Tampa Bay Food Monster

...eating food since 1985.

Smokey Bones’ Smoked Prime Rib

steak is the best. it’s pretty much the best dinner ever. you get a steak dinner, and you feel like you’re tearing into an animal. there’s something primal about it. empowering. a steak dinner makes you feel like a king.

…but a prime rib dinner makes you feel like a god.

them smokey bones

i was given a so-very-kind invitation to come check out the new smoked prime rib dinner (¬°¬°¬°LIMITED TIME ONLY!!!) at smokey bones. i have been to smokey bones before, long ago, and i recall it being a positive experience. “smokey” means smoked, and “bones” means meat, so one may infer that this is perhaps a barbecue type place. and, back when i visited the bones in my past, that would be a mostly accurate description. now, though…

inside the bone

oh. well according to this photograph, smokey bones is a rather low-key meeting place for the elderly, made entirely out of wood. but that’s not true! perhaps my photo skills are lacking. really, smokey bones has been completely remade in the image of the “kinda cool hip place”. it’s hard to describe exactly what it has become, partially because the restaurant now teeters between restaurant worlds. it’s kind of like a smokehouse meets an outback steakhouse. meets a late night club. there’s a huge bar. the lighting is low. lots of sexy cocktails. and some interesting placards, with information running the gamut between “servers are people too” and “hey boobs are pretty cool, right?” so yeah, a bit all over the place.

i do not dislike the makeover, but it is not the most comfortable. it can be summed up thusly: they played “we will rock you” by queen, and rather than play naturally through to the second part of the song, “we are the champions”, they played some sort of hard rock remix of “we will rock you”. the same song they had just played.

smoked wings

we began our meal with a nice appetizer, as recommended by the extremely kind and accommodating contact i had with smokey bones. i love wings. have i mentioned that before? big fan. i will start by saying that these wings are not traditional wings. they aren’t what you think of when you think of wings. instead, they are some of the most impressive non-traditional wings i have ever had. these bad boys are coated in rib rub and smoked, then fried, then coated in a DIFFERENT rub, then given a light sweet glaze. and they are incredible. super crisp outside, like fried chicken, with a delicious, steamy, tender smoked interior. perfect counterpoints to each other. salty and savory, and the glaze was spicy and sweet all at once. it was like eating ribs. tremendously good, and a must-buy for any visit to the bones.

smoked prime rib

and, of course, the smoked prime rib. prime rib – tender, juicy, melt-in-your mouth perfect beef. it is the most wonderful food i can imagine. dip it in au jus… what more could you ask for?

smokey bones’ smoked prime rib is a bit different, though. the rib is smoked in-restaurant for hours. the au jus is served on top, rather than on the side for dipping. and, to be quite honest, the whole thing is a disappointment. you would think that the ultimate in tender preparation would mix perfectly with the ultimate in tender meats. instead, you are left with a smokey monstrosity. one bite and you are overwhelmed with smokey flavor, masking the quiet, intrinsic beauty of the cut. the salt and pepper seasoning makes the edges just a bit too salty to enjoy properly. the au jus was a bit thick, almost more of a gravy than a juice. and, in spite of all conventional knowledge, the prime rib was not tender. it was not tough, but it was far more chewy than it should have been. the most enjoyable bites were those not dominated by the smokey flavor, found near the fatty portions of the rib. otherwise, this dish was sadly not worth ordering.

and i did not feel like a god. i just felt like a slightly disappointed man.

apple pecan crisp

the meal ended on an up note, however, with the apple pecan crumble. this delightful little dish was, again, recommended by my contact, and was superb. it’s basically what you get when you cross an apple cobbler with a pecan pie… which is just as amazing as it sounds. served super hot, with a lump of vanilla ice cream on top. the crisp crust played well against its hot sticky insides, melting the ice cream into a river of cool relief. a perfect dessert. the only thing i could ask for is more pecan goodness in a largely apple dominated dessert.

it was a good visit. the place has changed a lot, but it’s a kind of cool, hip change. the prime rib was a disappointment, but the dessert was great, and the wings warrant another visit all on their own. they also have a build-a-burger thing going on, with more options than you’ll ever need, which is probably worth checking out. and my friend got baby back ribs, which looked amazing. i’ll just have to realize my godhood elsewhere.

Smokey Bones Bar & Fire Grill on Urbanspoon

Arby’s Grand Turkey Club

TYPICALLY, change is a good thing. like, changing a poopy diaper, for example. where once there was poopy, now there is none. and this works! because there was a problem before. but then there are times when changes are made to things that don’t necessarily need change. this may be one of those times.

…prepare yourself.

this is where we’ve come. this is the brave, new world you were looking for.

yes, arby’s has changed their logo. and no, this is not my poorly photoshopped guess at what it may be like; this is the actual logo. let’s take a quick trip down memory lane and glance at arby’s former majesty:

yes, now that’s more like it. much is the same, yet much has changed. the font has lost its fun time western style and moved to a simple, clean piece of modern mundanity. the apostrophe has morphed into what i think is supposed to be a meat slicer, ruthlessly cutting into the ‘s’. and the hat itself (it’s supposed to be a hat) has undergone a 3D makeover, in keeping with the recent surge in popularity of three-dimensional media. this effect can be achieved in photoshop elements, or its nearest competitor, MS PAINT. the decision to leave the font two-dimensional is both baffling and distressing, causing my mind to bend in a similar fashion to when i look at an m.c. escher image.

…and i mourn what we’ve lost. the new logo is not great. what was once vaguely recognizable as a hat (from its own all-but-lost origins) is now some floating abstraction. the new font comes at the cost of its old identity. it’s no wendy’s train wreck, but it’s not an improvement.

arby's new thang

it’s not just a logo – it’s a whole rebranding. they are pushing the freshness/sliceness angle, which works for them what with all the slicing they do. and to increase that amount of slicing, they are throwing in a whole new chunk of meat to cut at: turkey bird.

arby’s has introduced three turkey-blasted sandwiches – turkey classic, turkey ‘n cheddar classic, and the grand turkey club. basically, it’s as though this turkey meat is floating alongside the beef meat as just another option. which is a pretty decent idea. in a real-life deli, you get a whole assortment of different kinds of meats, all of which are sliced up right in front of your face. this is the same as that! fresh! variety! etc!

turkey club box

arby’s offered to buy me one of their new sandwiches. to check out dat new meat. i opted for the grand turkey club, assuming “grand” meant that it was the best. the other sandwiches are pretty much identical to their beef analogues, with the addition of mayonnaise, honey mustard, or ranch dressing to the classic. the grand turkey club is along the lines of a non-grand turkey club, with turkey, lettuce tomato and mayo, swiss cheese, and bacon all on a harvest wheat bun rather than toast.

the box claims this is the greatest thing since sliced roast beef. there is also lettuce escaping through the bottom, and a dab of mayonnaise has gotten out as well. these are indicators of things to come.

arby's grand turkey club

open the box up, and we find with a giant turkey sandwich just waiting to burst out. it’s all packed in there, with good amounts of everything. a solid amount of turkey, enough to satisfy my hunger. nice, crisp lettuce, and fresh tomato, playing a big part in the overall feel of the sandwich. decent slices of bacon. probably some swiss cheese. and a full bucket of mayo.

mayonnaise everywhere

oh god. yeah. there’s a lot of mayonnaise here. now, i’ve gone to great lengths to make it known that i do not care for mayonnaise, but i can tolerate it. i believe there was too much mayonnaise on here even for a lover of mayonnaise. it was the first taste you noticed. it was almost the only taste you noticed. and it really took away from my enjoyment of this sandwich.

but let’s assume, for the sake of a fair review, that this sandwich was never intended to have so much mayonnaise on it. taking it for what it is, the sandwich is not bad. their toppings are decent (good lettuce and tomato, decent pepper bacon). the swiss cheese was all but lost behind the mayo, which is disappointing. the bun was actually a very solid choice, playing a bit sweet against the turkey.

and the turkey itself? it was good. it was not great. it was not bad by any means. good turkey. tender, with good flavor. a bit salty, not overwhelmingly so. but nothing special. i did not detect any exciting seasoning, nothing mind blowing. it was just turkey.

don't

they politely request you try the turkey. you would not be worse off for it. but what this boils down to, for me, is that the turkey is not good enough by itself to convince me to go to arby’s. it does not change what arby’s is to me. for me, it is just another menu item. and, speaking as someone who loves arby’s roast beef sandwiches (RIP big montana!!), the presence of turkey as an option is not going to change my order from whichever sandwich they can pack the most roast beef onto. all i want from arby’s is a pile of roast beef on a warm, pillowy bun, doused in a packet of arby’s sauce.

as with the old logo, all i want from arby’s is simplicity, and what i’ve grown to love them for. aaaaaaaand maybe a talking oven mitt.

White Chocolate Candy Corn M&Ms

white chocolate candy corn m&ms bag

okay, so if you’re anything like me, you’re just now realizing through a storm of facebook posts that TODAY is, in fact, the hallowed eve. that is to say, halloween. and that means one of two things: 1.) a bunch of disgusting children are going to be trespassing on your property this evening, dressed like FOOLS, or 2.) you’re ready to join them on the streets, “just passing” as young enough to be out there (nobody believes this, they give you nothing). either way, you’re going to end up buying a whole bunch of candy and eating it yourself. and what better time to do that than the day after halloween, when all that sweet sweet candy goes on sale??

so allow me to tell you about one candy you might want to avoid.

white chocolate candy corn m&ms*note: candy corn added for comparison; not actually included in bag of m&ms.

those jerks at m&ms think they can just crap out anything, and we’ll buy it from them. well… they’re right. this season’s disgusting new variant on an original that does not need to be improved upon is the white chocolate candy corn m&m. alright, so we’ve got a lot going on here. first of all, they are yellow, orange, and white, just like real candy corn! they’re a bit larger than normal m&ms, around the size of the peanut variety, but retaining that signature m&m spheroid shape. i also noticed my bag’s m&ms were a bit slimy, but i cannot say whether that was just my bag, or if they all suffer from this gross affliction. eh. regardless, visually, they did it. i get it – candy corn. mission accomplished.

taste… taste is another story.

inside the white chocolate candy corn m&m

what you have here is a densely packed, super-sweet white chocolate interior. the “artificial and natural flavors” they’ve chosen provide absolutely no hint of candy corn flavor (which should be simple – just add honey!!). so essentially we have just white chocolate m&ms, which would be fine if they just weren’t so damn sweet!! bleh. combine with a shell that seems a little thicker than a typical m&m shell, and a greasy slime coating (again, could be just my bag), and we have ourselves a worthless product that becomes inedible after half a handful.

as a sweet bonus, some of the m&ms tasted vaguely of alcohol?? an odd fermented flavor. maybe it was just the rotten caramel apple i ate for lunch, but, if not, this was hugely unpleasant.

so, in the informed opinion of a self-admitted lover of real candy corn (i’m sorry if you can no longer trust my tastes), this candy sucks. it’s not the worst thing i’ve put in my mouth this halloween, but it ranks up there. if you made the mistake of picking these up, do your damnedest to unload them on unsuspecting children – those kids will eat anything.

Firehouse Subs

DID YOU KNOW?? the submarine sandwich, originally known as the “filled zeppelin roll”, traces its origins back to the widely publicized and oft-lampooned hindenburg disaster. on the day of the disaster, the dining staff had run out of bread for sandwiches, and instead substituted long dinner rolls. after the hindenburg was destroyed, a plucky team of firefighters were called to the scene, and, once the fires were put out, the firefighters noticed a hauntingly delicious aroma – some of the uneaten sandwiches had been toasted during the accident, and the meat within steamed to perfection. the firefighters took the sandwiches back to the station and enjoyed them amongst themselves; thus, the intrinsic tie between firefighters and subs was made.

inside the house

i was recently invited to come out to the most respectable firehouse subs and meet their co-founder robin sorensen (inventor of the occasionally useful sorensen squeeze), while sampling some of their finest sandwiches. firehouse subs is a national chain, originating in jacksonville, florida, known for their meat and cheese steaming technology. this was not my first visit to firehouse subs, nor would it be the last.

this particular location was in largo (a part of the giant largo mall plaza/village, on ulmerton), and only just opened recently. it is set up as most locations are, with a counter from which to order (and behind which your food is prepared), a large dining section, and this:

soda maker

this monstrosity, “coke freestyle”, looking like a refrigerator capable of surviving a nuclear blast, is actually just a soda dispenser. (i’m probably a little late on this one, but let’s all imagine that no one has ever seen such a thing, and just humor me here.) “SODA? OUT OF THAT THING?? BUT HOW??!” yes, i hear you, desperately struggling to figure this out. so it’s a one-at-a-time, select-a-soda soda distribution system, through which you can select one of about 20 or so soda bases, and then are prompted to add a flavored syrup if you so desire. why, you could try raspberry coke zero! vanilla sprite! even standard orange soda! wakkie nu-nu.

it results in over 120 different options, including firehouse subs’ cherry limeade, which actually just kind of dispenses a super-sweet cherry syrup type liquid that you’re supposed to squeeze limes into. i can’t really recommend that, unless you cut it with a bunch of sprite or something.

the spicy

firehouse subs restaurants also feature a nice wall of hot sauces, from which you are free to select whatever looks good to you, douse your sandwich in it, and promptly toss it in the garbage because you ruined it with waaay too much hot sauce. use in moderation. OR don’t use it at all, because your other option is this:

datil pepper hot sauce

firehouse subs also has their very own sauce, a datil hot pepper sauce named for the founders’ father. this stuff is pretty remarkable, with a brown sugar sweetness perfectly balancing a light warm burn born from the datil pepper (similar to the habanero but much more playful, largely produced in st. augustine). the sauce is a must for pretty much any sandwich they serve, and blows all the other hot sauces they have out of the water.

fireman robin sorensen

the fireman himself, robin sorensen, spoke with us at length as we ate, about he and his brother founding their own restaurant rather than picking up a franchise (in order to “kick the butt” of said franchise), their focus on the customers and full flavored sandwiches (rather than pansy-ass health food), and their public safety foundation, providing funding and equipment to fire departments, disaster relief, and educational opportunities. he’s very involved with the restaurant on a lot of levels, and his passion comes through quite clearly.

we were subjected to sandwich after sandwich, in almost a rapid-fire succession. honestly, i barely survived the night, largely because i felt obligated to eat each sandwich in its entirety, because they were so damn good.

hook & ladder

Smoked turkey breast, Virginia honey ham, and melted Monterey Jack, served Fully Involved.

(for those not in the know, “fully involved” means with lettuce, tomato, onion, mustard, mayonnaise, and a pickle served on the side)

this is the standard, their best seller, with its delicious steamed meats playing perfectly against the crispy toasted bread. the quality of the meat is great, the combo is classic, and adding the datil hot pepper sauce makes it perfect.

italian

Genoa salami, pepperoni, ham, melted provolone, Italian dressing, and seasonings, served Fully Involved.

the italian, another classic. though it’s always a great combination of meats, i feel like the italian kind of pales in comparison to the other sandwiches here. it’s solid, but it’s not something special. perhaps these meats were never meant to be steamed? it is unclear.

new york steamer

Corned beef brisket, pastrami, melted provolone, mustard, mayo, and Italian dressing.

this is my order at firehouse subs. i love corned beef. i love pastrami. the combination is divine. and these meats feel like they were made to be steamed. throw in mild melted provolone that melds perfectly with the mayo and mustard, add a light seasoning from the italian dressing, and you have something quiet and beautiful that will just melt in your mouth. slather it with cap’n datil’s patented spicy sauce, and you have yourself the sandwich god would eat if it could understand our “pathetic human reliance on food”.

smokehouse beef & cheddar brisket

USDA Choice beef brisket smoked for 10+ hours, melted cheddar, and special sauces.

and i would have been happy with my standard order of the new york steamer every time i came to firehouse subs, if they hadn’t forced me to eat this thing. this… this sandwich. awesome, smoked, beautiful brisket. it’s hickory smoked for 16 to 18 hours, made to order for firehouse, and tastes like the most incredible barbecue you’ll ever taste. something in the steaming process really brings this meat to life, and it combines with the messy union of sweet baby ray’s barbecue sauce, the cheddar cheese, and the mayonnaise, to give you one of the best sandwiches i’ve ever had at a chain in my entire life. it seriously blew the others out of the water, and will likely be the only thing i ever order from firehouse again.

do yourself a favor, and try the beef and cheddar brisket.

pickle

each other their sandwiches was served with a quartered dill pickle, perfectly seasoned crisp pickles shipped from the bronx in little pickle buckets that they sell to raise money for their foundation. the pickles are fantastic, made by the same people who supply carnegie deli with theirs. so i mean it’s ferrealz. ferrealz, guys.

we were also treated to some delicious cookies, as a nice little dessert and send off. as i said before, i was a fool and stuffed myself full to the point of bursting with those sandwiches, so it was all i could do to waddle out appreciatively, shake the founder’s hand, don a children’s plastic firefighter hat, and drive off into the the night. i have since returned for more of their delicious beef and cheddar brisket, and purchased some of their sauce for my own personal use.

firehouse subs would never have to have invited me to the restaurant for me to recommend them, and now that i’ve had the beef brisket, i have even more reason to do so. so visit, eat, enjoy. i now leave you with this mural, as displayed in one of the many firehouse subs locations across the country. may it haunt your dreams as it does mine.