Friday, March 24, 2017

Chinese Food – The Golden Wok

Given the fact that we’ve only found one or two decent Chinese restaurants in the Knoxville area, we were encouraged when we learned that a new Chinese dining opportunity awaited us!


This is the Golden Wok in Knoxville.  Given the obvious small size of this restaurant, I was worried about our experience.  Was the Golden Wok a take-out joint or a ‘real’ sit down restaurant?  Checking this restaurant’s website revealed that they refer to themselves as a “causal (should be casual) dining Chinese Restaurant”.  In any case, we were there for an early dinner after running errands in Knoxville.


Upon entering the Golden Wok, we noted that there were a few tables and booths for those who wished to “dine in…”  There are menus on the counter as well as the lighted menu boards above the kitchen door.
 
As with most Chinese restaurants, the menu is quite extensive.  There are no less than 31 Lunch Specials listed.  Counting Fried Rice, Chow Mein, Lo Mein, Mei Fun, Poultry, Roast Pork, Beef, Seafood, Vegetable, Egg Foo Young, Sweet and Sour, Moo Shu, Combination Platters, Chef’s Specials and the Diet Specials, there are about 140 different items to choose from on the regular menu!


We started out with our usual…a small Hot and Sour Soup. ($2.00) While it wasn’t as spicy as we like, it was pretty good and the portion was huge especially given the price!  Note that it was served in a plastic container with lid…



Laurie ordered the Szechuan Beef. ($7.95) As with our soup, the portion was huge!  As it was served in a plastic to go type container, it was difficult to eat at the table.  A plate…even a throw away plastic plate would have been preferable.  The flimsy plastic ‘silverware’ was inadequate for the task too.  That said, Laurie thought that her dinner was pretty darn good and she really liked the pork fried rice that accompanied the beef and vegetables.   


I ordered the Orange Chicken…fried breaded white meat chicken in a spicy orange brown sauce with broccoli. ($9.95) Again the portion was huge!  The quality was better than average for East Tennessee and the chef actually delivered the spicy heat that I requested!  He did the same with Laurie’s dinner…


I almost forgot the fact that Laurie’s meal also came with a decent Egg Roll.  Laurie thought that it was pretty good…

Given the quantity of food neither of us was able to finish our meals and we ended up taking leftovers home for a future lunch.  The young man who took our order also prepared our meals.  They do bring the food to your table when it’s ready.

While we’re still hoping for another above average actual ‘sit down’ Chinese Restaurant to open in the area, we both agreed that the Golden Wok provided huge quantities of above average food at bargain prices.  There is no doubt that the Golden Wok is a superior take out restaurant…  They are located at 9253 Kingston Pike (US Hwy. 11) in Knoxville Tennessee.  Phone: 865-539-9201.  Their website can be found at: http://goldenwokknoxvilletn.com/index.html.

Just click on any of the photos to enlarge them…

Thanks for stopping by for an early dinner!


Take Care, Big Daddy Dave

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Wine Tasting/Dinner Party

Time for another one of our Wine Tasting Parties!  Well, in reality, other than casual conversation about who brought which bottles of wine, these gatherings have really turned into dinner parties preceded by wine and accompanied by more wine…


Our kitchen counter was set up with a couple bottles of red wine to get us started, white wine will go into the big plastic ice bucket, as well as wine glasses for both red and white wines.   


The table was set and the Amish butter was in place.  Our group consists of only 5 couples and one couple was out of town so this was definitely a small intimate gathering.


Larry, (aka Big Dude at http://bigdudesramblings.blogspot.com) and his better half Beverly brought a Gruyere based fondue and a platter of bread squares, vegetables and fruit for dipping.  I ate way too much fondue that’s for sure!  The deviled eggs further up the counter are my wife Laurie’s specialty… Of course I had to have Tabasco to sprinkle on the eggs…


Jill and Paul brought this gorgeous fresh spinach and beet salad with goat cheese and walnuts.  It was a real hit!


Our entrée was an Irish Beef Stew.  It was something totally new for us to make.  We worked together prepping the meat and vegetables, cooking it slowly the day before our party.  When we doubled the recipe, we probably added a bit more water/liquids than we needed so we did have to add some instant potatoes to the mix to thicken it up a bit.  The finished product was well received by our little group!

We basically followed this recipe from simplyrecipes.com.  One of the keys to the flavor of the finished product was the addition of Guinness Extra Stout. (http://www.simplyrecipes.com/recipes/irish_beef_stew/print/)  


I took this photo of our group of party animals… In the photo from the left are Larry (Big Dude), Beverly, Jill, Paul, Dick, Susan and Laurie.  Note the nice crusty bread with Amish butter that accompanied and complemented the Irish stew.  The bread was purchased at Fresh Market, a great source for fresh bread and rolls.


Following dinner, we all sat around and discussed life, world affairs, future travels and a plethora of other topics.

Then it was time for dessert!


Susan and Dick brought this over-the-top luscious and decadent dessert.  She got the recipe from Martha…Irv’s better half from our absent couple.

I forgot to take a photo of this cake-like creation while it was still in one piece.  Fortunately, we had a leftover slice to take a picture of… This dessert had a lady finger crust and featured a mousse-like cream cheese/cheesecake filling.  It was amazing!  I was completely guilt ridden after eating a slab of it…

Just click on any of the photos to enlarge them…

Thanks for stopping by for a visit!

Take Care, Big Daddy Dave


Monday, March 20, 2017

The Owl Cafe Tap Room!

Once again it was time for dinner in Apalachicola.  The first night we ate in the Owl Café.  It was exceptional… So why gamble on your only other night in town when you have already a great experience? The choice for us was easy!


After all, for us this is a ‘new’ restaurant.  The Owl Tap Room didn’t exist when we last visited Apalachicola 17 years ago.  The Tap Room is located in the next attached structure down from the Owl Café, our restaurant of choice and memory for our first evening in town.


I’d checked and noted that the menu in the Owl Tap Room was significantly different than the Owl Café…and that helped us make our decision.  Our waitress helped us choose a couple of pints to go with our dinner.  Laurie had a “Hooter Brown” while I went for something light…it was called a “Happy Pint”.   


The atmosphere in the Tap Room is definitely more informal than the Owl Cafe…and there is no doubt that it is a bar...which also serves food.  The room is nicely decorated and it has a warm welcome feel to it.  It was busy when we arrived for an early dinner and it was packed when we finished. 



We are sure that this appetizer must be ‘illegal’ in some places across the USA!  As per my bill, this starter is named the “Happy Duck Frites”.  It was a Happy Hour Special…normally $9.00 but only $6.00 on this occasion.
 
On the menu for this item it is listed as “Duck Confit Fries”.  Pulled roasted duck, crispy prosciutto, duck crackin’ and melted gruyere cheese with an unnecessary but tasty dipping sauce make this one of the most decadent and scrumptious appetizers we’ve ever had!   


For her dinner…trying to keep it light after that appetizer…Laurie ordered the Fried Fish Tacos. ($13.00) The fish was nice and fresh as would be expected in Apalachicola.   We love good fish tacos and these filled the bill!

Other options included Chargrilled Alligator Sausage over a fried grit cake, Chipotle and Cilantro Grilled Catch of the Day, a 12 oz. grilled Ribeye steak and Penne Pasta with either chicken or shrimp.  Prices were quite reasonable considering the quality and quantity of the food.  



As for myself, I just plain got lucky!  The menu at the Owl Tap Room is somewhat limited as is the norm in a bar setting.  I was struggling with a decision…trying to decide if I wanted a Cheddar Burger with a Fried Egg and Bacon ($10.50), a Corned Beef Reuben ($12.00) or Fried Jumbo Gulf Shrimp. ($14.00)

That’s when I heard a 'local table' on either side of us order a special…the Short Rib Dinner!  Alas!  The waitress told me that the last one I’d heard being ordered was the last of the short ribs… I slumped down and ordered the burger.  About 5 minutes later the waitress ran up to the table and told me that the chef said there was one order of short ribs left!  Hooray!  So I was served this plate of delicious short ribs and garlic mashed potatoes…and life was good! ($20.00) Just the delightful aroma of this dish was worth ordering it!

The Owl Café Tap Room is another great place to eat in Apalachicola Florida!  We will return!  This restaurant is located at 75 Commerce Street.  Phone: 850-653-1910.  Website: http://www.owlcafeflorida.com/tap-room.html.

That’s it for now… Just click on any of the photos to enlarge them.

Thanks for stopping by to see what we had for dinner!

Take Care, Big Daddy Dave

Friday, March 17, 2017

Blue Parrot Restaurant

Our exploration of St. George’s Island, which sits between the Gulf of Mexico and Apalachicola Bay off the coast of Florida’s panhandle, coincided with lunchtime!  There aren’t a lot of restaurants on the island but we did spot one that looked like it might be ok…


This is the front entrance of The Blue Parrot Oceanfront Restaurant near the intersection of Gorrie Road and FL Hwy. 300 with the bridge that takes you to St. George’s Island.  Gorrie Road is the only road that runs the length of the island.



Based on our drive up and down the island, it appeared that this might be the only restaurant on the beach on the Gulf of Mexico side of St. George’s.  We decided to eat outside on the covered deck.  I generally don’t like to dine outside unless I’m by the water… I’ve never understood the charm of big city outdoor dining when you are enjoying the great outdoors looking at a busy street or a parking lot!


We both ordered a cup of Lobster Bisque. ($5.99 cup/$8.99 bowl) It was a decent rendition of my wife’s favorite soup although we have had better on occasion.  The Blue Parrot also offers Seafood Gumbo by the cup ($5.99) or by the bowl. ($8.99)

I thought that Laurie would go for some Apalachicola Bay oysters for an appetizer but lobster always trumps any other seafood for her.  The oysters can’t get much fresher here along the bay.  A dozen oysters on the half shell were $11.99 and a dozen baked oysters cost $13.99.  



For her main luncheon dish, Laurie ordered a Lunch Special…the Fried Grouper Finger Basket. ($15.99) She opted for a bag of potato chips as her side rather than the usual French fries.  Coleslaw was another option.  Her basket came with a couple of big hushpuppies too.  She enjoyed her lunch.

Commentary… “Fingers”… Who in the heck came up with the term ‘fingers’ when referring to fish or chicken dishes?  Neither species has fingers.  What’s wrong with using the term chicken or fish “filets”?  Are steak fingers next?!


I decided to skip the usual shrimp, fried fish or fish sandwich for lunch.  Instead I ordered an appetizer.  This is a basket of Cocktail Claws. ($13.99) These are locally caught blue crab claws that have been breaded and deep fried.  They were a nice change of pace from my norm!


This big orange tabby hung out over on Laurie’s side of the table looking for scraps.  The Blue Parrot advertises itself as being pet friendly and this cat is just one of the local ‘beach bums’ that hang out here.  It must get interesting when someone shows up with a German Shepard as their ‘pet guest’.
 

Oh yes… I had a visitor on my side of the table as well.  He/she is apparently giving me hell for not providing enough blue crab claw meat to satisfy his/her hunger!  These cats look like they’re pretty well fed…

Of course the oysters and locally caught shrimp are all fresh here.  For those who love fresh fish, the Blue Parrot’s menu stresses fresh local grouper, mahi-mahi and yellowfin tuna.  Local soft shell blue crabs are also featured.  Dinner entrée prices run from $19.99 for a shrimp dinner up to $28.99 for the “World Famous” Blue Parrot Seafood Platter.  It includes grouper, shrimp, oysters, sea scallops and a crab cake...either fried, grilled, blackened or broiled. 

We enjoyed our lunch and the setting didn't hurt either!  The Blue Parrot Restaurant is located at 68 West Gorrie on St. George’s Island Florida.  Phone: 850-927-2987.  Their website can be found at: http://www.blueparrotsgi.com/index.htm.

Just click on any of the photos to enlarge them…

Thanks for stopping by for a visit!


Take Care, Big Daddy Dave  

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

St. George Island Florida

Laurie and I love to explore when we’re on road trips and even when we’re home in East Tennessee.  So when we were in the Apalachicola area in Florida’s panhandle, it was just a matter of course before we left the town itself to see what we could see…


As you come off the bridge from the mainland, this lighthouse and keeper’s home and cottage are just about the first things that you see.  The lighthouse dominates the skyline.  The lighthouse keeper’s home serves as a museum and visitor’s center for the island.

St. George Island is a barrier island that protects and helps form St. George Sound as well as the eastern end of Apalachicola Bay.  The island is 28 miles long and 1 mile wide at its widest point.  St. George Island is part of a string of barrier islands that include Cape St. George Island and Dog Island.  St. George Island is connected to the mainland via FL Hwy. 300 and a bridge over Apalachicola Bay.



The St. George’s Island lighthouse looks old but it’s really a quality reconstruction of the original.  It was completed in 2008 and the keeper’s cottage was finished and opened to the public in 2011.  Tickets can be purchased at the cottage to climb the lighthouse stairs.

To learn more about the cottage and lighthouse, you can go to http://www.stgeorgelight.org/.


The original lighthouse actually stood on “Little” or Cape St. George Island.  As shown in this sad photo, it collapsed in the fall of 2005 after a series of hurricanes and related attempts to save it. (Photo by Debbie Hooper, JoeBay.com)

The first lighthouse on the island was built in 1833.  It was damaged and replaced in 1848.  The second lighthouse lasted only 3 years and was replaced in 1852.  This one was built to last!  The lighthouse keeper was replaced by an automatic light in 1949.  The Coast Guard deactivated the light after severe storm damage in 1994.  Given its exposure to hurricanes and other storms, the fact that the original lasted 153 years is remarkable. 




The beach on St. George Island goes on and on and on… With 28 miles of seashore on the Gulf of Mexico there is enough sand for everyone!

St. George Island is informally divided into three regions:

·       The Dr. Julian G. Bruce St. George Island State Park.  The park occupies the eastern 9 miles of the island.  We didn’t visit it because I just wanted to drive through and take a couple of photos but there is an admission fee…not worth it for just 30 minutes of sightseeing.  For information about this park, go to https://www.floridastateparks.org/park/St-George-Island.

·       A fairly long strip of restaurants, bars, small businesses, homes and a public beach.  We drove the length of this area in both directions and as you’ll see in an upcoming post, we had lunch here.  We did notice that there are a plethora of nice rental cottages in this area.

·       At the western end of the island there is the St. George Plantation, a private, gated, highly exclusive housing community with its own airstrip that includes some of the most expensive multimillion-dollar beach homes along the Gulf of Mexico.  Homes can be rented in this community too.  Check it out at http://www.stgeorgeplantation.com/.


This is a photo of the FL Hwy. 300 Bridge that I took from St. George’s Island as we headed back to the mainland.  The St. George’s Island Bridge was completed in 2004, replacing an older bridge that had been deemed as unsafe.  


At 4.1 miles long, the St. George's Island bridge is the third longest bridge in Florida.

Note:

·       Tampa’s Sunshine Skyway Bridge across Tampa Bay is exactly 25 feet longer than the St. George’s Island Bridge.  Florida’s longest bridge is the Seven Mile Bridge that connects Knight’s Key with Little Duck Key in the Florida Keys at the tip of the state.


Sections of the old bridge to St. George’s Island remain.  One reaches out from the mainland and the section shown above reaches into the bay from the island.  As a guy that likes to fish, I was happy to note that both old bridge segments are designated as fishing piers…


On the way back to the mainland from St. George’s Island Laurie was able to capture this picture of Apalachicola Bay oystermen plying their trade. 

Apalachicola Bay, which is relatively shallow and about 30 long, produces 90 percent of Florida’s oysters. I was both pleased and surprised to learn that Apalachicola Bay is the last place in the United States where, by law, wild oysters are still harvested by tongs from small boats.  The commercial fisheries “bag” limit for the current season is 3 bags or 6 5 gallon buckets of oysters in the shell…3 inch minimum.  It is a challenging way to make a living!

That’s about it for now… Just click on any of the photos to enlarge them.

Thanks for stopping by for a little sightseeing!


Take Care, Big Daddy Dave

Monday, March 13, 2017

An Italian Valentine’s Day Dinner

One of our few gripes about living in the paradise that is East Tennessee is the lack of good ethnic restaurants.  In my opinion…lots of luck in finding decent Greek, Polish, Vietnamese or German food in this area.  The lack of quality Italian cuisine has been a particular issue for us.  We moved here from Chicago where there are many good to great Italian restaurants.

Well, I guess that we just didn’t look hard enough for quality Italian food or we relied on less than accurate restaurant feedback…


Our friends Norm and Linda made reservations for Valentine’s Day dinner at Naples Restaurant in Knoxville and they invited us to join them.  We had a furniture delivery that day so we weren’t sure we’d make it…but the timing worked out just fine.

For the life of me, I can’t figure out why we hadn’t dined at this restaurant before now… (I failed to take an exterior photo so I borrowed this picture from Naples website…the flower beds weren’t in bloom on Valentine’s Day!)


This is the small bar/part of the waiting area just inside the front entrance to the restaurant.  Despite it being a busy ‘dining’ holiday with Norm and Linda’s reservations, we were seated right away.

This location has served as an Italian restaurant since 1955.  Joe and Hazel Alberti operated Alberti’s Italian Restaurant for 23 years.  When they retired, Chuck Naples and Ray Ward purchased the business and changed the name to Naples which it remains today.  It’s still called “Naples” despite the fact that Chuck Naples moved to Arkansas.  The Luper family then partnered with Ray Ward, buying him out in 1998.  The Luper family still operates the restaurant. 


Naples Restaurant is not a huge venue… There is another dining area through the hallway at the back left.  Linda, Norm (in red,with his back to the camera) and Laurie are at the first table at the right of this photo.

Note the dark area in the back right corner of the restaurant…more on that below.


I know that the photo is dark but I think that you can see people in that little ‘room’ or private box.  I believe that there are at least 2 such private dining ‘booths’ at Naples Restaurant.  While it’s not for me apparently many people think that this special seating is quite romantic.  It’s certainly something that is rarely seen in any restaurant! 


Now onto what’s really important…the food!  Our efficient and pleasant waiter brought us this plate of nice bread along with some nice dipping sauce.  I will admit to being primarily responsible for whipping out the bread supply!



If these 2 appetizers look similar it’s because the base ingredient is the same…gnocchi.  I can’t recall what Norm and Linda’s gnocchi was topped with (first photo), but ours was topped with pine nuts and sun dried tomatoes in garlic oil with feta cheese. ($7.99) This appetizer was so good that I could have eaten 2 orders of it by myself!

I also learned something new.  I always thought that gnocchi was made with semolina or ordinary wheat flour.  Wrong!  I now know that gnocchi can be made with potato…like these luscious crispy potato cake beauties…or even corn meal!


Laurie and I opted for a side Caesar salad. ($4.99 with entrée) This version of a Caesar salad is made with fresh romaine lettuce that was tossed with Naples homemade eggless dressing, Kalamata olives and parmesan cheese.  Despite the fact that we both love ‘real’ Caesar salads made with egg and anchovies, this was an excellent salad.


Norm ordered a salad too… This Half Wedge Salad ($5.99) is the best presentation of a wedge salad that I’ve ever seen. The Tuscan Wedge Salad consists of a crisp iceberg wedge with apple bacon, gorgonzola crumbles, balsamic marinated tomatoes, walnuts topped with a molasses drizzle and a choice of dressings. I’m ordering a wedge salad myself the next time we visit Naples Restaurant!


Laurie spotted one of her favorite Italian dishes on the list of specials.  There was no real doubt that she’d order the Lobster Ravioli. ($21.99) She liked this version quite a bit but she would have preferred a little creamier sauce with it.


Linda went for the Scampi Amaretto. ($19.99) With this offering, gulf shrimp are tossed in a toasted almond and Amaretto cream sauce over fettuccini.  This is an entrée that I & Laurie would have enjoyed too…

Norm and Linda have eaten here every Valentine’s Day for the past several years…and now we know why!  I can’t remember the last time (in 38 years) that Laurie and I ate out on Valentine’s Day…


Norm decided to order an appetizer with a side of spaghetti for his dinner.  Since Naples doesn’t have Italian Sausage and Peppers on the entrée portion of the menu, this was his solution to that issue. ($7.99) His ‘entrée’ consisted of Italian sausage, peppers and onions sautéed in fresh garlic and oil then it was lightly dusted with Romano cheese.  He was a happy camper!


My dinner wasn’t on Linda’s list of acceptable entrees…but it was excellent!  This was Naples version of Veal Saltimbocca…veal sautéed with prosciutto ham and provolone and served in a white wine sage sauce. ($19.99) It was excellent and to enhance this dish, you might note that the veal was accompanied by a couple more of those crispy potato gnocchi!  I also had a side of decent if not great pasta Alfredo… 


  
OK…after these sumptuous meals, we should have let well enough alone and ended our dining experience!  But after all, it was Valentine’s Day… Norm decided to have a Crème Brulee…even though it was an odd flavor for this particular dessert…key lime! ($6.99) He enjoyed it but he would have preferred a good old standard issue Crème Brulee.


Linda went for the Spumoni. ($5.99) This in-house creation featuring layers of chocolate, dark cherry and pistachio ice cream was topped with whipped cream…and it was very good!


Laurie and I decided to split a dessert.  She said that I should order whatever I wanted as she’d be fine with whatever I chose.  I’m really not into cake so I don’t know why I decided to share a slice of Chocolate Italian Crème Cake. ($6.99) This well presented rich layered chocolate cake has coconut and walnuts in it plus it features cream cheese frosting.  Note the whipped cream as well.  It was OK and it may be fabulous as these cakes go but it was just too rich for my taste…


I forgot to mention that Valentine’s Day diners at Naples Italian Restaurant were treated to a quartet of tableside crooners… The crowd seemed to enjoy their efforts but I thought that they were only just OK.  Of course, this is coming from a guy who can’t carry a note in a bucket and who was kicked out of mixed chorus in the 9th grade because he was ruining the sound of the class…

We were very happy with our dining experience at Naples Italian Restaurant and we will return!  It is now our choice for upscale Italian cuisine in the greater Knoxville area.  This restaurant is located at 5500 Kingston Pike in Knoxville Tennessee.  Phone: 865-584-5033.  Website: http://naplesitalianrestaurant.net/.

Just click on any of the photos to enlarge them…

Thanks for stopping by for a bit of Italian cuisine!


Take Care, Big Daddy Dave