Thursday, May 3, 2012

New Location

Some big changes are taking place and my blog is moving! I am really excited about this opportunity and being able to develop more content and have a bit more freedom in the design of my blog. Blogger has been great but this should be an awesome change.

Check out the new home for From Ballparks to BBQ.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Hide in the Dunes

I was looking through some of old posts and various restaurant reviews and was surprised to find that I had never previously written about Dune Dog Cafe. Shame on me. "The Dune Dog" is a legendary restaurant for locals in Jupiter, FL. and one of my favorite places anywhere. When we used to live in south Florida, it was always a place we would take visitors, and now it has become a place we always go when we visit the area.

The atmosphere at Dune Dog Cafe is wonderful and unique. It has a beach shack/tiki hut sort of design that is great for a place at the beach - it would be absolutely perfect if the restaurant was actually located on the beach but the cost of the property would be ridiculous. There are no doors or windows and trees surround the exterior, providing good shade and decent protection from bad weather. Seating is available on both sides of the shack and the kitchen is located in the center, but it's not a particularly big restaurant. There's nothing fancy about this place and the typical attire is t-shirts, swimsuits, and flip flops. This is where you find the true locals of south Florida - not the streets of South Beach or Palm Beach. It's not uncommon to drive by and see people waiting all around the parking lot to get a table, and they are especially busy on nights when certain specials are available. Since it's only about five minutes from my family's condo, we have adopted the strategy of sending someone ahead to put our name on the waiting list.

In regards to the food, I don't think I've ever had anything at Dune Dog Cafe I didn't like. My favorite dish would be the ribs, which are incredibly tender and fall of the bone when served - and are also offered as All-You-Can-Eat on Monday nights. However, the Crunchy Fish Sandwich would be a close second behind the ribs, and the burgers, wings, and hot dogs are all excellent as well. Heck, they even make a great Garden Salad with Grilled Mahi. The sides are worth mentioning as well because I don't know what they put in their waffle fries, but it involves some sort of ingredient that is as addictive as crack cocaine. They probably could have been featured in Requiem for a Dream. There have been nights where I've ordered the All-You-Can-Eat ribs mainly because I knew it also came with All-You-Can-Eat waffle fries. The onion rings, creole rice, and grilled vegetables are all other worthy side options - but yeah, get the fries. And considering the prices of most restaurants in south Florida, this is one of the best values around. Most meals average around the $10.00 range and the specials are usually great deals, including the All-You-Can-Eat Rib Night for $13.99. If you can't tell, I'm a kind of a fan of Rib Night.

There are certain restaurants that are special to people. For me, Dune Dog Cafe is one of those special restaurants. For years, I have enjoyed excellent meals there with friends and family and it has created many memories for me. It's the first restaurant that comes to mind when I think about food in south Florida and it's one of the first places I want to visit every time I return. And it's one of those places I hope will always stay the same.

Dune Dog Cafe on Urbanspoon    

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Island Eating

I'm so far behind now with posting restaurant reviews that I can't worry about posting them in any sort of order. It'd be nice if I could write something roughly around the time when I eat at these restaurants, but alas...I'm just not that good! Between work, puppy training, traveling, and getting various other new technology toys (now a proud member of the iPhone family), writing blog posts has become more of a novelty concept for me. Luckily, eating has not!

A few weeks ago, my dad uttered a phrase I never thought I'd hear him say..."Want to try that Jamaican place out Shenandoah Avenue?" Uhhhh...heck yes! Depending on the type of person you are, this is the sort of restaurant you would drive by and either be really excited or really frightened. It is in an "interesting" part of town and there's not much in the way or advertising or marketing, but it definitely appeared to be authentic. The restaurant is called Little Jamaica, and they are serving up some unique Caribbean cuisine.
I had driven by Little Jamaica a couple times on the way to puppy obedience school and my dad had heard good things about it from one of his employees at work, so we decided to try it for lunch one day. He brought his employee along with us to help navigate the menu and we were the only people in the restaurant when we walked in. The menu featured an assortment of curry and stew dishes as well as a variety of meats, including chicken, fish, goat, and oxtail. I decided to have the Jerk Chicken, which came with black beans and rice, cabbage, and plantain chips.

After having eaten meals in various countries in the Caribbean, I can't deny that this dish was authentic. The jerk chicken had a strong amount of heat from the spices and the chicken was cooked on the bone, which meant having to deal with the bones while trying to eat. I mentioned I'd had a dining experience like this before, only it was in a slum town in South Africa called Ntabankulu. I never thought ANYTHING would remind of that place. The chicken was probably the least impressive part of the meal - there were too many bones and not enough edible meat, which made it not even worth the trouble. Again, probably a bit too authentic for my tastes. I tried some of my dad's oxtail and was much more impressed with the flavor and tenderness of his dish. However, the rice & beans and cabbage had good flavor and the portions were very well sized. It was a little expensive at around $9 for a plate, but I probably could have stretched it to two meals if I'd wanted to.

The restaurant offers very little in terms of atmosphere, and they appear to do a decent amount of takeout. We sat at a table outside and noticed a few people come pick up food and eat while sitting on the hoods of their cars - must be some sort of insider thing. I don't know if I would rush to bring a visitor here, but these are the sorts of restaurants that a give a town's dining scene true character. It's easy to find fancy and flashy restaurants when you hang out in the popular parts of town where everyone is trying to be seen. But it's more of an adventure to try the places that are full of character and off the beaten path. And Little Jamaica offers such an experience.

Little Jamaica on Urbanspoon

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Cookie Monster

Dear Diary,
I just ate 14 chocolate chip cookies. I'm off to read about the benefits of bulimia.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Best of the Year

This is my favorite sports week of the year. The NCAA Final Four, MLB's Opening Day, and The Masters all take place over an eight day period. My favorite of the three events is The Masters, but I also love watching the Final Four - especially the Saturday semifinal games. You get to see the conclusion of one season (college basketball), the beginning of another season (baseball), and the premiere event in one sport (The Masters). It doesn't even matter to me which teams are playing, it's just great to enjoy as a sports fan. I just wish I were Jim Nantz, who gets to cover the Final Four and The Masters for CBS.

Let the games begin! And may the odds be ever in your favor.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

My Week in Pictures

The past week has been busy, crazy, and fun - all at the same time. There are times when a routine is helpful for being efficient and productive and organized. And there are other times when it's good to do something different, like taking a random trip, or enjoying a bizarre meal, or treating yourself...I did all three this past week. Here's some of the highlights in pictures:

Last Sunday, Nicole and I did something we never do...go to the movies. We don't feel like spending the money and we usually just rent things from the library. But we made an exception to go see The Hunger Games. We are big fans of the books and really enjoyed the movie. Already looking forward to the next one!

On Wednesday, Nicole and I drove to Richmond for the Virginia Food & Beverage Expo. This event featured hundreds of local food companies, many of them being small family businesses. We had a great time sampling their products and learning about their companies. It was also my first time hanging out in Richmond and it was a lot of fun - other than the miserable 8 hours of driving in one day.

Friday, I had lunch at a restaurant in Roanoke called Little Jamaica. I plan to write a full review, but I'll go ahead and say that this place had character. My jerk chicken and my dad's ox tail were legit...maybe even too legit. 

Yesterday, we went to Blacksburg and hung out at Virginia Tech's International Street Fair. As I wrote in yesterday's post, I was surprised at how big the event was and much diversity there was. I found out today that over 10,000 people attended the Fair and there were over 40 countries represented. I feel so cultured.

And then today, we did something I had been wanting to do for a long time - we hiked Mill Mountain. We started at the base of the mountain and made our way up to the Star. I wasn't able to get any good pictures but it was a good hike, minus all the bugs. To celebrate, we went downtown and enjoyed a snowball from Bayou Snowballs, another place I plan to write a review about soon.

I hope this coming week is just as fun!

Saturday, March 31, 2012

The 'Burg

Nicole and I decided to have an adventurous Saturday and got up this morning to spend the day in Blacksburg. Part of my job involves finding out about events that are taking place in the area, but ironically, Nicole usually finds much more interesting things than I do - and she heard about some cool stuff going on in downtown Blacksburg today. And of course, both had a strong emphasis on food.

As the weather begins to warm back up (not that it ever got particularly cold), more farmer's markets are starting open up. The Blacksburg Farmer's Market isn't very big, but it does have a lot of character, community support, and it's in a great location. I'd say there were about 10 merchants with tables, and there might be more vendors once we get farther into the growing season. Also, the market is open on Saturday and Wednesday afternoon, and Wednesday might be a more popular day. However, for a small market, there is a surprising amount of variety in the products offered. There are handmade craft items available as well as fresh produce, meat, cheese, baked goods, coffee, butters and jams, homemade ice cream, and more - even a station where two guys (not five) were grilling burgers and other types of sandwiches. The market is located in the heart of downtown and receives a lot of business from Virginia Tech students and Blacksburg locals. It's really cool to see the college students supporting the local economy and helping area farmers and it gives the market some unique character. Even if it's just for a stroll, spending some time at the Blacksburg Farmer's Market is a fun way to enjoy a Saturday morning.

After hanging out at the market, Nicole and I grabbed some drinks from Starbucks and walked over to the Virginia Tech campus for another fun gathering. A group of student organizations had joined together for the "International Street Fair" - and to be honest, I was stunned at how big this event was. I was expecting to see five or six tents set up with the only people attending the event being the ones who were already involved with the organizations. I was way off. There were probably 25-30 tents set up, each one representing different countries from around the world and serving unique cuisine from that country. The students did a great job representing their countries, serving authentic dishes, dressing in cultural attire, and playing regional music. There were probably a few thousand people that attended the event and I'm sure this was a great fundraiser for many of the campus organizations involved. Nicole and I supported the Vietnamese Student Group (Viet Tech) by enjoying some Shrimp Spring Rolls. I shouldn't have been surprised at the interest and support of the event - the Virginia Tech student body has a strong international presence and a great sense of community. Good for them for embracing their cultural diversity.

We had a lot of fun hanging out in The 'Burg for the day. The weather was great and it felt good to get out and do something different. I also tried a new restaurant and hope to post a review about that later in the week. Now, we just have to be sure not to hang out in Blacksburg so much that we become, as Nicole says, "the creepy older people who hang out at college events but aren't actually in college."