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.

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