The Case of a Roman Holiday at Cafe’ Americano

10336657_10154196917450158_2395800285034190933_nI’ve been to Italy; my brief two-week trip was a whirlwind of culinary delights and gelato dreams. I’ve had some of the best pizzas, the freshest pastas, and the most divine deserts in some of the quaintest cafe’s in Tuscany. Florence was especially memorable as I dined on delicious morsels at Ristorante La Loggia inside the Villa San Michele, overlooking the city. I’ve tasted cuisine like none other… until I stepped inside a literal Roman Holiday in Sarasota, Florida. Cafe’ Americano offers not only delicious food, but also a delightful Italian oasis, cooled by the tropical Florida breeze.

Both Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn would be over the moon for Cafe’ Americano’s menu.

Joe: Tell you what. Why don’t we do all those things, together?
Ann: But don’t you have to work?
Joe: Work? No. Today’s gonna be a holiday.
Ann: But you want to do a lot of silly things?
Joe: (He takes her hand) …First wish? One sidewalk cafe, comin’ right up. I know just the place.

~Audrey Hepburn (Princess Ann) & Gregory Peck (Joe) in Roman Holiday

Yes, I can affirm that Joe would have brought Princess Ann to Cafe’ Americano if they had been in Sarasota. As one of the single best Italian cafe’s in Central Florida, Cafe’ Americano boasts fresh, thoughtful cuisine that promises to deliver not only a delicious meal, but also a holiday away from every day life.

Last week, I was a guest of Chef Judy Gallagher at the Media Dinner announcing the revised and expanded dinner menu at Cafe’ Americano. As her guest, I was pampered with a 13 course, 3-hour dinner that literally took my breath away. According to the press release, “The new dinner menu at cafe’ Americano completes the transition to a Pan-Mediterranean concept envisioned by owner Ambrish Piare when he moved to Sarasota two years ago and bought the stylish downtown restaurant. Now when guests sit inside at the cafe or on the street-side patio under red umbrellas, they will be transported to Italy, Spain, Greece, France, and other sun-kissed countries where vibrant dishes from land and sea are part of the everyday culture.”

10392588_10152408705827510_478929853226107514_nSome of my personal highlights of the meal were a freshly made Orechiette Bolognese, an elephant ear-shaped pasta served with a traditional meat sauce and shaved Parmesan; Linguine and White Clam Sauce, a home-made linguini topped with fresh clams, garlic, and organic cherry tomatoes; a Mediterranean Chopped Salad of salami, provolone, mortadella, chickpeas, Parmesan, red onion, tomatoes, and chopped romaine; and the best Paella I’ve ever tasted with fresh shellfish, chorizo, chicken, saffron, and house-brined olives. As you can see, we ate very, very well!

…and I haven’t even told you about the pizza! Be still my carbohydrate-loving heart! Sausage and Roasted Red Pepper, classic white, Margherita, sigh. Cafe’ Americano doesn’t just do Mediterranean food well, they have created the perfect pizza! With a flaky, flavorful crust that tastes like it is direct from a wood fire oven, the pie is to die for. Chef Judi said that they had spent many hours developing and discovering the ideal balance between crust, topping, and sauce. Hours well-spent, Chef!

10336652_10152408817372510_5880237234906254577_nAs you know, my dear readers, I love me a good desert. What better way to end a tour of Cafe’ Americano’s new menu, but with a trio of heaven-on-a-plate deserts? Had I been completely stuffed, I still would have made room for the Dark Chocolate Bread Pudding, the Gelato (with a home-made salted caramel sauce that I could have consumed by the glass!), and the Pistachio Donuts. Served warm with drippy dark chocolate, the bread pudding filled all the cracks made by a rough, stressful day, while the gelato melted into cool, sugary promises of sweet dreams and a better tomorrow. The donut? Well, I’ve never met a donut I didn’t like, but this one was certainly singing me the sweet, sweet songs of the Donut-people.

Soooo happy…

I was blown away by the congeniality of the wait staff and pleasantly surprised with the way the owner welcomed us to his restaurant… it was as if he opened his home and seated us at his family table. If you are looking for a Roman Holiday in Sarasota, Cafe’ Americano will not disappoint.

Open daily from 7:30am to 10pm, Cafe’ Americano is located at 1409 Main Street in downtown Sarasota at Five Points near the historic roundabout. Look for the red umbrellas. You can’t miss it.

The Newest Adventure of the Culinary Newbie

Well, world, I’ve embarked upon another adventure. photo (3)

A few weeks ago, the Husband and I moved back to Clearwater! We’re no longer in Tallahassee, but that’s a good thing for my lovely readers! I can attest that the food scene in Tampa Bay is vibrant and varied… you’re going to love the new posts!

…when they arrive!

In addition to being the Culinary Newbie, yours truly is currently the Musical Director of Hello, Dolly! at St. Petersburg City Theatre and a member of The Dicken’s Carolers, an awesome costumed Christmas caroler troupe that appears throughout central Florida. With the holidays coming and the rehearsals starting for my musical, my Culinary Adventures are limited to drive through and old faithfuls….

But that won’t be forever!

Stay tuned for more Culinary Adventures!

The Case of the Unforgettable Red Elephant Pizza

When the worst culinary dilemma during your meal is how to lick your fingers with the decorum expected from a thirty-something business professional, you know you’ve had good eats. In my opinion, the pies at Red Elephant Pizza and Grill leave other pizzerias green with envy. 

Red Elephant

It’s been a rough weekend. I’m talking Die Hard rough. In fact, if all the muscles in my body that are hurting were actually visible, you would think I was a bodybuilding beast. I would gladly trade a bath in BenGay for all the truffles in Godiva. And to top it all off, I had nothing in the house to pack in Husband’s lunchbox. Time to eat out.

Since moving to Tallahassee, many people have told me about the mouth-watering pies at Red Elephant, but I had yet to experience the deliciousness for myself. With a limited amount of time for lunch, I picked up Husband from work and drove to the Midtown Red Elephant. We were immediately seated and greeted by the bubbly waitress, A.J. I mention her name, because she was simply fabulous. Our drinks were never empty and she was full of helpful menu advice. Having been a waitress, I know the craft. She’s got it down.

After ordering our favorite pizza (pepperoni, onion, and banana peppers), Assistant Manager Evan surprised us with free appetizer cards in honor of our first visit. This chick was uber excited. I mean, seriously. Free appetizers? Who doesn’t love that? Right out of the gate, Red Elephant was making all the right moves.

Red ElephantWhen our pizza arrived, we were pleased with the size–the menu recommends a medium for two people. The pepperoni was crisp and salty, the cheese was perfectly melted, the red onions delivered a sweet and spicy punch, and the banana peppers added just the right amount of tangy goodness to each bite. But the best part was the crust. Lightly seasoned with a mystical concoction of spices, the not-too-thin crust rocked on its own, but when dipped in a side of the homemade red sauce, its enraptured combination transports you to a Venetian gondola on the Grand Canal. (A.J. recommends dipping it in the Red Elephant Ranch sauce next time.)

For more on the pizza options at Red Elephant, visit my review at The Tallahassee Democrat Community Blog page.

Once again, we finished a meal with no leftovers. We were hungry. Don’t judge.

Red ElephantBut wait! For some glorious reason, they were offering free Elephant Ears for dessert! Want to know what I thought of them? Check out the full review at The Tallahassee Democrat Community Blog page.

All in all, my first experience at The Red Elephant Pizza and Grill was fabulous. Great for a workday lunch, Husband and I were in and out within a half hour. We were seated and served quickly by an excellent waitress. Our pizza was fresh and flavorful and our dessert was worth the dietary cheat. Located at 1872 Thomasville Rd, Ste. A, The Red Elephant is open Sun-Thu from 11-9:30 and Fri-Sat from 11-10. Head over as soon as possible. Tell them the Culinary Newbie sent you.

Oh, go ahead and lick those fingers. We’re all doing it.

 

The Case of My Lofty Pursuits

 

I’ve always been that friend. You know the kind. I’m the one to throw themed parties. Whether it is a poodle-skirt-twirling sock hop, a treasure hunting Goonies-fest, or my own version of an Enchantment Under the Sea dance, I know how to bring a “historical ambiance” to the bash. I mean, Hello, McFly! This chick is a geek! Give me a retro idea and I’ll run with it.

Lofty Pursuits

It was by complete chance that I stumbled upon Lofty Pursuits, but you can be sure that my lucky stars were totally thanked! Not knowing what to expect when I saw a yo-yo swinging soda jerk on the sign, I was drawn by those magical flashing neon letters in the window: ICE CREAM. You know it’s true: I scream, you scream, we all scream for ice cream.

My internal flux capacitor must have been working overtime that day because I was pleasantly surprised by the authentic 1950’s vibe of Lofty Pursuits. The atmosphere drips with a Back to the Future meets Happy Days charm. Phosphate spigots. Shiny display cases stocked with a rainbow of ice cream flavors. Dozens of inventively delicious toppings. Sparkling sundae dishes. Soda Jerks. Retro games and wood puzzles. I could almost hear Chuck Berry crooning love songs in my head. I was smitten.

Affogato

Virtually overwhelmed by the variety of flavor choices, I decided to stick with my all-time favorite: coffee. Rather than be normal, I asked the soda jerk if he could make me an affogato, a mind-blowing concoction of espresso poured over ice cream. I picked Java Jive as my flavor and off he went to make my culinary dreams come true.

If you like coffee and ice cream, definitely give the affogato a try. It is a delicious blend of caffeinated bliss and creamy, dreamy ice cream. I definitely recommend it. Lofty Pursuits uses the Aeropress for their espresso demands–a choice that I wholeheartedly support! Husband bought me one for an anniversary and I’ve loved it ever since.

But, hold the presses! The Culinary Newbie’s Lofty Pursuits adventure wasn’t over!

Peppermint Ice CreamTo read more about my adventure at Lofty Pursuits, check out the full review on The Tallahassee Democrat Community Blogs page.

Located in Market Square, Lofty Pursuits is open daily: M-F 11-10, Sat. 10-10, and Sun. 11-9. If you haven’t already, or if you just need a reminder of the good life, you’re definitely going to want to visit. If you drop in on Fridays or Saturdays from 2-7, you may just see some candy being made.

It’s no laughing matter: my density brought me to Lofty Pursuits. It’s your density, too. I mean, your destiny. The ice cream of your dreams is waiting; make like a tree, McFly. Tell them the Culinary Newbie sent you.

Ganache Sundae

This blog originally appeared on the Tallahassee Democrat Community Blog Roll.

The Case of the Pretzel Burger {Wendy’s}

Pretzel Bacon Cheeseburger

Pretzel Bacon Cheeseburger

Wendy’s Pretzel Bacon Cheeseburger. Really? A pretzel bun? Once again, another franchise marketing ploy that has worked on me… but this time it was Husband’s idea. I could have done without it, but he “had to have it.” Big Franchise Marketing Departments: 2, The Culinary Newbie: -2.

Wendy’s boasts, “A delicious new twist on our classic hot n juicy cheeseburger with a sweet & smoky honey mustard sauce, melted cheddar cheese and applewood smoked bacon all on a warm, soft pretzel bun. Now a specially crafted cheeseburger is closer than you think.”

They delivered.

The pretzel bun was just like a soft pretzel should be, warm, toasty, and delightfully smooshy. Yes, smooshy. You try  it and tell me it’s anything but smooshy. I was pleasantly pleased with the consistency. It reminded me of baseball games, carnivals, and summer nights spent on the tilt-o-whirl of my childhood.

If you put bacon on anything, you have my vote. Make it smoked bacon and you have my undying devotion. Wendy’s bacon was deliciously crisp and juicy. Like Baby Bear’s bed, this bacon was just right. The purple onions, bright red tomato slices, and romaine leaves topping the burger added a nice fresh taste. The cheddar cheese was melted oh, so yummyliciously.

Make sure to check the ratio of sauce to burger! You'll thank me!

Make sure to check the ratio of sauce to burger! You’ll thank me!

Next time I get the pretzel bacon cheeseburger, I’ll make sure to check the “sweet and smoky honey mustard sauce” before I start eating, though. My first bite was perfect; it was lathered in the perfect amount of sauce. The rest of the burger was sadly lacking the tangy sweetness. If you get it, lift the bun and check before you start in.

Bottom line: this was a frightfully good burger. Paired with a frosty coke and salty fries, it was a delicious weeknight dinner. Husband and I approve.

So, yes. I love gourmet meals, Mom and Pop bistros, and four star restaurants like the rest of you. I prefer them. But sometimes, every once in a while, a franchise will tempt me with their oh-so-easy drive thru meals. Wendy’s is doing something right.

The Case of the Cake Shop of Dreams

In keeping with Kevin Costner’s angelic mission, “If you build it, he will come” (Field of Dreams),  if The Cake Shop bakes it, I will eat. And eat. And, yes, eat some more. Oh. Em. Gee. If you haven’t savored one of their delicious baked treats, little grasshopper, you are seriously missing out on culinary nirvana. Believe me. The Culinary Newbie never jokes when it comes to cupcakes.

Culinary Nirvana

I first heard of The Cake Shop at the Centerville post office. The helpful postman who always tries to upsell me (Do you want stamps with that?) casually mentioned that it was his birthday and that he was looking forward to the oh-so-delicious cupcakes awaiting him at home. As I’m sure all of yours do, my ears always perk up whenever cupcakes are mentioned. It’s only natural. Cupcakes are the new “in” thing.

Following the hasty directions from the postman (why is the Centerville P.O. always so busy?), I made my way through the maze of random office buildings, medical practices, and fast food joints that make up the confusing Capital Circle and Centerville intersection. Thinking I would never come out alive, I finally found the back entrance to the tiny strip mall that houses The Cake Shop. I have since discovered that there is a much easier way to get to the bakery, but at that time, I didn’t care. All I could taste was the sweet Holy Grail promised at the end of my cupcake quest… and I wasn’t disappointed.

The rest, my friends, is culinary history.

Sorry, Kevin Costner, I believe Dr. Graham was referring to The Cake Shop when he described the most special place in the world. Because, boy, “Once a place touches you like this, the wind never blows so cold again” –Field of Dreams. 

The bomb. Really.

The bomb. Really.

My favorite cupcake at The Cupcake Shop is the chocolate cappuccino cupcake; Husband loves the salted caramel. To learn more about these cupcakes, visit my full review on The Tallahassee Democrat Community Blogs page.

If the Culinary Newbie knows one thing, it’s good pastries. The Cake Shop is the best. Really. Go see for yourself! Tell them I sent you.

This blog originally appeared on the Tallahassee Democrat Community Blog page and in the Thursday Taste section of the newspaper. Since then, I’ve enjoyed a number of positive comments about the review… and a thank you from The Cake Shop itself! A dozen yummy cupcakes. *sigh* That just happened. The Culinary Newbie is about to descend into a sugar coma.

Thank you, Cake Shop! Sugar coma, here I come!

Thank you, Cake Shop! Sugar coma, here I come!

The Case of the Orange Spice Iced Coffee {Starbucks}

Bravo, Starbucks, bravo. Marketing for the win: see commercial, must have product. 

Not too shabby, Starbucks!

Not too shabby, Starbucks!

So, I have a weak constitution when it comes to marketing. For eight years, I worked in the higher education marketing field. I know all the tricks. I know exactly what goes on in brainstorming meetings; I know how executives target people like me. And yet, it never fails. I see it on tv, I have to have it. That recent Vaseline Spray Moisturizer commercial? Totally went out and bought.

Starbucks’ new marketing campaign is all about the orange. Orange Refresher. Orange Iced Tea. Orange. Spice. Coffee. Be still my heart.

Both my husband and I have a strange fascination with citrus. We love orange. Orange candles, orange room spray, orange soda (Stewarts is the best!), orange sour patch kids, orange anything. When I saw this new marketing campaign, my heart skipped a beat. I had to try it.

Today, in the middle of yet another random deluge of rain (from a clear blue sky, nonetheless), I pulled into the Starbucks drive thru to get the Orange Spiced Iced Coffee. I was rather impatient with the lady in front of me–really people, if you’re going to order six drinks, please, for all of our sakes, go inside. Finally it was my turn. The Gates of Happiness opened and out came my venti iced Orange Spiced Coffee with cream. Yes, I don’t play around. Venti, all the way.

Every coffee junkie should have a trusty double-walled cup for iced goodness without the sweating cups!

Every coffee junkie should have a trusty double-walled cup for iced goodness without the sweating cups!

My first impression was of strange “floaters” on the top of my cup. Figuring they were only random clusters of cinnamon–it is orange spice–I shook the cup a bit before adding the straw. The floaters disappeared. Hasta la vista, floaters. I then noticed slices of orange in the cup. Interesting.

My first sip was an eye-opener. Mind you, I love strong coffee. The stronger the better, in my opinion. But wow, this is strong. I continued to sip as I made my way home. Tasty, but it definitely did need a bit of sweetening to take away the bittery/spicy aspect of the drink.

I arrived home, poured my coffee into my trusty double-walled cup, and added a splash of simple syrup (See recipe below). After the addition of the syrup, it tasted much better.

So, all in all, good job Starbucks. While I still prefer the small coffeeshops over franchises, the Orange Spiced Iced Coffee is a welcome distraction from the same-old-same-old Starbucks menu.

In the end, I liked this cup of coffee. It is definitely not for the faint of heart, though. If you’re all about frappuccinos and macchiatos, definitely add cream and simple syrup. On the other hand, if you like a strong cup of spicy coffee, go with just cream.

The Culinary Newbie’s Simple Syrup

  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 cup water
  1. Bring water to a boil.
  2. Dissolve sugar into boiling water, stirring constantly.
  3. Once the sugar is dissolved completely, remove the pan from the heat. (Don’t let the syrup boil too long or the syrup will be too thick.)
  4. Allow to cool completely and thicken, then bottle.

You can add a drop or two of your favorite flavoring, as well. Experiment with this recipe. Adding flavor gives a nice, light taste to the syrup. It’s an inexpensive way to create your own lattes and drinks.

UPDATE: I had the spiced coffee again today… it was totally weak. Bottom line, it’s all the hands of your barista. In the future, I will be ordering it with only cream/milk and adding my own syrup at home if it’s too bitter/spicy. It’s a whole lot more appealing to sweeten/lighten than drink weak coffee! Best of luck, folks!