Saturday, December 23, 2006

Restaurant Review - Zaxby's Chicken, 4067 Millenia Blvd, Orlando, Florida

Zaxby's is a fast-food chicken restaurant chain that has recently hit Central Florida. We visited the location across the street from the Millenia Mall (near the Target) but there is also a location in Kissimmee on John Young Parkway. Zaxby's has a nice look when you walk in - nice dark wood for booths and eclectic stuff hanging all over the place similar to a Bennigan's. But, it is still a fast-food restaurant so while not completely messy and dirty, not exactly sparkling clean either. However, it was a busy Saturday for lunch and we were able to find a mostly clean table for us. Grandma stayed with the boys at the table while Grandpa and I went up to order the food. If you are wondering what is on the menu at Zaxby's, it's one word - CHICKEN. You can get chicken wings, chicken fingers, chicken salad, salad with chicken on it, chicken sandwiches, etc. The menu board is a little overwhelming at first so I looked in the middle where the "Most Popular" dishes were displayed with photos. There are no descriptions of the menu items anywhere so I had to ask the order taker several questions before I was sure of what I wanted. For example, the Big Zax Snak Meal is just a smaller version of the Chicken Fingers Plate, but with a drink and without coleslaw. I choose the Wings & Things (which by the way is ONLY located in the Most Popular section and nowhere else on the menu board) which is a "sampler" platter if you will of 5 wings, 3 chicken fingers, crinkle fries, and Texas Toast for $5.99. I added on a regular drink for $1.29. For the boys, I got BB the Kiddie Fingers Kidz Meal (I assume they are made out of chicken!) and for LB the Kiddie Cheese (grilled cheese), both $2.99, both come with a drink, fries, and a surprise. By the way, those are the only choices for the kids' meals so if your kid likes wings, you might have to get a regular meal. Grandpa also went for the Wings & Things and Grandma got the Big Zax Snak Meal for $4.99. I went to get drinks while Grandpa waited for our order.

They certainly have a nice selection of Coke products including Barq's Root Beer, Sweet and Regular Tea, and lemondade. Grandpa yelled over that he wanted the Fanta Cherry Soda. BB ran up to me and declared that he wanted the same. I had never tried Fanta Cherry so I took a sip of BB's before I gave it to him. Yuck! It tasted like a 7-Eleven cherry Slurpee that has melted and you are just left with the cherry syrup. So of course, BB LOVED it! He and Grandpa thought it was the greatest drink ever. I went back and got sweet tea for me and lemonade for LB. A few minutes later our orders arrived via Grandpa. Wow! You sure get a lot of food for the money at Zaxby's! My plate was loaded with food. A nice touch was including celery and carrots sticks with the wings. Also, Zaxby's provides Ranch dressing with the wings and their own Zaxby's sauce for chicken fingers. It's hard to describe the Zaxby's sauce except to say it was good - and was a great dipping sauce for the crinkle-cut fries as well. It was almost like a Big Mac's secret sauce. I had ordered my wings mild - and they were - so they tasted nice. My only complaint was that the wings were a little small, although I barely finished my entire meal so the big chicken fingers really made up for the wings' smallness. Might be different if you just order wings for your meal, though. Grandpa ordered his wings Medium and he thought they were a little too mild. The kids' meals came in a bag that also had a fun "toy" featuring the Zaxby's chicken mascot. LB's grilled cheese came on a folded up Texas Toast piece and it looked good! (I am a sucker for Texas Toast). He and BB ate all of their meals. The food was very good and I would definitely go back.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Coming Soon to a Grocery Store Shelf Near You - acne-fighting chocolate, caffeine attracting stirrer, milk flavoring straws

I did what I never do - I bought a weekly magazine at the check-out line at the grocery store. Why? Because Chef Mickey (as in Mickey Mouse) was on the cover of Woman's World magazine along with a slice of Disney's Pop Century Resort's famous Tie-Dyed Cheesecake. As a Disney-phile and Cast Member, I was very curious. Turns out there was a whole spread on various sweet recipes from Walt Disney World, including the cheesecake, so I was pretty pleased with my purchase. And, despite the wildly different graphics and fonts on every page of the magazine that look like someone just threw stories and pictures on the pages wherever they fit, some of the stuff inside was kind of interesting. As a Foodie, I was amazed to find another spread on upcoming food items that are coming our way soon (or are already here). [If anyone out there gets Woman's World magazine -- is this something they do every week?] So, here is a run-down of the most interesting foods on that page:

BORBA Clarifying Chocolate Bar - available at Nordstrom and gourmet food stores now - $8 for an 1.8 oz bar. This chocolate bar contains walnut husks, pomegranate and green tea extracts that is supposed to remove toxins, prevent blemishes, and improve the clarity of your skin. At first, I couldn't tell if you were supposed to eat the chocolate or rub it all over your face! Supposedly, you are supposed to eat the chocolate and, apparently, BORBA has a whole line of drinkable and edible skincare at Nordstrom. I really can't see how this works, but I hope it at least tastes good!

The DeCaf Company stirrer - should be available next year in the coffee aisle of your local supermarket according to the article. Okay, this sounds pretty cool! There are these caffeine-attracted polymers on the stirrer and with a few stirs of your coffee or tea, up to 70% of the caffeine is removed from your beverage. That could come in handy if you want to try the latest flavored blends and they aren't available in decaf (and you are like me and get headaches from too much caffeine). I might have to look out for these next year.

SIPahh Milk Flavouring Straws ( - available in January at supermarkets nationwide in packets of 10 straws. By the "ou" in flavouring I'm sure you've already guessed that this must be an import - you're right! It's currently available in Australia and New Zealand. According to other sources I found on the internet, the flavors available are chocolate, strawberry, banana, and caramel, as well as "new" flavors choc mint, toffee apple, and cookies & cream, although I don't know if all of those flavors will come here to the States. The concept is that you have a plain glass of milk, drop the special SIPahh straw in, drink and voila! you are drinking flavored milk. The straw apparently has flavored beads inside it that stay inside via a one-way valve so the milk flows through but the beads stay in. The beads gradually dissolve as they impart flavor. I found another blog post from someone who had tried it and they didn't give it a good review because they said there wasn't much chocolate flavor and that it was hard to get the milk to go through the straw. We'll see, I'll have to test it on BB and LB when it comes out - they love chocolate milk but not all restaurants offer it - that should solve that problem.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Restaurant Review - Q'Kenan, a Venezuelan cafe, 8117 Vineland Ave, Orlando, FL

Grandma and Grandpa, who are always on the hunt for new restaurants, were referred to Q'Kenan by a fan of the place. Otherwise, I don't think we would have found it. Q'Kenan is located in the Pubix shopping center next door to Dolly Parton's Dixie Stampede and the Premium Outlet mall. The restaurant is around the corner from Publix, behind the Walgreens, in a small, but pleasant space. There are booths lined up along the left side of Q'Kenan with a counter showcasing some of the food along the right side. Above the counter is a board with photos of the Venezuelan specialties on the menu - a big plus for us since we were not familiar with the food.

When Grandma, Grandpa, the boys and I sat down, a server arrived immediately to answer any questions about the menu. In fact, the servers here are extremely nice, especially to "gringos" like us, and patiently explain the different types of food and offer suggestions. I had thought I would be familiar with some of the cuisine but it was very different from the Cuban food I was used to in Miami. Starting with the beverages -- besides the standard soft drinks, Q'Kenan also offers several interesting items such as Malta (a malt soda) and Frescolita (a very sweet red soda) which Grandpa and Grandma ordered. My Little Boy (LB) was crying for chocolate milk so I asked our server if there was something similar. He suggested a Toddy, which is listed as a chocolate milkshake on the menu, but which our server said was closer to chocolate milk. My Big Boy (BB) decided he wanted a Toddy too. I saw my favorite -- watermelon juice -- listed on the menu but was told that they were out of that. This was true on a subsequent visit as well so perhaps watermelon juice is seasonal. I wasn't too interested in the other juices available - Blackberry, Papaya, etc. - so I just got a water (I know, I'm very picky with my drinks). Grandpa enjoyed the Malta and said it was like a sweet root beer/cola drink. Grandma liked her Frescolita and said it was similar to Big Red which is a regional soda from Texas. The boys loved the Toddies. To me, it tasted kind of like a malt Ovaltine mixed with milk, but I was happy they liked it. Just from the beverages, I got the impression that Venezuelans like their food sweet, and when I saw the Cachapa, I knew I was right.

Now, from carnivals and fairs that I've visited, I always thought an Arepa was a thick, sweet corn pancake with white cheese inside. It turns out that in Venezuelan cuisine, the sweet corn pancake is actually a Cachapa and the Arepas are more similar to a crusty roll, such as for a sandwich. Q'Kenan's menu is sectioned by Carnes/Steaks, Pollo/Chicken, Arepas, Cachapas, and then other starters and sandwiches such as Empanadas, Tequenos (a type of fried cheese stick), and even a sandwich made with Platanos (sweet green bananas) as the "bread". There was one notation that said "Kid's Meal $5.99" but then nothing else. I found out that was a platter of chicken nuggets - kind of pricey - so I decided the boys would just share with me. Grandpa ordered the Parrilla Tepui Mixta for $11.99 which was really a mixed grill with beef, sausage, pork, chicken, yuca, arepa, fries and a house salad - a lot of food for the money. Grandma ordered just an Empanada ($1.95), which turned out to also be made out of corn meal, not the pastry I was used to in Miami. I ordered a Chicken and Avocado Arepa (Reina Pepeada) sandwich ($4.60), a Ham and Cheese Cachapa (Jamon y Queso Rallado - $6.49), and an order of black beans and rice ($4) for me and the boys.

Grandpa's Mixed Grill was huge. BB helped him eat the meats, which were just wonderful - very flavorful. Grandma's Empanada was also very good and she finished it quickly. When the Chicken Arepa arrived at the table, I was a bit taken aback. It looked like boiled chicken that had been soaked in the sour cream sauce. I tried a bit and it tasted like I expected - like a bland chicken salad. However, Grandma and BB liked it and ended up eating the rest. I also didn't like the texture of the Arepa, it was too dry and crusty for me. However, the Cachapa was fabulous. The corn pancake had been folded in half and then topped with sour cream. The ham with the blander cheese tasted fantastic with the sweet pancake. When Grandma saw it, she decided to order a plain cheese Cachapa since she was still hungry after her empanada. LB liked the Cachapa as well so it was a big winner all around. The black beans and rice came on a huge platter and was enough for our whole table. The food at Q'Kenan is a very good value for the money - we were all full and didn't have room for dessert. Q'Kenan is a very friendly place to try new foods that you may not have tried before.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

New Restaurants Coming To Winter Garden! Restaurant Listings for Winter Garden Village at Fowler's Grove

What's the first thing you think of when you see shopping center construction in your neighborhood? Probably, "I wonder what new restaurants are coming?" -- well, that's what I think of! There is a huge new shopping center going in around the corner from me (at the intersection of 535 and 429 in Winter Garden) that is called Winter Garden Village at Fowler's Grove (it used to be an orange grove). Buildings are starting to pop up, even though the signs say the center won't be open until October 2007, and I got curious as to what eats might be opening up soon.

So, I checked out the developer's website and found this -- It's a listing of all of the stores and restaurants. It looks like we will be getting: Chili's, Macaroni Grill, Uno's, Longhorn, Mimi's Cafe, Cracker Barrel, Coldstone Creamery, Starbucks (what a surprise), as well as fast food places, some that are still listed as "Restaurant" and one that says "Sushi". Mostly chains but I'm sure the smaller ones will be Mom & Pop restaurant that might bring some new food concepts to the area. Only 11 more months to go!

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

"Do you know how old your cinnamon is?" - Restaurant Mom Tries Baking

Okay, I'm not a cook... that's why I'm Restaurant Mom, not Chef Mom or Baker Mom. But, for Thanksgiving this year, instead of picking up one apple and one pumpkin pie from Publix and bringing them to my parent's house, I decided to make two pies instead. I somehow was inspired when I saw the recipes for Vanilla-Walnut Pie and Mile High Ginger Pie in the Orlando Sentinel's Food section last Wednesday. One was a no-bake recipe (hey, how can I mess that up?) and the other one didn't look too scary and used common ingredients. So, I perused my cupboard to see what ingredients I had. Vanilla extract - check, sugar - check, ground ginger - check (I use it a lot in stir fries), cinnamon - check. Hmmm, this looks like an old bottle of cinnamon. In fact, I don't think I've seen this brand of spices lately. Maybe I'll check the expiration date. Any guesses out there? Okay, get this... October 1998. Yes! 1998! Which means, this little bottle of cinnamon actually made the move with us from Miami to Orlando six years ago! Since I didn't think I should add what is probably now just brown dust to my pie, I added cinnamon to my shopping list. I'm scared to look at the expiration dates of the rest of my spices. Maybe next month.

So, I made the pies tonight! And they look good! The Vanilla-Walnut Pie looks like a pecan pie (but with walnuts) on top of a cheesecake. And the Ginger Pie looks good too! I changed a few things, for instance, I don't think I want to add the whipped topping and almonds on top of the Ginger Pie, it looks pretty good as it is and that will make it too... um... fluffy. For the Vanilla-Walnut Pie, I used a frozen pie crust instead of a refrigerated pie crust, because, well, the refrigerated pie crust looked scary to make. It required rolling out and "flute"-ing the edges which I know I would have messed up. The frozen one came ready to go, just needed to thaw first. Of course, the proof will be in the tasting -- so I'll update this post tomorrow with the tasting results! If you want to make these pies, I posted the recipes below.
Updated 11/23/06: Okay, here are the tasting results from Thanksgiving. The Mile High Ginger Pie was an "eh". Creamy, yes, but kind of tasteless. No one could really taste the ginger. I thought it could have passed for an egg nog pie as well, that's how "unknown" the flavor of the pie was. The Vanilla-Walnut Pie, though, I thought was a winner. Grandma thought it just tasted like walnuts but I thought it had a good taste - similar to pecan pie. The cheesecake at the bottom broke up the sweetness a bit so it wasn't too sickly sweet. I'm going to try making the Vanilla-Walnut Pie again for my department's potluck holiday lunch.

Mile High Ginger Pie
Yield: 8 servings.

1⁄4 cup caramel dessert topping
1 prepared vanilla cookie crust
2 cups half-and-half
2 (31⁄2-ounce) packages instant vanilla pudding mix
1⁄2 teaspoon ground ginger
1⁄8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
8 ounces frozen whipped topping, thawed
1⁄4 cup sliced almonds, toasted

1. Spread caramel topping in crust.
2. Pour half-and-half into bowl. Add pudding mixes, ginger and cinnamon. Whisk 2 minutes or until blended. Mixture will be thick. Let stand 5 minutes.
3. Stir in 1 1⁄2 cups of whipped topping. Spoon into crust.
4. Refrigerate 3 hours or overnight to set. Top with remaining whipped topping before serving. Garnish with nuts.

Nutritional Information per serving: Calories: 386, Fat: 18g, Carbohydrates: 52g, Sodium: 439mg, Protein: 4g, Fiber: 1g

Vanilla-Walnut Pie
Yield: 10 servings.

1 refrigerated pie crust
8 ounces cream cheese, softened
3 large eggs
3/4 cup sugar
4 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 cup light corn syrup
3 tablespoons butter, melted
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 cups walnut pieces, toasted

1. Heat oven to 350 F. Prepare crust as directed on package for one crust pie using 9-inch pie plate.
2. Beat cream cheese, 1 egg, 1⁄4 cup sugar and 1 teaspoon vanilla. Spread in crust. Bake 15 minutes.
3. Beat 2 eggs and remaining sugar with whisk until smooth. Add corn syrup, butter, 3 teaspoons vanilla and salt. Sprinkle nuts over baked cream-cheese layer. Slowly pour corn-syrup mixture over nuts.
4. Bake 35-40 minutes or until set in center. Cool on wire rack.

Nutritional Information per serving: Calories: 510, Fat: 34g, Carbohydrates: 43g, Cholesterol: 99mg, Sodium: 285mg, Protein: 8g

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Restaurant Review - Salsa Taqueria & Tequila Bar, Florida Mall next to Macy's, Orlando, FL

Last Saturday, the boys and I were at the Florida Mall shopping when I decided they needed to let off some energy at the playground. After nearly an hour of chasing each other around, my Big Boy (BB) declared he was hungry for lunch, and my Little Boy (LB) seconded the notion. BB looked over and pointed at Salsa Taqueria and asked if we could eat there since we hadn't been there in a while.

Salsa Taqueria is conveniently located right next to the playground at Florida Mall (and between Macy's and Harry & David's) and is brought to you by e-brands, the same folks who manage Timpano's and the Samba Room on "Restaurant Row" (Sand Lake Road). Salsa presents a somewhat "nouveau" traditional Mexican experience. So, don't expect the crunchy yellow tacos that you get at Tex-Mex restaurants. Here, the tacos are made with white corn and they are soft, thick, and well, small. Think of the size of silver dollar pancakes and that's about the size of them. They are also filled completely with meat, no need for fillers such as lettuce and cheese. Also, you'd better like cilantro. It's the seasoning of choice here and if you are wondering why the rice is green, I'll give you one guess (p.s. it's called cilantro rice on the menu).
Salsa Taqueria does a nice job with the space they have at the Florida Mall. It is designed with big open windows and a patio inside the mall which makes for some nice people-watching. We were seated promptly at a table looking at the Harry & David's next door, with enough room to store our stroller and our packages without being in the way. Kids get their own paper menu with crayons and all kids entrees are $3.95 and include french fries and a soft drink or milk. Warning: I asked for a lemonade for LB and wasn't aware that they charge extra for that since it is a special "homemade" lemonade. It cost the same as my iced tea - $1.99. The server didn't let me know so I'm letting you know - stick to sodas, iced tea (that's included with kids' meals), or milk. Juices would have been extra as well I found out. There are lots of good choices for the kids: chicken tenders, mini dogs, cheese quesadillas, Mexican pizza, and then chicken or beef taco. Both boys picked the Mexican pizza which I was told was more like a open-faced quesadilla. For adults, there are lots of choices from appetizers, salads, sandwiches, enchiladas, tacos, burritos, fajitas, as well as other entrees. If you are going for lunch, though, I've found the best deal to be the Salsa lunch box. There are three to choose from, ranging from $10.99 to $12.99, and include a sampling of entrees, salad, black beans and cilantro rice, and a small tres leches (a cake soaked in three types of milk - yummy!) for dessert. I went for the South of the Border lunch box which came with two chicken tacos (remember, they are small), a chicken flauta and the rice, beans, salad, and tres leches. After taking our order, our server brought over fresh chips and salsa. The boys were happy to munch on that and color until our food arrived.

The boys' pizza was indeed an open-faced quesadilla with no red sauce so don't expect it to be like a pizza. Also, I think the cheese had some cilantro in it - what a surprise! However, both said it was good and BB finished all of his. The french fries are great - really thin and crispy and not too salty. LB apparently was more interested in my black beans than anything else so I scooped up a big portion and put them on his pizza in the hopes that he would eat then. My lunch box looked great! The salad comes as part of the meal so don't look for it in advance. The salad had a nice mild vinaigrette and had mandarin oranges and pumpkin seeds in it - very tasty. The chicken tacos were wonderful as well - very flavorful bite-site pieces of chicken tucked in the soft round tortilla. The only problem is that the juice from the chicken tends to make for a messy taco experience so I opted for the knife and fork. And, I actually like cilantro so the rice was nice with the black beans. As we were finishing up, the server came by with my slice of dessert. It was topped with raspberry and mango sauce and looked great. The boys hovered over it so I had to share. Everyone loved it. It was sweet (one of the milks is sweetened condensed milk) but the fruit sauces helped to even it out. All in all a very nice, relaxing lunch at the mall without having to go near the crowded food court.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Restaurant Closings - Goodbye to Doc Chey's and Salsarita's

Very sad for fast casual offerings this week - two of my favorite places Doc Chey's Asian Kitchen and Salsarita's have closed. Both are franchisee chains so there is hope another one will open soon in Orlando.

Doc Chey's was located across the street from The Florida Mall in the Cost Plus World Market shopping center. I liked that you could have Japanese, Chinese or Thai food all in one place. Like Mama Fu's, they offered walk-up counter service for lunch and table service for dinner. Unlike Mama Fu's, their Thai dishes were pretty good. Plus, they offered Thai Iced Tea to drink which I love when eating Thai food. What will I miss most? The Eggplant Stir Fry - I'm not much for eggplant but I got this on the advice of one of the servers and it was fantastic! Also, I liked the options for the kids - BB could get a huge wonton soup that had pieces of chicken and vegetables and LB could get the chicken teriyaki.

I'm very sad about Salsarita's Fresh Mexican Cantina closing. I had become disenchanted with the Moe's Southwest Grill in Celebration (near where I work) because they kept giving smaller portions and raising the prices. Plus, the lines were long and I got chastised once for trying to substitute guacamole for sour cream in one of their quesadillas. I'm not a big sour cream fan but I was told I'd have to pay for a side of guac if I wanted to leave out the sour cream and add the guac. No thanks! So, I was extremely happy to find the new Salsarita's down 192 East in front of the Super Target (just east of 535). Salsarita's had all the standard Mexican-American standbys but had good prices and good portions. Also, I could add all the guacamole I wanted without an extra charge. I took the boys once to dinner there but I mostly went for lunch (sometimes 2-3 times per week). I had noticed that it was usually fairly empty when I went so I recruited some coworkers to join me. Apparently, it was not enough as Salsarita's had a handmade "Closed" sign on their doors last week and all the tables and chairs had been cleared out. However, when I checked their website, it looks like they just opened a location near Seminole Towne Center so when I need a fix, I'll be able to head up there.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Quick Bites - Brief Review of Strawberry Hut, 1505 N Wheeler St, Plant City, FL

I actually ate at the Strawberry Hut Sandwich Shoppe this summer and kept meaning to do a full review. So, I'm putting this Quick Bite together to give a brief review of the Hut. And a Hut it certainly is. I actually found out about the Strawberry Hut from a message board where a local Tampa resident raved about the place and their Cuban sandwiches. Being formerly from Miami, I was eager to check out the Hut's Cubans, since I haven't really found authentic ones up here in Orlando. Not knowing what to expect, I packed up the boys and Grandma and Grandpa and we set out west on I-4. About 40 minutes later (yes, I really did travel almost 45 minutes just to try a place to eat lunch), we approached Exit 21 on I-4 and headed south on Wheeler Street. We kept our eyes peeled for a sign for the restaurant and went right by it. It was when we realized the addresses were not correct that we backtracked and found the Strawberry Hut.

Yep, there it is in the picture. Kind of looks like a walk-up Dairy Queen. No indoor seating, no restrooms, just a counter to order your food from, nothing fancy at all. Oh, and we were lucky it was Saturday, it turns out the Strawberry Hut is closed on Sundays - that wouldn't have been a good thing. But, we had come all this way, and people did rave about it, so we ordered up. The adults all ordered the Cuban combo for $5.75, which comes with a medium Cuban sandwich, chips, and a soda. I upgraded my drink to a shake - strawberry naturally - hey, we are in Plant City, home of the famous Strawberry Festival! They actually had a kiddie meal available - a small sandwich, Cheetos, a cookie, a drink, and a toy for $2.60 - so both boys got that.

After our orders were ready, we headed over to the picnic table next to the Hut. My Cuban sandwich was pretty large, pressed nice and flat, and had a nice portion of meat and cheese topped with a mayo dressing and tomatoes. I thought it was delicious, as was the strawberry shake. Grandpa, being more of a Cuban sandwich traditionalist, thought it was okay but was put-off by the dressing (he's right, they don't make them like that in Miami), and that it wasn't the right mix of meats. I didn't worry too much about that as long as it tasted good! The boys' sandwiches were small - dinner-roll size - but were perfect for their appetites along with the chips.
So, if you find yourself halfway to Tampa and are getting hungry for lunch, stop off at exit 21 to check out the Strawberry Hut. At least stop for a strawberry shake for goodness sake!

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Restaurant Review - Buca di Beppo, Florida Mall (near Nordstrom's), Orlando, FL

For lunch today, we travelled to the Florida Mall to eat at Buca di Beppo, an eclectic Italian restaurant chain near the Nordstrom's entrance. We met some friends of ours - Mr. and Mrs. S. and their children Bailey (7) and Jack (3). It really works out great going out with them because my Little Boy (LB) is the same age as Jack and my Big Boy (BB) is the same age as Bailey. For those of you who are curious about restaurant names (I am), "Buca" means hole, like hole in the wall and "Beppo" is a nickname for "Guiseppe" (Joe in English), so the direct translation for "Buca di Beppo" would be "Guiseppe's Hole" or in slang - Joe's Basement. And Joe's Basement is a good description of the, um, interesting decor at Buca di Beppo. There are red and white checkered tablecloths on all the tables and framed photos of famous and not-so-famous Italians filling every inch of wall space. That is, all of the wall space except those taken up by cupids, old-time advertisements, and placards featuring the monthly Miss Buca winners. If you say you have never been to Buca di Beppo before, the host will give you a short tour through the actual kitchen where you pass by the "kitchen table", a table that you can reserve so you can eat in the kitchen and watch the chefs and cooks. You'll also pass by the "Pope's table" that has a bust of the Pope in the middle of a large table that must fit about 12-15 people. Apparently, it's typically booked up for large parties. My friends had never been to Buca di Beppo before so we got the full tour. We were seated at a large, long table with huge paper menu placemats. The placemats have the "family-style" dinner menu on them with pretty much every item available in Buca Small (serves 2-3 people) and Buca Large (serves 4+). Buca di Beppo has also recently created an individual serving menu just for lunch which is handy if each person in your group wants something different. Sandwiches and smaller portion entree dishes are on the lunch menu. Kids get their own paper menu that features puzzles and coloring, and the best part is that each child got a full set of crayons - blue, green, yellow, and red. I can't tell you how many fights have started when one child gets a different color than another, so this was nice.

On the kids menu was Mac-n-Cheese, Spaghetti & Meatball, Fettuccine Alfredo, and Cheese or Pepperoni Pizza for $3.95 and then Chicken Parmigiana for $4.50 (all including a kids cup drink). LB wanted cheese pizza, BB got pepperoni pizza, Bailey asked for the fettuccine and Jack wanted Mac-n-Cheese. For the adults, we decided to order off of the family-style dinner menu. There is a huge selection of appetizers, salads, pasta, pizza, chicken, veal, side dishes, and desserts. The Small pastas and other entrees run from $8.95 - $16.95 with the seafoods and meats on the higher end. The Large sizes run from $13.95 - $25.95. We decided to get a large Garlic Bread with Mozzarella ($9.95) for the table (the server said the large would feed 8) to start with and then ordered a small Caesar Salad ($9.95) and small Ravioli with Meat Sauce ($14.95). Since there were only 3 adults (yes, I'm a football widow, Hubby stayed home to watch the games) and we were getting the garlic bread, we figured that would be enough food.

The garlic bread arrived a little bit later and we literally all said "Wow!" when the server placed it on the table. It was a huge piece of round foccacia bread, drizzled with olive oil, and then topped with mozzarella cheese and big chunks of garlic, cut into eight slices like a huge Sicilian (yet round) pizza. And it was yummy! Everyone ate it, including all of the kids. We then had to wait about another 40 minutes (at least it seemed like it) before the kids' food finally arrived with our Caesar salad. Luckily, the kids were pretty well entertained with their coloring, branching out to the large paper menus after they finished coloring their kids' menus. The kids' food was huge. The pizzas were not a slice (like I expected) but were a full flatbread topped with sauce and cheese and big pepperonis for BB. Similarly, the mac-n-cheese and Fettuccine Alfredo was a large bowl filled to the top. Quite a value for $3.95 including the drink! The Caesar salad was also large and was enough for the three of us. It had a nice tangy taste to it and again, had a generous helping of garlic. (At this point, I figured people could probably smell my garlic breath from 20 feet away.) Amazingly, all of the kids ate their food. LB preferred to pick off and eat all of the cheese and sauce from his pizza, leaving the bottom bread, but at least he ate. Bailey did really well with her fettuccine but still had a large portion left over when she was done. Mrs. S. commented that the kids' pasta sizes could have fed an adult. Jack liked his mac-n-cheese, even though it was corkscrew pasta and not the traditional elbow macaroni. BB said his pizza was okay but that the pepperoni was a little spicy. About 15 minutes after the kids were pretty much done eating, our Ravioli with Meat Sauce finally arrived. It was really good as well, big fluffy square pillows filled with ricotta cheese and topped with a very meaty sauce. From the taste of the sauce, I would guess that the meat was a mixture of beef and sausage because it was very hearty.

All in all, we had a very pleasant, although very leisurely, lunch that everyone enjoyed and was very filling. So, make sure you are not in a hurry when you eat at Buca di Beppo. And definitely get the garlic bread.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Restaurant Review - Bob's Big Boy, 795 Gateway Drive, Altamonte Springs, FL

A few week's ago, on a Sunday around noon, I dragged my parents and my kids to try out the new Bob's Big Boy Restaurant in Altamonte Springs. It's a new location in Florida although Bob's Big Boys have been around for years and years. In fact, I remember going to Bob's Big Boy as a child growing up in Virginia and I remembered liking it. So, I asked my parents to go with me on a trip down memory lane. To which my dad replied, "What? Why do you want to go all the way up there to eat at Bob's Big Boy? You might as well go to a Denny's around the corner! The food is about the same." But I insisted -- "C'mon, I need to eat there for my blog!"
The location was a little hard to find, you have to head south of 436 on 434 and then look for the restaurant on Gateway Drive at a new shopping center. Upon walking inside the restaurant, a large Big Boy statue greets you, naturally. My Big Boy (my 7-year old) thought it was cool to pose like the statue and have his picture taken. The inside of the restaurant resembles an old-time diner with lots of bright chrome and checkerboard designs. We were seated at a booth and given large laminated menus (kind of like at Denny's) and the kids were given paper menus that looked like comic books. My Big Boy (BB) was a little upset because he received what he termed a "girl" comic book menu but, luckily, we were able to exchange it for a "boy" one (Ninja Turtles). There were jokes, riddles, and puzzles inside with the menu itself on the back page. We had plenty of time to decide what we wanted when our server came to the table. She took our drink orders -- chocolate milk for my Little Boy (LB), a chocolate malt for me, Grandma, and my BB (hey, they had a sign saying Malt Shop - we had to try it!), with just water for Grandpa. Then, our server disappeared. Really. We couldn't find her for 10 minutes. And it's not that big of a restaurant. To kill the time, LB and I checked out the breakfast buffet. It was a pretty okay-looking spread with all of the standards - pancakes, waffles, eggs, sausage, bacon, grits, fruit, etc. I might have to try it some time. But today, I had come to try the signature entree - THE Big Boy burger. Luckily, by the time we came back to our table, a manager walked by and asked how everything was going. We explained that we couldn't find our server, or our drinks, so she promised to find them and then proceeded to take our food order. Grandma and I got the Big Boy burger, hers was $4.29 for the burger alone while I got the combo with fries and a side item for $6.89. I chose the cole slaw on the advice of the manager and then also decided to upgrade to the onion rings for another $1. LB wanted the hot dog kids' meal and BB ordered the grilled cheese -- with a drink, fries and a "special prize" included, the kids' meals were a deal for only $2.99! Another kids' meal choice is a kiddie burger and only $1 more to upgrade to kiddie chicken tenders. The manager kept calling the kids' meals "the kid's hot dog box and kid's grilled cheese box" so I assumed they would come in some sort of box with the food and surprise all together. Shortly thereafter, our original server showed up again, with all of our drinks. The chocolate malts were served "the old-fashioned way" in tall glasses with the remainder in the silver mixing cup. LB decided he wanted to try mine and then proceeded to suck the whole thing down. Good thing I had extra in the mixing cup!

Soon, our entrees arrived. The kids' food was served on regular plates so I don't know what kind of "box" the manager was talking about. I could tell by that point that our server was new so maybe she didn't serve the kids' food correctly? My Big Boy Burger looked like... well... it looked like a Big Mac from McDonald's. Okay, but the important thing is what it tastes like! And it tastes like... a Big Mac. It did. Oh well, my childhood memories were dashed. Bob's Big Boy really IS just like a Denny's (or McDonald's). Everyone pretty much agreed. But the cole slaw was really good, just like the manager said. All told, we got out of there for only $35, not including tax and tip - not too bad for 3 adults and 2 kids. As I was paying at the cashier, I remembered that we hadn't gotten our kids' meal "surprise". I stopped the server as she was walking by and she said she had to check with the manager what was supposed to be in the kids' meal. She came back with two plastic bobble-head Big Boy figurines. The boys thought they were funny and liked playing with them. As we walked out the door, I saw that they had a "gift shop" with all kinds of Big Boy collectibles. One of them was the exact same plastic bobble-head my kids had just gotten, going for $3 each! So, an even better deal (although I wonder if the server messed up and gave us the wrong kid's prize). All in all, I don't think I would head back up to Altamonte Springs for another meal at Bob's Big Boy. But it was fun to go for memory's sake.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Restaurant Review - Beefy King, 424 Bumby Ave, Orlando, FL

Today for lunch, we ate at Beefy King, a small non-descript fast-food restaurant on Bumby Avenue, just south of SR 50. Well, non-descript except for the large Beefy King sign with the bull on it.

We have passed this place many times before but it always looked a little "questionable" to me. However, Hubby recently ate there and declared it great so we all went along to try it. As Hubby says, it's like Arby's, only better. Beefy King, apparently, has been around since 1968, yet the inside is nice and if not modern, then at least clean. As you enter, the menu is on boards at the back. Their specialty is beef - what a surprise - especially roast beef, corned beef, pastrami, and BBQ beef - however, they also offer ham, turkey, and BBQ pork. The best part is that right in the center of the open kitchen, an employee freshly cuts all the meat on a deli slicer. There is no kid's menu but they do offer a Junior size combo that comes with a small sandwich, "Beefy Spuds" (tater tots), and a small drink for $4.95. They also offer plain hot dogs for $2. Both boys got the Junior size combo with roast beef. I got the Regular size combo for $5.95 - same as the boys, just the larger size roast beef sandwich. Hubby ordered a Combination Sandwich which combines any two meats that you want. He got the roast beef and ham which I thought might taste weird but he said he's had it before and it is very tasty.

Nothing is too fancy at Beefy King so the food is served in plain wax paper wrappers with plain bags for the Spuds. The sandwiches are served on fresh kaiser rolls, although the junior sandwiches looked like they were on hamburger buns. The roast beef was great! It was really tasty and tender and didn't really need any sauce. Those who like sauce, however, have several to choose from including BBQ and horseradish sauce. The Spuds were tasty as well. I was surprised that the boys both ate pretty well, each finishing about half of their sandwiches. Maybe next time I'll have them share.

Apparently, Beefy King is only open for lunch (10a-3p M-F; 11a-3p Sat; closed Sun) but they do offer a drive-thru that is open a little later during the week (til 5:30 pm M-F). They also have milkshakes, in the standard vanilla and chocolate, but also cherry and orange. I'll have to try a cherry milkshake next time, it sounds interesting! I found Beefy King to be a really nice fast-food restaurant that doesn't taste like fast food, with friendly employees and a nice, clean interior.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Restaurant Review - Trish's Teas, 4844 New Broad Street, Baldwin Park, Orlando, FL

Yes, it's true! I took my two boys (and my mother-in-law, Grandma M) to a high tea! Hey, I can't help it if I didn't have girls! I have been craving a true tea experience and have not had time to make it over to my favorite tea place - the Grand Floridian Resort's Garden View Tea Room. So, I decided to check out a place I read about in the Windermere Lifestyle magazine -- Trish's Teas, a tea, trinket & treasure boutique in Baldwin Park Village.

We found Trish's easy enough and walked in to check it out. It is certainly a combined tea room/retail space/party room. When you walk in, there are about 5-6 small tables, all with different "Victorian" chairs and candelabras. They are to the side of the main retail space where all sorts of "tea things" are sold. There is also an ordering counter to the right where you can get a "cuppa" or some of the yummy looking chocolates and desserts. In a separate room to the left is the party room -- and there was a party going on when we arrived. It looked to be a little girl's birthday party with all the little girls dressed up and wearing big fancy hats. Later, after they left, a baby shower group showed up... so the secret must be out on having parties at Trish's Teas! As we stepped up to the ordering counter, we asked to see the menu. The young man asked if we had reservations. Whoops, we didn't, was there any space available? I looked around and saw two groups at the tables but the rest of the tables did have "Reserved" signs on them. A woman next to him said that they did have space and removed one of the signs and escorted us to a glass table. Little Boy (LB), my two-year-old ended up needing a booster seat to reach the top of the table. He then proceeded to bang all of his silverware against the glass tabletop. Shoot, why couldn't we have gotten one of the wooden tables? By distracting him with all the teapots surrounding us, we were able to secretly take away all of his silverware without further incident. Trish's has a very simple menu, with light selections such as quiche, salads, snack plates, and desserts, as well as tea combinations and tea by the pot. Grandma M decided to go with the spinach quiche and salad for $10.95. I decided to go for broke and get the full tea for $19.95 which comes with a full pot of tea (I choose Jasmine), two scones with lemon curd & clotted cream, finger sandwiches, fruit, and a sampling of small desserts. For the boys, I got them each the Teddy Bear Children's Tea (the only offering for kids) for $8.95. It said it came with a beverage, small sandwich, cookie, gummies, and Goldfish crackers. Big Boy (BB), my seven-year-old said he wanted to try the kids' tea called Bubblegum Tea. I got a chocolate milk for LB. For sandwiches, they had a choice of peanut butter & jelly, fluffernutter (marshmallow fluff & peanut butter), or one of the salads they offer - tuna or chicken. LB went for the PB&J and BB said he wanted the tuna salad.

I'm assuming Trish's is a family-run business, with just the family running it, so service was a little slow. I'm sure that's fine when you are relaxing with tea with your girlfriends, but was a little too slow for the boys. I finally took them over to the dessert case and told them they could each get a small chocolate for dessert if they ate their lunch so they perused their options. Finally, our food arrived and I really wished I had a camera! The Teddy Bear Tea presentation was adorable!! It was served on a three-tiered plate with a balloon tied to the handle at the top. On the top tier was a small teddy bear that the boys got to keep as well as the fruit gummies. On the next tier was a small chocolate chip cookie and a dish of rainbow-colored Goldfish. On the lowest tier was the sandwich, served on a round piece of bread with the crust cut off. Too cute! The boys actually got excited about it. Also, both of their beverages were served in little teapots. I poured LB's chocolate milk into his tea cup and hoped that he wouldn't break the cup. Well, he didn't break the cup... he broke the little top to his tea pot. He had picked it up to see the milk inside and accidentally dropped it - it shattered to the floor. I was horrified. However, the folks at Trish's were really nice and cleaned it up and told me not to worry about it. Whew, I thought I had just bought a little teapot. BB tried his Bubblegum Tea and declared that it was just okay and tasted kind of like grape. Looking at the ingredients now from Trish's website, I can see why it tasted fruity - it is made of hibiscus petals, rosehips chips, calendula petals, cornflower petals, dried apples pieces, and dried sweet orange peel. Grandma M said that her quiche and salad were very good. My full tea was also served on a three-tiered plate, with six finger sandwiches - two each of egg salad, cranberry chicken salad, and cucumber with dill - two blueberry scones with lemon curd and Devonshire cream, a cup of cut-up pineapple, strawberries and blueberries, and a mini-carrot cake, mini-German chocolate cake, fruit petit four, and mini-chocolate layer cake. Wow, a lot of food! BB did great and finished everything except his Goldfish. I had to keep begging LB to eat his sandwich as he was perfectly happy just eating the Goldfish and the gummies. My sandwiches were very good, with my favorite being the cranberry chicken salad. The scones were nice and soft and tasted great with the curd and cream. Surprisingly, my least favorite things were the carrot cake and German chocolate cake. They just didn't taste right. But the fruit was wonderful as well, very sweet. Since BB had finished his meal, he picked out a chocolate for himself ($1.25) and of course LB started to throw a fit. Luckily, we were now past the main lunch hour so we were the only remaining guests in the place. I was a bad mommy and gave in to the tantrum and let LB have a chocolate as well - the same exact one of course. BB acted like a proper gentleman the whole time so I am considering taking him next time I go for tea again. LB was just a little too little and I'll have to wait until he is older. But, Trish's Teas is a nice place to have tea and some food and I'm really considering maybe having MY birthday party there one day.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Restaurant Review - Mama Fu's Asian House, Mall of Millenia, Orlando, FL

UPDATE 12/23/06 - Well, the Mama Fu's outside of Millenia Mall has bit the dust - completely gone and already replaced with another store. However, as far as I know, the Lake Mary Mama Fu's is still open.

Today for lunch we ate lunch at Mama Fu's Asian House at the strip mall directly outside the Millenia Mall. We actually ate there about a year ago, I believe the first few days the restaurant opened, and I wasn't that impressed. But, I decided to give it another try since they were new when I first went.

Mama Fu's is in the same tradition as Doc Chuy's (near Florida Mall) and Pei Wei - kind of fast casual Asian fusion cuisine. I've never tried Pei Wei but I really like Doc Chuy's. Both Doc's and Mama's offer counter service for lunch and then table service for dinner. Since it was lunch time, we stepped up to the counter to order our food. Mama Fu's has a beautiful decor, rich reds and golden yellows, with fountains and Asian touches for accents. The menu is on a board to the left of the ordering counter. Lunch offers appetizers (a large selection), soups (Thai coconut or wonton), entree salads, signature dishes where you choose your meat and then how you want it cooked (teriyaki, honey seared, red Thai curry, etc), and noodle bowls (Pad Thai, Lo Mein, Thai Fun Noodles, and Spicy Basil). For the dinner menu, steak, grouper, and baby back ribs get added as well as desserts.

I have to tell you that one of the reasons I didn't like Mama Fu's the first time I went was because I ordered two of my favorite Thai dishes - Thai Coconut Soup and a Pad Thai Noodle Bowl with chicken. They did not taste anything like what I would get at a Thai restaurant. Not exactly bad... just different. So I decided to stay away from the Thai dishes this time. One of the dishes I had liked last time was an appetizer that Grandpa had gotten - the Dynamite Shrimp. It is shrimp coated in a spicy crispy topping and then drizzled with a creamy sauce, served on top of Asian slaw. So, I got that as my main lunch meal - in Big Mama size for $7.99. All of the appetizers come in either Mama size or a bigger Big Mama size -- nice if you want to share. I also got the wonton soup for $1.99. For the boys, I ordered off of the kids' menu. There are three choices, all for $3.49 and come with a drink and a chocolate chip cookie - Dragon Tails (chicken fingers with mac-n-cheese), Scooby "Fu" (honey garlic chicken with mac-n-cheese), and Ninja Noodles (Teriyaki chicken over noodles or rice). I got both of them the Dragon Tails. I thought it was a nice touch to serve chicken fingers with mac-n-cheese -- two of my kids' favorites in one meal. Grandma and Grandpa were not too hungry so they chose off the appetizer menu as well. They order the Mama size Beef Curry Rolls for $3.99 and each got a soup - Grandma got the wonton as well and Grandpa decided to try the Thai Coconut. After paying, the cashier gave us a number to put on our table and said the food would be delivered when it was ready.

We got our drinks (they offer a selection of hot teas or they have Blackberry Jasmine and regular China Mist iced tea at the drink station) and sat down. Grandpa noticed the condiment bar and came back with soy sauce, hot mustard, and hot sauce, all in nice little glass containers for our table. In a few minutes, our soups showed up and the kids' food as well. Everything was served on real plates in a fun, colorful pattern. My wonton soup was fantastic! It came with two shrimp and pork wontons and the broth was very flavorful and filled with scallions, carrots, and baby spinach leaves. Grandma liked hers as well. Grandpa didn't so much care for the Thai Coconut soup. I tried it again - yep, I still didn't like it. It was too coconutty and just didn't taste right. Plus, it had tomatoes in it - not a typical Thai soup ingredient. The boys got three small strips of chicken and a small portion of mac-n-cheese -- however, with the way my kids eat, it was just right. When I was about halfway through my soup, my Dynamite Shrimp and the Beef Curry Rolls arrived. Yummy! My Dynamite Shrimp was as tasty as I remembered. I must have had about 10 small-to-medium shrimp on top of the slaw. The spice is slow to gather so it wasn't until I was almost finished that I started to feel the hot spices. The slaw really helped to cool it down. Grandma and Grandpa also liked the Beef rolls - although Grandma declared the sauce that accompanied it was too spicy. The boys did pretty well, finishing most of the macaroni, and each a finger of chicken and then started begging me for their cookies. I finally gave in - the cookies were nice and big with hunks of chocolate chips. The servers were very nice and kept checking back with us so I asked for a to-go box for the leftover chicken fingers. They brought back a very cute mini Chinese to-go carton to put them in. What was the best part? We got to leave the table as is as they come and clean up your table as well. So, I would go back, but I'd still avoid all of the Thai dishes. I'll have to try Mama Fu's for dinner one time as well.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Sharing True Life Fast Food Toys Article

I found this article on Chief Marketer at This is exactly what my life is with Fast Food toys so I thought I'd share! This was written by Beth Negus Viveiros on

Where Does He Get Those Wonderful Toys?
By Beth Negus Viveiros, from Chief Marketer
Most likely, someplace that sells chicken nuggets.
So how do you choose where you go out to dinner? Maybe you look for a cozy little bistro with a nice wine list? Or you ponder whether to nosh on upscale Italian or sushi?If you're dining with a small child, chances are your criteria runs more along the lines of "What toys do they have this week? Does Burger King still have 'Superman Returns' stuff? Which 'Pirates of the Caribbean' thing does McDonald's have? Is it the sword? He really wants the sword. Wendy's has what? Six Flags toys? What the heck are they, action figures of the bald dancing guy?"We've got oodles and oodles of this crap lying around our house. I shouldn't say crap. Well, some of it is crap. But a lot of the toys are quite nifty.Burger King seems to come up with the most quality swag. Last summer's "Star Wars" movie may have been kind of lame, but the little wind-up toys are still a big hit around our house, particularly the cute little Stormtrooper, who pals around with the wind-up "Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends" characters we got at BK a few months ago.McDonald's comes in second. Since my toddler is obsessed with the commercials for the movie, the recent "Pirates" toys were a hit (even if the inflatable sword did pop a couple of hours after he got it). The "Cars" vehicles were also enjoyed. He's also keen on a "Power Rangers" motorcycle his grandmother got him when she ate a Happy Meal. (Hey, who says folks over sixty can't be happy too?)Third is Wendy's, even if they do have the best fries and offer kids oranges as a side dish option (very popular in our household). More often than not, when we go to Wendy's the toy being given out doesn't match what's being advertised in the restaurant's display case nor what is featured on the bag.This can cause quite a panic when you're dealing with someone who (literally) has the emotional maturity of a three-year-old. One time at Wendy's, we saw toys from the PBS cartoon "Maya & Miguel" on display. My son doesn't watch the show, but nonetheless quickly picked out which piece of junk he would like to get. We get the meal, and it comes in a "Teen Titans" bag, which is even more exciting, as that's one of his favorite cartoons. The toy inside? A stuffed mouse from a long ago "Stuart Little" promotion. He was not amused.Does this stuff have a marketing impact? Heck yeah. The toys often determine which fast food place we dine at, and you bet your nuggets my kid watches the commercials and knows which place has which toy.And while some might think these toys are disposable, if they don't break, they're around our house to stay. I'll occasionally try to thin the herd and retire a few premiums, but I'm smart enough to store them away in a closet and not throw them out. I can't. My son has them mentally cataloged better than the most anal historian at the Smithsonian.Will he remain a loyal fast food customer over time? Or, will he switch to salads and tofu when he starts elementary school? The former is more likely than the latter. Of course, if the tofu joint had some cool Spider-Man toys…

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Restaurant Review: RedBrick Pizza, S.R. 436, "Uptown Altamonte", Altamonte Springs, FL

RedBrick Pizza is a new restaurant in the "Uptown Altamonte" section of Altamonte Springs, located right next door to the Altamonte Mall. Uptown Altamonte is a brand-new area of restaurants and retail shops, with more to come. The boys, Grandma M., and I arrived for lunch on a recent Saturday, eager to escape the food court at the mall, where we had been back-to-school shopping. RedBrick's eating area is very open with various types of seating including booths along one wall. I immediately noticed that each booth had a small flat-screen TV so I made a beeline for one of those. BB, my seven year-old boy, grabbed the remote (yes, each TV had its own remote!) and started searching for Spongebob Squarepants. He quickly found it (I believe Spongebob is on 24 hours a day, you just have to keep switching channels to find him) and he and LB sat quietly entranced in the booth while Grandma M. and I perused the menu.

RedBrick is a "fast-casual" restaurant meaning you have to order at the counter but then they deliver the food to you at your table. Options are Pizzas (of course), Chopped Salads, and Fhazanis (pretty much a pizza folded in half to make a sandwich). There is also Gelato (Italian ice cream) for dessert. I liked how each pizza came in Small (for 1), Medium (for 2), and Large (for 4-6 people), with the same size options for the salads. Some of the featured "Gourmet Favorites" pizzas are traditional such as Four Cheese, Margarita, and various meat combos. Others are more in the vein of California Pizza Kitchen such as BBQ Chicken pizza, Thai Chicken, and Greek. Small pizza prices average $7, Medium are about $11, and Larges are about $17 (just cheese is around $14). Salad options are Caesar, regular green, Chinese Chicken, Greek, Italian, and a Salad of the Day - all for $4-$9, depending on the size. To keep it simple, I went up and ordered a medium Margarita pizza and a medium Caesar for us all to share. There's also a Kid's Meal available for the under 10 crowd - cheese or pepperoni kid pizza, small soda, and a small gelato for $6. But, I figured sharing would work out better as I never know if the kids are hungry or not. I also got each of us a medium drink for $1.50 a pop.

When I returned to the table, the boys were still deep into Spongebob and Grandma M. asked me which type of crust I had chosen for our pizza. Huh? I relooked at the menu and saw that in one corner it listed different flavor crusts such as Parmesan, Pesto, Roasted Red Pepper, and others. It's less than $1 to go with one of these "gourmet crusts". I guess they didn't train the employees about upsell here because no one mentioned these flavored crusts to me when I was ordering and they are not that prominent on the menu. At that moment, our Caesar salad arrived. It was the perfect size for the four of us as LB doesn't like lettuce and BB loves it. It was just your basic Caesar but was a nice appetizer as we waited for the pizza. The pizza came shortly after we finished the salad. It had nice big chunks of tomato on it, as a Margarita pizza should. And, the medium definitely would have fed just two as it came in four slices. Since we had already had salad, though, one slice a piece was fine. The pizza was nicely done, with a crispy crust that was doughy in the middle. Both boys ate every inch of their slices which means they must have really liked it.

I must mention a strange thing about the medium drinks - the lids don't fit on the cups properly. After getting lemonades and iced teas, I tried my best to put the lids on but they each had one little spot that didn't completely get covered. Why do I bring this up? Well, halfway through lunch, when BB reached for his drink, he tipped it a bit and SPLASH - it went all over him. I quickly jumped up and grabbed some napkins and told the employee filling up the straws that there had been a spill and can he get a towel or something. Apparently, RedBrick has a lot to learn as far as customer service goes, because he came to our table and handed me a paper towel to clean the spill up with. Yeah, I guess all spills are do-it-yourself here. Just so you know it isn't just me, another customer also spilled her medium drink while carrying it from the counter to her table, about 10 minutes after our incident. She also complained about the poor-fitting lids. So, you have been warned - you may want to bring your own drink containers!

Since the boys had done such a good job with lunch, I decided to treat everyone to some gelato. I wasn't really impressed with some of the flavors - a lot of fruits when I am all about chocolate - but the Bon-bon flavor looked like chocolate so I sampled some. Okay, even better, it was hazelnut gelato - hello! I got a small cup (and they ARE small) for us all to share for $2.50. Remember, gelato is very rich and is a lot thicker than ice cream so a little goes a long way. It ended up being a perfect size for the three of us to share - Grandma M. passed as she said she was full.

From a family point-of-view, I thought RedBrick was a great place to take the kids for pizza and to get a healthy dose of salads thrown in there as well. The employees have a lot to learn about taking care of the customer but they were never rude, it just seemed like they were not trained about how to treat the customer. The TV in the booth was a big winner as well... as long as your kids like to watch the same program. The menu noted that another RedBrick is going to be opening in The Loop, the new shopping area in Kissimmee so those of you in the southern part of Orlando can try it as well.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Restaurant Review: Sweet Tomatoes, State Rd 436, Altamonte Springs, FL (and other locations, too)

Several weekends ago, we ate lunch at Sweet Tomatoes in Altamonte Springs. Sweet Tomatoes is, at its most basic, a soup & salad bar. However, it also has items that can tempt your non-veggie lovers also. So, while BB, my older, almost-a-vegetarian son was happy as a clam, my younger son LB found stuff to eat as well.

It is kind of a strange process to pay for your food at Sweet Tomatoes. You start off at the long salad bar (2 identical sides) and grab a tray and plate. Hubby put LB's plate on his tray and I had BB's on mine. Luckily, BB is tall enough now that he can see what is on the salad bar and instructed me on what he wanted. LB is still too short so Hubby had to carry him down the line, while pushing his tray at the same time. For infants and those toddlers that still like a high chair, Sweet Tomatoes has rolling high chairs that you can push along the salad bar line - very convenient. The salad bar starts off with lettuces and veggie toppings and then moves to prepared salads and dressings. BB wanted to try a little bit of each prepared salad such as the tuna tarragon pasta salad and the chinese chicken salad. I helped myself to a big portion of the chinese chicken salad - it is very yummy, with crunchy noodles mixed in. LB asked for random items that are actually his favorites - black beans, corn, olives, and pickles. Imagine seeing that coming down the buffet line! We then arrived at the cashier and paid for two adults ($7.49 a piece for lunch) and one 7-year-old kid ($4.49 for 6-12 year olds; $1.49 for 3-5 year olds). LB was free since he was under three. Drinks are separate and are $1.69 a piece for adults and kids. Be sure to ask for a kid's cup for your little ones or the cashier will just give you the tall plastic glasses they provide for the adults. The kid's cup is plastic and comes with a lid and straw. Drinks are your standard fare - sodas, iced teas (including sweet), lemonade, etc. But I like that you can switch from an iced drink to a coffee if you like - just ask a server for a coffee cup.

We chose a booth close to the buffets and made sure the kids sat on the inside. I went to get all the drinks and then made another trip to get the boys' food while Hubby stayed with them. We find it is most efficient to keep the kids at the booth the whole time and then take turns getting them more food. Besides the salad bar, Sweet Tomatoes offers a Soup Bar, Bakery, Pasta Station, and Desserts. At the Soup Bar, you'll always find several "standard" soups such as clam chowder, chicken noodle, vegetable, and chili, and then new seasonal ones. Sweet Tomatoes also has a "theme" for every month - Lemon was this month - where there will be at least one offering in each buffet featuring that item. So, they had Lemon Pasta, Lemon Chicken Orzo soup, Lemon muffin, etc. I tried the Sweet Tomato and Onion soup which was very light and tasted healthy. That's another reason I like Sweet Tomatoes, I feel like we are eating healthy! There are also toppings for your soups such as cheeses, croutons, onions, etc. Located next to the soups are sweet and baked potatoes, and then you can use the same toppings bar as the soups. LB was done with his "salad toppings" when I returned so I got him the macaroni & cheese at the pasta station (always there) and the plain cheese pizza on foccacia bread at the bakery (also always there). He was happy with that so it was Hubby's turn to go up and fill his plate. I went back to get another type of soup and BB tagged along to get his favorite - Clam Chowder. I tried the chili this time and added some shredded cheddar cheese on top - yum. I also swiped a few pieces of the plain cheese pizza - they were really good, too! They had buffalo chicken pizza as well but I thought that might be too spicy for me. One more trip for me to the pasta station to try the alfredo pasta and I was done. The boys, of course, were ready for dessert. For dessert, you can go healthy and select from fresh fruit such as pineapple, melon, grapes, or oranges, or you can go for the soft serve yogurt machine. Of course, the boys wanted the soft-serve, chocolate-vanilla swirl naturally. They both wanted chocolate syrup and sprinkles on top. I made my way over to the bakery to have a blueberry muffin for my dessert. They also always have chocolate muffins, that I have tried as a base for the soft-serve to much success - brownie a la mode!

Service is usually pretty good meaning that they will clear away your dirty dishes fairly quickly. We always leave a tip, from $1 per person to a bit more if they boys have been especially messy. Sweet Tomatoes is probably not for everyone - Grandma and Grandpa won't go there because they say they can never find enough to eat. If you are a meat and pototoes person, this is not for you. But if you want some fresh, healthy food, with enough to tempt your carb or veggie-loving kids as well, this is the place.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Restaurant Review: Tijuana Flats, W. Colonial Drive, Winter Garden, FL (various other locations, too)

This past weekend, our family ate at one of our favorite local "Mexican" chains - Tijuana Flats - for lunch. The food is more American than Mexican, but it is good food and the kids can always find something to eat. This is one of those "fast casual" places where you order your food at the counter and then sit down and wait for a server to bring you your order. However, instead of the big sign with a number that other places use, Tijuana Flats just asks for your name and their servers will yell out your name as they wander through the restaurant trying to find you. If you want some fun, give the name "Marco" and then snicker as the rest of the customers yell out "Polo" as the server tries to find you to deliver your food. We ordered the Chips & Chili Con Queso as a starter for $2.79. All meals are served with chips, but if you want something to dip them into, you have to order a starter. The Chili Con Queso is addictive, a gooey, cheesy dip with chilis served hot with chips. All the starters are chips & dips, others being mild salsa or guacamole or the Tijuana Trio that comes with all three. From the Little Lizards menu, we ordered a Cheese Quesadilla for both boys - LB's plain with just cheese and BB's with lettuce and tomato. Other choices on the kids' menu are burritos, tacos, nachos, and chicken fingers -- all including chips, a drink, and a "surprise" (usually a Pez dispenser and candy) -- all for $3.69. For adults, the choices are the standard Mexican menu standards such as tacos, burritos, enchiladas, flautas, taco salads, nachos, etc. Prices range from $5-$8 depending on if you want ground beef, chicken or steak. Hubby and I both ordered the Dos Tacos, just the basic two tacos plus chips. There are some choices you need to make - crunchy or soft? what toppings (lettuce, tomatoes, onions, jalapenos, black olives, sour cream)? make it a meal for $1.99 (add rice, beans, and a soft drink)? make it wet for 99 cents (top it with queso, salsa or chipotle red sauce)? Since we didn't "make it a meal", we ordered drinks separately. I got a sweet tea and Hubby ordered a root beer. I love the drinks at Tijuana Flats because they are served with shaved ice, and somehow, it just tastes better that way. Beer and wine are also available. We took our drinks and went to find a table. The decor at Tijuana Flats is, how shall I describe it... psychedelic? Bright, day-glo paint with strange lizards and other creatures are painted on the walls. There is also a hot sauce bar in the center, a specialty of Tijuana Flats, with their own home-made sauce - "Smack My Ass and Call Me Sally" (yeah, try to explain that to your kids). There are also coloring sheets and crayons at the counter, just ask for them while you're ordering or ask one of the servers as they are passing by. Actually, that's what keeps us coming back again and again to Tijuana Flats - the service. The servers don't just yell your name and deliver your food, they also will take requests and will refill your drinks for you or get you another fork to replace the one that LB threw on the floor. I've had servers heat up our queso before (and top it off to boot!) as well as quickly replace an entire order of BB's quesadillas that LB pushed on the floor. We heard Hubby's name and waved over the server to get our main dishes. Hmm, what happened to our chips and queso? The server quickly rushed to the kitchen and brought us our starter - apparently, someone else with the same name had claimed our chips. That's happened before so try to come up with a unique name if the restaurant is crowded (like Marco - you won't miss your food then!) -- but like I said, the servers will quickly bring you any food that went missing. The boys did pretty good, with BB finishing 3 of his 4 quesadillas and LB only finishing one. Hubby and I polished off our two tacos and did a good job on the queso and chips too. Tijuana Flats is always a good place to eat with the kids at our house - check them out.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Restaurant Review: Ginza Japanese Steak & Sushi Bar, W. Colonial Drive, Ocoee, FL

My oldest son (BB) has been begging to go back to the restaurant "where they make the food in front of you" so this past weekend, we did a mother-son solo dinner at Ginza Japanese Steak & Sushi Bar restaurant in Ocoee, FL. This is one of those Japanese Hibachi steakhouses where the chefs become the show and chop and cook your stir-fry dinner right in front of you at a large steel cook surface surrounded by seating on one side. Ginza also has a sushi bar area at the front of the restaurant, which is where Hubby and I go for sushi occasionally when we don't have the kids, but with kids you can't beat the dinner show at the back of the restaurant. As a "party of two", I knew we would be seated with other diners as the hibachi tables hold eight people a piece. We were seated with a family of six that had just sat down, which was good so we all ordered together. On a previous occasion, our family of four had to wait a bit until they seated another couple with us before our chef came out to start our dinner. If you happen to have a party of eight, you've got a full table and are ready to go. The hibachi dinners range in price from $12.95 for chicken to over $30 for filet and seafood. However, these are FULL dinners. They come with an light onion broth soup, a salad with ginger dressing, a grilled shrimp appetizer (you get two shrimp - kid dinners get one), fried rice, noodles, stir-fried veggies, and your chosen meal. Kids' hibachi dinners start at $7.95 for chicken and then go up accordingly. From what I can tell, they only get slightly less food than adults so we usually split one dinner between the two boys when they both come. The family of six sitting with us did the same - each adult ordered one dinner and then two kids dinners to feed the four kids. One warning when you do this, make sure you divvy up who is getting the soup and who is getting salad first - to avoid a fight later. The family next to us must be old pros at this restaurant, they knew to ask to substitute two soups for the two salads ensuring all four kids got a soup. BB chose the Shrimp dinner ($9.95) and I chose the Chicken. I figured Hubby would eat BB's leftover shrimps so I wasn't concerned. After we received our drinks (kids get theirs in a styrofoam cup with lid and straw), the soups came. This is a very light onion broth with a few mushrooms, scallions, and fried onions thrown in. All the kids at the table ate it, including BB. LB loves it too so it is a real kid-pleaser. One thing, if your child still sits in a high chair, like the youngest of our neighbor family, just be careful with the soup - the high chairs are actually a little lower than the hibachi table so they may need some help reaching their food. Next came the salad with creamy ginger dressing. BB ate it up as he likes ginger but the other kids at our table didn't want to try it so it's not for everyone. I love the ginger dressing and even saved some of the leftover dressing for my meal. Then, the main event, our chef came out. He immediately interacted with the table and got the kids involved by asking questions and making (very) corny jokes. Even I had to chuckle at a few such as the "Japanese egg roll" where he rolled an egg along the cook surface and "hey, watch the butterfly" when he flipped a pat of butter into the middle of the table. All the kids just watched, fascinated, as he made our fried rice, noodles, and the rest of the meal, depositing big spatulas full of food onto everyone's plates when that particular food was complete. I've seen several of the different chefs here and they each have their own "schtick", all corny, but somewhat funny all the same. They even make it fun when they are cleaning up the workstation, getting huge billows of steam to rise up to the ceiling. So, be sure to remind your kids to eat, too, while they are watching the show. But the majority of the eating happens after your chef has left and you are staring at a veritable mountain of food on your plate. BB did pretty good, finishing about half of his meal. I did better, eating about three-quarters of my food. Ginza also provides two sauces to go with your meal - a broth-based ginger sauce and creamy sauce for the seafood. Most folks preferred the creamy sauce, as do I, pouring it over my rice and chicken. Yum! Service tends to get a little slow at the end of your meal and we had to wait for the check and to-go boxes. They also provide you with "dessert" -- which is really just three small pieces of canned pineapple -- although I don't know how you could be hungry after your huge meal. Ginza has good food for a reasonable price and a great show for kids. I highly recommend it.

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Restaurant Review: Shamu & Crew Character Breakfast, Seafire Inn, SeaWorld Orlando, FL

When Grandpa called and said he had free tickets to SeaWorld (woohoo), we quickly planned to go the weekend before Memorial Day. LB had never been before and there were several new attractions that have opened in the past two years. I put Believe, Blue Horizons, and the new kids' area with the Shamu Express roller coaster on our list and Grandpa and I started planning out the day (it's what we do -- Grandma calls us "camp counselors"). We both decided we needed to get there early, preferably right at park open at 9 am. I'm not really a morning person -- I need to have an incentive to wake up early and get out the door. So, when I checked out the SeaWorld website, I found out they have a Shamu character breakfast that starts at 8:45 am every morning (see for yourself The prices were really reasonable for a character breakfast -- $14.95 for adults, $9.95 for kids 3-9 and free for kids under 3. Of course, that just made me worry that the food wouldn't be very good. However, they promised Shamu and his furry friends would visit the tables and there would be a 35-minute show featuring the characters -- that alone would be worth the price so I booked (and pre-paid) online. The day came and we had all intentions of getting to the restaurant by 8:45 am. We weren't too far off, after entering the SeaWorld main entrance and heading to the Waterfront area of the park, it was only 9:05 am. We were seated quickly, towards the back of the theater/dining room, at the back end of a table where another family was already seated and enjoying breakfast. However, the kids were able to see the stage just fine. With only 5 minutes left before showtime, Grandma stayed with the kids while Grandpa and I staked out the buffet line. The buffet line moved slowly, mostly because the servers had to plate all the hot food for each guest versus it being serve-yourself. I'm sure they have a reason for doing it that way, but I think the line would move faster if everyone got their own food. They had a nice spread, though, with self-serve danishes, yogurts, and cereals, at the front. The fruit was really nice -- they had big bowls of cut up cantaloupe, honeydew and red seedless grapes. The hot foods offered were biscuits and gravy, sausages, bacon, scrambled eggs, potatoes, french toast, pancakes and corned beef hash. I was excited to see the corned beef hash - it's one of my favorites and not many places have it. I asked for a plate of french toast and bacon for BB, an empty plate for LB (I figured he would just eat off of everyone), and another plate of french toast, eggs, and corned beef hash. All in all, it took 15 minutes waiting in line. When we got back to the table, the show was already in full swing and Grandma had ordered chocolate milk for the boys and coffee for us. The kids' drinks were served in the plastic souvenir cups with lids and straws -- very handy to have as SeaWorld does not serve regular drinks with lids or straws because it harms the animals. I was happy to see those as we could use them throughout the day. The show was kind of silly -- an underwater sea explorer is afraid of the water and needs help from his friends to help him get over his fear -- but it had a good message, plus a few Beatles tunes thrown in (Yellow Submarine, Octopus' Garden), and the kids really liked it. The food was actually good! Okay, the french toast was a little cold but not too bad, and there was plenty of food for all. We also lucked out being at the back end of the table as the characters came there first and found it hard to manuveur toward the front of each of the long tables. So the family that was sitting in front of us had to get up and move if they wanted pictures with the characters. We just had to smile and say "Cheese". All of the characters came by and the kids really liked meeting them and getting kisses from them. The characters can't really move that much because of their size (hey, we are talking Shamu here) and some interacted better than others (the manatee character had some fun with BB) but a good experience overall. The only confusing part came at the end as we were leaving and Grandpa asked if we needed to leave a tip. The website where I had booked online had said nothing about gratuity and we really had only seen our server when she got our drinks. Grandpa put several bucks on the table and we hoped we were covered. SeaWorld would do better to make that more clear. All in all, a fun breakfast experience if you happen to be visiting SeaWorld Orlando.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Restaurant Review: High Tide Harry's, Airport area, Orlando, FL

This weekend, we took Grandma M (Hubby's mom) to a pre-Mother's Day dinner at one of our favorite family restaurants - High Tide Harry's at the NE corner of Hwy 50 and Semoran/436. Hubby likes it because it is good, inexpensive seafood, and we never have to wait for a table. I honestly don't know how that latter part happens, though. We've come on weekday nights, weekend nights, and weekend lunches, and the parking lot is almost always full, as well as the restaurant. But, they always seem to have one more table for any folks coming in the door. The decor is cute, kitschy ocean motifs like crab-trap light fixtures and aluminum fish cut-outs on the walls. There's a bar along one side of the restaurant and a batch of arcade games on the other. Oh, and pay close attention when you walk in the front door. Taped to the door and along the walls of the entrance are the "specials" for the day. Don't miss them! That's where I've found some great, surprisingly delicious dishes like "crab fingers" (more on that later). After we were seated, our server Joan (about 8 times out of 10, we get Joan; it's happened so much that now she knows us) arrived and got our drink orders. It was a round of sweet teas for all, except for Little Boy (LB) who wanted lemonade. Then, Joan came back with our drinks and yummy hush puppies with cinnamon butter, loaded up in a bowl. These are complimentary and are pretty much unlimited, but watch your kids or that'll be all they eat (and you, too)! They are always hot and fresh and taste great dipped in the butter. The kids' menu is simply a paper placemat with the entrees listed at the top and the rest of the paper for drawing. Crayons come already on the table which is nice, although the boys have complained about the color availability in the past. Today was fine, though, lots of nice colors to choose from. The kids' entrees are seafood such as fried fish or shrimp, as well as non-seafood entrees like grilled cheese, hot dog, or chicken fingers. Most are about $3-$5, with the shrimp on the high end and the spaghetti at a total bargain at $1.99. All except the pasta come with fries or a veggie side, as well as a package of Goldfish cookies. This time, LB ordered the grilled cheese and Big Boy (BB) ordered the hot dog. Both like the corn on the cob on the side. The adult menu is HUGE. Pretty much any seafood you can think of, they probably have. Think simple, though, no fancy preparations here, just fried, grilled, broiled, or blackened. They even have a delicacy called "crab fingers" that I tried last time. They are like the little forearms of the Blue crabs, shelled except for the very tip of the claw, served fried or sauteed. It's served as an appetizer for $6.49 and they don't always have them so try them if they got them. I thought they were great and had them as my entree as I wasn't very hungry last time I came. This time, though, I got one of my favorites, a pound of Dungeness crab, today going for $15.99. Adult entrees get either two sides or one large house salad or a cup of soup. I've learned if you're going to do crab and have your hands all greasy and buttery, it's better to get the cup of soup to start instead of having to deal with two sides as well. High Tide Harry's signature Blu Stu (stew, get it?) is really unique and tasty with blue crab meat and veggies and spices. But, I was in the mood for the clam chowder so I went for that. Grandma M also went for the 1 lb. Dungeness too and added the green beans and steamed veggies on the side. Don't bother asking for the rice pilaf - they don't have it anymore - even though it's been listed on the menu for at least the past year or two. My soup arrived, along with crackers that the boys promptly grabbed and started devouring. I like High Tide Harry's version of New England clam chowder - it's creamy but still light with big pieces of crab and potatoes. After I finished, I knew I was going to have leftovers of the crab - but that would make a good dinner for Hubby who had been too sick with a cold to come out with us. He's also a big fan of the steamed clams, but that would have to wait until the next time he comes. Our meals arrived and pretty much filled the table with all the bowls and utensils for the crabs. BB started digging into his hot dog and corn; LB seemed content with just the corn, I suspect he had eaten too many hush puppies. One pound of Dungeness equals one whole big honking crab. I find Dungeness a bit easier to eat than other crabs as you don't have to work as hard. A few cracks with the nutcracker and the shell usually comes off leaving a big piece of crab meat. Half a crab later, I was done. Grandma M kept going and did really good, only leaving two little claws - more for Hubby with the other half of my crab. Grandma M also still had a lot of her side dishes left (heed my words - get the soup or salad!) because she had been so busy with the crab so she tried to eat some of those now. We had timed it just right as the boys were just starting to get antsy, having just finished their Goldfish cookies. Definitely check out Harry's as it is a great place to take your family for seafood.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Restaurant Alternative Review: Let's Eat! at The Marketplace at Dr. Phillips, Orlando, FL

I recently went to my second session at Let's Eat! in Dr. Phillips, where you get to be your own personal chef. For a fee between $150 and $220, you get to put together 8 or 12 entrees for your family, following the provided recipes. Yes, you do the work putting the ingredients together but Let's Eat! has done all the prep work - cut the veggies, portioned the meat, assembled the condiments - and everything has the right size measuring cup for the recipe. Places like Let's Eat! and Super Suppers are popping up all over Florida so I decided to give it a try. Hey, it's better than the old, "I dunno, what do YOU want for dinner?" that Hubby and I banter about almost every night. To start, I headed to their website ( and checked out the process and the menus. Typically, each location will offer 14 entrees (including a few soups and desserts tossed in) that you can choose from. Yes, it's just the entree so you still have to come up with a side dish. What I liked is that you can also split entrees. Each one is supposed to serve six and with my kids, they really can only eat one portion between the two of them. So, by choosing 8 split entrees, I really had 16 dinners, and at $160 it worked out to only $10 per entree. That's a lot better than any Personal Chef service and probably better than I could do myself with some of the recipes they offer. I booked my session online and paid upfront with a credit card. When you arrive for your session, you are given an apron to put on and are given a tour of the place. There are seven food prep stations, each with the ingredients and recipes for two of that month's entrees. Usually, a session will hold 10 people, and you just rotate from station to station making the entrees that you have chosen. For most of the entrees, you simply scoop the ingredients into a ziploc bag, shake it up, put a heating instruction sticker on it, and you're done. Then just place it onto your shelf in their cooler (I liked that they had my name on my shelf - nice touch) and go to the next one. Some get a little bit more complicated, such as the Chicken Roulades with Asparagus I made. Following the simply written recipe, I pounded 6 chicken breasts flat with the provide mallet, then placed swiss cheese and asparagus spears on top, rolled close with toothpicks, and topped with breadcrumbs. The hard part was getting the chicken to stay closed with the toothpicks. But, darn it, when it was done, it looked like a gourmet dish! I was very proud of myself! Another great thing is that you can leave out ingredients that you don't like. Our family is not a big fan of onions so I left that out of most of the recipes. When you are all done, you put your self-created entrees into a cooler that you brought and pop them into your freezer at home. Then, the night before, you take out an entree and thaw it in the refrigerator and it's ready to cook when you get home. Most of the time, it just requires heating it up in the oven or in a skillet. And the kids have really loved the food! I was surprised but they actually ate every bit of the Rosemary Pork Loin Chops I made. Okay, I didn't score well with the Curry Chicken - nobody ate it but me but I should have known better (I personally thought it was very good). So far, I've done two sessions in three months and I'll probably go back again in another two months. It just makes dinnertime a lot easier, especially on weeknights.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Request for Restaurant Recommendations: Any Good Chinese Restaurants Out There?

I have noticed a lack of really good Chinese restaurants in the greater Orlando area. Sure, there are some here and there such as Eastern Pearl in Altamonte Springs or Kim Wu in Metrowest. Our family even likes P.F. Chang's even though I would consider it "nouveau" Chinese as opposed to traditional. Anyone have any suggestions that I could try with my family? Where is it located and what is your favorite dish there?

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Restaurant Review: Guacamole Mexican Cuisine, Winter Garden, FL

Recently, we tried the new Guacamole Mexican restaurant that is located on West Colonial Drive in Winter Garden in the Beall's/Appliance Direct shopping center. This had most recently been another Mexican restaurant - Chimi's - that I never got to try as it went out of business so quickly. Guacamole is located next to the empty building that used to be a Publix. I have to tell you that because there was no real signage outside of the restaurant so it is hard to spot. The boys and I were meeting Grandma and Grandpa there and luckily we were able to find it. When we walked in, Grandma and Grandpa were already at a table, eating chips and salsa and drinking margaritas. Guacamole offers a full-bar as well as margaritas and domestic/imported beers. Grandma declared the margarita really "weak" so probably going with a beer is a good idea. As we perused the menu and started eating the chips, Grandpa warned us that our first basket of chips and salsa is free but additional baskets are $1.50 according to the menu. Okay, that immediately put me in a not-so-favorable mood towards Guacamole which, unfortunately, did not improve throughout the meal. When the server came to take our drink orders, I ordered iced tea and asked for lemonade for the boys. It turns out that they only have sodas or iced tea for drinks, nothing else non-carbonated for the little ones. BB asked for a sweet iced tea but I was stuck for LB. He won't drink sodas and he doesn't like iced tea. Luckily, I noticed that Guacamole also offers agua de melon or "melon water" which I was sure LB would like. He's tried watermelon juice before and liked it and this turned out to be cantaloupe juice which he also liked. Whew, disaster averted... for now. I noticed that all of the kids' meals were $5 and included a side item (beans and rice for the Mexican offerings and fries for the rest) as well as a small drink. Since LB's drink wasn't going to be included anyways since it was a specialty drink, I just got side orders of quesadillas for each of the boys. That would only run me $2.75 a piece, much better than the $5 as they probably weren't going to eat the rice and beans anyways. Grandma ordered one of the combination platters with a cheese enchilada, a chicken tostada, and rice and beans for $5.25. Grandpa got adventurous and ordered the Nopales con Carnitas or cactus with pork. Apparently, he used to eat cactus occasionally when living in Texas. I had never tried cactus so I was eager to sample his dish. I ordered the 3 tamales plate for $7 which comes with rice and beans as well as sour cream, salsa, and guacamole. A short while later, the food arrived... but only the adults' food. The kids quesadillas were "coming" we were told. Not good - kids' meals should be served first if anything but never after the adults. Immediately, both kids starting whining and wondering where their food was. Secondly, my tamales were cold. Not slightly warm, but cold. Also, the condiments (sour cream, salsa, and guacamole) were served in tiny cups about the size of a shot glass. Five minutes later when the kids' food arrived, I asked the server to take back the tamales and have them heated up. Grandma's food was okay and Grandpa's cactus dish was as well. Cactus, it turns out, resembles green peppers when cooked and tastes a little bit the same as well, although maybe a bit blander. The pork was a bit spicy but was a good accompaniment to the cactus. Finally, my hot tamales arrived. We all agreed that the food was okay but not much better than that. As Grandpa said, there was nothing really spectacular about Guacamole that would make you want to return. So, we will probably not be back.

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