Tampa Bay Food Monster

...eating food since 1985.

Chicken McRib Flatbread Sandwich

remember that movie the perfect storm? there was this boat in the center of the ocean, and all of a sudden a hurricane, a tornado, a monsoon, a tsunami, an earthquake, and el niño all struck at once. everybody started puking and dying. yeah, that’s pretty much what this is here. get yo ass ready.

beauty and the beast BUT WHICH ONES THE BEAST

recently, i noticed that taco bell was featuring their delightful chicken flatbread sandwiches at the same time that mcdonald’s was featuring their heart attack-inducing love bombs known as the mcrib. what were the chances that these limited time masterpieces would coexist? and they both happen to be some of my favorite products from either fast food purveyor. and then i noticed their respective shapes.

like a poorly parented 17 year old putting together the puzzle for the first time, i realized that THIS THING NEEDED TO GO INSIDE THAT OTHER THING. hard. and i wanted that to happen in my mouth. too much for you? better turn back now; this is about to get a hell of a lot more sexual.

my creation

i decided to go with the bacon ranch chicken flatbread sandwich rather than the original, feeling that the ranch+barbecue sauce combo might be more favorable than the original’s spicy chipotle-type sauce. i went ahead and left the onions and pickles on, though i suspected the pickles may not play well. i just had faith that god was guiding me, and that what needed to happen would happen.

i invite you to enjoy the rib shaping of the pork patty. gaze upon its glory. there is a certain perfection in its absolute imperfection. it is a sign of where we’ve come as a society. is this the way things were most likely to turn out? the path of least resistance? for the sake of countless undiscovered extra-terrestrial civilizations, i hope so.

the chicken mcrib flatbread sandwich

success. two become one. and you know what? it wasn’t completely miserable. it was actually not too bad!! i mean, no, of course this isn’t something i am going to make again. making stops at two separate fast food places alone makes me feel disgusted with myself. and the flavors don’t really mesh entirely well with each other. that being said, it could have been much worse. the pickles were not great, but the barbecued pork flavor played surprisingly well with the cheese. the ranch was a nice touch, kind of understated, and the chicken was unfortunately all but lost behind the pork flavor. but the best part was the flatbread. the warm piece of bread cradled the rib-shaped patty like it was designed to do so. i’ve never felt so intimate with the mcrib. i’ll be honest – i was physically aroused.

i really owe a debt of gratitude to dude foods. this guy lives the dream every day of his life by combining awful things to make awfuller things, and just generally having a terrible diet. as far as i’m concerned, he single-handedly pioneered the art of food frankensteinery. i live in the shadow of a giant.

anyway, life is short. eat gross things and have fun.

Lee Roy Selmon’s Restaurant

the man

lee roy salmon… the man. the myth. the legend. he single-handedly took tampa bay and molded it into the lump of floridian half-pride that it is today. and then he died of a stroke. we honor his memory by eating the food he invented.

lee roy selmons

in the year 2000, outback steakhouse had sex with lee roy, and they had a baby. that baby quickly grew into one of the 10 best sports bars in america in 2009. :D it was called: lee roy selmon’s. sometimes it looks like a house.

what you’ve got here is your typical sports bar-type situation, with lots of screaming idiots, huge television screens, and SPORTS SPORTS SPORTS. so if you like that sort of shit, this may well be the place for you! if not, don’t worry! they still sell things like food and drinks, so as to keep you entertained while your friends mindlessly gaze up at the television screens and deny you the pleasure of their company.

inside lee roy

this is the new tampa location, on bruce b downs. it is a lot like outback, actually, but instead of all that bullshit traditional australian food (wait… do they serve australian food at outback?), they serve some badass down home southern cooking. this includes fried chicken, ribs, collard greens, and pulled pork. and gumbo. THEY GOT IT ALL AT LEE ROY’S (that’s their slogan). they also add a few little touches here and there to make the experience really something special. for example:

rolls with bbq butter

red lobster has their cheesy salt biscuits. olive garden has their breadsticks. outback has their brown color bread with sweet butter. lee roy selmon has these. this is one of their rolls. they are pretty decent as they are, pillowy and warm, but they add something i’ve never had before – barbecue butter sauce. it’s made of good. and i guess barbecue sauce and butter. it’s just excellent… sweet, salty, barbecuery. a great starter.

smokin tampa tea for two

i split lee roy selmon’s special “smokin’ tampa teat for two” with my girlfriend, which is pretty much a necessity at this place. it is a boozy kinda drink, reminiscent of a long island iced tea, except super fruity – “finlandia vodka, captain morgan rum, deKuyper peach schnapps, sweet and sour, grenadine, fresh orange juice and a floater of Meyer’s Rum”. OH HELL YEAH. also, it smokes like some kinda halloween cauldron, because of dry ice. it’s like drinking liquid harry potter, right in front of a bunch of smug jocks. score one for the nerds.

selmon brother's wings

and wings!! they have wings. this particular recipe, for the “selmon brothers wings”, has been passed down since the dawn of time, when the first selmon, keyrock selmon, killed a bird, marinated it for 24 hours and slow smoked it to tenderness, then grilled it to perfection with his spicy oklahoma sauce. instead of frying it. the sauce is a nicely spicy barbecue, and the wings are in pretty good condition themselves. they play like they’re grilled, but they love like they’re smoked. they don’t touch coppertop’s, not by a long shot, but they don’t really seek to. they’re solid wings, and they definitely grow on you.

salad

i got a salad with my meal, which ordinarily i’d wouldn’t bother to photograph, but even the salads here are a bit different. they use shredded lettuce instead of leafy… leaves, so that it’s almost like eating a coleslaw. but not gross. it provides a unique texture, that puts a little spin on things. just like lee roy’s patented selmon spiral! i got a mustard vinaigrette sauce, which i always get there, because it kicks ass.

steakz and potatoez

here you go… proof of my manliness: steak dinner. with smashed potatoes. now lee roy loved his steak (even more than he loved his mama’s meatloaf). we all know the story about how he won superbowl 14 by distracting the third guardsmen of the opposing team with his famous selmon style filets. so it should be no surprise to learn from me that the steaks here are adequate. they’re pretty okay steaks. not bad by any means! they just won’t blow your football boots off. pretty good though. my friend and i used to come here all the time just to get steaks. and discuss politics. i used to be amazing.

anyway, i got the 10oz sirloin, medium rare (they do a good job of cooking to order). i ordered it “selmon style”, which means they toss some parmesan garlic butter on the top of that bad boy. you may as well go for it, because, as an associate and fellow food lover of mine pointed out, they pretty much season the shit out of these steaks. which is good if you’re in the mood for it! they have a good flavor. but if you are wanting raw bloody meat flavor, this isn’t really the place to go.

the smashed potatoes were just lovely.

sweet heat fried chicken

my girlfriend got this chicken stuff, called “sweet heat fried chicken”. i was expecting some straight up fried chicken, but i was wrong. they are boneless chicken breasts, fried and seasoned with some mildly spicy stuff. they were nice and crispy, but not very moist on the inside. they were served with some sort of sweet/spicy glaze sauce, though, which helped make it less dry. but it was easy to overdo it with the sauce. i’d stick to steakz.

so, all in all, lee roy’s is a pretty awesome place. typically, i like to avoid sports as much as possible, but i don’t mind getting all up in that football pitch for some lee roy vittles. oh! and the end of the meal, they “finish you off” with a hot hand towel, for you to wipe up your various body parts… or whatever. i don’t really know what they expect you to do with that thing. it’s kind of awkward really. but it’s all part of the lee roy experience. and that’s how he would have wanted it.

RIP
Lee Roy Salmon
1986-2003

“Heroes get remembered but legends never die.”
-Babe Ruth, Professional Footballer

Lee Roy Selmon's on Urbanspoon

Ribit’s BBQ

i recently moved to hyde park. hyde park! it’s hip. it’s cool. it’s like nice tampa. nice. and it’s filled with many small, fun, locally owned places to eat. perfect! it’s perfect. except for one thing…

picture ©kkphotography

DOUCHEBAGS! DOUCHEBAGS EVERYWHERE! yes, this is the curse of hyde park – scads of douchebags, drinking, dancing, and making out all over the place. howard in particular, what with its macdinton’s and world of beers, is overrun by these yuppie thirty-something bastards, and each and every one of them is just as guilty as the next of making the world a terrible place.

so, let that be the backdrop to this evening’s particular food stop, for right across from the world of beer on howard sits this:

ribit's bbq

this is ribit’s bbq. a barbecue place, in the middle of hyde park, open until 3 am. wow! i was not expecting this! of course i got excited. i love barbecue! i love late night! and most of all, i love blatant copyright infringement! wait-

okay. so their mascot is a clearly ripped off michigan j. frog with a cowboy hat. hm. alright well that’s okay. it’s just theft. but look at their place! it’s so fun. it’s like, what… some sort of converted lube shop? neat. and what’s that noise? no, not the douchebag playing acoustic covers across the street, it’s something coming from the barbecue place! it’s… oh god no they’re blasting country music.

so maybe there are some problems. but that’s okay! no place is perfect. let’s get in there. let’s do this.

inside ribit's

so they have a window where you order, and a little counter where you pay and they bring the food out to you. seating is outside, and in a small area to the side. the menu features pork ribs, beef brisket, pulled pork, chicken breast, and sausage. they have a bunch of sides, both hot and cold, and have a few combos – piggy (one meat, two sides for $10.99), porky (two sides, two meats, $17.99), and oinkie (four meats, no sides. $39.99). wow! a small side by itself is $3.99. well alright. corn dog – $4.99. so prices. eh. i went ahead and got the porky platter.

the porky platter

i went with the ribs and pulled pork for the meats, feeling that they best represented standard barbecue fare. as for the sides, i foolishly asked for a recommendation from the lady taking my order, so instead of the collard greens and baked beans i had been planning to get, i ended up with potato salad and cheddar macaroni salad. two salads. yaaay.

…did i mention the country music? there was really loud country music!

so let’s get down to it – the meat. the true test of a barbecue place. all that matters; the beginning and the end. the meat. how was the meat?

the meat sucked.

arg. ARG. the meat was pretty crappy. now, to be fair, the meat itself was probably decent. not bad cuts of meat, big ribs. but what they did to it! it was… it was nuked. scorched. burnt to a crisp. the ribs were all char. it was not a smokey flavor. it was like eating cigarette butts. the meat underneath the char would have been decent, but you just couldn’t get past that char. it was overwhelming. my hands smelled like it. and the pulled pork was dry. both were tough. my theory is that rather than cooking it slowly at a lower heat, they cooked it quickly by way of flamethrower. or napalm.

sauces

they offered up four different types of sauces. from left to right above, it is spicy, tangy, vinegar, and sweet. all served out of giant coolers with spigots. the spicy was good!! it reminded me of a barbecue place i used to go to a long time ago in wesley chapel, which is now a medical clinic or something (RIP peacocks smokehouse). a bit spicy, with a well balanced, full flavor. the sweet was second best, made better by combining it with the spicy. the tangy was a sort of mustard based sauce, with a bit of sweet up front and a bite at the end. it was alright, but easy to get sick of. the vinegar-based sauce was just bland and boring, tasting like… well, vinegar.

potato salad

the surprise winner of the night was the potato salad, voted “most tolerable” by me! it was actually pretty good, made with those little red potato dudes, skins still in there. a perfect blend of ingredients. the cheddar macaroni salad was bland and boring.

oh, and there was country music playing! my girlfriend halfheartedly offered to do the electric slide, but then pussied out. so many disappointments.

really, all that can be said about this place is that they served bottles of mexican coke (they did not even make their own sweet tea!!!! outrage!!). my bill totaled 25 bucks. that was for one person. the whole thing was utterly disappointing. i knew late night barbecue was too good to be true.

the evening came to a close as the douchebags from across the street rebelled against their own, slaughtering the acoustic cover band and burning the world of beer to the ground. the barbecue place responded by turning the country music up louder. my girlfriend’s sister puked. i had a panic attack. my girlfriend did not do the electric slide. ribit’s mascot did this:

…and a good time was had by all. fuck you, ribit’s.

Ribit's BBQ on Urbanspoon

Guest Review: Pappas Ranch Steakhouse & Bar Opening

pappas ranch steakhouse & bar

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.

bar

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.

appz

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.

caesar salad

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!

seafoodies

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…

meatz

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.

treats

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.

Pappas Ranch Steakhouse on Urbanspoon

Alex’s Southern Style Bar-B-Q

alex's bar-b-q

god bless you, america. you may not be the brightest, and maybe you’re a bit of a bully, but by god you sure know how to barb a cue. and i would venture to say that the south is the most guilty of all three accusations. the real south, not the florida south. so it’s a true blessing, an american miracle if you will, to have access to alabama style barbecue.

alex's interior

alex’s southern style bar-b-q sits amid plain shop after plain shop in a small strip mall by ehrlich and west village drive in carrollwood. the interior is very plain, with the walls yellowed by years of exposure to the massive open pit smoker. which is awesome. life needs more massive open pit smokers. to the right side of the photo are a couple televisions, in front of which sat a few old bicycles. i loudly inquired about their origin, and i received answer from the barbecue god himself, alex.

alex, the owner and operator, is a great guy. friendly and welcoming. comes from a big family, and you get that warm family feeling from him. he told us about his community project, “alex’s christmas bikes for kids”. every year, alex collects money for bicycles, both from himself and from donations, uses that money to purchase bicycles the day before christmas, and then he gives them to less fortunate children. “every kid needs a bicycle” he says. truly a noble cause. he told me they’d donated almost 10,000 bicycles over their 11 years in business. you can get more information at their website.

alex's smoker

look at that. you could smoke a manatee in there.

the staff is just as friendly and social as alex is, and apparently similarly generous. i’ve heard multiple stories of them giving out samples for indecisive customers to try out. hella samples. like, one of everything samples. i did not get any myself, so i cannot vouch for this! but… i hear tell.

so instead of getting a free sample of everything, i just ordered everything all at once. it’s called the “big boy platter”, and it really is one of everything. except wings. i had to order the wings separately. but it comes with ribs, chopped beef, pulled pork, chicken, and sausage, two sides of your choice, and a couple slices of white bread. yes. after i ordered, i filled my styrofoam cup with delicious sweet tea, and watched on as the man behind the counter worked his magic. magic is real.

alex's hot wings

let’s start with the wings. alex isn’t particularly known for his wings, so i can’t fault him for these. not that they’re bad! okay that was a bad start but really they were quite… okay. they were fine. just wings. nice big wings, fried to crispy, and you get a choice of mild or hot sauce. we went with the hot sauce, which was literally a hot sauce, like frank’s red hot sauce. it had to have been cut with something (butter?) though, because it was much more a medium than a hot wing. but i must admit that i did enjoy them, especially so when i ate them as leftovers, cold and soaked in the sauce. not bad.

alex's big boy platter

and here’s the big boy platter. i apparently didn’t have the foresight to take photos of each item individually, so you may have to guess at what certain things look like. each item is visible in this picture, though. from left to right (underneath the bread), is the pulled pork, the sausage, the chopped beef, the chicken, and the ribs. in the back are baked beans and macaroni and cheese. this entire plate comes to about 14 bucks, which was totally worth it for quantity alone.

alex has one barbecue sauce. just one. “what?? no options???” i hear you freaking out. deal with it. when there’s only one sauce, there’s only one choice. being used to places like hungry harry’s, which featured six different sauces, this was a bit jarring. but alex’s sauce is one good-ass sauce. it’s a sweet barbecue sauce, with a little bite to it. the food comes pre-sauced, and there’s some more on the table if you’re interested in extra. and you can buy it for your own personal use if you’re so inclined.

(i secretly was happy that there was only one sauce… that way i didn’t have to spend my meal trying each different sauce and deciding which is best; instead i could just enjoy eating.)

alright so let’s break it down. the sides were pretty decent. i had heard a lot of good things about the beans, so i was excited for them. they were a little sweet – mapley. definitely some brown sugar. thick. but i felt that they were not too special. maybe it was all the hype. they were good though. the macaroni and cheese was pretty good too. there wasn’t a lot of cheese to be spoken of, but they were a bit cheesey, and they had some seasoning on them that gave them a bit of a spice, which i really liked.

now let’s more from left to right on the plate. first up is the pulled pork. it was tender, moist, and juicy. very solid pulled pork. played well with the sauce. the sausage was incredible. i feel like i’d never had sausage smoked like this before, which may be wrong. regardless, this was pretty memorable sausage. it was a strongly seasoned ground pork, with nice thick casing. tender, almost to the point that it melted in your mouth. it have must been homemade. my only qualm with it was that the flavor was so strong that i couldn’t eat too much at a time. but it was delicious.

the chopped beef was my least favorite of the meats. they don’t use a beef brisket, but a different cut of meat entirely for this, which i can’t for the life of me remember. tip roast? i don’t know. but it was not great. the meat was a bit stringy, with a kind of gross consistency (it did not ‘chew’ well). it had a very pronounced beef flavor, but was not as smokey as the other meats. a bit bland. this one required the sauce, and was not the most fun to finish. the chicken, on the other hand, was very good. it was intensely smokey in flavor, quite tender, and delicious. the seasoning used on the skin was really well balanced. it didn’t even need the sauce.

but as it turned out, king of the meats goes to the ribs. they use giant ribs, and smoke them to the point of being ridiculously tender. the rib fell apart into large chunks of pink meat, which was lightly smokey the closer the meat came to the outside of the rib, but largely tasting of beef. so good i regretted not just getting a rib platter instead of the big boy. it was by far their best dish.

so it was great. alex’s bar-b-q was great. the guy is wonderful, the food is delicious and has a real personal feel to it. there’s a lot of love floating around that place. but not sickeningly sweet, sappy, romantic, why-am-i-alone love; humbling, positive, familial love. like the love between a man and a fine cigar.

so check it out. breath in the smoke. eat some ribs. donate a bike. and enjoy barbecue done right.

Alex's Southern Style Bar-B-Q on Urbanspoon