Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Some Cute Little Finds in the Sunshine State

My parents own a condominium in Madeira Beach, a sleepy little town outside of Tampa.  Hubby and I were fortunate enough to travel down for a visit this past week.  Although this part of Florida is not a foodie destination by any stretch, we did manage to discover some cute little finds along the way. Here are the highlights:

Sweet Sage Cafe

I give credit to my parents for recommending this cute little brunch joint.  The atmosphere is a little quirky but fun, and is a welcome treat from all of the bar/tavern brunch options that seem to be popular in this neck of the woods.  There is lots of outside seating, which is usually perfect for the Florida climate.  The two sides of the restaurant are separated by a little store selling funky little nic nacs.   Service is very friendly.  Dogs VERY welcome here, so much so that they even sell dishes made specifically for dogs that ca be ordered off the "doggie" menu.  I have certainly never seen anything like this before!

The menu (brunch and lunch only) offers a nice variety of dishes to suit all tastes.  From smoothies to egg scrambles to waffles on the breakfast menu, and salads to sandwiches to crab cakes on the lunch menu, there is sure to be something to please everyone.

We arrived at around 11am and were still feeling in the mood for breakfast.  I ordered the Veggie Scrambler (fluffy scrambled eggs loaded with spinach and other fresh veggies, plus parmesan cheese), served with flatbread (think thin hamburger bun) and fresh fruit (my choice of side).  The scrambler was delicious, and the fresh fruit was lovely, but I would have loved some homemade bread to round out the plate.  Hubby had the 4x4 (4 eggs, 4 pieces of bacon, and 4 pieces of french toast)- he devoured it!  My mother enjoyed the California Scramble (guacamole, salsa, bacon, cheese), while my father ate, but did not really enjoy, the Scrambled Crab Benedict (clunky, too many competing flavors, very heavy).

Overall, a very enjoyable meal and a very welcome change from typical Tampa area brunch fare.  Highly recommended:)

The Conche Republic Grill and Raw Bar

While the men went to see the baseball game one evening, my mother and I decided that we would rather stick closer to home for some quality. mother-daughter time.  My mother suggested visiting one of her favourite local spots for dinner, the Conche.  One of the perks of this place is that it is located right off the beach, so we were able to walk with our feet in the water the whole way there.  It was so beautiful on the beach that evening, and the walk was the perfect start to a great night together.

The Conche has a lot of character, both inside and out.  With colourful seats, big umbrellas and a huge outdoor patio and bar, it makes for the perfect setup for a great night out.

Before being seated, we decided to sit at the covered outside bar for a drink and an appie.  I was feeling in a particularly tropical mood so I ordered a refreshing mojito.  My mother followed suit and ordered a sangria.  The bar menu is full of all kinds of treats, many from the sea.  My parents had tried the Fresh Florida Fish Spread (made with smoked amberjack and maui) and said that it was delicious, but I had been yearning for some Florida shrimp, so we ordered a half pound of  A-1-A peel-and-eat shrimp (still not exactly sure what the A-1-A is all about, no one I asked seemed to know).  The shrimp were fresh and meaty, and were served cold with a simple cocktail sauce so that we could really appreciate their flavor.

After we finished our drinks, we decided to move inside for dinner as there was a little chill starting to make its way into the air.  The space was abuzz with happy customers enjoying the vibrant atmosphere.  The room is decorated in a very "Florida-like" manner, with wooden tables and ocean paraphernalia.  Servers are decked out in shorts and t-shirts.  Our server was very friendly and welcoming.

The menu is very seafood-focused, with many fish and shellfish options, prepared in lots of different ways.  There is a large chalkboard with additional daily specials made with the daily catch.  With most entrees, you can choose 2 sides from a list of over 10 choices. Grouper, a white and delicate fish, is big in this neck of the woods, and is something that is not typically found in Vancouver, so I wanted to give it a try.  I ordered it Cajun style (blackened and served with a pineapple-mango salsa) with a side of sweet potato (served with the most decadent cinnamon butter!) and broccoli.  The fish was cooked perfectly and the seasoning gave it a nice kick.  My mother ordered the crab cakes (her favourite!), with sides of sautéed asparagus and sweet potato (she also raved about that yummy butter!).  This is plain, no bells and whistle-type food, but it tasted darn good and we finished every last bite.

After the big meal, out walk back home was just the ticket to help us digest and, more importantly, to make this mother-daughter night last as long as possible.  Living on opposite coasts of this huge country is not conducive to frequent trips to see each other, so every moment we have together is precious.  Our night at the Conche will remain in my heart for a long time, and will give me happy memories to hold onto until out next mother-daughter night.  Plans are already in the works for a whole week in Victoria together in the fall:)

Frida's Cafe and Bakery

Lucky for me, I had some other relatives who were visiting Florida while I was there and we chose to meet up at this cute little local bakery and cafe for lunch together.  

Freida's is a great find, especially for those with a sweet tooth.  They have an incredible selection of baked goods, from fancy cakes, to homemade donuts, to cookies, to pastries, to breads.  You name it and it is there! They also offer gluten free options (a rare find down here, especially compared to Van). For lunch, they also offer quick an expansive menu, including crepes, sandwiches, soups and salads.

It was a gorgeous Florida day so we decided dine outside on the large patio.  Most of us chose a salad and were pleasantly surprised at how big they were!  The Three Berries Chicken Salad came complete with mounds of fresh lettuce, topped with berries and a generous portion of chicken breast.  The Summertime Salad was equally large, and was topped with candied pecans, asiago cheese and chicken.  I chose the Tabouli Salad, one of their newest offerings.  The tabouli itself was a lot more cracked wheat and a lot less parsley than what I am used to, but was tasty nonetheless. It was served with roasted beets (a rather strange choice I thought, but fine with me since I love beets!) and high quality feta cheese.  I enjoyed it very much.  All of the salads, as well as the sandwiches, are accompanied by a delicious piece of coconut bread, which is really more like cake.  Moist with just the perfect amount of sweetness, it made for a delicious little bite to end the meal.

At the end of our lovely meal together, we could not resist ordering a few treats for later.  We picked out the almond raspberry canoe, both a chocolate chip and an oatmeal raisin cookie, a macaroon and a healthy nut bar.  These were all pretty good as well, but I think that the lunch was the real star of the visit.

I would be interested in trying a cake or a doughnut to see how these might stack up.  Maybe next time!


Madeira beach is a pretty tiny little town, so when I passed by the local sushi restaurant, I thought that it was likely best to avoid it.  My initial impression was reconfirmed when I walked by its dark and rather dingy exterior.  As the week went on however, I started to wonder if I was perhaps missing out, as every night there was a pile of customers flooding in through the front door, and the parking lot always seemed to be full of cars. Not wanting to miss out on good sushi, I looked at online reviews, all of which were consistently excellent ("best sushi for miles", "fish is so fresh", "dozens of special rolls"). Knowing from past experiences that looks can be deceiving, and that we should never judge a book by its cover, I decided to check it out for myself.  And thank goodness I did!

Although Osaka's exterior is unappealing, its inside is just the opposite. It is quite a large restaurant, complete with a large sushi bar (10-12 seats) as well as individual tables.  All of the employees that I saw were Japanese, the decor was typical of a traditional Japanese sushi restaurant and the place was absolutely spotless.  It was like I had walked off the beach in Florida and had somehow been transported to downtown Tokyo.  Not at a what I had expected, but a very pleasant surprise.

Osaka's menu is several pages long and, in addition to the standard raw sushi and sashimi, it offers many cooked options for sushi "beginners" or those turned off by raw fish.  There is also a giant sized-page of "special rolls" with every ingredient combination that you could possibly dream of.  Special sauces, different textural elements (tempura, roe, etc) and many fish combinations, one of these rolls could easily fill you up.  I saw some coming off the sushi bar and they looked amazing (beautiful presentation). Because I was just ordering for myself and was taking it to go, I opted instead for a combo of my favourite sushi bar eats, including edamame, seaweed salad and, well, sushi of course! I chose the Sushi Appetizer, which included a California roll and 4 pieces of sushi (salmon, tuna, white fish and crab) and was quite a steal for under $10. The fish was fresh and delicious (large pieces, no skimping!) and the rice was prepared perfectly.  My dad, who has is certainly now branching out from his prior "meat and potatoes" self, also now quite enjoys sushi.  While he does like raw fish in small amounts, he prefers it cooked, so the Smoked Salmon Roll (smoked salmon, cucumber and cream cheese) was perfect for him.  He loved it and after the last bite, said it was the best sushi he had ever had.

So whatever you do, do not make the same mistake as me and be so quick to judge this  fantastic sushi spot based on its exterior alone.  This is quite an unexpected find in Madeira Beach which should not be missed by sushi lovers, and with all of its cooked options, it is also a great introduction to sushi for those who are not yet on the sushi bandwagon.  A must-try!


This little coffee shop, located just down the road from my parent's condo, was the daily stop for my morning caffeine fix.  Since I visited in March 2012, the shop has changed owners, changed names and changed its vibe.  Luckily, all of this change has been for the better.  There has been a switch to organic, fair trade and locally brewed coffee and its baked goods are made by a chef who uses mostly local ingredients.  They are open until 9pm on Friday and Saturday, and they have a decent selection of beer including many local varieties.  Service is very homey and friendly, and by the end of my week, I felt as though I had been a customer there for years.

On my first morning, I tried their coffee and it was a tad weak for me so the next morning I ordered an almond milk latte (yes, they have almond milk and soy milk!) that was delicious.  On subsequent mornings, I alternated between the latte and an americano and both were consistently good.

Over the course of the week, I also enjoyed some of their food offerings, including a greek yogurt parfait with fresh fruit, homemade granola (made right in the store) and local honey (impressive!).  It was very delicious!  I also brought home some cookies for hubby and my parents, including a chocolate expresso cookie (my husband was quite impressed at how good this was!), a macaroon for my mom and an oatmeal raisin nut cookie for my dad.  They all seemed fresh and very enjoyed by all.

I must say that this little place really surprised me.  Just like Osaka, do not be fooled by its rather unassuming exterior as there is lots of good stuff awaiting you inside!


Sweet Sage Cafe on Urbanspoon

Conch Republic Grill on Urbanspoon

Osaka on Urbanspoon

Brew Mostly on Urbanspoon

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