Friday, March 30, 2012

American House of Pancakes – Loudon TN

Following a social gathering, 3 other couples and ourselves decided to try a new restaurant in Loudon (Tellico Village) Tennessee.  Three of these couples plus one other had recently descended on Classico Italian Pizza & Pasta…which is located about a block from this new location for American House of Pancakes.  No, I’m not mistaken…this isn’t IHOP…it’s ‘AHOP!’

To view the group’s earlier appraisal of Classico Italian Pizza & Pasta, just go to:

American House of Pancakes had opened at this location just about 3 weeks before the eight of us dropped by for dinner.  This building had previously been occupied for quite a while by a pizza/pasta joint…then for a very short time by a Mexican restaurant.  The latter opened just down the street from another Mexican restaurant operated by a nice local family…so, the area’s residents pretty much boycotted the new place and it folded in a number of weeks!

The interior of the ‘AHOP’ looks just like it did when it was an Italian restaurant.  What we didn’t realize was that the restaurant is much larger than it appears from the outside.  There is a big backroom that we’d never seen before…and that’s where we were seated. 

American House of Pancakes bills its food as “American style breakfast, lunch and dinner.  “No-fuss-just-plain good food”.

American House of Pancakes has only existed since 2007.  It’s family owned and operated and the company currently has one other location in Madisonville TN.  We know of two previous locations that have been closed.  One was just off of I-75 in a motel building in Sweetwater TN and the other was on a side street in Lenoir City TN.  Both were less than optimal locations… This new restaurant was relocated from Lenoir City.  

Two of us ordered the Fried Pork Chops…hand-dipped and battered, then fried. ($6.99) I had the macaroni & cheese with cole slaw as my sides with a corn cake.  My dining compatriot had the broccoli and sweet potato fries.  I really liked the corn cake and the macaroni & cheese.  The pork chop was overcooked but it still had flavor thanks to the breading and frying.  We both rated this dinner at 6 points out of a possible 10.

FYI…the menu at ‘AHOP’ is extensive.  There are 3 pages of breakfast items and 3 pages of lunch and dinner selections.  Listed under appetizers alone, 11 different choices are offered.

Unfortunately I lost the slip of paper on which I’d written the ‘scores’ everyone gave their meals.  One of the guys ordered a stack of pancakes.  What can I say?  It’s not the most attractive plating of food that I’ve ever seen.  I do remember his score though… He gave these pancakes 5 points out of a possible 10.

As I mentioned before, ‘AHOP’ features 3 pages of breakfast items!  They range from skillet breakfasts to pancakes, waffles, 13 or 14 omelets, French toast, crepes all the way up the scale to a T-Bone and Eggs.  The latter includes a 16 oz. T-Bone, 2 eggs, grits, country gravy, and 2 biscuits with either hash browns or homemade fries. ($17.99) More typically, a standard breakfast combo…2 eggs, 2 slices of bacon, 2 ham strips and hash browns accompanied by 2 buttermilk pancakes…cost only $5.79…

One of the ladies ordered the Grilled Chicken Sizzling’ Skillet Dinner. ($8.99) As I recall, she thought that it was OK…no one rated their meal higher than a ‘7’.  But she did have one little problem…she’d requested no cheese on her dinner.  Ooops!

This was 1 of 4 Chicken Specialties on the menu.  There are also 5 Country Dinners…including liver and onions…plus 3 Seafood entrees as well as “Daily Specials” from $6.99 to $7.25. (No specials on Saturdays)

Another member of our party, one of the ladies, ordered the Chicken Tenderloin Basket. ($5.25) It came with French fries and garlic toast.  There are 2 other ‘Baskets’ available…with popcorn shrimp or catfish bites. 

Other offerings on the menu include chili, 6 different hot dog choices, salads, soups, shakes, malts and floats.  When choosing your sides to go with your meal, you have no less than 17 different items to consider! 

Another fellow diner decided to order one of the ‘Country Dinners”, the Spaghetti and Meatballs. ($6.99) If I remember correctly, he gave it 5 points out of 10.  However, he did say that he’d order it again…

Steaks are available…ranging from Hamburger Steak, 10 oz. for $7.99 on up to the aforementioned T-Bone for $17.99.

Laurie ordered her favorite sandwich…a Patty Melt. ($5.99) The sandwich was OK but her side of onion rings didn’t make the grade.  She gave her meal 5 points out of 10. 

There are no less than 19 sandwiches available on the menu.  This number doesn't even include hamburgers, hotdogs or breakfast sandwiches!  These 19 choices range in price from $3.99 to $6.55 and they include one side.

One of our ladies at the table ordered a Bacon Cheeseburger with fries. ($5.99) She didn’t rate it well…only 4 out of 10 points!  This wasn’t the best news as AHOP states that all burgers are formed from ‘fresh, not frozen’ ground beef on a grilled bun.  That’s usually a good thing…

There are a total of 17 different hamburgers offered…ranging from a standard hamburger on a bun, ($4.99), on up to “The King”, a 1 lb. double decker with cheese. ($6.99) From the strange burger department, I’d like one of my friends to try the “Peanut Burger”; an 8 oz. hamburger topped with peanut butter and chopped pieces of bacon! ($5.99)
In summary, service at ‘AHOP’ was pleasant and the waitress was very helpful…trying hard to keep us happy.  She filled and refilled the drinks and she checked on us regularly.  Our big issue was apparently in the kitchen.  From the time that we ordered our food and the waitress input it for the kitchen, it took one (1) hour to get our food!  The restaurant was moderately busy, but not to the degree that the kitchen was overwhelmed.  Most diners deliver their food rather quickly…but that wasn’t the case at AHOP. 
I do remember the average ‘score’… American House of Pancakes did rate a little better than its neighbor, Classico Italian.  AHOP averaged 5.2 points and Classico averaged 4.9 out of 10.
American House of Pancakes is located at 222 Lakeside Plaza in Loudon (Tellico Village), Tennessee.  Phone: 865-458-2110.  Website:  Laurie and I will return to try out the breakfast menu…and to see if the kitchen picks up speed at bit…
Just click on any photo to enlarge it…
Thanks for stopping by for a visit!
Take Care, Big Daddy Dave

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Vizcaya – A Miami Landmark

One of the more remarkable tourist hot spots to visit in south Florida is actually owned by Miami-Dade County.  The Vizcaya Museum and Gardens was high on both Laurie’s and Dawn Marie’s lists of places to visit during our vacation together.   

This is the main roadway or drive up to Vizcaya, a home and gardens designed in the style of an Italian Renaissance villa…but actually named after the northern Basque province of the same name in northern Spain. 

American industrialist James Deering had this villa built for him between 1914 and 1916.  Deering helped his father’s Deering Harvester Company expand.  Then, J.P. Morgan’s bank bought Deering Harvester and the McCormick Reaper Company…thus creating International Harvester.  Deering lived at Vizcaya until his death in 1925. 

This is the front or ‘landward’ side of the villa.  The home was built to appear as though it was an Italian estate that had been around for 400+ years.  There are 34 rooms that are decorated with 15th through 18th century antique furnishings and art objects.  There are 70 rooms in total.  While the house appears to be only 2 stories high, there is an intervening level between the 1st and 2nd floor that has 12 rooms for servants and service. 

The gardens at Vizcaya combine elements of both Renaissance Italian and French designs.  The idea was to create one vast ‘outdoor room’.  The designers of the gardens adapted historical European aesthetic traditions to Florida’s much different subtropical climate.  Cuban limestone stonework and Floridian coral architectural trim were matched up with native plants that thrived in this climate.

Photo shoots are common at Vizcaya.  We weren’t sure whether this was a fashion session or something else but a lot of people were involved.  I checked and a permit for ‘Personal Photo Portraits’ costs $125.00 for the first 6 people, then $15.00 for each additional person.  A professional still photography permit costs $2,500.00 and a professional filming permit would set you back by $20,000.00!

The property originally consisted of 180 acres of shoreline on Biscayne Bay.  The property included Mangrove swamps and some dense inland native tropical forests.  The developed portion of the estate was to include the villa, formal gardens, recreational amenities, expansive lagoon gardens with new islets, grazing and produce gardens, as well as a service village.  The plan was for the estate to be self-sufficient.

This is another view of the stunning gardens and decorative architecture.  The Cuban limestone construction with Floridian coral accents is scattered throughout the garden area.  Key features of the several interconnected gardens include a wide range of fountains, a central pool surrounding an elevated island, an elevated mound with a small house and extensive ‘Casino’ statuary.

When Vizcaya was being built, Miami’s population was around 10,000.  An amazing fact is that this project employed 1,000 workers, or 10% of the population.  The labor force included workers and craftsmen from the Caribbean and Europe. 

 We had only one real complaint during our visit.  Maybe it was the time of the year or perhaps it was an operating expense or repair issue, but none of the many fountains in the gardens were functioning.  In fact, many of them were just partially filled with dirty water and organic debris.  If they’d been operational, the gardens wouldn’t have just been very nice…they would have been spectacular…

Grottos like this one were constructed to provide Deering’s guests with a place to cool down out of the hot Floridian sunshine.  They were built with bench seats around the inside of the structure.  From the top of the grotto, one can enjoy great views of Biscayne Bay.

Because Vizcaya was built with an open-air courtyard, the house and gardens were vulnerable to environmental and hurricane damage.  Hurricanes caused significant damage is 1926, 1935, 1992 and 2005.  Miami-Dade County has granted $50,000.000 for the restoration and preservation of the estate.  These funds have been matched by grants from FEMA, Save America’s Treasures and many other funds.  In 2008, the National Trust for Historic Preservation listed Vizcaya as one of America’s Most Endangered Historic Places.  The estate is also listed as a National Historic Landmark.

James Deering had this concrete Venetian Barge built in front of the villa.  It serves as a breakwater and as a symbol of the estate.  Deering had gondolas available and servants could guide guests among the mangrove islets as well as over to the barge itself.  Note the painted Venetian poles near the barge.  

Laurie snapped this photo of Dawn Marie near a waters edge 'gazebo'.  She is wearing one of the audio tour sets that we rented…$5.00 each.  Tour brochures were also available for $3.00.  The audio tour is well worth the expense.

Vizcaya has seen it’s share of historic events.  In 1987, President Ronald Reagan received Pope John Paul II at Vizcaya on his first visit to Miami.  In 1994, the estate was the location of the ‘First Summit of the Americas’ convened by President Bill Clinton.  The thirty-four nation’s leaders that met at Vizcaya created the ‘Free Trade Area of the Americas’. (FTAA)

Once again, here’s proof that Laurie actually does accompany me on our road trips!  Dawn took this photo of us from the 'gazebo' looking back at the seaside view of the villa.

James Deering died at sea, returning to the USA from Europe on the SS City of Paris.  When he died, two of his neices, Marion Chauncey Deering McCormick and Ely Deering McCormick Danielson, inherited the property.  After many years, time and storm damage combined with rising operating costs led to the sale of the estate’s surrounding parcels of land…and in 1952, the county acquired the estate for a modest $1,000,000. 
Vizcaya has provided a setting for several films.  These include Tony Rome, Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, Any Given Sunday, Bad Boys II, Airport ’77, Haunts of the Very Rich and the Money Pit.  A couple of music videos have also been filmed here, most recently New Edition’s song, “I’m Still in Love With You”.

Interior photos of the estate aren’t permitted…so I ‘borrowed’ a couple of photos from Vizcaya’s official website just to illustrate how beautiful and detailed the interior of the villa really is… The room shown above is Deering’s Library. 

The rooms themselves, as well as the furnishings and decorative art objects in the villa are certainly spectacular.  When Miami-Dade County purchased the estate in 1952, Deering’s heirs donated the villa’s furnishings and antiquities to the county in order to ensure their preservation and appreciation.

This is a photo of the Music Room at Vizcaya.  There is so much going on in this room that its almost overwhelming.  Laurie and I almost freaked out when we observed an older man going behind the ropes and putting his hands on some of these priceless antiques and works of art!  I had to go and find a ‘guard’ or museum attendant and coax him out of his chair to run this errant visitor down and slap his wrists. 

The Vizcaya Museum and Gardens now consists of 50 acres with the villa, gardens and surrounding native ‘hammock’ jungle forests.  As you might imagine, the estate is quite a popular location for weddings and other events.  It is also a favored site for photographs of young women celebrating their quinceaneara (15th birthday).
The Vizcaya Museum and Gardens are located in the Coconut Grove section of Miami at 3251 South Miami Avenue.  The estate is closed on Tuesdays.  Adult admission is $15.00, Seniors (62+) cost $10.00, Students are $10.00 and Children between 6 and 12 are $6.00.  There is a café on site.  Phone: 350-250-9133.  Website:  
Just click on any of the photos to enlarge it…
Thanks for spending some time sharing this upscale tourist spot with us!
Take Care, Big Daddy Dave

Monday, March 26, 2012

Sometimes You Just Get Lucky!

So…How many times have you been on a road trip…plans change a little and you find yourself stopping somewhere for the night that wasn’t on the schedule.  The hotel is OK…but now you have to find somewhere to eat, preferably not just another chain restaurant.  Chains can be pretty good in this day and age, but exploration and discovery is part of the fun with road trips!

So…one of the biggest food gambles you can take is to ask the desk clerk at the hotel for their input on the best local places to eat.  Every once in awhile, I do take that chance…and the desk clerk at the Hampton Inn in Port St. Lucie Florida came through with a winner!

Frank & Al’s Pizza is a family owned ‘chain’ of 2 restaurants that has survived and prospered in the area for more than 20 years.  The St. Lucie West location was just across the road from the hotel.  We’re always looking for good pizza as there seems to be a lack of quality pizza in our neck of the woods…that is, with the exception of Big Ed’s in Oak Ridge Tennessee…

Frank & Al’s was busy…always a good sign in an area crowded with chain restaurants.  The customers were definitely locals…and from the conversations around us, we could tell that many of them were regulars…

We ordered up a pitcher of beer and perused the menu…although pizza was our goal, you just have to check out the other possibilities!  Appetizers ranged from Garlic Bread Sticks ($2.00 for 6), to Fried Calamari ($8.95)  Salads ranged from a Side Salad ($2.95) to Grilled Mahi Mahi and various Chicken Salads ($8.95). In addition to Pizza, there were Stromboli’s ($11.95 - $14.99); Calzones ($7.95 & up) and; a wide variety of Sandwiches ($6.95 - $8.95).  There were also 11 pasta dinners available.  They ranged from Spaghetti with Meat Sauce ($7.95), to Mahi Alfredo ($12.95) and Veal Parmesan ($13.95)

But Hey!  We were there for the Pizza!  After all, the name of the place is Frank & Al’s PIZZA…and their slogan is “Pizza is Our Passion”.  They also tout the fact that both their dough and sauce are homemade.

We ordered our usual 16” cheese, pepperoni and Italian sausage pizza.  This was indeed a very good pizza!  The crust on the bottom was crisp and the ingredients were top notch.  We ate the whole thing!  It was a great end to an interesting day of exploration…
Frank & Al’s offers 8 specialty pizzas, including White Spinach ($16.95); Lasagna ($16.95) and; All the Way ($17.75) Prices are for 16” pies… The All the Way Pizza has 10 ingredients! There are 17 options available for customers who want to create their own pizza…
“Our” Frank & Al’s Pizza is located at 2088 Northwest Courtyard Circle in Port St. Lucie Florida.  Phone: 772-323-2700.  Although a website is listed on their menu, (, I couldn’t find a website for this restaurant. Clicking on the website as shown takes you to 
Just click on any photo to enlarge it…
Thanks for stopping by for beer and pizza!
Take Care, Big Daddy Dave

Saturday, March 24, 2012

A Little ‘Light’ Breakfast!

In my opinion, there is no better meal than breakfast!  While I generally don’t care much for ‘fancy’ food to start my day, I do love the basics… Sometimes it’s cereal with fruit; toast with peanut butter and jam; scrambled cheese eggs and toast; hash and eggs; smoothies; waffles, made with our wonderful waffle maker & pure maple syrup…or just bacon and eggs with toast.

However, there are times when more is better!  How about 3 eggs over easy with cheesy hash browns, top notch sausage from Benton’s and a couple of nice slices of buttered toast?  Worked for me!  It’s a good thing that we only had 2 meals on the day that I produced this masterpiece of goodness.  Add Tabasco, then make a sandwich out of one of those sausage patties, mop up the yoke…what more could anyone want!?

By the way, Laurie, my photographer and better half, doesn’t generally care for sausage.  This sausage from Benton’s was the exception.  She really liked it!
Unfortunately, the sausage, hot dogs, strip steaks ($7.99 lb), rib eye steaks ($8.39 lb) and a few other products can’t be ordered on-line.  It’s not a problem for us as Benton’s is just a few miles from our home.  On-line ordering is limited to aged whole country hams, hickory smoked country hams, unsmoked hams and hickory smoked country bacon. (The latter makes the best ever BLT sandwiches!)
Benton’s is one of America’s top chefs favorite suppliers, with its ham, bacon and prosciutto used in hundreds of restaurants across the country.  For more information, go to  If you live in East Tennessee and want to take advantage of a good thing, Benton’s store and production facility is located at 2603 Highway 411 North in Madisonville.  Phone: 423-442-5003.
Just click on the photo to share breakfast with me…
Thanks for stopping by for a visit!   
Take Care, Big Daddy Dave

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Jungle Island in Biscayne Bay!

During our Florida trip we researched and resolved that we would see and experience as many attractions as we could fit in during our 7 days in the area.  One of the first attractions that we visited could be seen from the bayside balcony of Dawn Marie’s apartment!

Laurie took this picture of Dawn and I at the entrance to Jungle Island, a 18 acre interactive zoological park on Watson Island off of the MacArthur Causeway in Biscayne Bay.  The causeway links Miami with Miami Beach’s Southbeach.

Jungle Island was originally founded on the mainland back in 1936 and it’s one of Florida’s oldest tourist attractions.  It was originally named Parrot Jungle…then, under new ownership, Pinecrest Gardens. Renamed Parrot Jungle once again, it was moved to Watson Island in 2003.  In 2007 the name was changed to Jungle Island.  Famous visitors over the years have included Winston Churchill, Jimmy Carter and Steven Spielberg.

True to it’s original name, there are many very colorful parrots on display in the park.  For the most part, they are on roosts where visitors can feed them.  This Scarlett Macaw is giving Laurie the wary eye… These very personable parrots can grow up to 38” in length.

Other parrots and related birds on Jungle Island include Blue and Gold Macaws, Black Palm Cockatoos, Eclectus Parrots, Hyacinth Macaws, Yellow-naped Amazons (plus a rare blue version of this Amazon) and a plethora of Lories.  There are 56 different species of Lories in the world.  Unlike the seed and fruit eaters, the Lories thrive on nectar and pollen from flowers.

Jungle Island has Tigers!  Lots of tigers… Twice a day trainers show off the tigers and other animals at the Jungle Theater.  While the animals are on a ‘leash’ or secured to the table used for their display, there is no fence between the audience and the keepers with their charges. 

Tigers are rapidly going extinct in the wild.  Large male tigers can measure 6’ long, (12’ with their tail), and they can weigh up to 660 lbs.  All this young tiger wanted was his bottle!

This is one of Jungle Island’s white tigers.  White tigers are a recessive mutant version of Bengal tigers.  They tend to be larger both at birth and as an adult.  They are also prone to being cross-eyed.  Truly dark striped white tigers are known as Royal Bengals.  For more on white tigers, go to

Another attraction at the Tale of the Tiger show was this young wolf...that was also into his bottle.  There is no doubt that the crowd, especially the youngsters, really enjoyed seeing these animals up close and personal…

In our mind, this young bobcat was one of the prettiest animals shown at the Tale of the Tiger show.  I’m not sure what a wolf and a bobcat, both North American species, had to do with a ‘tiger’ show…but we appreciated the fact that we had a chance to see them.  Nice kitty…!

Oooo!  Ahhh!  The trainer told the crowd that this young white tiger and the baby gibbon are buddies…and they did seem to enjoy each other’s company. 

We also attended the ‘Winged Wonder’ show at the Parrot Bowl.  It was impossible to take quality photos with the birds flying quickly by.  However, the highlights of this show were Mama Cass, the only known Cassowary to be trained and in a show anywhere in the world, and; a rare Andean condor.  With a wingspan of 10.5’, when it sailed right over our heads, it got our attention!

Wandering around the zoo, we encountered many other animals including this tortoise.  These Aldabra tortoises typically live to be 150 years old but they can live as long as 200 years.  These tortoises are from the Seychelles Islands in the Indian Ocean where over 100,000 of them live in a protected environment.  A male Aldabra tortoise in the Ft. Worth Texas Zoological Park weighs over 794 lbs!

Considering the size of the facility, Jungle Island has a lot of tigers.  This pretty boy’s markings were very distinct. 

We couldn’t get a good photo of the park’s ‘Liger’, the accidental offspring of a male lion and a female tiger.  His name is Vulcan.  As per the Guinness Book of World Records, Vulcan is the largest cat on earth.  He is 11’ tall/long and he weighs an astounding 900 lbs.

In this closing photo I managed to snap a photo of Laurie feeding one of Jungle Island’s Blue and Gold Macaws.  Other birds in the park include African penguins, flamingos, emu, great horned owls and saurus cranes.

By zoological standards, Jungle Island is a small operation and it is a relatively expensive place to visit.  Other animals include leopards, monkeys, orangutans, baboons, lemurs, alligators, iguanas and kangaroos.  There is one other show as well…Dr. Wasabi’s Wild Adventures, which is held at the Serpentarium.  Perhaps the costs are high due to the location… Admission was $32.95 for visitors between 11 and 64; $30.95 for Seniors and; $24.95 for children between 3 and 10 years of age. (Discounts are available for emergency response personnel and members of the military) Parking is another $8.00.  A family of 4, with one child under 10 years of age would spend $131.80 just to get into the park!

We did enjoy ourselves… The location is certainly convenient to Miami Beach and downtown Miami.  We took our time and didn’t leave the park until after it had actually closed.  I did note that 24% of the 170 reviews of Jungle Island on Trip Advisor ranked it as ‘Terrible’ or ‘Poor’.  To check out the reviews, as well as some great photos of special animal encounters that are available at Jungle Island, go to  Many of the negative reviews focused on the relative cost/value relationship. 
We enjoyed the shows, thought that the zoo itself was pretty average…and the experience was a bit expensive.  For more information on Jungle Island, its animals, shows, special events and the special tours that are available, go to  Phone: 305-400-7000.
Just click on any photo to enlarge it…
Thanks for stopping by for the tour!
Take Care, Big Daddy Dave

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Auto Show and Italian Food…

I’m not much for looking at homes, furniture, autos, etc. unless I’m actually in the market to buy something… So, for the most part over the years I’ve been able to avoid model homes, furniture stores and auto dealerships unless we were in the market for a purchase.

Now that I’m retired, I can’t use the old excuse of valued time wasted…besides, in a year or so we will probably need a new/used car to replace my old 1998 Buick Regal.  So we were off to my first Auto Show ever…

The 24th annual Knoxville Auto Show was sponsored by the Knoxville News Sentinel Newspaper and it was held in the Knoxville Convention Center…down next to World’s Fair Park.  Unlike the big auto shows where the manufacturers bring in their newest, their best and their experimental cars, almost all of the cars on the convention hall floor were provided by local dealers.

This is one of Denny Hamlin’s NASCAR racecars.  The other ‘exotic’ manufacturer’s car on the convention floor was a $375,000 Lexus LFA.

I must admit that it was nice being able to look at the cars without being harassed by salespersons… We may not have chosen a new car but we did eliminate some models due to a lack of back seat legroom and/or lousy gas mileage. 
Auto Show complete… How about stopping somewhere for an early dinner!

Since we had a year old $25.00 gift certificate to Bravo! Cucina Italiana, choosing a restaurant was easy!  Bravo is part of the 30 state, 94 restaurant Bravo/Brio Group, with restaurants by those names dominating the company’s growth. The restaurants are described by the company as casual, upscale and affordable.

The dining area of the Bravo! Cucina Italiana restaurant in Knoxville is just about right…well lighted, upscale in appearance, with the tables nicely spaced avoiding any feeling of crowding.  Note: We were there in the late afternoon, well before the dinner crowd, so only 3 or 4 tables were occupied in the entire restaurant. 

The waitress started us out with some nice bread and plenty of flavorful dipping sauce.

In an effort to not overeat, we skipped the appetizers.  However, of the 9 appetizers on the menu, we would have probably ordered the Artichoke & Spinach Formaggio ($9.99); Calamari Fritti ($10.99) or; the Mezza Flatbread Roma with roasted Roma tomatoes, fresh Mozzarella and basil atop savory pizza sauce and drizzled with extra virgin olive oil ($6.49).  It should be noted that we both had a nice glass of ‘house’ wine. ($6.25)

For only $3.29 with our entree, we both added a Caesar Salad to start us out.  There were 4 other salads that we could have chosen from, as well as 3 different soups, for $3.99.  These were very good Caesar Salads!

I ordered the Sausage Tortelloni for my dinner. ($10.99) It was quite good, although the sauce had too much onion in it for my taste. (Admittedly, I do have some weird food dislikes and hang ups…)

The Italian sausage was what drew me in but I might have been better off if I’d ordered the Pasta Woozie, fettuccine alfredo with grilled chicken and spinach ($13.99); Chicken and Pesto Rigatoni, with grilled chicken, fresh Mozzarella, basil, spinach and tomatoes in pesto cream sauce ($9.99), or perhaps; the Shrimp Fra Diavolo Campanelle, with sautéed shrimp and spicy tomato cream sauce ($15.99).

Sorry for this photo...It is horizontal in my picture file but no matter what I tried, I couldn't make it come out correctly in the blog. 

Laurie ordered one of her favorite Italian entrees…the lunch portion of the Lobster Ravioli ($11.99).  The dinner portion costs $16.99 but this smaller portion was more than enough to satisfy her appetite.  While she couldn’t describe this as the best Lobster Ravioli she’d ever had, it was very good indeed!

The menu at Bravo Cucina Italiana is fairly extensive.  There are 6 Specialty Pizzas ranging from $9.99 to $11.99; 18 House Specialties or Pasta entrees ranging from $9.99 to $18.99; 6 Seafood items ranging from $14.99 to $19.99 and; 6 entrees from the grill, including steaks, ranging from $16.99 to $28.99.  To view Bravo’s dinner menu, go to
Chain restaurants have come a long way… Fifteen to twenty years ago, when I traveled, I avoided them in favor of local favorites as related to me by my market contacts.  Today, many of these chains have raised themselves to a new level, one that is easy to accept.  Although I still seek out local restaurants most of the time, I do visit the better quality chain operations.
The Knoxville Tennessee Bravo! Cucina Italiana restaurant is located at 106 Major Reynolds Place.  Phone: 865-584-5510.  For more information on this chain of restaurants, just go to
Just click on any photo to enlarge it…
Thanks for stopping by for a visit!
Take Care, Big Daddy Dave

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Everglades National Park

Southeastern Florida has many top notch attractions and sights to explore, that we actually had to narrow down our list despite the fact that we had about a week to explore and experience the area.

One of the first places we decided to visit was the Everglades National Park.  Of course, probably the most well known animal and/or symbol of the park is the Alligator.  There are 4 of them, all fairly large, in the middle of the photo.  I think I see another straight back in the brush behind the pond.

The American Alligator is found throughout the southeastern USA, usually in swamps, sloughs, lakes, ponds, canals and rivers.  It can tolerate brackish water for short periods of time but they can’t process or remove the salt from their systems like crocodiles can.  Male alligators can grow up to 15’ long but females rarely exceed 10’ in length.  

Finally, the camera is turned on Laurie, my blog photographer!  Dawn Marie and Laurie are standing next to one of the several accessible wildlife viewing areas along the main road in Everglades National Park. 

There are some very interesting facts to consider about the park.  Everglades National Park was established in 1947.  Covering 1,508,538 acres or 2,358 square miles, it is the 3rd largest National Park in the lower 48 states. (Yellowstone is the 2nd largest and Death Valley is the largest) Consider this…the park is twice the size of the state of Rhode Island!

As we walked along the boardwalk at the Mahogany Hammock, another of the viewing areas along the main road, a photographer pointed out this Barred Owl in a tree above the trail.  She had a nest with young nearby and she brought a vole to her babies while Laurie and Dawn Marie were watching. 

The Everglades is a terrific place for birdwatchers to visit.  To see the unbelievably long list of birds that can be seen in the park, just go to

Although quite common across the eastern part of the USA, the Blue Heron is one of our favorite birds.  Back home in East Tennessee, we frequently see them out hunting for frogs and small fish.  In the Everglades, they are so used to people that Laurie could get very close to this specimen to take his photo. 

Everglades National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, an International Biosphere Reserve and it’s been designated as a Wetland of International Importance.  As large as it is, before man started draining the swampland for our use and misuse, the Everglades covered roughly 11,000 square miles.  That would have equaled an area larger than Rhode Island, Delaware, Connecticut, and Washington DC.

Laurie also took this close-up photo of a Wood Stork.  They are truly a primitive looking bird!  This is the only stork that presently breeds in North America.  They build stick nests and form colonies of nests…with as many as 25 nests in a single large tree.  These birds can be up to 45” tall…almost 4’…and they can have a wingspan of up to 71”…or about 6’!

Here’s another good sized Alligator.  It was dusk when the photo was taken.  In addition to American Alligators, coastal areas of the Everglades also shelter roughly 2,000 American Crocodiles.  They are more tolerant of salt water but they are also less able to adapt to colder temperatures.  Typically, a male American Crocodile will be 13’ long and weigh around 840 lbs.  However, 17 – 19’ Crocodiles can occur and one in that range was allegedly spotted in the Everglades in the past couple of years.

Invasive species are a major problem in South Florida and in the Everglades in particular.  In addition to Lionfish and Melaleuca Trees, there is a huge problem with Burmese Pythons.  These former pets have been turned loose by their former owners and they are upsetting the natural order of the ecological community in the park and elsewhere.  They can grow up to 20’ long and weigh 200 lbs.  They will eat small mammals, birds, deer, other snakes and even small Alligators.  Solutions for this problem have been hard to find.  Over 2,000 Burmese Pythons have been removed in recent years but they are definitely breeding in the park so a successful outcome as regards eradication is doubtful.

One of the most interesting birds in the park is the Anhinga or ‘Snakebird’.  It’s a Cormorant-type bird although we think that it’s even more primitive looking.  It is a protected species.

The viewing area at Royal Palm on the main road into the park is probably the best area to see a wide variety of birds as well as a lot of Alligators.  The roosting colony of Anhinga shown above was photographed at dusk.  These birds sometimes also hunt together.  One challenge is that they can’t waterproof their feathers.  While this helps them dive for food, they are forced to spend a lot of time sitting in trees or whatever is handy, wings outspread, drying their wings.

Dawn Marie took this photo of Laurie and I at dusk while visiting the Royal Palm wildlife viewing area in Everglades National Park.  We had a great time exploring and taking photos…

For more information on Everglades National Park, just go to the National Park website at  Another site of interest can be found at
Just click on any photo to enlarge it…
Thanks for stopping by and sharing our visit to the Everglades!
Take Care, Big Daddy Dave