That Food Guy
Monday, January 27, 2014
  SPARC After Holiday Party - Kristina's Cafe

Kristina’s Café

3590 34th St N, St Petersburg, FL 33713 (727) 526-6673

The St Petersburg Amateur Radio Club holds an annual after the holidays party. Traditionally it is held at Kristina’s Café. From the perspective of the club members it is a time to meet, come face to face with voices on the radio, remake and rekindle or make new friendships and, well I “gotta” say it, catch up on all the gossip all while having a lot of fun.

From the perspective of the harried servers and cooks at Kristina’s it is the sudden arrival of fifty plus ravenous appetites, loud and laughing and having a good time (but otherwise well behaved) customers all ordering at the same time and from the full menu. How can you possibly plan for that?

A special note at this year’s party was the attendance of Woody, K4SCL. The club honored Woody with a plaque citing his over forty years of Amateur Radio Service both to the club and to the community. Active in the club, serving in many roles, of late he has been a net control operator and liaison to the National Traffic Net spending many hours every day handling traffic for the net. I have talked with Woody many times on the radio but had never met him in person. In later years, as Bob, KC4SXO said, “Woody sightings have become few and far between.” Over ninety years of age, Woody has decided it is time to slow down a bit. We were all honored to have him and his wife join us for the After Holiday Party.

Usually a restaurant will offer a limited menu for large group gatherings. The constraints of so many people, such short time and so many possible selections can be wholly intimidating. Each year the staff of Kristina’s is up to the daunting challenge.

Although I saw dishes from all parts of the menu being served, I will only report on my wife Janis’ and my selection. Memory can be persistent even if only subliminally. Janis and I both duplicated our order from last year’s party almost exactly. It was good then so it will most likely be good again.

Janis started off with a bowl of the soup of the day. Kristina features a different soup each day of the week. Since this was Sunday, the selection was Cream of Potato Soup ($2.25 bowl).
It was a nice thick and creamy soup with lots of potatoes and vegetables served with several packets of saltine crackers. She said it was very good, very tasty and she certainly had no trouble finishing her bowl of soup.

The main part of her meal was to be the Roast Beef and Turkey Club ($6.25); the same as last year. Since she was having the soup, she didn’t want the side order that would come with her sandwich. Since my plate is a convenient depository for unwanted food, she asked me what I wanted her to order. I chose the coleslaw since I was already having French fries with my order. The sandwich was made with the thinner, sandwich sliced bread and toasted nicely. The thin slices of bread mean that the filling has to be more than adequate to make the sandwich stand out. There is plenty of beef and turkey as well as the lettuce and tomato to fill the sandwich.

Janis enjoyed her sandwich saying that it was very good but could only eat half and asked for a take home container for the other half to enjoy at a later time.

My Déjà vu order was the Steak Hoagie ($6.25); similar to a Philly cheesesteak sandwich but with sautéed onions, peppers, mushrooms and melted Mozzarella cheese all on a hot, toasted hoagie bun. My side of choice was French fries but don’t forget, I was also having coleslaw. On arrival it was a full plate and included a spear of dill pickle.

The sandwich was full of all kinds of good things, meat, peppers onions, mushrooms and cheese. So much in fact that picking up the sandwich dumped lots of the filling on the plate. No matter, it tasted just as good off a fork. It was nice tender beef with lots of flavor from the vegetables and cheese; a thoroughly and filling sandwich. The coleslaw, a small serving actually, was good. It is a finely chopped cabbage with a mild dressing, not too tart and not too sweet; enough to moisten the cabbage but not compete with the flavor and not too much to drip into the serving plate.A good accompaniment but not an all-star to stand by itself. The French fries, still hot from the fryer, were not oily, were crisp and tasty. They were good French fries. I enjoyed my meal very much. It was good food to start with but being surrounded by so many, as Donn, N4KII, would say, “hamsters” made it even more enjoyable. I am already looking forward to next year.

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Friday, January 24, 2014
  Cheddar's Casual Cafe

Cheddar’s Casual Café

4101 Park Blvd

Pinellas Park, FL 33781

727 544-8518
 My wife Janis’ Aunt Effie and Uncle Gilbert called the other day. Seems they had found a nice new place to dine out and wanted to share with us.  When someone wants to treat me to a meal where they serve good food I’m ready. Let’s go!
The Cheddar’s concept is, according to their website, the brainchild of Aubrey Good and Doug Rogers. Their vision was a casual, comfortable eatery with scratch prepared good food at reasonable prices. They opened their first establishment, located in Arlington, Texas, in 1979. They have grown sine with many, many stores in many states.

On arrival we were greeted by the maître de and shown directly to a table. It was our luck to arrive at a lull in the lunch crowd rush which was later very busy. Although the café is “casual,” the décor is more upscale than expected, much more so than other casual cafes, from their own applied description. Almost immediately we were greeted by our server, Angel, who is aptly named. She was a very personable young lady, seemingly always busy but never too busy to refill glasses or check on our progress, close at hand but never hovering.  Her attention added to the pleasure of our meal.

Cheddar’s has a full menu featuring appetizers, soups, salads and combos, a regular dinner menu as well as hot and cold sandwiches, burgers in their own little section, a low calorie section, a children’s menu, desserts. Each table has a color menu of their bar offerings, many of which are colorful and inviting. Non-alcoholic beverages, coffee, tea, soft drinks, fruit lemonade and fruit teas are offered with free refills.
This was a family get-together, time to exchange gossip and enjoy family company. That called for an appetizer and beverages so we could linger a bit before ordering. From previous visits, Uncle Gill suggested the onion rings. (Homemade Onion Rings $4.49 Hand-battered, served with homemade ranch and Cajun dipping sauce.) It is an impressive interleaved, plateful stack of onion rings. Light batter, fried crispy and golden brown, the best description I can come up with is tempura-like. Small bowls of the dipping sauces accompany the stack of onion rings. The ranch dip is very good and makes an excellent accompaniment for the excellent onion rings. The Cajun dipping sauce, on the other hand, has to be what is called an acquired taste. I really don’t want to work that hard to learn to like that sauce so if I were ever to order these onion rings again I would ask for both dipping bowls to be the ranch variety. Of note, these onion rings would also be excellent with tentsuyu, tempura dipping sauce. With the slight exception of the Cajun sauce, I consider these onion rings to be the best I have ever tasted even surpassing even the legendary stack of rings from Red Robin.
The Salads & Soup menu section offers the Ultimate Lunch Combination (Chose 2: Choice of half sandwich and one pairing $5.99, or Chose 3: Choice of half sandwich and two pairings. Sandwiches: Double Decker Club, Monte Cristo or Buffalo Chicken Wrapper. Pairings: Bowl of Soup, House Salad, Loaded Baked Potato or Caesar Salad.) Effie and Gilbert ordered the same, a Club Sandwich (Potato bread, smoked ham, turkey, bacon. Aged Cheddar cheese, lettuce, tomato and seasoned mayo) with the Chicken Tortilla Soup (Grilled chicken, tomatoes and onions simmered with Southwestern spices, grated Cheddar cheese and tortilla strips). Janis ordered from the same area of the menu. She chose the club sandwich and the Baked Potato Soup (Made fresh in our kitchen from select potatoes, celery, onions, grated Cheddar cheese and bacon). Each enjoyed their meal finding them tasteful and leaving nothing for a doggie bag. Effie and Gilbert may have found the tortilla soup spicier than they remembered and, after seeing Janis’ bowl of soup, will probably go for the baked potato soup on any future visit. Janis did enjoy her soup. It was a thick creamy soup with lots of cheese and bacon on top; comfort food for a chilly day.
The club sandwich was made without the customary middle slice of bread for a club sandwich. However, there was more than sufficient filling, turkey and ham, to make a tall sandwich that did indeed need the toothpick to hold it together. Everyone enjoyed their sandwich and as I said, nothing left to take home.

I was a bit different in my selection. I chose from the Half-Pound Burgers (Grilled medium well. Add French fries, coleslaw or red beans and rice $1.99). Of the five choices, I chose the Mushroom Swiss Burger ($5.79 Sautéed mushrooms, Swiss cheese, onions and Cheddar’s dressing). An interesting note, the mushrooms are sautéed whole mushrooms, caps and stems. The melted Swiss cheese does a good job of anchoring them on top of the meat patty. The meat was cooked medium well with just a bit of pink in the middle; still juicy and not dried out. The lettuce was fresh and crisp enough to have a mouth feel. I had wondered what they do with the center section of the onions they use for the onion rings. The answer is they chop them and they find their way into the sandwiches and presumably the soups. My hamburger had a nice scattering of the chopped onions; enough to add to the flavor but not too many to be offensive. All in all, it was a very tasty sandwich. The meat was juicy and flavorful, cooked just right, the greens crisp and fresh and there were plenty of mushrooms (always a good thing). That brings us to the Cheddar’s sauce. It had a distinct taste. It certainly didn’t taste bad. However, if I were to order this burger again, I would ask for it to be served dry with a spot of regular mayonnaise on the side instead. The French fries, cut from whole unpeeled potatoes, were cooked to a nice golden brown, were lightly salted, were not oily and had a good flavor. They were okay French fries. I did enjoy my burger and fries, a very filling meal especially with the refills of the soda.
As the dishes were cleared away the conversation continued until it was suddenly decided that dessert was in order. Gilbert ordered the Cheddar’s Monster Cookie Sundae ($4.99 A homemade skillet-baked chocolate chip cookie topped with premium vanilla ice cream, hot fudge, whipped cream, nuts and a cherry. Please allow a few minutes). A meal by itself, too big to be a solo dessert, it is meant to be shared. After a short wait, apparently the cookies are bake to order, Angel arrived with the luscious looking dessert and four long-handled spoons. Everyone dug in at once, much like a four way fencing match, spoons clanking. As a result, I didn’t get a presentation picture and I had to borrow a picture from the menu. As to how good the Monster Cookie Sundae was, all I can offer is a picture of the aftermath.

It was a very enjoyable interlude and I thoroughly enjoyed the company of the in-laws. Being their treat didn’t hurt either. The time together was great, the conversation wonderful and the food for the most part was very good. All the elements made for a most enjoyable afternoon. If a revisit to Cheddar’s is ever in the offing (even if we have to pay) we shall certainly do so. If you try them I think you will find most of their offerings to your liking.

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