When In Pass-a-Grille…

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Yes, I love saying Pass-a-Grille (the southern most point of St. Pete Beach) and will try to slip it into every conversation even if it makes no sense.

When I first touched ground in the Gulf Coast of Florida two months ago, I don’t recall what my first stop in St. Petersburg was, or what my first stop was to begin with.   My host friend, who is a dear friend, helped me get so much in that it looks like one long story, as opposed to a bunch of places that were just there and now are forgettable.

While some might be easy to forget, this trip is loaded with positive memories, and stories that I can take with me forever, wherever I go.

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One that really resonates, and gives me that warm and fuzzy feeling, is when my friend took me to The Brass Monkey.

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Now she had told me weeks prior that she visited a place that is owned and operated by folks who have ties to the Maryland area. That can only mean their love for Baltimore and Maryland area sports.  And that’s exactly what we’re talking about.   It took me a few minutes to realize I was in the presence of so much local sports posters and memorabilia. Not only sports, but symbols of what makes Maryland great also display proudly.

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What’s not to like?

I recall my excitement as my friend and I were deciding on what to eat for lunch and said she had a place in mind.  In hindsight I should’ve put everything together.  But what would be the fun in that?

As we drove down towards beautiful St. Pete Beach my excitement levels were reaching heights I haven’t felt in a while.  I’m on vacation, to an extent we’re on vacation, and just being in a new place, with beautiful weather, and friendly people is going to amp up the enthusiasm.

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I realized as we got closer down the beach where we were headed.   I’m grateful for the ride, this experience, and we have yet to sit down.

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Since it was lunchtime, it was the perfect time to grab a seat anywhere (we chose the bar) and to appreciate our surroundings.  And each other of course.  We were in great moods and felt like we ran the place.  Of course we didn’t but we got a kick out of entertaining ourselves each other.  That’s as important as the wining (or in this insance, boozing) and dining.

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Now I’ll cut to the chase.  I did order a pizza, we also ordered wings & fries, and then Fancy Fries which are friend green beans.  It’s bar food with a little twist.  The fried green beans were the true highlight of this meal.

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I didn’t get a pizza expecting it to be world class or this earth shattering experience.  I got a vegetable pie just hoping it would be something to enjoy in the space and time that we were in.

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While it was loaded with more mozzarella cheese than some may prefer.  I didn’t mind. I’d say the more, the merrier, which can also mean even more leftovers.  The cheese, veggies, and crust are simple for a bar, and good enough.   And maybe the quality could have been up there a little more, it’s more than worthwhile to share with friends or to heat up and serve for the next few days after.  Which is exactly what happened.

 

The wings and fries were decent, but I’m telling you these fancy fries are what did it for me.  When I look back in pictures I honestly forgot that’s what we had.  We had a lot of appetizers before the main event.   And the main event might just be any meal you have on vacation.

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If you’re expecting healthy eats with diet friendly portions, this won’t work in your favor. But hearty portions is right in lines with what you’ll get.

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Our frozen drinks were stellar too.  The menu is above, I’ll let you figure out what is what, with the beverages listed below.

 

But the true draw of this place is location, atmosphere, and the local flavor for those of us in Maryland.  It’s the quintessential home away from home.

 

While it was great to be away, it was a charming reminder of where I come from and what I’ll be going back to.

 

And I will be coming back to Brass Monkey (to order something different, maybe those crab cakes!) upon my return to beautiful St. Pete and beautiful St. Pete Beach, and that Pass-a-Grille, which I can never get enough of saying.

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For more on the Brass Monkey, here is their story, their menu,  football info,  beach apparel for sale, and contact info.

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Here’s the now growing list of Florida pizza spots I’ve visited.

Thanks so much and I hope you’re summer has been beautiful.

Ideen

 

By Request

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These tend to be my favorites.   I love the obscure, I love the gems, and I love local business.

As this blog continues to grow, and I gain more followers (which I’m so grateful for), I do get requests to review pizza places and certain types of pizza; whether it’s at a restaurant, a bar, a pizzeria, or in the frozen section of our friendly local supermarket.

Sometimes my blog comes up naturally in conversations and one with a complete stranger led to a fascinating request.   I had promised to honor this request in time.  Little did I know that it would be in the same week.

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So with that I’m excited to write about Charle’s Bar & Grille, in the Charles Village neighborhood of Baltimore.

With a name like that you might expect the most straight-forward, no bells and whistles, and no ambiance.  And that’s exactly what I expected and what I wanted.  The pizza eating experience can be glamorous but for many of us it’s also just food.  It’s just simple eating. We order a pie, we order a slice, and we go about our business.  Sometimes that’s all we want and it becomes a part of our daily routine.

But even before this blog, I’ve always been very observant of how fun pizza can be.  I love the preparation, the choices, all the slices displayed on their respective trays at yours and my local pizzerias, and just overall eating that slice that makes you feel something.  And I just don’t mean feeling full.

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So of all places, why was I suggested to eat here?  It’s one of those restaurants that’s near a college campus, and serves multiples types of food, which includes Italian, American, and Indian.  Yes this is a phenomenon that is sweeping the whole country.  Maybe it’s been going on forever and that part of the my observations went over my head.

Let me get on with it.  My new acquaintance told me to order the Chicken Tikka Masala Pizza.  And give a genuine opinion of it.   I was already intrigued.  And I was also surprised I’d never thought to order it or eat anything similar to it anywhere.  Maybe the opportunity never presented itself.  But with all the combinations of pizza, how can that be?

That’s also one of my favorite parts of a pizza pie.  You can experiment with a wide array of crusts, meats, vegetables, cheeses, sauces, and everything in between.  This would qualify as experimenting and thinking outside the (pizza) box.  Even if my to go order came in one of those generic ‘fresh pizza mmm goood’ to go boxes.  I’m not knocking it.  It suits the place.

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I ordered two individual pies.  I’ll get to the Tikka Masala shotrly.

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First, the standard cheese.  Yes this is standard.  But with a place like this you shouldn’t expect anything better or worse.  For how this establishment presents itself, the cheese pie is mediocre at best.  I didn’t think it would be anything life changing so I’m not disappointed.   I simply ordered this as a comparison for what was to come.  And for only $5.50, I can’t complain too much.

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Now the Tikka… This is something.  It’s literally pieces of grilled chicken and the tikka masala sauce placed on top of a cheese pizza.   You might be thing the tomato sauce may clash with the Tikka Masala sauce.  Not the case.

I honestly don’t know what to compare this too.   I read reviews on sites saying this pizza was earth shattering.  And for a first time trying something so unique, it resonated with them, and they keep coming back.

I didn’t love it that much.  And again I’m saying this with the understanding of where I ordered my pies, and knowing this is not meant to be world class pizza.   I just thought it was fine, and maybe a bit sweeter for my taste than the usual Tikka sauce I’ve grown accustomed too.

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There has to be some accountability.  I’ve had better Tikka Masala at various Indian restaurants and buffets, so I do have that to go on.

The dough was fine.  If this were on actual Naan Bread, this would be so much better.  But I didn’t expect that either.

If I were to return, I will give this pie another go.  It’s worth another try.  And I’m intrigued by a few of their other pies;  the Veggie Korma, the Palak Paneer, and the Chana Masala. Including the aforementioned pie I reviewed, these are traditional Indian dishes that many of us have become huge fans of.   I must try these.   And a price of individual pie starts at $10.50, so the investment isn’t too big.

I don’t know when I’ll be back.  This is one of those rare occurrences that needs to happen organically.  I literally found myself blocks away from this restaurant today, so fate and destiny told me to come here this week.

I suspect a similar experience will lead me back here.

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Maybe I’ll even walk into the bar that’s within the restaurant.  But for now I looked it at from afar (or maybe a few feet away), and wonder what was going on inside.  It seemed sketchy, it seemed real Baltimore, and it seemed like a place I should only romanticize about.  Because if I ever walk in, that mystery will go away and I’ll be left disappointed.

But I think people will be enamored with the Chicken Tikka Masala pizza.  I didn’t love it but I sense that many will, just for the fact that it’s so different.

If you’re in the area, give it a shot.  It’s right in the heart of what separates the older part of Baltimore that has a little more character, and what is further South which is busy, like most major cities are, and/or continue to grow into.

Here’s their menu.

And here’s to creativity.

Ideen

 

 

 

 

That’s The Jingle Bell Bar

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That everything happens for a reason cliche is a legitimate thing.   I was all set to do a review of an experience at Red Red Wine Bar back in the spring.   As luck would have it, my phone died as I was getting pictures of our pizzas and vino, while enjoying a casual outdoor setting in Downtown Annapolis.  I took it as a couple things, 1) this is not the way this wine bar was meant to be portrayed, and 2) the universe had grander plans for me.  And is that an understatement if there ever was one.

No matter what goes on in life, one thing I know for sure, the holidays bring out the best in us.  We go through a million emotions all year, and all of a sudden it’s Thanksgiving, and then it’s December.  What the heck happened here?   That time to reflect, to appreciate, and spread love magically appears this time of year.   Wouldn’t be great it you felt that all of the time?

Downtown Annapolis always feels like Christmas to me.  It has the old world, small town, welcoming feel that radiates an aura of holiday spirit 365 days a year.  That might be an exaggeration, but it’s the feeling I get.  And that’s no accident.  Different neighborhoods bring different feelings.  It’s up to us to choose to embrace it or move along.    Well I’m embracing and moving forward.

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So we move along nearly eight months later, and this was meant to be.  However, this time, it wasn’t the Red Red Wine Bar.  They transformed themselves into a winter wonderland and holiday spectacle, happily titled, the Jingle Bell Bar.

This bar is something else.  The set-up with all the lavish decorations screams holiday cheer.  If this didn’t get you in the spirit than I’m not sure what else might.

Actually, it was my dear friend’s event that brought us here tonight.   The Anne Arundel County, Court Appointed Special Advocates, or CASA, for short, has done so much good for the community of Annapolis and nearby.  I’m proud to have volunteered and been associated with some wonderful and unique parties and events.  I’m grateful for that.  And I was grateful for this one.

They had a guest bartender on hand, and part of everyone’s check and tips went to CASA. It’s a win win for everyone.

I  could just sense going in that this was going to be an awesome time.  Sometimes you just know.  When you’re connected with a good community, it’s only going to bring about more of that community.  The folks in attendance were there for the same reason, to celebrate this fantastic organization and the holidays.   I felt so at home.  I think everyone else did too.

After all that, how was the pizza?  To make up for last time, I went with two pies, and was happy to share them with friends, old and new.

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I went with the two that I feel most represented this season, with their flavors, ingredients, and overall presentation.

First up, was the White Chicken on Roasted Garlic Flat Bread.   The look of this was fantastic.   For the simple fact that one of the toppings was garlic puree  is why I went with the garlic flat bread.  It did make me wonder how it would taste with the wheat.  That chicken tasted fresh and organic.   I love brussels sprouts, caramelized onions, and butternut squash.  Tell me another trio that spells out the holidays more than that?  This was a really good pie, but I almost felt like I didn’t get a taste of the squash or onions in every bite.  That could be me trying too hard to find them or some flavors overpowering the other.  Hence why I wonder how the wheat flat bread would turn out.  Nevertheless, my new friends and I finished this wonderful arrangement in mere minutes.  And I would definitely order this pizza again.

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But the quintessential pie of the holiday season might just be the Pear Prosciutto.  You’ve got to be kidding me.   I confirmed with one of the manager’s, Bethany (who was world class by the way), on which pizza to go with.  I’m glad we were on the same page.

Oh my and Christmas was this one of the best things I’ve eaten in sometime.  This is a must with wheat bread.   This is a throwback to my childhood.  And isn’t what Christmas and the holidays does to us sometimes?  The combination of honey, feta, and wheat on a piece of warm and toasty pita bread (usually wheat) alone is something I share with my family, especially my dad, and continue to this way.  So I felt warm inside before even noshing.  And when I finally noshed, everything was confirmed. This is one I’ll be thinking about for a long time.  The pears, prosciutto, and arugula are what you see immediately.  But to me, the heart is the honey, feta, olive oil, and minced garlic.  Again, that’s a family thing.   I’m getting emotional as I expound on this.  I’m getting goose bumps.  I’m not kidding you.

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And combining these pizzas with good people, good wine (click here to read more about the wines), a festive vibe, and a great cause, this is a win-win and then some.

I love this place.  Let me reiterate.  I LOVE this place.  Nestled in the heart of Downtown Annapolis automatically makes a place welcoming.  But there was something special about this night.

Once again, a huge thank you to Bethany for helping me with everything when it came to pizza and wine suggestions.

I’m ecstatic to have been a part of something so special.  I look forward to my next visit to Red Red Wine Bar.   And if you’re in the area I strongly recommend you do the same.

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Here is their story and their contact info.

For my Annapolis Pizza History, click here.

For more on Anne Arundel County CASA and all the good that they do, click here.

And for the last inspiring CASA experience, click here.

This was a holiday party for the books.  I’m so thankful and appreciative to have been a part of this.  All many of us want for the holidays, and out of life, is to feel good.  This event and this bar checks of all the boxes.

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To a safe and happy holiday season,

Ideen