appetizer and the grilled lamb chops entre. I was in Athens three weeks ago and the food at Hellas did not take a back seat to anything I ate in Greece.
Our second feast was at Skipper’s Restaurant 910 Skipper Rd., Tampa, FL 33613 in Lutz (Tampa), near the somewhat primitive VRBO that I had found. Skipper’s is a smoke house. This place is an institution in the Tampa area, but you really have to be brave to try it. It is a collection of windowless, ramshackled, raggedy buildings, one of which is the bar and bandstand and the other is the restaurant. The steamed seafood made it worth the risk. These were among the best oysters and clams I have had since I left Rhode Island.
Skipper’s was not the only smoked food that caught us. Ted Peters at 1350 Pasadena Ave. S, South Pasadena, FL, 33707 has been a Tampa area tradition for over 50 years. The smoked salmon was awesome, but bring a friend because they serve more than you can eat. Also, be sure to bring money. They don’t take credit cards.