That Food Guy
Sunday, January 29, 2012
  Kristina's Cafe and SPARC After Holidays Party
Kristina’s Cafe
3590 34th St NSaint Petersburg, FL 33713
(727) 526-6673

This is a bit of a combination blog, partly a food blog and partly a travel/adventure blog. It is the St. Petersburg Amateur Radio Club’s annual after-the-holidays party that was hosted by Kristina’s Café in St. Petersburg, Florida. It is an interesting concept, the after-the-holidays party. From November through New Years there are big meals, lots of guests, preparations and decorations galore. With the passing of New Years it all suddenly stops. The end is a welcome respite from the hurried activity of the holidays but it is now kind of empty, a big vacuum. The after-the-holidays party fills the void with a minimum of fuss and bother. It is casual dress, meet at the restaurant, eat, drink and be merry with good friends, and when it is all over, it is time to go home. A party with no fuss, no muss and no bother.

The St. Petersburg Amateur Radio Club, SPARC, is much like any other amateur radio club. It is made up of men and women of all ages, all professions, a general sampling of the community at large with a common single interest, communicating with radios. The amateur has nothing to do with their skill level. That merely means that they are not paid for what they do. And they do plenty. Amateur radio operators, familiarly known as hams, worldwide, are there when everything goes wrong. When earthquake, tornado, flood, any disaster strikes, hams are the first to get their own personal equipment on the air, sending the messages that coordinate the rescue and relief efforts. It may be weeks or even months before the conventional telephone systems are repaired. In the interim everyone relies on the ham operator to get the message through. There is no possible government program that could put that many skilled operators and that much sophisticated equipment in such strategic locations. Hams do it because it is their hobby. Makes me feel kind of proud to be one of them.

This year, as last, the party was scheduled at Kristina’s Café, a small family-style restaurant. Half of the dining room was set aside for the SPARC members and their family. The final tally was a few less than fifty attending. That is a lot of people to feed all at once. Usually, for affairs of this nature, the restaurant will offer a limited menu, many of the items prepared in advance to facilitate serving. It was open menu at Kristina’s and it is a rather extensive menu at that. Kristina’s does feature daily specials, Shepherd’s pie was featured today, and several people selected that delightful looking dish. That would have helped out a bit in the kitchen but most ordered a wide selection of the offerings.

Kristina’s is open 24-hours a day and serves breakfast anytime. The party time slot was between lunch and dinner. Our ordering options were for the entire menu, breakfast, lunch or dinner. My wife, Janis, chose the breakfast option and ordered one of her favorites; chocolate chip pancakes ($5.25). Her serving was three large, nicely browned pancakes with lots of chocolate chips. Although her favorite chocolate chip pancakes are made with a portion of buckwheat flour, these all wheat flour pancakes were tasty, nicely browned on the outside, cooked through on the inside (not doughy like some) and the chocolate chips melted and gooey but not burnt. There was a sufficient supply of butter and syrup provided. The three pancakes were a large serving for her and she finished most of them; the dogs got very little. That should attest to them being tasty and a worthy dish to sample. She had coffee ($1.25) along with her pancakes. I don’t know what is usual at Kristina’s but at the banquet seating of the party there were insulated carafes of coffee being passed around that the servers kept full.

It is really hard for me to pass up a hamburger. Somewhere inside me is a part of Wimpy from the Popeye cartoons… “I’ll gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today.” And so it was that I chose the mushroom and bacon cheeseburger, deluxe of course with French fries (you have a choice of potatoes, $6.95). It is a large burger, served on a platter with the fries. A smaller platter along side has the vegetables, lettuce, onion, tomato and a pickle. When dining out I order ground meat medium well, just in case. My burger was cooked to order. There was no skimping on the bacon, cooked crisp, and the mushrooms. It was a mound ontop of the burger patty and it needed the melted cheese to hold it all together. By the time I added the lettuce, onion and tomato, it was a very tall burger and I really had to squeeze down to get a bite. The flavor was good, nice and juicy and didn’t really need any mayo or ketchup. The burger along with the fries was a big meal and I was quite satisfied. I had a soda with my burger. They feature Pepsi products so I chose a Mountain Dew ($1.35).

Entrees at Kristina’s are large. So, dessert is a “loosen the belt a notch” kind of thing. When the servers came around for dessert orders, I relented and chose a tapioca pudding with sprinkles of cinnamon and topped with a swirl of whipped cream ($1.25); a nice 4-ounce serving. It tasted like tapioca should, was sweet and cold and made for a nice touch after the heavier taste of the bacon mushroom cheeseburger and fries.

Think for a moment about this event. A small restaurant has almost fifty guests arrive almost all at once. They are seated, served their beverages of choice, meal orders taken and served in a time frame commensurate with the regular diners at the restaurant. Add to that the fact that the menu was not abbreviated. We all got to choose from the full, rather lengthy menu. There were a couple of times that a dish went to the wrong person, but that was rare. For the most part each order came to exactly the right person. On top of that, checks came to the individual parties; our tab was correct. The servers out front and the staff in the kitchen did yeoman service to keep that all together. I can see why SPARC chose to return to Kristina’s. And by the way, the other half of the dining room was able to accommodate the regular customers, our servers doing admirable duty for them as well.

I am a new member to the SPARC club. Many of the people I only know as voices on the radio. The club meetings and events like this party bring the members together. It was pleasant conversation with people, once strangers, now friends. The food was good and I enjoyed that. The interaction with my fellow hams was the spice that turned a meal into a veritable feast; one I will long remember. At the end of the dinner hour, the club president passed out favors to all the guests. It was a select a wrapped gift from the basket event. We did quite well. A nice box of chocolates and a bag of double-fudge brownie mix.

If you have an interest in amateur radio and would like more information, visit the St. Petersburg Amateur radio Club at http://www.sparc-club.org/index.html . There you will find many links to provide all the information you may need to become a ham yourself.

















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Thursday, January 19, 2012
  Double Musky Inn - Girdwood, Alaska
The other Larry in front of the Double Musky - note line waiting to open.Double Musky Girdwood, Alaska
Mile .3 Crow Creek Rd
Phone: (907) 783-2822
http://www.doublemuskyinn.com/
October 25, 2009

Alaska can boast of a world-class ski resort. Located in Girdwood, Alaska, Alyeska’s winter slopes are filled with skiers. In the off season the streets are quieter, the hustle and bustle of a ski resort is replaced with the staid, quiet tempo of a country village. But it was not the skiing that brought us to Girdwood this day. We were on our way to the Double Musky Restaurant.
The old mantra of location, location, seems not to apply here. Anchorage, the only city of any size is an hour’s drive away. The double Musky must be doing a whole lot right to earn the “Alaska’s favorite restaurant” accolade from the Anchorage Daily News. The original Musky came into being in the early 1960s. Back then it was an after-ski bar. Customers grilled their own steaks over coals in the dining room. There were several owners over the years with varying degrees of success. The new Musky came into being in 1979 when it was purchased by Bob and Deanna Persons. Through trial and error, they developed a unique persona that brought in the customers. For a time they called themselves a Cajun restaurant but now specialize in classic New Orleans dishes featuring Alaska seafood. Their effort has paid dividends and has earned them accolades from many newspapers, magazines and TV cooking show personalities.
Dining salon 1Dining salon 2
It is great to have friends on whom you can always rely. Among others, one stands out as rather exceptional. His name is Larry just like I am and that sometimes can be confusing. During this particular summer he was of particular help with projects around the home. To say thanks I treated him to dinner at the Double Musky. This was not an adventure, seeking new and untested foods. We have been to the Double Musky before and we knew what to expect. Although they are known for their Alaskan seafood dishes, they are equally famous for their French Pepper Steak (16-20 oz. New York Steak, crusty with cracked pepper and covered with a spicy burgundy sauce). Of course we would study the menu but we already knew what we would order.

Salad greens, croutons, dressing and hot roll and butter.If you are unfamiliar with the Double Musky, call ahead to make sure they are not on vacation, booked for a private event, and to be sure of their hours of operation. Once we did make the two-hour drive from Chugiak only to find that the restaurant was booked for a private function. We usually try to arrive there a bit before their opening for the dinner hour. There will always be a few people already in line at the front door. When the doors are opened, customers pass through the arctic entry and then past the viewing window to their extensive wine collection. The Double Musky has grown over the years and has collected décor items so that it may now best be described as eclectic. It does add quirky warmth to the dining salon.

Pepper steak with burgundy sauce on the side.Some of the Cajun and New Orleans dishes can be inherently spicy. The serving staff will take your order including just how spicy you do or don’t want your food to be prepared. For beef, they post the following to help you decide just how you want your beef cooked: Rare - cool red center - Medium-rare - warm red center Medium - hot pink center - Medium-well-well - takes time. Most dinners are served with vegetables, salad and rolls. You can view entrees offered in their extensive menu at http://www.doublemuskyinn.com/ .

Our salads were mixed greens with croutons and dressing of choice. The greens were fresh and crisp. With a nice freshly baked roll and butter, it was a nice opening to the meal. Arriving early has the advantage of earning you a window table. After our salad, we chatted and watched the darkening shadows of evening in the forest across the street. It was summer time and it doesn’t get really dark except for a few hours in the wee hours of the morning. But the shadows in the forest were deep and dark adding to the allure and magic of the Alaska wilderness just on the other side of the window glass.

Pepper steak with burgundy sauce already applied - from a previous visitAnticipation makes the wait seem longer but in this case well worth the effort. I enjoyed my pepper steak on my last visit very much. Sometime, though, I thought the burgundy sauce to be a little overbearing. This time I ordered the sauce on the side so I can add as much or as little as I liked. They had no problem with the request. The meat was cooked to order, tender but the thickness required a little pressure from the knife. The other Larry knows at the start that about half of his steak will be taken home in a container. I, on the other hand, looked at the huge steak sitting in front of me and considered it a challenge. Suffice it to say that with the salad, roll, steak and large baked potato with butter, sour cream and chives, there was ample to eat, perhaps even a bit of excess. I passed on dessert that night because I did indeed have more than enough to eat.

It was a very pleasant evening. Good food, amazing ambiance and good friendship made for a time well remembered. I thank the people at the Double Musky for their courteous service, good food and most of all to say thank you to the other Larry for being a friend in need.

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Saturday, January 07, 2012
  Albert Whitted Airport Preservation Society - Hamburger Cookout
Albert Whitted Airport, St. Petersburg, FL - Photo by Larry Andersen Albert Whitted Airport AWAPS
451 8th Avenue SESt. Petersburg, FL 33701Phone: 727-822-1532 • Fax: 727-820-0303
http://www.awaps.org/

The relics and mementos of history are all about you. You just have to recognize what they are. For the curious, finding a true connection to history is personally rewarding. If you are in St. Petersburg, Florida and are seeking aviation history then you need not look further than Albert Whitted Airport. Situated on a promontory jutting into Tampa Bay, Albert Whitted Airport forms part of the shoreline of downtown St. Petersburg.

Through the security gate at the AWAPS clubhouseIt was from St. Petersburg that Tony Jannus began the first scheduled commercial airline flights way back in 1914. Jannus made the less than a half hour flight to Tampa and return trips in an open cockpit Benoist flying boat, a bi-wing aircraft that flew across the bay almost skimming the water.

The airport is named after Lt. James Albert Whitted, a St. Petersburg native who was one of the United States Navy’s first 250 Naval Aviators. A bit of a barnstormer, his aerial maneuvers were a thrilling introduction to aviation for St. Petersburg. The airport was named in his honor in 1928.

A George T. Baker founded National Airlines in 1934 and for a time was headquartered at Albert Whitted Airport. After the World War the airline grew and added many routes. It became the first airline to introduce domestic jet service and the first airline to have all turbine-powered fleet. National Airlines was acquired by Pan Am in 1980 and slowly lost its identity.
The Goodyear Company operated part of its lighter-than-air fleet from Albert Whitted Airport. The airport was one of the first chosen to conduct blimp operations. In 1934 Coast Guard Air Station St. Petersburg was commissioned and it provided a critical link in the air sea rescue duties of the Coast Guard. IN addition to land aircraft, the Coast Guard operated amphibious aircraft including the PBY Catalina and the Martin PBM Mariner and Marlin aircraft. The Coast Guard switch to helicopter and C-130 aircraft prompted the Coast Guard to station the aircraft at Coat Guard Air Station Clearwater, the facility at Albert Whitted becoming a non-flying Coast Guard facility.

The food service lineDuring the Second World War Albert Whitted was a very busy base for training Navy and Marine Airmen as well as providing a base for antisubmarine patrols in the Gulf of Mexico.
Albert Whitted Airport is owned by the City of St. Petersburg. It is a self-supporting operation. It provides business and personal aircraft travelers with convenient access to St. Petersburg and Pinellas County, the densest populated area in Florida, as well as the surrounding areas of Tampa Bay. It is estimated that Albert Whitted Airport operations provides the local economy with approximately 35 million dollars, provides employment for over 300 people with a payroll of over 12 million dollars.

Oh! And don’t forget. The airport provides the space needed to operate the annual Honda Grand Prix Indy Car Race… And that is a snapshot of a cultural and historic icon, a jewel convenient to everyone in downtown St. Petersburg.

Serve yourself dessert tableUnfortunately there are people with self interests that go beyond cultural and historical assets. All too easily those self interest groups find politicians who would plow under one thing to make another for profit, a short term gain while ignoring the long term damage. Fortunately there is a watchdog group, a volunteer organization that keeps the public informed about back alley deals that would end the life of Albert Whitted Airport. More than once they have been successful in thwarting nefarious plans bringing the issue to the voters who voted to preserve the airport. Greed has a way of perpetuating itself and will be back and hopefully the Albert Whitted Airport Preservation Society, AWAPS, will still be there to stop them.

Open air dining next to the airplanesThe Alfred Whitted Airport Preservation Society, AWAPS, is an all volunteer organization with an office on the airport that also serves as a small museum that houses many displays from the National Airlines era. Funded through membership and donations, the Society also conducts fund raising events. In the past the Society held a pancake breakfast on the first Saturday of the month. Today, January 7th, they are doing something different, a cook-out lunch, from 11:00AM until 2:00PM. The menu includes hamburgers, hot dogs, potato salad, baked beans, chips, beverages and a dessert table. For the admission price of $7.00 per person you get either one hamburger (or cheeseburger) or two hot dogs plus all the other fixings. Considering what you would pay per person for a hamburger, fries and a drink at a national chain, the price is quite reasonable.

My cheeseburger with the fixin's with potato salad and baked beans.The wife and I both chose the hamburger option, mine with cheese and hers without. The large patties, ¼ pounders I believe, were cooked just right, the pink was just gone from the middle, what you need for ground beef, but were not overcooked. They were still moist and juicy. Condiments, self-applied, included catsup, mustard, lettuce, a slice of cheese and tomatoes. The potato salad, self serve, was a deli style mustard and vinegar, nicely done and tasty. The barbecued beans were served in individual cups, a nice touch helping to keep the plate a bit neater. Drinks were cans of sodas on ice and some juices. I chose a nice cold can of Coca Cola; after all, things go better with Coke.

The food is prepared in small batches as needed. The lettuce is crisp, the tomatoes fresh and the burger patties have just come off the barbecue grill. Once in awhile a lot of people will arrive at the same time and there will be a short wait, certainly not longer than at your favorite restaurant, but the freshly prepared food is worth the wait.

No lie - its cherry pieDessert is self serve from the dessert table. On this day the selections included cherry pie, pumpkin pie, brownies and an assortment of cookies. After all was said and done, we had a nice tasty meal and were comfortably full. We had a chance to visit with some old friends and get back in touch with our aviation psyche.

All of the workers at the AWAPS functions are volunteers. They are there very early getting set up. They are there all the while the proceeding are going on. They are there late, after everyone else has gone home, cleaning up and putting things back to normal. They do it because they love aviation, they love the airport and they are dedicated to preserving the airport form those with greed at heart and self interest at hand. If you have an interest in flying or just an interest of St. Petersburg in general, check the AWAPS website for the next cook-out or other function. Join in and become part of the aviation community. Better yet, Join AWAPS, volunteer and make your voice heard for what is right. You will find that you are among some very nice and very dedicated people, many of which you will come to call friend.

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