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.

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