Breakfast, SRQ

From my Yelp! pages, March of 2013.

I first came upon First Watch in Lakewood Ranch, when I was living out there. It was then a locally owned – Tampa Bay-ish – bunch of breakfast/lunch places. A small chain. Remember, this was in 2006, when the world was more outwardly wealthy. It was a buzzing place. First Watch, too. (!)

The First Watch is now a corporate chain, a fact which pretty much completes the circle of standardized menus, standardized service and standardized character.

None of which is meant as specific criticism. As long as the standards are high and maintained, there’s a place for knowing precisely what your dining experience will be before you walk in the door. And we’re a nation of people who (mostly) are in love with such an ideal.

On a Monday morning, this downtown Sarasota outpost of the FW empire lived up to expectation. Previous Yelp!ers tell of variable food quality and quantity, but I imagine much of that inconsistency is gone. At least it should be, with the current ownership. Our food was of a quality commensurate with the price and the service was acceptable. It’s breakfast: for thirteen dollars, decide for yourself.

More interesting is the consideration of specific aspects of the experience. Firstly, everything in FOH looked spotless. Presumably, the kitchen is likewise. Good.

Secondly, the wait staff, while mostly young, were immaculately groomed. Good again, although the act of grooming also apparently removed any essence of character. Think friendly but detached. Not so good.

Thirdly, there’s a certain soullessness that inhabits this place. This, of course, is the downside of distant owners and service manuals as mentors. What we know as ‘ownership’ of customers’ experience (and food prep too) is removed from individuals, replaced with binders of rules and clearly defined behavior. Note: I don’t know any of this as a fact – but it sure looks and feels like it.

Fourthly, the individual tables at the front of the dining room are very well spaced. If you have a business breakfast or lunch meeting, this would be an excellent choice. Avoid the booths at the rear: they’re somewhat cheaply built and too neighborly for me.

Fifthly, we cannot escape a breakfast review without discussing coffee. Here, one receives a carafe of coffee. That’s good because it means you pour at your own speed, and reduces “top-up” time for wait staff. But the coffee is insufficiently strong, for me. That’s not a criticism, merely an acknowledgment that not all tastes will be served.

Predictability is the name of the game here. I’d award three point five stars if able, but figure three won’t stop anyone going.

Stuck at Seventeen

This review was originally posted at Kiss & Blog. I wonder whether I’ll be asked to review another book from this publisher again.


Stuck in the Passing Lane

The story is common enough. A middle-aged man accepts that he will be divorced. His wife no longer wants him around, their children likewise. Upon moving out of the family home, what’s the first thing he does? He goes online to find a woman.

Once he observes the number of women who might fulfill his sexual needs, he begins to indulge himself. Rifling through the profiles, the ones that catch his eye are selected for pursuit and, eventually, a real-life meeting. Sex, if he’s bluffed successfully.

This is how it works. If you want a book go to Amazon. Looking for a bargain? Try Overstock. If you are jonesing for a woman, check out Match or Tinder. The world is now on the screen in front of you, ready for your consumption.

Except that people are not books or watches or beds-in-a-bag. Relationships of any kind are not commodities. That printer you bought doesn’t have an opinion about your moodiness. As much as you might want it to, that Lands’ End shirt cannot be supportive on down days.  When we couple-up with someone, it’s an interactive endeavor; success depends upon how well you mesh.

And if you’re Jed Ringel, author of “Stuck in the Passing Lane: A Memoir” you are depressingly normal at meshing. I say depressing because Mr Ringel catalogs his coupling failures as if he has no control over his behavior. Just like every other dopey guy. Having already chosen one woman poorly, he compounded the mistake by creating chaos in his children’s lives. Dissolving his marriage and family appears as an annoyance, an opportunity to modify of his daily life that allows more time for self-indulgence; namely drinking, cooking, eating and searching for trim.

There are three parts to this book. We get to see the drinking divorcé who chases sex with vodka. To his credit, his vodka habit falls to the power of AA, but now he pairs sex with instant shack-ups. The last part of the book appears to be written at a later time, with a pinch more self-examination. The common thread is that this otherwise accomplished man lives a life unexamined, shallow, self-indulgent and destructive, informed by the impulses of a teenager.

Which is why everyone with an online dating profile should read it. Go and buy this book now, especially – especially – if you are a woman. This is what waits for you on the other side of the pics and profiles.


Stuck in the Passing Lane: A Memoir, by Jed Ringel.

Published by About Face Press LLC.


Google Plays with Music

Crackle is my third favorite site from which to watch movies and tv. Faint praise.

Google Play advertises there, heavily. They are promoting something called “Google Play Music” which is a free music streaming site. Free for now I guess. The ad contains colorful cartoonish lifestyle vignettes with a voice-over.

The woman suggest that for summer fun, you should be listening to her service. Google is providing us with “free music for everything you do”. No overselling there.

We can find tunes played on “sunburnt synths.”

You should “sun out, vibe out.”

“Instead of solo kitchen karaoke, you are beach-bound…”

What in Zeus’s name is a sunburnt synth?

The implication is that Google’s desired audience is lonely, house-bound, without a plan for the summer and poor. If they were solvent, there be no need for free music, nor the fortitude to accept the awful syntax and strained cool.

Someone decided to outsource this campaign to sophomore hipsters in Brooklyn, Michigan. Even the lady reading this dross can’t mask her disdain.

Google: only really good at one thing.


They are everywhere.

Almost everywhere. At gas stations. On the road. Eating in restaurants. At work. About the only place you will not find them is in a bookstore or a library.

Rednecks. Around here the sub-species is Cracker, a sort of Redneck Lite who adds beachgoing to their range.

You will know the Cracker by the usual Redneck pointers.Observe the following:

Car: He drives an American brand pickup-truck. Poorly built, over priced and bought on a liar loan amortized over three times its useful life, this vehicle is the Cracker’s suit of armor. It makes him bigger, taller, more powerful and harder than he could ever hope to be without it.

Dress: Look for cheap clothing, ill-fitted. The theme varies from quasi-cowboy to pool-boy. Mostly the image is that of under-educated dolthood, with a job to match.

Dip: Real Crackers consider a fistful of fermented tobacco sophisticated. Drooling and expectorating is their way of marking territory, in the same way dogs urinate. Mouth, throat and/or tongue cancer emphasize your dedication.

Cuisine: Burgers. Ribs. Cheap fried protein of any kind. Grits.

Beverage: Iced tea during the day. What’s laughingly thought of as “beer” in these parts – mass-market lagers – for all other occasions.

Entertainments: Big trucks. NASCAR. Bullying other road users. Anything to do with mud.

One word to encapsulate the Cracker: Thoughtlessness. To call it anti-intellectualism is to do anti-intellectuals a disservice. The Redneck’s universe extends only as far as competence; a step up to self-observance or quiet contemplation of abstracts is a step much too far. Worse is that this heedless one-dimensional outlook appears deliberate, as if stupidity were the goal.

In that, the Cracker succeeds.

Chain Awful

From my Yelp!

Criticism is easy when so much material attacks you at a place like Panera. The food is not healthy, it is just another corporate nosebag. From June of 2013.

Yes, it was a Monday morning at 10:00 o’clock. Yes, it was the middle of snowbird season. Yes, the sign on the door said they were looking for staff. But no, this Panera Bread outlet wasn’t up to snuff.

Pretty clearly the biggest problem with this particular store was the lack of people working there. Management was addressing this in at least one way, with the sign seeking help on the door, but I’d say it should be a warning to potential customers: Beware All Ye Who Enter – Possibly No Service or Cleaning Herein.

Actually, it’s not the long lines or haphazard way in which people around me were asked to give their orders that bothered me. (No clear queue existed and operators mysteriously disappeared from the registers at random intervals.) It’s a fast food joint, after all. What was annoying was the state of the place. Frankly, it was like an elementary school lunch room. Tables and chairs were covered in crumbs and coffee rings, the booths had torn seating fabric, and worst of all, the coffee and condiment station was free of milk containers containing milk, while the surface was evenly covered with a slurry of half-and-half and sugar.

I was there for an hour, and this had not been cleaned when I left. In that time I saw not one employee sweep, tidy, wipe or even scan the restaurant.

In fairness, the bathroom was spotless.

So, to summarize; dilapidated facilities; unkempt coffee station; odd, slow service and cleaning; expensive baked goods; middling coffee and free wi-fi.

St Armand’s Circle

From two and a half years ago, here is my first Yelp! review.
Madison Avenue was owned by a guy called Brian at the time, whom Tim Smith knew. So who knows what it’s like, but if anything started my criticism of stuff, this might be it.


You would imagine that Sunday mornings in Sarasota would be chock full of active retirees spending their golden years sipping coffee and boasting about grandchildren. Or picking each other up, given that our town was voted the best place to be over 70 and single. But neither seems to be true, because finding a decent outdoor cafe that’s even open turns out to be a stretch.

I know this because my buddy Tim and I instituted a Sunday morning coffee routine back in the summer. Using Yelp, we tried all four (4) places that were open at 8:30 am that weren’t called Starbucks. We were shocked that:

a) Those supposedly active retired persons are apparently still in bed, and

b) The choice of coffee places that serve actual coffee is tiny.

Which is why we were so happy to find The Madison Ave. Brian, the owner, runs this clean, cute place on St Armand’s Key, floating in the Gulf of Mexico just west of Sarasota. The outside seating is the place to watch people arrive on bikes, foot and Harley after tooling up and down Longboat Key, but the inside is cool too.

Coffee here is hand-pressed shots from the espresso machine, or a selection of drips from the vacuum container. Food is either Brian’s own fresh pastry selection, made each morning, or regular deli sandwiches and delights. The former are high quality, and I have yet to try the latter. It is, after all, early on Sunday morning, so it’s all about the coffee.

Which brings us back to the fact that in Tim’s opinion and mine, if you’re looking for good coffee and an entertaining outdoor place in which to sip it, The Madison Avenue is about the only place.