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The taste of Texas; a snoop in the kitchen

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By ERNEST HOOPER, Times Columnist
Published October 24, 2003

When the folks from Blue Bell Ice Cream called last month, it sounded like so much blah, blah, blah to me.

The spokesperson said Texas natives who have relocated to Tampa Bay would be overjoyed with the news that Blue Bell would now be available in Florida supermarkets. The famed Brenham, Texas-based creamery opened an office and cold storage facility in East Tampa and started delivering various flavors to Publix, Albertsons, Wal-Mart, Winn-Dixie, Walgreens and Eckerd stores on Oct. 13.

Previously, it was available only at Outback Steakhouse, Carrabba's Italian Grill and Lee Roy Selmon restaurants.

She explained that Blue Bell is one of the three best-selling ice creams in the United States, despite being available in just 17 percent of the nation. Still, I wasn't convinced. You know, folks from the Lone Star State always insist everything in Texas is bigger and better.

But if you ask some everyday folks from Texas, Blue Bell doesn't elicit simple praise; it stirs a jubilant, near-fanatical response.

Don Culbert is a 1971 graduate of Texas A&M and president of the Tampa Bay A&M Club. He said Blue Bell is the "best ice cream in the land" and he was pretty sure everyone in his club would agree.

Fellow journalist Charean Williams spent more than a decade living in Florida before moving back to her native Texas. The two things she missed most about home were authentic Tex-Mex and ... Blue Bell, of course.

And the mention of Blue Bell lit up the faces of Karl Williams, Keenan McCardell and Chris Simms - three Bucs players with Texas ties.

"It's the best ice cream in the world, no doubt," McCardell said. "In fact, the homemade vanilla is, is, is ... " His mind went to a place where Blue Bell can't be described with mere words.

Said Williams: "It's legitimate, very legitimate. I've already scoped it out and I have some in my 'fridge."

* * *

Whenever I see anchor Wendy Ryan do her "Dirty Dining" reports on WFTS-Ch. 28, there is always one question that pops into my mind: Why do they let her in?

"I'll never reveal my secrets," said Ryan, who gets hundreds of e-mails about different restaurants each week. "I think it's important to allow the public to see behind the kitchen doors and expose these restaurants because, in essence, they're fooling the public."

Ryan routinely uncovers area restaurants that have failed to get a passing grade from health inspectors. When she shows up, the managers typically try to convince her the problems have been corrected. And in large part, they fail - often with great embarrassment.

People, she's not stupid. With the help of health inspectors, Ryan has a done a quick study and knows what to look for in the kitchen. Ultimately, she would like her reports to lead to stricter guidelines.

What you should do, barring the sensible solution of cleaning up the problems, is hire a "Wendy Watcher." That's right, a person whose sole job would be to look out for Wendy Ryan.

When she shows, simply lock the doors.

And maybe you should leave them locked.

* * *

Legendary local rocker Johnny G. Lyon called to shed a little light on the Otis Day impersonator who has frequented Ybor City. Lyon said he knows the guy who has been mistaken for the famed Animal House character and his act is really quite innocent.

The man, according to Lyon, once tried to convince some inebriated fans he wasn't Otis Day - the real Otis Day is still touring nationally - and simply gave into their insistence.

The label stuck and now the pseudo Otis performs for fun.

Lyon said he's certain the man has never tried to profit from the case of mistaken identity.

I don't think I would endorse someone pretending to be Ernest Hooper - not that anyone would - but overall, Otis, my man, your act seems pretty harmless. I ain't mad at ya.

That's all I'm saying.

- Ernest Hooper can be reached at 813226-3406 or Hooper@sptimes.com


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