It's time to get back in the saddle again after a hectic month of June that included the end of the school year, a weeklong visit to the Canteen by the in-laws, and a 9-day trip back to Chicago to see family/friends (and eat, of course - posting to soon follow). I feel great shame about having only posted twice last month, but can only resolve to do better at this point, and I figure there is no better way to support my resolve by adding a new entry on July 1. So, without further delay, the following is a chronicle of my second Dishcrawl event in Tampa, a 4-stop tour of restaurants and watering holes in downtown Dunedin (pronounced "Done-Eden"), a charming, gulfside village located a mere 25 minutes from our new homestead. When I first met up with our Dishcrawl coordinator, Tracy, and the other members of our jolly band (I was solo this time as Mrs. Hackknife was out of town on business), we were at the Dunedin Smokehouse (471 Main Street). The Smokehouse is a honky-tonk style BBQ joint with live music to accompany the meaty goods emanating from the kitchen. In the few months I've been in Florida, I've come to realize that this area of the South is not the one where BBQ is the bedrock of the local culinary tradition; nonetheless, I now know that if I ever get a hankering for St. Louis pork ribs, we don't have to venture as far as Memphis - the Smokehouse ribs were tender and flavorful, nicely matched with a little of the house ancho barbeque sauce.
Just down the street from the Smokehouse is the fabulous Casa Tina (365 Main Street), a lively Mexican restaurant filled to the brim with skeleton-themed decor in homage to Mexico's Day of the Dead. Once served our Dishcrawl plates by Tina herself (her husband, Javier, helped found the original Senor Frog's, presumably not the tequila-fueled frat party then that the chain is today), we quickly realized that there's nothing morbid about the food (nor the house margaritas, for that matter). Perched on the dish were a bowl of terrific guacamole, a knockout version of mole poblano that would put a smile on Rick Bayless's face, and a unique stuffed poblano pepper (called chiles en nogada filled with picadillo (a mix of ground beef and tomatoes) and topped with brandy walnut cream and pomegranate seeds (see photo above). So taken was I with Casa Tina, I actually brought the family back a few evenings later for my Father's Day dinner (during which I had a pan-fried tilapia topped with a papaya/basil sauce, not quite as enjoyable as the first entrees). Throw in Cirque de Soleil-type entertainment (some of the waitstaff are aspiring trapeze artists) and endless baskets of fresh tortilla chips, and we have ourselves a favorite Tampa-area Mexican place.
From Casa Tina's, our group took a quick jaunt up the Pinellas County Trail to a beachcomber bar named Jolli Mon's Grill (941 Huntley Avenue), which bills itself as having "Caribbean food with a Floridian twist". Sadly, we didn't really get to experience much of this food, as we were provided with mostly unremarkable bar grub (cheese sticks, quesadillas, and the like). I'd happily return to catch a cold beer and a ballgame on the tube, but probably would venture back down the block a bit to Dunedin Brewery (937 Douglas Avenue) for more serious nosh and craft brews (Florida's first, founded 1996). Although I wasn't a huge fan of their most popular beer (the Apricot Peach Ale, which was a little sweet for my palate), there were plenty of others on the chalkboard that I'd be willing to sample (see photo below).
While a lively drum circle pounded away in the main dining room (if you ever need to scratch your hippie itch, it's there every Tuesday night at 8), us Dishcrawlers dined on ample-sized pulled pork sliders, fish tacos, and chicken wings (see photo below) in the separate beer lounge near the front of the building.
If I can somehow convince the wife to act as chauffeur come NFL season, I can see myself enjoying many beers and snacks here while watching Bears games on Sunday afternoons. So, to recap, Dunedin has what we need for BBQ, Mexican, and craft brew, all a stone's throw from the ocean. Perhaps this is the place to retire...