Hello! Sleep here! Welcome to the second guest article for the Tampa Bay Food Monster blog. A few weeks ago, the Food Monster was asked to attend the opening of the new Pappas Ranch restaurant in beautiful Clearwater. Due to an obligation he couldn’t miss, the Food Monster asked me to cover this event for him. Now, I do not claim to be as much of an expert on delicious delicacies as the Food Monster, nor do I claim to be able to write an interesting article that is both funny and informative on the subject of food. Hell, I think it’s still up in the air whether or not I’ve ever really enjoyed anything I’ve ever eaten. I usually blog about gaming and philosophy. This… this is not my forte. You have been warned reader! YOU ARE ENTERING THE NO TASTE ZONE.
Being that this was sort of a press event for the opening of the restaurant, the set-up wasn’t quite what you would expect. Upon first impression, Pappas feels a little bit like Chili’s and Longhorn Steakhouse had a baby who then proceeded to throw up on itself. The mixture of large mounted animal heads, aged wood furniture, woven rugs hung from the ceiling, chandeliers, and a color palette of teal and purple set against the aged wood left us very… confused. It seems like the restaurant was trying to be hip, elegant, and homely all at once. It wasn’t necessarily uncomfortable and never too gaudy, but it just had the air of “trying too hard”. Sometimes simplicity is best! Due to the nature of the event, all of the meals were served “buffet style” and thus had been sitting out for a little while.
When we first entered, we were immediately offered some house sangria which was very delicious (sangria almost always is), and then we were directed towards their appetizer area. First we picked up their chicken wings, bread, salsa and some spinach and artichoke dip. The wings had a very unique flavor, very peppery with just a little smokey. These wings were very tough though, and took quite a bit of work to get to their delicious white meat innards. The bread was… bready. Breadish even. The chips and spinach and artichoke dip were also rather run-of-the mill. A little better than what you would expect from your neighborhood Applebees, but not enough to warrant the trip. A little disappointed by the rest, I dipped a delicate little chip into their salsa, and what a pleasant surprise! The salsa had a very small spicy bite to it, but more than anything else it was actually very sweet. This took me by surprise and at first I didn’t know what to think. I had never had a sweet salsa before, and it felt about as out of place as I imagine jalapeno ice cream would taste. After the sweet surprise passed though I was just left with a grin on my face and a happy tummy. I was already starting to appreciate Pappas Ranch’s unique style.
Next up we got plates of salad (of both Caesar and Potato variety) as well as a delicious plate of seafood appetizers. The Caesar salad was par-for-the-course and nothing to write home about, but the potato salad was a real gem! Hearty and flavorful, the small chunks of potato really stood out making this the most tasty potato salad I believe I’ve ever had. Seriously. I HATE potato salad. It’s usually cold and tasteless, with the mayo based slime seemingly added as an afterthought to the potatoes. Not at Pappas Ranch though! Damn this stuff was good. The consistency was a little bit chunkier than mashed potatoes, nicely blended with the “sauce” to make it mayo-potato perfection!
The plate of seafood was also very good across the board. We had cooked shrimp with a thick delicious glaze, crab cakes, lightly fried catfish, and Mahi Tacos. The shrimp was just what I expected. Fucking delicious, every time. The “glaze” was some sort of mayo based sauce that was smooth and creamy going in, then had a good spicy aftertaste. The crab cakes were kind of flavorless, but I cheated and dipped mine in what was left of the shrimp sauce and it made it much better! The mahi tacos were simple and subtle. They tasted crisp and fresh, and with just a dab of Pappas Ranch’s tartar sauce the flavor really popped. But the real winner was the catfish. It was sooo good. Flavorful, tender, and just a little salty. These little guys were lightly breaded and just melted in your mouth, going down smooth with just a little of the tartar sauce. If you ever go and order these though, go easy on the tartar sauce. It’s only needed for texture and to smooth their transition from tasty table morsels into savory stomach dwellers. You don’t want to mask any of their flavor.
After the delicious salsa, potato salad, and mind blowing catfish appetizers, I have to admit I was flying high. I was ready and rearing for the main course…
So I get up and make my way over to the different stations where the real food was kept. THE MEAT. They had three main offerings: Pulled pork, served with rolls for sandwich making; Prime Rib, with plenty of Au Jus to accompany it on my plate; and lastly a quarter-rack of ribs. In order, these were bland, pedestrian, and tough. I was so disappointed by all three of the available entrees! The pulled pork was dry, and it required some sort of sauce to make it tolerable. The ribs had a similar smokey sauce to the wings, so the flavor was good, but after being spoiled by fall-off-the-bone tender ribs, I couldn’t help but be disappointed here. There was still a lot of meat left on the bones of these ribs after I was done, and it wasn’t by my choice. The prime rib was marbled nicely and tender, going well (as prime rib always does) with au jus, and was just about the only meat that I wasn’t immediately disappointed in. Still though, I feel like I could get better prime rib at nearly any other dedicated steakhouse, this meat was just mediocre and left me wanting.
Stewing in my disappointment in the main dishes, I decided to try some of their dessert. It was good but nothing special (highlight being bread pudding, which just surprised me more than anything else) and we were soon out the door. The overall experience for Pappas Ranch was very mixed for me. I felt like they were pulling me in several different directions at once. They did a lot right, and I would love to go back again for lunch one day to get some more of their delicious appetizers and potato salad. But I was not impressed by any of the main course offerings and would be hard pressed to take a date across the bay to dine here. As a disclaimer, it is entirely possible that the meat was so dried out and flavorless due to sitting out buffet-style for the event, and your mileage may vary if you go on a night where it is cooked up specifically for you. Still though, the only food that we had any real problem with was the meat, with everything else being tasty and uniquely flavored, so I really do recommend trying out Pappas Ranch even if only for their appetizers.