Tuesday, November 8, 2011

My Favorite Things

The Chambers Clan
This October, some of my favorite people, [Poor] Donnie and [Dammit] Janet Chambers, visited their condo in St. Petersburg - one of my favorite areas in Florida.  So, we drove up to see them.  With them were Donnie's brother, Butch, and his wife, Jayne.  We came in towards the end of their stay and the 2 couples had already had a lot of fun on their vacation.  We arrived in the middle of the night having left Marathon when I got off work.

Sunrise over Boca Ciega Bay

The next morning, we were all up bright and early to watch the sun rise over the Boca Ciega Bay and Donnie, assisted by Butch, made us all a huge breakfast with eggs, sausage, gravy, biscuits, and hash-browns.
The tiny veranda
Afterwards, we all went out on the tiny veranda to talk about what we were going to do for the day, all of us hoping it would warm up a bit as the area was experiencing a bit of cold front with temps in the low 60's, overcast, and windy.

Butch and Abby

Us girls decided we would go to Target - a favorite of mine and a rare opportunity that I wasn't going to pass up.  The boys decided that they would do a whole lot of nothing, although they did manage to go to the liquor store.  A good thing, too, because shopping can be thirsty work.  With all of us back at the condo, the 6 of us and 2 dogs once again crammed onto the tiny balcony for cocktails and conversation.
Janus taking it all in

We decided on Billy's for dinner - certainly one of my favorite restaurants in the area - for some of my favorite food, stone crabs served warm with lots of melted butter.  Billy's was the first place I'd ever tried stone crabs and is still the best.
Got my ringer!

We played the ring game, enjoyed the live entertainment, and devoured plates full of crab claws...what a good time!

Afterwards, we all headed back to the condo where Jeff played us a bit of music on his guitar - another of my favorite things - before we all meandered off to bed.

The next morning, Donnie made us another fabulous breakfast...should I mention that more of my favorite things are a man in the kitchen and a meal I didn't have to cook?

Jeff had promised a to run an errand with our friend, June, so we set off along the beach road so I could drop him off.  My destination for this A.M. was Mazzaro's Italian Market - quite possibly my favorite place on earth that I've discovered so far.  The Chamber's brother's, fellow foodies, decided to accompany me on my grand adventure.
 The minute you arrive at Mazzaro's, you know you are somewhere special...and not just at any old grocery store.  Taking up nearly the entire block, the building itself is a work of art with intricate stone work,  murals of Venetian canals, Italian women waving from painted windows, and faux landscapes and architecture depicted on every surface.  The property is dotted with cozy grottoes, mystical archways, bubbling fountains, and Romanesque statuary...and a couple of art cars reside in the parking lot.

And that's just the outside!

Once you walk through the ornate front doors, that's when the wonderland truly begins - a maze of culinary magnificence!

You'll have to check out this slideshow for pics of the inside:  a MUST see click here for more Mazzaro's  pics!

My haul from Mazzaro's
As you enter, to the left lies the meagar produce section, but what it lacks in size, it makes up for in quality.  Next to that is the butcher counter chock full of quality cuts of meat, stuffed chickens, fresh sausages, meatballs, kabobs, and one of the most beautiful pieces of ahi tuna I have ever seen.  Next you venture on to cases of cured sausages, soppresettas, and pepperonis situated next to cases full of butter and cheeses from around the world.  Then there's the array of coffee beans, freshly roasted, and teas for every connoisseur.  To the right, a whole room devoted to wine and cheese.  To the left, a wall of imported beers.

There's an olive bar, complete with toothpicks for sampling and a whole prepared food section loaded with heavy slabs of lasagna, rice balls, roasted peppers, crab cakes, and gourmet salads galore.  Around the corner is all the fresh, frozen, and dried pastas along with oven ready hand-tossed pizzas.  In the next corner lies the bakery with a number of pizzas by the slices, fresh baguettes, pepperoni rolls, and dozens of other fresh baked delicacies.  Venture further down the counter and you come to the sweets and every Italian pastry known to man along with fresh gelato.  At the coffee counter, the brother's ordered rich coffee drinks and Donnie bought me an ice tea...remember that shopping is thirsty work!
The middle of the store is devoted to can goods, dry goods, spices, oils, and vinegars...some of which were quite pricey!
When my basket was full and becoming too heavy to carry, I sadly brought my time at Mazzaro's to an end.  But what a haul:  white truffle oil, seasame oil, fresh mozzarella, cheese curds, cavatappi, rice balls, sesame encrusted seared tuna, truffle mousse, Parmesan flatbread, prosecco, and my favorite find - smoked bacon chipotle sea salt in a grinder!  Once in the car, the boys and I enjoyed bites of the nearly raw tuna drizzled with sesame oil.  Much of my purchases would make a tasty snack this afternoon...just as soon as the prosecco gets cold!

Sunshine Skyway Bridge
 Then we missed our exit and had to take the scenic route across the Sunshine Skyway Bridge and back.  I finally made it to my car and as I headed to meet Jeff, the other menfolk went back to the condo to collect their wives.  The plan was for us all to spend the day with June, certainly another one of my favorite people, at her Madeira Beach home, another of my favorite places.  The house itself has come a long way since my first visit 6 years ago.  Originally one story and below the flood plain, the house qualified for a F.E.M.A. grant and underwent a spectacular rebuild. 
The first floor now consists of a 2 car garage, office, bathroom, and my favorite part - a tiki bar overlooking the pool, hot tub, and the Boca Ciega Bay.  The upper floor, with it's open floor plan and dream kitchen is a site to behold, second only to the panoramic view highlighted by the generous floor to ceiling windows.

We had a great time all hanging out together in the Florida sunshine.  It turned out to be a beautiful day, warm and sunny.  After sunset, we moved the party inside, ordered pizza, and fired up the Wii bowling.  The Chambers clan eventually ventured back to the condo, but I decided that after sharing the couch with Jeff for the last 2 nights I would avail myself of June's hospitality and the cushy spare bedroom.
I slept like a rock!  [Thanks, June!]
June and Jeff

Casa June
Janet, June, and Jayne
The View
Unfortunately, the next morning rolled around and it was time for us all to go our separate ways.

We said good-bye to June and headed to the condo for the rest of our things and to bid the Chambers family farewell. 
Their vacation was over and they had a long and progressively colder ride back to Kentucky ahead of them.

But, it was another great adventure...and full of all my favorite things!