A certain dreamthrum and I road tripped down to Florida a couple weekends ago for our friends Maria and Mr. Melee's (completely rockin' karaoke booth) birthday party. Goofy pictures forthcoming -- though you can spot a couple on Maria's blog. (That was Bon Jovi's "Wanted Dead or Alive" we're singing in this photo. I really, really wish I could know what line that was picture was snapped during, 'cause it was apparently v. serious.) In the meanwhile, a few places that made the trip nearly as rockin' as a dozen mostly sober adults completely nailing The Humpty Dance:
Young Blood Gallery & Boutique, Poncey Highlands, Atlanta, Georgia
I do a lot of gift shopping for like-mindedly indie-chic geeks at Young Blood Gallery 'cause they carry pop-punky household items, art, t-shirts, jewelry, and accessories that're handmade by mostly local artists and crafters. It's a sort of the Best Of Etsy In 3 Dimensions, so my friends get one-of-a-kind gifts and I get to support rad creative people. Win all around. This time, I found a shirt for Mr. Melee featuring a giant plant destroying a city (in the style of Audrey II?) and a block-print cupcake tea towel and a pretty, leafy silver necklace for Maria (none of which are featured in their online store, or I'd link you to them.) There are sometimes even parking spots available out front. Check the sale table by the cash register for reasonable prices on shiny things.
A New Deal Cafe, Gainesville, Florida
Adjacent to Mildred's Big City Food, New Deal has longer hours and a lighter menu (lighter on the belly & the wallet), but shares a lot of Mildred's highfalutin' kitchen & waitstaff. They feature local ingredients and have an incredibly craveable dessert selection. Also, they gave me an I've-been-living-in-Atlanta-too-long wake-up call: We ordered fried squidbits, a tasty if overly toasted sandwich, the seafood special (a creamy, just-tender risotto with shrimp & andouille), 2 double espressos (road fuel), and a big slice of Chocolate Corruption cake for Maria. And our bill was like 40bux. So, yeah. It's maybe 10 minutes in off of I75, but completely worthwhile. Especially during patio weather. If you save room for dessert, one of my favorite things on this planet is their Chocolate Mousse Bombe, but you shouldn't try a slice unless you want to be addicted for life.
Ha Long Bay Vietnamese Cuisine & Dim Sum, St. Petersburg, Florida
We go to Ha Long Bay for dim sum every time I'm in St. Pete, and their steamed buns are some of the best I've ever had. We always go for late breakfast/early lunch, get iced coffees (the kind that come as a sort of DIY kit, with a tiny single-serving brewing pod of the strongest coffee imaginable laced with sweetened condensed milk, a long spoon, and a glass of ice) that I promptly crack myself out on, squee about the adorable toddlers there with their families, order too much food, and receive stern judgment from the creatures temporarily living in the wall of aquariums that separate the far end of the dining room from the kitchen. If you go, you must order the steamed barbecue pork buns (caramelized chunks of pork in a smoky-sweet sauce, encased by perfect pillowy bread), the steamed ginger-pork dumplings (bright and juicy ground pork and ginger in a delicate wonton wrapper), the fried rice-dough dumplings (piquant ground pork and leeks wrapped in my favorite-ever thick, chewy rice dough with a crisp, crackly outer coating), and the steamed custard buns (creamy, uberthick custard in that terrific pillowy bread). Mix your own dipping sauce from the vinegar, soy, and chili paste on the table, and don't be afraid to ask for explanations when choosing dishes from the friendly cart attendants (the young man who works there speaks the best English, but all of the waiters are happy to help).
Kroaky's Karaoke, Sarasota, Florida
Recently taken over by a tiny lady manager who kicks proverbial ass, Kroaky's has both a public stage and private rooms for karaoke. Maria & Mr. Melee rented one of those private rooms -- basically a huge table with wrap-around booth seating but with full walls for privacy, on one of which a flatscreen is mounted. Though the controls for the system were a little counterintuitive and most of us were at least a little inebriated, we killed about as much Bon Jovi, Journey, Lady Gaga, Little Mermaid, Fergie, Fiona Apple, Deee-lite, and Little Shop of Horrors as you might imagine a group of dorktacular 20 & 30-somethings would. Their song selection is extensive -- the only thing we really missed was RENT, which, honestly, was maybe better for the Universe anyway. The wait staff were attentive to and genuinely amused by us, the drinks (non-liquor only) were reasonably priced (including awesome beer specials, like $3 Abita and Terrapin bottles), the room was clean and well-ventilated, and although we didn't try anything from their food menu, it did exist. If you like the singing part of karaoke but are hesitant about the being-on-stage part, I highly recommend finding a place with booths as nice as the ones at Kroaky's. And friends who rock as hard as ours. Though if you have to settle for slightly less-rockin' friends, no one will blame you.