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Florida, Day 1: Flying, Three Birds Tavern, and Apple Pork Chops

Meat Loaf

Saturday morning, way too early, we oozed out of bed, grabbed our bags and headed to Bergstrom Airport for our trip to Tampa. Checking in went smoothly enough, given that we were sleepwalking through the whole process. As dawn did its dawning thing I managed to find a nice cuppa Joe at one of the gateside eateries, and I could begin to process inputs properly. Caffeine’s not merely a stimulant; it builds strong synapses seven ways (or however that jingle goes).

The first leg of our journey was over very quickly. Something like 22 minutes in the air, then back on the ground; this time at Hobby Airport. Our next plane was scheduled to leave from the gate just one down from our arrival, and so we had time to explore the art in the waiting area. A nice exposition of children’s coloring. Other than that, Hobby wasn’t very exciting.

The flight to Tampa was almost exactly two hours, power-up to full stop. PJ and I were several rows apart, but since we both wanted to sleep it wasn’t an issue. Tampa has a very nice, modern airport, and we found it quite easy to navigate to the bag claim and car rental areas. In what seemed like minutes we were heading out west to St. Petersburg.

Because we’re such V.I.P. travelers, we had a nice room waiting for us at the Hilton Bayfront. Claiming our space was easy, and soon we were on our way to find some grub. It was already past lunchtime, and both of us were hungry. We’d noticed some interesting hangouts and eateries along 4th Street as we chugged south to downtown St. Pete, and one in particular intrigued us: Three Birds Tavern. Since it was right on the way to our next destination, we gave it a shot.

We’re glad we did.

Three Birds Tavern isn’t simply a bar. It’s a restaurant and an attraction as well. The trees out front have unusual outlines, as they have grown over two lanes of traffic on 4th St. The other side of the trees have been shaped by power line clearance, so they appear to be green cones floating over the cars driving underneath. There’s an ample porch with plenty of seating, an inside bar and dining room, and a large patio to the north that has plenty of umbrella-shaded tables. I didn’t get an exact count on the seating, but it’s clear the tavern can hold quite a crowd on a Saturday night. Probably more seating and mingling space than available parking, actually.

Cottage Pie

The building is dark wood, with wood and leather on the seating and booths. Plenty of old London kitsch decorates the walls, inside and out. Things like old Tube line maps and street signs. Someone’s spent considerable time arranging the embellishments just so, giving an artistic chaos to the appearance. It’s like some ladies’ hair, though; disheveled, maybe, but random, hardly.

Although the early afternoon was warm, there was a nice breeze; we chose to sit outside on the porch in a big, plush booth. Iced drinks arrived quickly to keep us from wilting, and then we ordered our meal. We settled on the day’s special goat cheese crostini as appetizer, and Cottage Pie and Mama’s Meatloaf as our entrées.

The crostini was very interesting! Tangy goat cheese, slightly softened (Using cream cheese? Cream? We couldn’t tell.), mixed with garlic and herbs and served in a ramekin, accompanied by toasted slices of what appeared to be French baguette bread. The spread was generously portioned, so we could get a nice, thick coating on each slice of bread. The flavor was amazing! Tangy, creamy, and aromatic; a nice way to get the ol’ appetite kicking over.

We chatted with our server as we waited for our meal. We learned that the Three Birds has a new chef, and he’s kicked the food-related things about until they are much improved. They have a great location in a town known for its evening scene, and they have a large selection of specialty and craft brews. All in all, they’re a restaurant that seems to be movin’ on up.

When the main courses arrived they did so in artistic, white bowls that presented the food in dramatic fashion. Cottage Pie, a quintessential peasant dish, looks quite nouveau cuisine in such a setting. PJ’s comfort food also looked famously delicious, especially with a chef-style artistic arrangement and garnish. The aromas drew us in, and so we dined. (Most lunch meals, one simply eats. This meal, well, it was really dining.)

At first we thought we might even have room for dessert. The meals were so filling, though, that in the end we had to take a rain check.

Should we find ourselves in St. Pete in the future (and I think there’s a good chance, maybe even Real Soon), we’ll be back to Three Birds. (Note: I’m a little confused by the Urbanspoon percentage; only 62% seem to enjoy this place. We certainly found it quite good. Maybe the new chef really is having an impact?) Chef-prepared food, daily specials and lots of brew choices; how can you go wrong with that?

After that special late lunch we drove on to meet the Sheppard family. This event was one of the key reasons for our trip to Florida, and we certainly enjoyed the time together. It was a bit chaotic at first, though, as Paula Jo had to go back to the hotel and do a bit of crash-priority mashing on some spreadsheets for her work. (I told her to turn off her phone; but did she listen to me?) So Jess, Kai, PJ and I headed south once again. Rather than sit around the hotel room waiting, the three of us (minus PJ) decided to go for some ice cream. Our choice of location? The Pier. (Okay, it was Kai’s choice. He’s the local, after all.)

Cones

Since the Pier is close to the Hilton we chose to walk. Here’s the rub: Those maps? They make things appear Much Closer than they really are. Kai was insistent that it was “just over there.” In a philosophical sense he’s right, of course. But on a hot, humid afternoon, in the direct sun? I thought we were going to be raisins before we got there.

And as we’re approaching our destination, Kai lets us know that the trolleys are free. Like the one that was stopped just ahead of us. Oh well. Maybe the exercise did us some good.

Kai’s parents joined us at the Pier, and we looked through some shops and then sprang for the ice cream. I was surprised to see that they serve Blue Bell. I thought that stuff never got out of the state of Texas; I guess, though, if you’ve got the right smuggling connections logistics anything is possible.

As we were finishing our cones and cups of frozen goodness, PJ called to say she was done. I ordered up a cup of chocolate mint Blue Bell for her and we headed out once again. This time using the Sheppard’s flivver. (With age comes wisdom.) They dropped me off to get Paula Jo and the car and the caravan headed back to Sheppard Central.

Jessi had dinner plans all figured out, you see.

After referring to Dad’s Cookbook for the recipe and ingredients, the women walked over to the Publix for the fixin’s. We men were left behind to do Real Man things, like start the fire and talk about sports. When the phone rang, it was the women. Seems they’d gotten themselves in trouble again bought more plunder than they could carry, and would someone please drive over and get them?

Once everybody was back together the dinner preparations went into overdrive. Pork chops off the grill, with an apple glaze; stuffing; peas. Assorted and sundry supporting elements. And Amber Bock beer.

About the time we were ready to set the table and dig in, two things happened. First, Nils got home early from summer camp. So the dinner table was expanded by one more corner. (There was no danger that the food would be insufficient.) And it began to rain. I took PJ out the back porch door and showed her what rain looked like. Once she calmed down from her fright, she actually found it pleasant. And the lightning and thunder were a nice accompaniment to the meal.

By the time we returned to our hotel room, tummies stuff to the gills, we were way past ready for a long rest. My only concern was that we would oversleep in the morning and miss the day’s big events…

Three Birds Tavern on Urbanspoon

Three Birds Tavern, 1492 4th St., North, St. Petersburg, FL 33704. Phone 727.895.2049. Open seven days a week, lunch, dinner and late. Live entertainment: Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday evenings; see website for specifics.

If You Can’t Stand the Heat, Then You May Be in Florida!

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