Dunedin Highland Games 50th Anniversary

Scottish-DancerEvery year for one weekend in the spring a wee bit of Scotland comes to the west coast of Florida – the annual Dunedin Highland Games.  The mournful cry of the bagpipes call to all whether ye be Scottish in blood or just in spirit.

This year (2016) the games take place the weekend of March 31st thru Saturday April 2nd and will commemorate 50 years of the games’ existence. It is a celebration of all things Scottish.

Schedule of Events:

  • Pipers on the Pier, Saturday, March 26, 5:30 pm Weaver Park, Bayshore Boulevard along Dunedin’s waterfront – Free event kicking off the Highland Games week. There will be highland dancing and 50 Pipers on the Weaver Park Pier at sunset! Bring lawn chairs. Vendors, food and drink available for purchase.
  • Celidh in Pioneer Park, Downtown Dunedin, Thursday, March 31st – A free concert by Off Kilter (of Epcot Center fame) a high energy rock band with bagpipes.
  • Pipe Band March, Friday, April 1st through the streets of Downtown Dunedin starting at 6:30pm –  At least 16 bands have signed up so far.
  • Tartan Clan Reception, Friday, April 1st – At the Dunedin Scottish Arts Foundation Hall, 1134 Douglas Avenue in downtown Dunedin. The reception will be held at 7:30 pm, immediately after the Pipe Band March. This ticketed event is open to the public. Ceremonial Scottish and evening dress required.
  • DHG Trail Run 5K, Saturday April 2, 9am. for runners of all skill levels.

The main event at Highlander Park on Michigan Avenue from 8:30am to 8pm features:

  • Watch as handsome brawny lads compete in athletic feats of strength – caber (Yes, the telephone pole thing to the non-Scottish) toss, sheaf toss, hammer throw and tug-of-war.
  • Highland Dancing Competitions on the main stage
  • Individual piping and drumming and Pipe and Drum Corp competitions
  • Parade of the Clans
  • Sheep herding demonstration
  • Kids Fun Zone – Haggis Toss, “Mini” Caber Toss, “Mini” Sheaf Toss and old-fashioned Sack Races, face painting and balloon artist for the “wee Brauns.”
  • Entertainment by Seven Nations
  • Beer Tent – Sample beers from all over the British Isles
  • All manner of food and Celtic merchandise available.

Tickets are $16 in advance, $18 at the gate. Children 12 & under are free. Please no pets and no coolers. For more information, visit their website at http://dunedinhighlandgames.com/.

It’s sure to be a fun day for all. Hope to see you there!

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Cossetta’s – It’s Amore!

(Sixth in a series on winter travel)


Charming historic eateries are fascinating and often feature good local cuisine. In St. Paul, it’s Cossetta’s, an authentic and charming Italian dining spot and market owned and run by the Cossetta family since it opened in 1911. A very short walk from Xcel Energy Center, it was worth walking to on a cold gray day.

Visit all four parts to this eatery:IMG_0555

  • A 300-seat Eatery & Pizzeria – Ooey Gooey delicious hot fresh pizza. A slice of cheese pizza had a nice chewy crust and a generous amount of cheese. They have other flavors including a daily flavor. There are counters for hot entrees and another for sandwiches and salads made to order.
  • Pasticceria – A dream of a pastry and gelato shop. Gleaming dark wood and polished marble floors give the cafe an Old World feel. Brightly lit glass pastry cases run the length of the shop. With so many tempting confections including a variety of Italian desserts, tarts, cookies, cheesecake, tortes and even chocolates made in house it’s hard to decide. Try the macarons. Unique standouts are the red wine flavor and the strawberry and prosecco. If you fancy a cold treat, try one or more of 18 flavors of gelato or Italian Ice. Made fresh daily, the flavor is creamy, lush and incredible. Your taste buds will say Grazie! Order a cappuccino, espresso or other specialty coffee and sit awhile to enjoy with your dessert. Check out the magnificent cakes in the display windows set in the interior and exterior walls of the shop. Some of them are works of art and a worthy centerpiece for any special occasion. Looks are calorie free.

IMG_0556

  • Italian Market – the ultimate Italian grocery store – the Panetteria (Italian bakery) offers fresh baked bread including five different flavors of focaccia daily. Don’t miss the variety of the cheese and deli meat section. Six slices of San Daniele Prosciutto were way cheaper than I can get at home. For the chef or ambitious home cook, there are shelves filled with all the items you need to cook your own Italian meals. Don’t want to cook? There’s a prepared meals counter.
  • Louis Ristorante & Bar on the third floor, which I didn’t get a chance to visit. This hot downtown gathering spot serves traditional and regional Italian cuisine as well as having St. Paul’s largest rooftop bar to enjoy drinks and small plates when the weather is nice.

Bet you’ll fall in love with Cossetta’s too. Go! Mangia! Buon Appetito!

Posted in Bakeries, Dessert, Florida, Specialty Food Markets, St. Paul Minnesota | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Mickey’s Dining Car – Classic American Diner

Fifth post in winter travel series.IMG_0628

I have a soft spot for classic diners as they were a big part of my childhood. When transferred from Hawaii to Maine, we literally ate our way across America. In the 1960s, diner food was cheap for a family with four kids to feed and yet served hearty homemade fare. It may be sappy to say, but I still remember one diner in Pennsylvania that made roast beef (the kind slow roasted with onion, carrots and worcestershire sauce for Sunday dinner) and mashed potatoes with gravy just like my Mom’s. The diner experience is a pure American one and never disappoints with good home-style food.

I had heard about Mickey’s from fellow Taste Trekkers members prior to my trip to St. Paul and the buzz continued during my stay. Staff at the Xcel Center assured me it was definitely a must go to place. If the locals sing its praise, you gotta eat there. Dine where the locals dine and you rarely ever go wrong with the choice.

A short walk from the St. Paul Hotel in lightly falling snow on a Sunday morning brought me to the restaurant. I was lucky to get in without a wait. At times, a line forms that goes out the door. There are only four booths and there is a fee to sit in them. I snagged a stool at the counter right in front of the grill with a view of the griddle to watch the cook do his thing.  At Mickey’s the staff know all their regulars by name. The atmosphere is so comfortable, you may end up like I did, chatting with a local sitting on the stool next to you. It’s a very good way to learn about the city you’re visiting.

IMG_0629It may not be the cleanest place I have ever eaten at – the floor covered in slush and dirt tracked in by constant foot traffic needed a good cleaning. Picture vinyl covered stools and booth seats, a bit of cooking grease sheen here or there and some serious wear and tear. Coats are hung on hooks on the wall. There is no place to set a purse or laptop unless you use the tight counter space which is needed more for the food. Cut the décor some slack; it’s been here a long time.

If you’re a health nut or have food issues, this may not be the place for you. They cook almost everything in butter, the good old fashioned way.

IMG_0632I decided on the pecan waffle with a side of grilled ham. The waffle was thick, but not heavy tasting and studded with lots of pecans. The slice of grilled hostess ham reminded me of all the times I ate Saturday breakfast at Angel’s diner in Orlando when I would finish my 3rd shift job at the local newspaper. With a mug of milky tea, it was a warm and filling breakfast for a snowy winter day.

Being there brought back pleasant memories for me. If you like classic diners, don’t miss this place. If you’re of a certain age, being at Mickey’s will spark memories for you too.

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Spring Training Baseball a Big Hit For Florida Tourism

It’s spring here in Florida and many a young man’s (and older men as well) fancy turns to romance. The romance of baseball spring training, that is. If there weren’t already enough reasons to come to Florida in March – escaping harsh cold winters up North, college spring break, Disney World, beautiful beaches, etc. – the crack of the bat and cry of “Play Ball” are the siren calls to diehard baseball fans to fly south for the “Grapefruit” League.  More than a million fans made the annual pilgrimage to Florida in 2015. The players have been training hard the last few weeks. The first games are scheduled for March 1st.

Where I live on the west coast of Florida, there is a wide choice of where to go and what team to watch. Take your pick from the Yankees at Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, the Toronto Blue Jays at Florida Auto Exchange Stadium in Dunedin and the Philadelphia Phillies at Bright House Field in Clearwater. If you don’t mind an hour or so away drive from Tampa, catch the Detroit Tigers at Joker Marchant Field in Lakeland, the Pittsburgh Pirates in Bradenton and the Baltimore Orioles in Sarasota. Drive further to Ft Myers if you’re a Boston Red Sox or Minnesota Twins fan or see our local boys the Tampa Rays, who used to do spring training at the old Al Lang Field in St. Petersburg, but now train down in Port Charlotte. In all, fifteen of 30 MLB teams compete in exhibition games around the state.

In contrast with regular season MLB games, ticket prices are low and seating capacities smaller. For the best seats, reserve well in advance or consider buying a season ticket (generally 15 or so games). Plan on day games seeing capacity crowds. Night games do happen, but are rare. It is possible to get tickets a few days before a game. A quick check of seating availability prior to posting this article showed tickets available for the March 2nd games for both the Toronto Blue Jays in Dunedin as well as for the Yankees vs the Detroit Tigers in Tampa. (Of course, the seats for the Yankees game are in the highest seating section.)

The relaxed atmosphere and smaller venues permit much greater player-fan contact. Major league teams schedule regimented pre-game autograph sessions.

Expect to fill your scorecard with some new player names. Many spring training invites will wind up in the minors when the big club goes back North. Remembering some of those names as they progress in their careers is part of the fun. It could give you a great story to tell friends later to say “I remember seeing (insert name of player) when he was at spring training”.

Want to rub shoulders with the players? Be on the lookout at local restaurants that players frequent when in town for spring training. In Clearwater, Lenny’s Deli down the road from Bright House Field is a hangout for Phillies players. The bonus is the food is really good especially their house made chicken noodle soup heaped with a generous amount of chicken.

To find out more information, check various web sites, including:

mlb.mlb.com/springtraining/
www.flasports.com/springtraining/
www.floridagrapefruitleague.com/
www.springtrainingonline.com

For the tech savvy smartphone user, there’s the Florida Grapefruit League Mobile Phone App that puts all the information you need at your fingertips.

For those who prefer their baseball games outside, it’s a warm-weather exercise in nostalgia. Sun and baseball fun, it’s a home run no matter how you look at it. Oh, and don’t forget to wear sunscreen.

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M ST. Cafe – Eat Your Breakfast

(Fourth in a series about winter travel)

We all know that old saying – Always start your day with a good breakfast. It’s especially important on cold winter days. The St. Paul Hotel has the M ST. Cafe (the M stands for Market Street where the hotel is location)on the lowest floor of the hotel. Take the winding staircase next to the bellstand down from the first floor or use the elevator. The cafe is open weekdays for breakfast and lunch, closes at Noon on Saturday and has a breakfast/brunch buffet on Sunday. Menu items range from light fare such as Greek yogurt and berries to oatmeal and various egg dishes including Eggs Benedict. Try the Swedish Pancakes ($8.95), a delightful Scandinavian take from St. Paul’s ethnic heritage – three to four large thin light lacy crepes with lingonberry preserves. They offer maple syrup as well, but I recommend keeping it simple and in true Swedish fashion eating them with only the lingonberry preserves. Accompanied with a slice of grilled ham, it was a very satisfying breakfast. Recommended for the hearty appetite is the Northwoods Omelet ($13.95) – three eggs stuffed with sauteed asparagus, forest mushrooms, Gruyere cheese and a side of excellent tasty Bechamel sauce. When asked what kind of toast I’d prefer, upon mentioning that I restrict how much bread I eat, the server offered gluten free toast and also let me know the Bechamel was gluten free as well (thickened with cornstarch instead of flour). Now that’s what I call good service when a server cares about your dietary restrictions. I did not eat at the Sunday Brunch buffet but fellow travelers said they thought it was pricey for the offerings. At $22.95 and considering the variety of food, I would say it isn’t any more expensive than any other brunch buffets I have eaten at in other cities. M ST Cafe was named one of OpenTable’s Top 100 Best Brunch Restaurants in America, for both 2015 and 2013, based on more than 5 million OpenTable Diner reviews.

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St Paul Grill – Not Your Average Hotel Restaurant

(Third in a series about winter travel)

When traveling during the winter and the subzero temperatures outside happen to have you thinking “Baby, it’s really cold outside, but I’d like to enjoy a good meal.”, one hopes that the hotel you’re staying in has a good restaurant. It’s an added bonus when that restaurant showcases local dishes as well as tasty familiar favorites. Such is the case with the St. Paul Grill, the main restaurant in the St. Paul Hotel. Settle into the sparkling decor coupled with dark wood for warm and cozy contrast,  yet with lots of light coming through the windows during the day. During evening hours, the lighting is low giving the restaurant an intimate feel.

I ate lunch and dinner here as well as one late night snack in the bar, giving a variety of food to judge the quality by.

Lunch – Ordered the Cream of Minnesota Wild Rice soup, a local speciality that is delicious and hits the spot on a cold winter’s day. I paired it with the Market Street grilled chicken sandwich with thick-cut bacon, Swiss and Cheddar on grilled ciabatta (swapped out the spicy Sriracha Mayo for regular mayo). The server was very nice to substitute a salad instead of fries. I left a happy camper.

The second meal was dinner with friends. To my shock, the grill becomes a very pricey steakhouse at dinner. That’s not a bad thing if you love a good piece of beef or fancy entree or are entertaining clients, but my friends were on a bit of a budget. I asked our server (a very lovely and helpful Oriental lady who was very patient with our party that included two teenagers) if I could get one of their burgers that I had heard were very good. It’s considered bar menu during dinner, but she gladly served two of our party the desired burgers. I had the Humboldt Fog Burger with Humboldt Fog Goat Cheese, Caramelized Onions, Tomato, Lettuce and Balsamic Reduction. It was cooked perfectly and very flavorful. Again, salads were willingly substituted for fries. I tried a bit of one friend’s order of mashed potatoes (sides are served family style) and they were to die for. This friend had the slices of beef tenderloin entree, so good that he quickly devoured them. Other entrees include lamb, chicken and locally caught Walleye, which may well be the state fish of Minnesota.

My third visit to the grill, I sat at the crowded bar while having late night drinks with a friend. We were just hungry enough for something, but due to the late hour, the main kitchen was closed for the night, so choices were limited to appetizers and light fare. The bartender suggested French fries. My belief is if you’re going to eat something that is supposed to be bad for you, it better be worth it. OMG! A huge plate of piping hot perfectly cooked golden fries were presented with the restaurant’s homemade bordelaise sauce (the bartender’s idea) making for incredibly yummy dipping. Way better than ketchup or my usual mayo.

At all three meals, service was cheerful, helpful and top notch. The food was so good, I ate it before remembering to take photos. While pricey at dinner, the St. Paul Grill is well worth the money for the quality of food and service provided.

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St Paul Hotel – Historic Luxury

(Second in a continuing series on winter travel.)

I love historic hotels. I got to stay in the St. Paul Hotel recently for business. As soon as my ride pulled up to the entrance, I was like “Wow! What a beautiful place. How lucky am I to get to stay here.” I was greeted by a dapper doorman in top hat who helped get me and my luggage in out of the frosty outdoors. Check-in was smooth and quick. Ben, who escorted me to my room, was very helpful explaining all sorts of things about the room and hotel.

The hotel has had its ups and downs since opening in the mid-1800s. So glad that back in 1982, a group of people in St. Paul cared enough to save and restore this important piece of the city’s history for visitors to enjoy. I was charmed with the elegant Old World decor including the welcoming warmth of the lobby fireplace. Four of the chandeliers in the lobby area originally hung in the old ballroom.

My spacious king room overlooked Rice Park – lovely at night with the trees lit with tiny white lights. The bed was super comfy. The fluffy pillows gave such great support for my neck that I only needed one to sleep on; a first in any hotel stay. Certainly contributed to getting a good night’s sleep.

 

Cons – 1) Since you can only update a fine old structure with limited electrical, the room sometimes seemed dark and 2) You can feel a draft from the windows and the room can be cold at times when it’s sub-zero or single digits outside.

The Good Stuff – The bathroom has lots of counter space including a shelf above the sink for all a lady’s toiletries and make-up. Free WiFi was speedy enough for my iPhone. Like some British hotels, high tea is served in the lobby on select days. There was a tea held on Saturday which was very popular and heavily attended. Of the meals I ate at the hotel (more in detailed reviews under individual restaurants), all were satisfying and wait staff was very helpful. Throughout my stay when I needed various things, the staff took care of requests quickly and to my complete satisfaction. Quick walk to several restaurants and Skyway/Tunnel walk to Xcel Energy Center Arena and other event venues keeps you out of the cold. I would gladly stay at the St. Paul again and highly recommend it, especially for a romantic weekend or special occasion. It isn’t cheap to stay here, but well worth it.

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