Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Shula's Bar and Grill -Tampa Airport for Breakfast - Shula's Perfect Record is in jeopardy!

Shula's Bar on Urbanspoon
With travel being what it is today, this world has most definitely gotten smaller for many (unless of course you are painting it, then all bets are off) and so with my chosen vocation involving travel to dozens of cities and numerous states, as well as a number of countries during my investigations, the joy I feel in having the Tampa Airport as my disembarkation point cannot be overstated.

Surely there are larger airports with facilities that are more stupendous in their presentation, and most assuredly there exists smaller ones where the ease provided by light security lines and the comfort given in traversing the byzantine security measures border on the simplex. 

Yet Tampa International Airport, like pugilists Floyd Mayweather or  Sugar Ray Leonard, is pound for pound perhaps the greatest airport in the United States for it's deft and nuanced manner in shuttling travelers along all but stress free - and with nearly direct accessibility anywhere. 

With it's four major terminals built in a hub and spoke configuration, TIA has garnered several major travel awards for the very ease and simplicity it affords it's travelers in movement from car to plane. An arcane statistic to be sure but a most important one when one's daily existence relies on such ease.

And as the first (or last) impression any traveler has to any given city, TIA has also gone to great lengths to offer wayfarers a distinctly regional personality in it's food and beverage offerings: First Flight in the main terminal, a wine bar offering from Mise en Place in Tampa; Cigar City Brewery on the C Terminal also offering the crisp and cold Beer and Ale selections with a local flair from one of Tampa's finest Breweries. 

Now, Shula's Bar and Grill, found nearby in the northern area of the 'C' Terminal, could also be considered by some as regionally oriented (Miami is closer to Tampa than some other city venues one might suppose) so, by adoption, we thus accept it here in Tampa in this case as our own for purposes of 'Regional Airport Fare'......yet, perhaps we should adopt another.

Lee Roy Selmon's Restaurant perchance (another Outback property....also a Tampa based group) for a more regional flair as this location of Shula's is, as they say in Texas: 'Big Hat/No Cattle', at least from a breakfast perspective. 

Arriving at the airport one recent morning over an hour early in a 'pre-school crossing guard' strategy, I wandered into Shula's for what I hoped to be a relaxing and calm breakfast before a 4 hour flight west.

Approaching the hostess stand (and at 7 am there was an actual hostess standing there awaiting my arrival....curious!)

'Table for one, Sir?' she asked.
'Yes, Madam' I replied.
'And how are you set for time?' she continued......

Indeed! How are you set for time?....a simple enough question yet it immediately spoke volumes towards the attentiveness of the personnel working at this particular hovel. Make no mistake during this analysis, the staff at this location were as personable and as professional as any I've seen. However it was what they were given to work with that I had a particular issue with.

Comfortable seats, cushioned booths, fairly large TV Screens throughout the small restaurant area......quick service......and n ancillary eye towards one of my favorite items of review: The Napkins and Silverware.

Black Napkins and Heavy Duty Silverware with heft and gravitas. No Sysco/Delco pre-wrapped boxed goods here, this already spoke of a wonderful soon to be experience!

And yet.......it was not to be.

On the breakfast menu were three omelette's - 'Ham and Cheese', 'The Denver', or 'Veggie'. Now HMS Host, which operates this location (and the Chili's, and the  Starbucks, and the Quizno's, and, and....and most every food establishment in most airports nationwide!) is in the business of franchising these names, keeping costs low, nudging profits high, and customers happy.....enough. 
(How many times have you heard once comfortably sidled up to a bar recently after a beer order 'Would you like a shot with that for only $3.00?')

Now let's presume you arrive for lunch or perhaps dinner at Shula's Bar and Grill and you were to order a burger (plenty to choose from there!) your toppings choices would include a well rounded selection: Pickles, Lettuce, Sliced Tomato's, Roasted Tomato's, Bacon, Avocado's, Red Peppers, even cucumbers! Yet with this plethora of vegetables why is it that upon ordering a 'Veggie Omelette' (key clue here: veggie!) does one then get sauteed onions, green peppers and mushrooms - and greasy enough that it strongly suggests (as in tastes!) as if it was left over from the burger toppings the evening prior. Burger makings certainly but neither tomato's, nor avocado.......nor color of any kind....This was simply left over greasy burger toppings inside a greasy egg mix. 

Ah yes, The Egg Mix. 

It is ALSO a well known trait in kitchens everywhere that to stretch costs you add water to your eggs and thereby 'stretch' these food costs over as many a diner as possible. The only downside to this theory (and most weary, bedraggled travelers are not only none the wiser but could care less) is that the resulting omelette is a blander, 'smoother' omelette with less 'egg' property and more of a 'mix' appearance. This stretch TOO can be deftly masked by the enterprising Airport gourmand with sauses, salsa's, sides, toppings, etc.......and in this case it SHOULD be masked. Cheese even....all the things that you might expect in a 'Shula's' namesake restaurant. 
Except none were evident.....nary a one.

So, we have a relaxed and unhurried traveler. Plain, greasy eggs, greasy vegetables inside. No cheese. No salsa. And Hash Browns - YES! The Hash Browns are here to save the day for sure! 

Alas, these spuds too were merely remnants of yesterday's news..... soft fries that may have been dropped in hot oil a second time to warm over. A dry, bland, mouth-filling feeling enveloped my mouth. It was called disappointment. 

Coffee? Oh bean of the gods, save me...........alas again, cold. The coffee .... was cold. It surely was hot at ONE point, yes? Why could I not be here at THAT POINT. I am the only one in this enclave, is it too much to ask that..................

Maxims and measured reason enveloped me.

'A man is only so big as the things that make him mad', and there are very few things that I will ever allow to get my ire, saving such episodes for the truly stupendous. This was most certainly not one of them. 

My waitperson, an older gentleman was oh-so-attentive and delivered upon all my requests in rapid fashion. When I then asked for salsa (please allow me to liven up this meal and hide it's ordinariness), it was brought not only in a ramekin but said ramekin was then set onto a serving dish and delivered with the flair reserved as if royalty had happened upon them. [Well, if that were the case then perhaps they could check the Royal Coffee? Coffee touch up? Heated please??] 

James, my waitperson, was on it quickly.

Remembering that an angry person is never wise, I did temper my internal criticism a bit but the nature of the critical eye is once an errant thread is spotted, the discerning investigator looks for any and all other imperfections....however miniscule they may appear... for connections to a larger trend or as a one-off anomaly.

Don Shula....legendary coach of the undefeated Miami Dolphins. An NFL Team. A Sports Team. And now he has made a name for himself with a restaurant empire (Steakhouses, Bars, Grills, etc...) yet with five (5) larger screen TV's in place.....three were blaring FOX News. Blaring I say. It was already distasteful enough a meal, political leanings aside, no one likes to be blared at this early...or ever......

My erudition provides that this will not happen to me again at Shula's Bar and Grill at the Tampa Airport....for breakfast.