That Food Guy
Thursday, May 30, 2013
  Woody's Waterfront Outdoor Restaurant - St Pete Beach, Florida 4/15
Woody's located on Blind Pass

Woody’s Waterfront Outdoor Restaurant
7308 Sunset Way
St Pete Beach, FL 33706   (727) 360-9165


An old adage is that nothing is as consistent as change. It came to mind when I was thinking of good friends, Dick and Cheryl. Once they had a home in the St Petersburg area and we visited often. It was a good friendship, each trying to do for the other. They have sold their local house and moved upstate and now live 2 hours away instead of fifteen minutes. Sadly, we don’t see them as often as we did before; so very less often than we would like. Therefore it was a happy telephone call when they announce they would be in town and would like to take us out to lunch. Now what could be wrong with that? It was an opportunity to visit with friends who have been absent all too long and get a free lunch to boot! It sounded like a very good deal to me.

When they arrived, we sat in the comfort of air conditioning and brought each other up to date on happenings. Then Cheryl said they would like to take us to a place they remembered from when they lived locally. It was a small, casual place, off the beaten track and perhaps more frequented by locals than tourists. She said it was called Woody’s, a small beer and burger joint on the waterfront facing False Pass in St Pete Beach. She said it offered the most wonderful fish sandwiches. We all loaded into the car and off we went.


It is only a fifteen minute trip from our house to Woody’s, maybe a bit less. Where the highway jogs left to follow the Intracoastal Highway we continued straight on a small nondescript road. It was only a few blocks long and was lined with the rear service areas of the highway business and what looked like some light industrial sites. We turned left onto another small road paralleling the waterway. It is not where one would expect to see a restaurant of note. Partly sand, partly paved or gravel, had I been a tourist I would have figure I was lost and turned around some time back to retrace my steps. Not to worry. A hundred yards further up Cheryl pulled into a sandlot parking area next to a squat, nondescript building. Facade is not Woody’s forte.


Blind Pass is a navigable waterway through a barrier island to the Intracoastal Waterway. The excavation was done by a hurricane in 1928. Originally a bait house that also served burgers, dogs and cold beer to the local fishermen, it was built on the inlet facing the Gulf of Mexico in 1954. It has gone through various incarnations and was once called the Sunset Inn and provided a gathering place for the locals. Today it works at maintaining the 1950’s and 60’s beach shack image and has a reputation for good food among locals and tourists who venture far enough along that back road.


It is a small older building. Most of the patron areas are trellis or canvas covered and quite dark after coming in from the bright midday sun. We made our way through the main dining area to the much brighter and more inviting patio. The picnic tables are shaded with the café-style umbrellas. Pick your spot wisely. As the sun moves across the sky the shadow will also move and you may be in for more sun than you would like. There was no wait to be seated but the restaurant was near capacity. It took several minutes before the first contact by the wait staff. After that service was much quicker. However, we were never pushed or hurried but never having to wait long for beverage refills and the like. The serving staff did a reasonably good job in spite of probably being one or two people short in staffing


Hot Wings
To start Cheryl ordered some Buffalo wings (Wings, Wacky and Wild – Plain, Mild, Spicy or Nuclear - $7.95 or $12.95 with plain or spicy fries) appetizers. These were the bone-in, skin-on style, cooked to a slightly crispy skin. The spicy variety was snappy to the tongue but should be tolerable to most pallets. The Ranch dressing dip was a good pairing. Perhaps the sun, perhaps the hot wings, but the refill of the cold soda glass was welcome.


The menu features full dinners centered on sea food and a surf and turf for $12 to $15. You get to pick two sides from a choice of garlic mashed potatoes, plain or spicy fries, onion rings, coleslaw or a side salad. Most of the menu lists sandwiches, burgers, baskets, snack appetizers and salads. There is also a small children’s menu section.


Blackened Fish Sandwich
Dick chose Woody’s Famous Fish Sandwich ($8.95  Fried, grilled or blackened – All Woody’s sandwiches are served with Woody’s homemade slaw, lettuce and tomato).  It is also served with a large portion of pre-packaged tartar sauce. It was a nice looking plate – the lettuce green and crisp, the tomato nice and ripe, a good serving of nice looking coleslaw. The fish serving, nicely cooked, was very ample and overhanging the bun by a good bit. Dick said it was very good, a slightly crispy crust with tender, flaky and moist fish inside. He seemed to enjoy his meal very much.


Grilled Chicken Wrap
Janis chose the Chicken Club Wrap ($8.95 Blackened or grilled with bacon, cheese and Ranch dressing – the lettuce and tomato are included in the wrap filling, the slaw is served on the side). She chose the grilled chicken. It was wrapped in a large flour tortilla and half if not more of the filling was diced chicken meat. It was a large and filling wrap. There was a nice helping of coleslaw on the side. Janis enjoyed her chicken wrap very much but the size was a bit more than she was comfortable eating and she had a nice portion to take home for a lunch the next day.


Woody's Ultimate Burger
Cheryl, proponent of the fish sandwich, actually ordered, as did I, the Ultimate Woody Burger ($9.25 Mushrooms, fried onions, bacon and cheese - All Woody’s sandwiches are served with Woody’s homemade slaw, lettuce and tomato). It was an attractive serving. The bun was the large size and the at least 1/3 pound patty filled the bun to the edges. The burger was grill cooked with nice grill marks. I prefer a grilled burger to a griddle cooked one. The lettuce was green and crisp, the slice of tomato large red and ripe. There was a serving of coleslaw and some individual serving packages of mayo and mustard. It was loaded with the cheese, mushrooms and bacon. The burger had good flavor and it would probably be what I would order if ever I get back to Woody’s again. It was a large burger and with the coleslaw made for a filling meal. Cheryl and I both enjoyed our selections.


If I had any complaints, it would be this. I really don’t care for those little individual serving packets; I think bottles of condiments are more appropriate even for a 50’s-60’s beach shack burger joint. And not really a complaint but more an observation is that burgers stacked high tend to be messy blobs before they are half eaten. Woody’s Ultimate burger was no exception and it occurred to me that perhaps a bit of moderation in what we pile on top of our burgers would make for better table manners and require fewer napkins (which are made of paper too thin and folded way to small).


Of course the highlight of the day was visiting with Dick and Cheryl. I had been way too long since our last get together. We had a good satisfying meal, uncovered some more of the local history and trivia; we found a new place where the locals go to grab a bite to eat all the while enjoying the ambiance of Gulf Coast Florida. All in all I would call that a pretty good day.

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Saturday, May 11, 2013
  Product Review - Tai Pei General Tso's Chicken

Tai Pei General Tso's Chicken Carton
Tai Pei - Asian Gardens - Spicy General Tso’s Chicken

This is an impromptu product evaluation. It all started when I was going to make a small batch of fried rice to use up some leftover chicken. A bit before the wife said she was going to have some other left over for dinner just to clean out the fridge. When she found out I was going to make fried rice she decided that she wanted fried rice too. Fried rice is popular at our house. It is a great catch-all for leftovers and it tastes really good not to mention that it is quite simple to make in its simplest form. When I plan to make it ahead of time as a main dish it can be quite elaborate; seasoned rice, lots of fresh chopped vegetables and loads of the selected meat, be it chicken, beef, pork or shrimp.

This batch of fried rice was not going to be as elaborate. I was missing a few of the veggies I like to use, notably scallions but I was going to use chives fresh from the garden instead. There was just a small dab of chicken so I only cooked a cup of rice ahead of time. That would have made an adequate dish for one but when I found out it was being split two ways I knew someone was going to be really hungry after dinner, mainly me.  


Serving 1 - The yellow rice in the back is the fried rice.
I was thinking it would be a good time to go to the local Chinese take-out and pick up a side dish to go with the rice. It was a bit early to start preparing dinner and we needed a few things from the store. So we decided instead to get something from the frozen food section to go along with the rice. Some time back we had picked up a box of General Tso’s Chicken at the local Sam’s Club. It was typical a typical Sam’s Club mega-pack with bags of breaded and fried chicken morsels and packs of sauce. That particular offering was just the meat and sauce, no vegetables, not a hint of broccoli. But they did taste good; a nice spicy sauce over large pieces of mostly white chicken meat. The memory of a good experience with that product prompted us to seek out a similar one at the local super market.

It was slim pickings at the super market. There was a large bag with vegetables and sauce mix (you add your own chicken) that would have made a main dish all by itself for almost $9 not counting the chicken. I kept looking for something smaller, less elaborate, something tasty and easy to share…  About the only other thing I could find in the oriental vein was a line of Tai Pei products in various flavors including General Tso’s chicken. It was pint-sized container of General Tso’s Chicken with some vegetables and sauce over rice. At almost $4 it was only slightly less expensive as a pint of take out from the local Chinese place. I wasn’t too happy about the rice that was included but it was getting close to dinner time and we took home our prize.

Serving 2 - 1/2 of the  carton. The yellow rice in the background is fried rice
I suppose if I had read the label including all of the very fine print I would have known better. And, what I wanted and expected was not the product that Tai Pei provided. What I expected was a pint serving of General Tso’s Chicken with some rice added; an entrée dish. The instructions were to microwave for several minutes without removing or puncturing the plastic wrap – apparently to trap steam. After it was cooked I open the package and looked inside, deep, way down inside. It is amazing how deep the inside of a pint container can seem when there is little content at the bottom. It didn’t look too bad, perhaps a bit “oversteamed,”it had a nice aroma and it tasted good. At first I was concerned that I perhaps had gotten a defective, under-filled package. Looking at the container I saw the words that I should have heeded at the supermarket. There is a small illustration showing the levels as frozen and after cooking; from three quarters to one half and the caveat, “Settling may occur.” It also said that the contents were sold by weight and not by volume. The 11 ounce by weight contents fall way short of filling the 16 fluid ounce container. As for the settling after cooking, it was all there hiding in the bottom third of the container, a serving spoon dollop apiece was our share.

In the future I will stock up on a couple of the Sam’s Club offerings to have in the freezer for the wisp of the moment, conger up something good to eat moments. And, if I ever need to augment again, I will stop in at the local Chinese take-out. Compared to the Tai Pei offering, a third of a carton of cooked food, at $4, for $5or even $6 at the local take-out they will provide me with a full pint container of good tasting food, hot and ready to serve; three times the food for only a dollar or two more.

Read the label before you buy.
As I mentioned, if I had been more careful in reading the menu at the super market I would have probably passed on this product.   It wasn’t what I really wanted. I wanted a pint of Chinese take-out from the grocer’s freezer. That is not what it is. It is a snack-sized portion of Chinese style food in an oversized Chinese take-out container. If a snack-sized serving is what you want, available in just 5 minutes from the freezer, either at home or work, this may be just right for you. Although the cooking directions seem to result in a bit of over-cooking , it doesn’t look too bad, has a nice aroma and tastes very good. It is mostly rice with some vegetables and a bit of chicken. I just have trouble getting past the large amount of empty space and rice I purchased at the same rate as a full, real Chinese take-out.

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