Tag Archives: Florida

She’s a HOT SHOT! …and Her Datil Peppers Have a Pedigree

For 30+ years, Sherry Stoppelbein has been feeding St. Augustine, Florida ~ with three restaurants, a bakery and an award-winning hot sauce company. They’re all in one HOT  location situated in the center of the historic district of America’s oldest city. Hot Shot Bakery & Café  isn’t really about Stoppelbein (according to Stoppelbein)  but about the made-from-scratch food she whips up for breakfast, lunch, catering, signature themed cakes; she’s all about pleasing her patrons who have a hankering for ‘unique’.


Winning culinary competitions by entering a wide variety of her signature datil pepper dishes over the years, Hot Shot Bakery & Café  has a following that includes all ages. Kids adore her baked goodies from cupcakes to cookies. College kids crave her hearty soups, wraps and paninis. Foodies die for anything she’s concocting, especially the new little chocolate covered datil pepper!image002

How about Stoppelbein’s ‘WALL OF FLAME’ featuring photos of patrons who are eating their first datil pepper treat or competing to eat the most? After months of wannabe winners, the current champion has only eaten FOUR chocolate covered datils!image003



The history of St. Augustine’s prized pepper is that it was probably born in Peru, coursing a path to its cousin the Habanera (Havana) and then finding its home in St. Augustine. Stoppelbein and her husband Bubba grow the plants at their home in Elkton, Florida. A good year could bring 50-100 healthy plants yielding 2 bushels of peppers from each plant (22 pounds) which equals approximately 400-500 tiny bright green peppers. As they mature from June through the summer, they turn bright golden yellow.


In addition to dipping the datils into semi-sweet Hershey chocolate, Stoppelbein manufactures her line of datil sauces, jams and condiments as ‘Datil B Good’. The line includes datil pepper BBQ sauce, citrus jam, four escalating degrees of hot sauce, datil mustard and her famous chocolate sauce ~ all with a kick!

St. Francis Inn Wins National Geographic Award

Historic St. Francis Inn “the oldest Inn in America’s Oldest City” (circa 1791) is the featured notable bed & breakfast in National Geographic’s current award to St. Augustine, Florida, making the Top 20 Places to See in National Geographic Traveler’s World.

Inn owners Joe and Margaret Finnegan commented on the honor, “Our guests have known for many years that they were staying in a very special inn and location on Spanish Colonial St. George Street. We’re proud that this highly respected publication recognizes our place in history too.”

St. Augustine is acclaimed as one of only four locations in the U.S. included on the international list. National Geographic editors praised the city for maintaining the genuine Old Florida culture and charm and preserving its nearly 450-year-old historic assets. Specifically recommended by editors are the 17th century Castillo de San Marcos, the Lightner Museum built by Henry Flagler in 1887, St. Augustine Lighthouse (Florida’s first) and the pedestrian-friendly St. George Street.

St. Francis Inn

Meet Bon Appétit Chef de Cuisine Mary Nolan

Bradenton, FL Welcomes Bon Appétit Chef de Cuisine Mary Nolan  June 9 for an exclusive Cooking Demonstration and Luncheon.

On her Food Network program “Chic & Easy,” Chef Nolan showcases simple meals and tips to impress guests without breaking the bank, making the process seem effortless even for those without formal cooking training.

Exclusive VIP packages are being offered to guests staying the weekend at one of four hotel partners – Holiday Inn Lakewood Ranch, Comfort Suites, Fairfield Inn & Suites, and Wingate by Wyndham – who are offering rates starting at just $89. The Food Lovers Package can be added to the hotel stay for $175 or The Culinary Delight Package for $125.

The Food Lovers Package includes:
• VIP Meet & Greet with Chef Nolan held on Friday, June 8
• Cooking demonstration and luncheon
• VIP Champagne Brunch held on Sunday, June 10
• A copy of Bon Appétit Fast Easy Fresh Cookbook ($50 value)

The Culinary Delight Package includes:
• Audience view of the cooking demonstration and luncheon
• VIP Champagne Brunch held on Sunday, June 10
• A copy of Bon Appétit Fast Easy Fresh Cookbook ($50 value)

To book your hotel and reserve your spot in the kitchen, call (941) 729-9177 by April 30. For more information visit www.AMILBK.com

It’s sometimes called “Forgotten Florida” between St. Petersburg and Sarasota on Florida’s west coast including Anna Maria Island & Longboat Key, Bradenton and Lakewood Ranch, which are treasured for their authentic Old Florida charm, breath-taking scenery, funky dining and shopping districts, and 16 miles of sugar-white sands. See this earlier post for more area info: Finding Forgotten Florida

French Connection Dinner

The FRENCH CONNECTION DINNER ~ Celebrating Beaujolais Nouveau is a special event at The James Beard House in New York November 18. Chef Jean-Stephane Poinard is the honored chef preparing a 7-course dinner for eighty guests. The best of Georges DuBoeuf 2011 Wines will be paired with his modern French cuisine. Think of some courses including beef tail, frog legs or duck for a truly rustic meal.

Friends of Chef Poinard can purchase dinner tickets at the James Beard Foundation member price of $130 per person. The general public price is $170.

Chef Poinard owns Bistro de Leon in St. Augustine, Florida. He is one of the top 100 chefs of France, and this Florida restaurant resembles his five restaurants in Lyon with casual ambiance and local produce and seafood selected daily for an ever-changing menu. His wife Valerie contributes her family’s winery savoir-faire to the dining experience.

If you can’t make it to New York, maybe we’ll see you in St. Augustine. Choose weekend breakfast, lunch some days or dinner any day for all-French and all excellent. Check out the three-course meals in the French tradition and enjoy the important breads. Reserve for Thanksgiving, where it’s turkey or ham or vegetarian. Don’t even think it’s stuffy or expensive there – not at all!


Enter your hottest recipe to win a St. Augustine trip.

The hot little datil pepper is a great inspiration for cooking contest aficionados to enter either an appetizer or dessert in Hot Shot Bakery’s SPICY HOLIDAY HEAT recipe contest. For 25 years, Sherry Stoppelbein has been feeding St. Augustine, Florida ~ with a restaurant, bakery and an award-winning hot sauce company.

One winning recipe will win a vacation at the historic St. Francis Inn (circa 1792), plus take home a yummy collection of Hot Shot Bakery’s datil sauces, jams, mustards and jellies. (Mango Dipping Sauce, Nolby’s Hot Mustard, Sloppy good BBQ Sauce, Datil pear Relish, Datil Citrus Jam and 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th Degree Burn Hot Sauce.)

The Grand Prize Winner Receives:

2-night stay at the beautiful, historic St. Francis Inn (Sunday thru Thursday excluding holiday periods). All Inn amenities including breakfast and afternoon social hour with homemade refreshments.
Lunch at Hot Shot Bakery
Two Tickets Aboard Old Town Trolley
Two tickets to St. Augustine Lighthouse
An assorted case of Datil B Good Jams, Condiments and Hot Sauce
The prize-winning recipe will be incorporated into one of the restaurant’s menus!

Official Rules: Send Spicy Holiday Heat Recipe via email to Leigh Cort Publicity ~ leighcort@bellsouth.net by December 30, 2011

A brief story about the recipe, not to exceed 100 words
Name, address, telephone # and email (No previously published recipes will be considered).
All ingredients and preparation instructions.

All submitted recipes become the property of HOT SHOT BAKERY and will not be returned.

Judging: Entries will be judged by Sherry Stoppelbein.

Who can enter: Entrants must be 18 or over. There are no substitutions or transfer of prizes. Prizes are not redeemable for cash. By acceptance of prizes, winners consent to use of their names and/or photographs for publicity purposes without further compensation. Winner will be notified by January 15, 2012.

Finding Forgotten Florida

If you’re cold, it’s time to be thinking about Florida. Old Florida is a strip of Gulf coast which has not been glamorized, so the real feel of old beach towns can still be savored. Longboat Key and the neighboring strip of Florida’s Gulf coast do not deserve to be forgotten, but that’s a recognized label. Somewhat of a secret, yet visitors do find this slice of sunshine and keep it alive. Siesta Key, Anna Maria and Bradenton are small neighboring towns, and all are near enough to Sarasota to be accessible by air and an easy drive.

Beautiful quiet beach and equally beautiful food are among my top criteria for loving a beach vacation, and this forgotten coast does not disappoint! Sunsets, bird watching, easy of access and relaxation define the beaches. Low key is the true key to enjoying this destination,  with Boomers and retiree Snowbirds frequenting it for their escape from cold climates.

Seafood is always my dining choice during a beach vacation, and the variety of fresh offers in a dozen or two little eateries is exactly what I crave. In Longboat, the Lazy Lobster is possibly every visitor’s favorite. Another one of these is in Sarasota. A lobster lover will not be able to bypass the lobster mac and cheese, although it’s not local lobster if anyone really cares, and the fish specials are equally creative and delicious. It’s always busy and the energy of friendly folks having fun contributes to the atmosphere which sets the tone for a nice evening. It’s tucked into a little shopping center across the street from the beach, but I prefer fine food to a view anyway.

Beachhouse on the south end of Anna Maria Island is a good choice for the view, the sunset and a big platter, possibly fried, and the crowd here is always lively. Same owners and good food at Mar Vista Dockside on Longboat Key.

Happy hour couldn’t  be happier than at Bridge Tender Inn in Bradenton Beach. It looks like it might be a dive, but the food and drinks are good and the live music a nice treat.

Sunday brunch or dinner is enjoyable at Harry’s, although it’s just a tiny bit pretentious. The restaurant is white tablecloth; the deli is convenient for take-out; the store offers everything else. The hours may vary during the summer slow season.

Sandpiper Inn is one of the small lodging choices on Longboat Key, and after the warm welcome by friendly innkeepers the fabulous beach is its best selling point. It’s quaint and updated from an old motel, with lovely gardens and convenient location. Units are clean and spacious with well-supplied kitchenette if you want to stay in.

The Longboat Key Club is a popular choice for a larger resort-type lodging, although it’s somewhat expensive. None of the lodging here is as new or as upscale as the prices and the (sometimes) elite clientele would suggest. Sand Cay is a nice choice for condo rental, although it also seems somewhat pricey.

Golfing, fishing, more water sports or lazing on the beach with a book are among the top activities here. Eclectic shops, art galleries and local events also are enjoyable. If you want ritzy, glitzy action, just stay in a big city. This is the place to really get away from traffic and craziness.

Let the Happy Hour begin now 🙂DSC_0072

Here’s a quick look at a few perfect spots on our great trip:







If Wheels Could Talk…

The Ringling Museums & Mansion are a full day of educational fun! I just love stuff like this. Another must-do during off season. The grandeur and splendor that await at this vast estate are amazing, astonishing, and really cool! The stories behind it all are fascinating. And I thought I heard the voices of various animal handlers and performers whispering to me throughout the day….and maybe Mable herself.

At the entrance you are greeted by a bevy of little old ladies waiting to tell you about different exhibits and shows in the visitor center, hand you programs, sell you tickets and make sure you stay on the walkways! (They are rather strict about this.)

The miniature circus exhibit takes up the entire first building that we decided to check out and is based on the Ringling Bros. Barnum & Bailey Circus from 1919. It took the model builder, whom the building is named after, Howard Tibbals, 50 years to create the finished product, referred to as the “Largest Miniature Circus in the World.” He started building it in college in 1956. Pretty impressive that what started as a hobby turned into a life-long pursuit. The second story of the Tibbals Learning Center was closed for renovation when we were there.


The Circus Museum is the second stop with its musty smell of Grandma’s old steamer trunks and attic, but as is also the case, it is filled with costumes, dresses, trinkets and such that were once treasured by their owners and now tell a story of times past and lives lived long ago. There is a collection of parade wagons, some original, some replicas, the difference pretty apparent, but not always. I just loved the ornate hand carved wooden wheels.

Another exciting find here is the original rail car that John & Mable Ringling traveled in all across the country. Plenty of original woodwork, fixtures and glass are still present in the impressive car circa 1905. The restoration is ongoing.

A refreshing stop at the Banyan Cafe’ centrally located on the grounds was perfect timing for lunch. A couple of college aged guys took our orders, fried up and prepped a few chicken strips and sandwiches and had the most amiable dispositions of those we encountered the entire day. Couldn’t help but notice they were also the only employees who appeared to be under age 60. The food was very good, but pricey for small portions, not surprising though since they are the only option, they have AC, indoor and outdoor seating, and they serve cold beer.

On to the Ca’ d’Zan Mansion, while we quickly finished our ice cream cones before they melted in the heat & humidity that engulfs SW Florida year-round. Owners John & Mable Ringling were so enamored with a particular style of architecture from Venice, Italy, Venetian Gothic, that they built their 36,000-square-foot (that’s right, 36,000, I did not misplace the comma) in that style on the expansive shores of Sarasota Bay which somewhat mimicks the canals of Venice.

Ca’ d’ Zan means “House of John” in Venetian  and was apropos since we had Grandpa Jon with us that day. The mansion is heavily roped off and visitors are allowed very limited access to the estate’s 41 rooms & 15 bathrooms. For an extra $5 per person you could access 5 more rooms upstairs, but we declined. Seemed quite restrictive, frankly, what little they would let you tour. Nonetheless, I just loved it!! I could have stayed in there for days daydreaming about fancy dinner parties featuring sideshow acts and a full staff of servants, dessert on the marble terrace overlooking Sarasota Bay while watching the sunset with a couple hundred of your closest friends…ah the life they must have led. By far my favorite part of the day, if I had to choose, which I am glad I didn’t.




Next was the enormous Museum of Art. This place is so big, I almost had to stop and take a nap halfway through. There is almost too much to see…room after room after room. Some of the highlights though are the largest of the paintings, which John Ringling actually built the museum to house. These things are so big!! A single one of these monstrous pieces of art takes up more square footage than my first apartment! You could probably make a day just of the Museum of Art if you wanted.

The courtyard is in the middle of the museum’s two wings. This is a very inspiring location on the property and features casts of original works from the Renaissance, including Michelangelo’s David, in all his glory, as well as many others, several fountains and plenty of flowers and vegetation that stays green all year in this tropical climate.

This was the end of our day at the Ringling Grounds and well worth every dime we spent. There was a special on the tickets that day and I think we spent less per person to see all this than we did at the Sarasota Jungle Gardens just down the road. So if you have limited time in Sarasota–hands down, you must make a day of the Ringling Museums & Ca’ d ‘Zan before devoting time to any other tourist sites. Be sure to have plenty of batteries for your digital camera and take your time wandering through the acres and acres and many thousands of square feet of rich, Ringling estate. And please, be sure to tell Mable I said “Hello” and “Thank you.”

In Search Of The American Flamingo

Sarasota Jungle Gardens was a stop on our Florida  trip that I was super looking forward to. I have always wanted to see a real, live, pink flamingo, and once I read that you could feed these right out of your hand–I just couldn’t wait. I am not sure what the fascination is with the tall pink birds. Maybe it is just that they are pink..? I don’t know, but I was excited.

We drove in from I-75 and after mapping it online I saw that we would also be really close to the Ringling Museum and Gallery and Ca’ d Zan. Therefore I thought it might be nice to take the scenic route to the gardens. So we took the University Parkway exit to the end, went through the light across US 41 and onto Ringling Plaza. Wow! What a sight the Ringling Museum is as soon as you enter the plaza! It is huge and impressive looking with its big gate across the front! I am already excited about that visit one day soon, but I had read that the Ringling grounds may take a full day– at least.

So we took a left at the gate on Bay Shore Road and followed it all the way to the Jungle Gardens. Off-season is the perfect time to hit these tourist hot spots and the parking lot only had a handful of cars on this early Saturday afternoon. The prices were a little high though, $15 per person except Grandpa who was over 60 and only $14. Luckily I had a coupon for $1 off everyone in the party and I think they are pretty much always available on their website, so don’t go without it! Then you can use your savings to buy the large bag of Flamingo Food that is for sale at the ticket counter. You have to feed the flamingos–it makes the visit!

And off we went! There was a reptile show going on when we arrived, but we opted for the self-guided tour and passed by the zoo keeper holding the snake entirely too close to the humans for my comfort level! First we checked out the alligators and crocodiles which Florida is famous for. They were huge and looked to me to be in entirely too small a wading pool for such a beast…they didn’t move, but I guess they were all alive and happy–enough. Directly past the archaic monsters was the parrot  and exotic bird area with at least 40 colorful and quite vocal feathered friends. They were amazingly vibrant in their colors and several spoke to us saying, “Hi!” and “Hello.” The most surprising part about the parrots was to learn that several of them were 60 or 70 years old!

Apparently most of the animals who make Sarasota Jungle Gardens their home are all from rescues, rehabs or owners who have “donated” them with the decision that they could no longer care for their exotic pets. That makes sense since the lifespan of the various  parrots is at least that of the  average human. Probably not a good pet choice, just my opinion, unless you have kids who can take care of it 50 years or so after you buy it. It doesn’t seem fair that the more common pet, our most loyal and cherished companions, dogs, don’t get even a quarter the life span of the parrot. Oh well, they were pretty.

Next on the path were prairie dogs and monkeys, and we made our way through the butterfly garden and around to the lake, across which I could spot in the distance–The Flamingos!! So excited! Get the food ready!

The seagulls, ducks and one big black goose who have all voluntarily made Sarasota Jungle Gardens their home (who can blame them, tourists passing through every few minutes with big bags of food) were first to arrive for grub. We did manage to attract one flamingo who was not shy and made his way through the crowd of shore birds to claim his lunch. We continued to wind our way through the lush 10-acre jungle with over 100 species palm trees, reading all the little placards that describe plants and animals. We eventually came out on the other side of the lake approaching the large flock of waiting flamingos.

The aggressive big black goose led the way when he spotted us, and I swear I think he had even stalked us through the trees a few times, knowing that we still had most of an entire bag of food left. These extremely tall pink birds are not shy! And when I say tall, I mean that you will be eye to eye with them if they stretch out their long pink necks even part of the way! The flock is probably numbered at near 30 birds, and they are truly majestic and awesome. The most surprising characteristics about the friendly fowl are how long their necks are, how tall they are and how their beaks curve at an almost 90 degree angle! Most, if not all, of the salmon-hued birds were hatched here at the gardens and hand raised by zookeepers until they joined the flock to roam free which explains how friendly they are.

I could have stayed there all day hanging out with the tall coral-colored creatures, but the heat was almost unbearable combined with over 80 percent humidity, the index had to be over 100. So we made our way past the recovering birds of prey, another favorite of mine since I volunteered at the Raptor Rehabilitation Center outside of Charleston, SC, when I was in college, and found respite in the nicely air-conditioned gift shop that you have to pass through on the way to the parking lot. Still enamored with the flamingos we just had to buy a five dollar beanie baby version for the youngest of our crew to take home as a keepsake…although, I admit, I really wanted the stuffed giant one to sleep with myself!

All in all though I do have to say that the price seemed high, and as far as zoos go, I have never been a huge fan because it is hard to reason to myself about their cramped living conditions. However, I tried to keep in mind that the majority of these animals came from inhumane situations or rescues from the wild and they are being rehabilitated and are now hopefully educating the public. The flamingos, though, made the trip completely worth it! Let me know what you think.

Dinner with Art in Olde Englewood

We made a return trip to Dearborn Street in Olde Englewood for dinner to fill our bellies at the tropical-themed Mango Bistro. Mango Bistro is owned by an energetic and friendly couple, Marie Laforge and Ricardo Roggero who hale from France and Brazil respectively. Their hospitality was marvelous, and we enjoyed wine and conversation with Ricardo while Marie personally crafted our delectable fare.

I thoroughly enjoyed my Black & Bleu Crepe which featured tender beef, bleu cheese, yummy horseradish sauce, crispy bacon & tomato (I had them hold the onion). I will absolutely order that again! It was such a rich, while not overpowering, and creamy deliciously unique flavor, unlike anything I have ever tasted! A fresh side salad with house dressing also accompanied my crepe. I was hesitant, I admit, not being the most adventurous eater, by far, and having only ever had dessert crepes, I didn’t know if I was going to like it. What a pleasant surprise! All too often I regret ordering out of my comfort zone, but was so delighted with my choice that I will certainly entertain the idea of being slightly more adventurous on future menus!

My friends agreed that the food was excellent and all enjoyed their choices as well. For dessert we treated ourselves to something small since we were all full from cleaning our plates, but we couldn’t resist when the waitress stopped by with a tray full of already prepared “Mini-Delights” in flavors including Tiramisu (which I jumped right on), chocolate mousse, Almond Joy, and others. The tasty little temptations are a brilliant idea! She comes over with the cute and harmless looking little glasses, hardly bigger than a shot glass, and they are so pretty with layers of chocolate yumminess–how can you say no? They are so small and cute!

We were entertained the entire time by the live music and dancing on the covered front porch. Ricardo was full of interesting stories including the birth of Mango Bistro from Marie’s dream and love of crepes and French cooking combined with his small computer business and how they persevered following a flooded shop, remodeling troubles and battles over business permits. His Ph.D. in biology from the University of Kansas seems hardly relevant to this unique business.

Marie’s lovely art exhibit is almost as enticing as the food. She designs on canvas, converts to digital and has them produced in China to create silk sarongs.

The food, the music, the making of new friends….This dinner was the perfect end to a day spent exploring the Olde Englewood shops and beautiful area beaches. We look forward to stopping in Englewood again and visiting with Marie and Ricardo over another bottle of wine.

Olde Englewood and the Elusive Mermaid

Take a walk down Dearborn Street today through Olde Englewood, and sadly about a third of the shops will be closed with signs in the windows that state “See you in October!” Since the season in South Florida runs contrary to most other destinations in the country, the shop owners there head back, we are told, to sister stores in destinations with a more traditional “season” in places like Mackinaw City, Michigan. That is what we heard about the owners of Mermaid Cache, a whimsical looking beach shop with items in the windows including handmade jewelry, colorful dresses, beach wraps, and other finer quality looking gifts and collectibles. The passerby wasn’t a hundred percent sure about the locale of the sister store, but she said if her “memory served” it was Mackinaw City. That is one store, we hope to find open on our next trip to the area.

Luckily, we did find Girlieman Chic’s doors open year round. Girlieman Chic is a women’s consignment store that packs a ton of bargains into a tiny space and is opening in a new larger location down the street October 1. I would highly recommend starting from the back and working your way to the front since I discovered a Chico’s brand dress in the Final Clearance room in the back for only $3 that fit me like a well worn glove and was in like new condition! In addition to clothes they have a very funky collection of shoes and handbags and some rather amusing buttons, cards and trinkets. The owner’s sense of humor shows through in her store, a trait we greatly appreciate!

Additionally, the Life is Good store: At Home with Style is open year-round and is full of all the neat items that make that brand so fun. They also have a variety of upscale home decor items that would make planning for your next cocktail party a blast! Another section of the retail shop includes pampered pet specialty products like bowls, leashes and outfits for your 4-legged companion and carriers for the smallest of the species deigned to resemble couture handbags.

After checking out a few other beachy shops, some open and some not, and making notes of the ones we hope to explore on the inside during our next stop over in sunny, (and HOT!) southwest Florida, we decided to make a stop in a local eatery for a snack and cold libation. It was late afternoon and as they say “five o’clock somewhere!” so we decided a cerveza and some chips and salsa might be a nice snack. We had spotted Compadre’s Mexican restaurant when we first arrived on Dearborn Street and thought the front porch there looked like a beckoning spot to sit and take in the scenery while cooling down with a cold one. The staff was friendly and we enjoyed the authentic chips and salsa along with a couple of Coronas and decided that while Englewood is certainly on the sleepy side, it was a very relaxing stop in our tour around South Florida.