Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Restaurant Review - Five Guys Famous Burgers and Fries, 7512 Dr. Phillips Blvd, Orlando, FL

A few weeks ago, Hubby, the boys, and I were at the Dr. Phillips Marketplace and started to get hungry for lunch. Hubby suggested Five Guys Famous Burgers and Fries so we went inside to check it out. Due to the accolades posted all over the wall and on the menu, including "Willy Wonkas of Burgercraft" (Washington Magazine), and "Voted Best Burger in Charlotte" (Readers Pick), we figured we couldn't go wrong.

Five Guys is a chain from the DC area and now has locations all over the East Coast including (now) Central Florida. The decor is very basic - red and white tile and, strangely enough, huge sacks of potatoes as a decorating element. Turns out the menu is very basic as well. It's just burgers and fries (with just a couple of other choices of a hot dog or grilled cheese sandwich). Everything on the menu touts how fresh it is - Fresh Ground Beef, Never Frozen - and so I guess the potato sacks all over show that the fries are fresh as well. And, actually, a sign by the order counter stated that "Today's Potatoes" (for the fries I assume) "are from Rigby, Idaho." There's also a sign that states all burgers are prepared well done - so no "moo-ing" burgers for you. With a limited menu, it was pretty easy to choose - we all picked burgers. LB decided he wasn't hungry (I couldn't even get him to agree to a hot dog - $2.59, or grilled cheese - $1.99) so I figured he would just eat off of us. Burger choices are pretty simple - "regular" or "little" (I'll get to that in a minute), add bacon or cheese. All other toppings are free including condiments, standard toppings like onions, tomatoes, lettuce, pickles, and then some non-standard ones like sauteed mushrooms, jalapenos, and green peppers. There is no kids menu that I could see so I figured (it turns out I was wrong) that the "Little" burgers mentioned on the menu were for kids. BB ordered the Little Hamburger ($2.79) with onion, lettuce, tomato, pickles, ketchup and mustard. Hubby ordered the Bacon Cheeseburger ($4.99) with just mustard, lettuce, and pickle; and I ordered the Cheeseburger ($4.49) with mayo, ketchup, mustard, lettuce, tomato, and pickles. We decided to also get a side of the large fries ($3.79) "Five Guys Style" cooked in peanut oil - there are also Cajun Style fries. We also ordered drinks ($1.79 each) - all 24 oz - the only size they have. When I asked if they had smaller cups for the kids, the server handed me 12 oz Styrofoam cups - much better as the other cups were too big. We then sat down to wait for our order number to be called. We decided to pass on the bucket of shelled peanuts available to munch on while you wait for your food because I figured then the boys wouldn't eat lunch.

After our number was called, Hubby came back with our grease-speckled plain brown paper bag containing our food. Sorry for those greasy spoon lovers out there - to me, it's not that attractive. Inside was a very large cup with our fries, and then three aluminum foil wrapped burgers. What was really nice is that each packet had a numbered sticker on it that corresponded to a number on the order ticket stapled to the bag so we had no trouble figuring out who's burgers was whose. Then came the surprise. When BB opened his foil up, I thought, wow, that's really big for a kid's burger. Then Hubby and I unwrapped ours - and found out that "Cheeseburger" and "Bacon Cheeseburger" really mean DOUBLE Cheeseburger and DOUBLE Bacon Cheeseburger. Yep, the "regular" burgers have two patties and the "little" ones have a hefty single patty. So, there really is no kid-sized food at Five Guys - frankly, a big disappointment. Luckily, by now, LB decided he was hungry so we were able to (in a very messy fashion) split the "little" burger between the two boys. In fact, all of the burgers were very messy and would literally fall out of the bun at any given time. However, I have to admit, they tasted really good. Messy, but yummy. Unfortunately, none of us thought the same of the fries. I thought they were very greasy and, really, did not have a good taste. In fact, they tasted like I had chopped up a bunch of potatoes myself and then dumped them into a vat of oil. So, those of you who love "homemade" fries will probably love these - I guess I'm really used to the commercial-made McDonald's fries. By the way, the large order of fries was HUGE. The regular order probably would have been fine (if we had liked the fries). Maybe the Cajun Style fries are better. In all, I did not find the menu at Five Guys very family-friendly. If I was in the area, without the kids, I'd probably pop in and grab a burger, but I'd pass on the fries.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Restaurant Review - Bread'n'Buns, 1200 Oakley Seaver Drive, Clermont, FL

On a recent week night, Grandma, Grandpa, LB and I decided to try out the new Bread'n'Buns Scandinavian Bakery and Cafe that recently opened in Clermont, behind the Sonny's BBQ on S.R. 50. The decor is very simple with laminate wood floors and the same look for the tables, with lots of space. The chairs are black or orange with one small "living-room type" couch area. There is also outside seating in the courtyard by Gator's dockside. Clermonters have apparently already discovered Bread'n'Buns as other patrons clearly were there for a return visit and commented on which danishes were their favorites and how great the coffee is. Must be a great place for breakfast (they are open 6 am to 8 pm M - F; and open at 8 am on weekends - still too early for me). There is also a small bin of puzzles and toys for kids to borrow that I ended up using on one earlier visit for LB because he was getting a little wild crawling and jumping around the couch area.

You step up to the counter to order, which has a display case of all of the bakery goodies such as cakes, pastries, breads and rolls. They all look very yummy. I'm guessing the "Scandinavian" part of the tagline is actually Iceland as a few items reference that. The menu features sandwiches (with unique combinations for $6.99 - $8.49 for wholes and $3.99 - $5.49 for halves), salads (again interesting combinations for about the same prices as the sandwiches), and soups. Soups are $3.49 ($2 extra in a bread bowl) with Onion Soup available everyday and then a different soup featured each day. There is no written kids' menu, which is strange, but if you ask they have a plain ham and cheese or turkey and cheese sandwich on a bun for $1.79. However, they also offer half versions of their sandwiches and BB was happy with that on our previous visit (he got the half Proscuitto Mozzarella with proscuitto, arugula, mozzarella, basil, onions, tomatoes, olive oil, and sour cream - he liked it but thought the proscuitto was a little strong - we'll probably order the same sandwich but with regular ham next time for him). The one kid-unfriendly thing is the drinks. They do offer fruit punch and lemonade for fountain drinks but they only have one size - and it is pretty large. One other strange thing - the price for the drink is listed as $1.79 on the menu yet I was charged $1.99 every time - I guess they need to reprint their menus. They also have coffee drinks, bottled drinks and iced teas, and fruit smoothies. The smoothies are made with frozen fruit and the Icelandic milk product Skyr. Skyr is similar to yogurt in taste and texture. We tried a banana and strawberry Skyr smoothie last time (we asked for the 12 oz $3.99 and somehow got the 16 oz $4.99). None of us could taste the fruit at all - it just tasted like a plain yogurt shake. So either the Skyr is a lot stronger tasting than yogurt or there was not enough fruit mixed in.

Grandma, Grandpa and I all decided to get the "Triple of the Day" which is two of the following: half sandwich, half salad, or soup; plus the pastry of the day for $7.79. It is a great way to try the whole menu including the pastries. I ordered the ham and cheese kids sandwich for LB.

My choices were the half Bacon & Brie sandwich and the soup of the day (Curry Coconut Creamed Vegetable Soup for Wednesday). My sandwich was on thick (about 1 1/2 inches) and hearty dark bread with crisp bacon, arugula, brie, sun dried tomato paste, and green bell peppers. The tanginess of the sun dried tomatoes paired well with the creaminess of the brie and the slight bitter aftertaste of the arugula. The only thing that didn't really fit well, tastewise, was the bell peppers. I think I'll ask for the sandwich without it next time. The soup was fantastic - very creamy with a strong coconut taste (I love coconut). On my previous visit (on a Saturday) I had the Tomato Basil soup and it was terrific as well - I have a feeling all the soups are great - I'll have to come back every day to try them all! (Here they are in case you are interested: Monday - Cream of Forest Mushroom; Tuesday - Creamy Carrot; Wednesday - Curry Coconut; Thursday - Creamy Soup of Sweet Potatoes and Pancetta; Friday - Lobster Bisque; Saturday - Tomato Basil; Sunday - Creamy Soup of Leek and Tomatoes).

Grandpa chose the Onion Soup (delicious) and the half Crab Meat Burger. I have no idea why they call it the Crab Meat Burger because it is actually a crab salad sandwich with lettuce, tomatoes, bell peppers, avocado, fresh coriander, sour cream, and "spicy" tomato dressing. He said at first it tasted strange but then he got used to it. It just wasn't what he expected of a crab salad sandwich but he said he might order it again. Grandma got the half Pears & Gorgonzola salad with lettuce, pears, gorgonzola, walnuts, dried cherries, grapes, croutons in a lemon vinaigrette and the half Provencal Chicken sandwich - sliced chicken breast with lettuce, kalamata olives, roasted tomato, avocado, parmesan cheese and pesto sauce on a foccacia bread. She loved the salad but didn't really like the sandwich because it was hard to eat and kept falling apart. LB like his sandwich although he picked it apart and ate the cheese, ham, and bread separately.

The last part of our meal was our Pastry of the Day. I found out it was a cinnamon roll today and, not that there is anything wrong with the cinnmon roll, asked if I could have the danish instead and was told "sure!". I had gotten it last time and it was really delicious. Yes, it is just called a "danish" (I asked). No special name like Crown Danish that they also have - it is simply known as a danish and it has this wonderfully sweet almond paste inside. Grandpa really liked his cinnamon roll, I was happy with the danish that I shared with LB. Grandma tried my danish but thought it was a little too sweet for her. I really like the offerings at Bread'n'Buns, especially the half sandwich, soup, pastry combo. I'm definitely coming back to try the other soups!

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Restaurant Review - Gospel Brunch, House of Blues Orlando, Downtown Disney, Lake Buena Vista, FL

For Mother's Day this year, I wanted to do something a little different. I did want to do brunch, but with a twist. I also didn't want to spend a ton of money, especially on the kids since I knew they wouldn't eat a lot. The brunch prices I checked around town were outrageous and most raised their regular Sunday brunch prices for Mother's Day. Then I remembered the Gospel Brunch at House of Blues at Downtown Disney. I had been wanting to try it for a while so I called to find out the deal for Mother's Day. Happily, the Gospel Brunch is the same price no matter what Sunday you go - $35.48 for adults, $18.24 for kids (3-9), 2 and under free, including tax and gratuity. What is strange is that you are actually buying tickets to the Gospel Brunch, just like you would buy tickets to a concert. So, once you decide you want to go, you buy the tickets through the box office and the tickets are yours, no refunds. I ordered over the phone with my credit card and then went by when I was in the area to pick up the tickets. You can also pick up the tickets when you arrive for brunch.

I chose the 10:30 am show because I thought the 1:00 pm show might be a little late for the boys to eat. We arrived at House of Blues a little after 10:00 am, going directly to wait in the line that was already forming in front of the concert hall (the brunch takes place in the concert hall, to the right of the restaurant entrance). The woman at the box office had suggested getting there early because you have to wait to be seated but the buffet is ready as soon as you get in... and the doors open promptly at 10:30 am, not before. The wait wasn't too bad, I struck up a conversation with a family of tourists from Pittsburgh in front of us which helped pass the time. Also, about 15 minutes before the doors opened, servers came around with trays of Mimosas and Bloody Mary's for $3 a piece. Hubby bought me a Mimosa and the mom from Pittsburgh got a Bloody Mary. It was the strangest Bloody Mary I had ever seen - it had what looked like pizza seasoning around the rim of the cup and then had a celery stalk, slice of cucumber, pepperoni (!), and a cube of cheese (!) floating in it. The Pittsburgh mom said it was really spicy too. The doors finally opened and each group was taken, one by one, to their table.

I had called to get tickets about a month in advance so I was very pleased to find that we had a GREAT table. We were at Table 21 which was right in the middle of the main floor, the second row of tables in front of the stage. Tables appeared to be for either eight or two - our family of four was seated with another party of four - they ended up being two couples from Indiana and were very nice as well. The chairs were a bit uncomfortable, they were wooden folding chairs, and they also made it difficult to move around to get to the buffet. I assume that they have high chairs available as well although I didn't see any at the tables around us. The buffet was divided into cold items such as salads, fruit, and peel-n-eat prawns; hot breakfast foods like eggs, bacon, sausage, biscuits, danishes, and waffles; lunch items such as chicken and rice, fried fish, bowtie pasta alfredo, red beans and rice, and jalapeno corn muffins; a carving station with ham and roast beef; an omelet station; a drink station with ready-made cups of sodas and orange juice and serve-yourself iced tea, coffee, and hot tea; and finally desserts with bread pudding, key lime pie, cheesecake, apple cobbler, and pecan pie. I first took up LB to get his food while Hubby stayed at the table with BB. LB chose eggs, bacon, potatoes, a biscuit and two waffles with syrup. I dropped him back off at the table and got BB - he chose almost the same things except he got sausage as well (the sausage ended up being super spicy - even Hubby couldn't eat it). I asked both boys what they wanted to drink and was surprised when they said they wanted orange juice - they don't normally drink that at home. I picked up two orange juices at the drink station but didn't see any straws so I asked one of the servers for some for the kids. When she heard the juices were for kids, she put plastic lids on them as well which was really nice. Now it was my turn at the buffet. I got some of the bowtie pasta (very good - the sauce was creamy, not too thick), some jalapeno corn muffins (good but a little too mushy), and waited to have an omelet made. There were two chefs making custom omelets and it took about 10 minutes waiting to get my mushroom, bacon, tomato, and cheese omelet (it was great, though). When I got back to the table, Hubby gave me the "what took you so long" look and headed up to get his food. By now it was 11:00 am and a server coming by to collect used plates said the show was scheduled to start at 11:15 am. Hubby returned with prawns (he didn't like the "veins" still in them), roast beef (too dry), and Caesar salad (a winner). I went up to get an iced tea before the show started - I was really surprised they didn't have sweet tea - and to get a sampling of desserts - bread pudding with vanilla sauce (very good), key lime pie (very tart), and pecan pie (yummy and sweet - my favorite of all three).

The show started with a loud roll of the drums that terrified LB so much that he jumped and ran onto my lap. The host of the show asked us all if we were ready "to go to church" and then they started right into "Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me". There was a choir of four lead and three back-up singers (all female), a drummer, two keyboardists (one was also a singer), and one interpretive dancer. It was very interactive with the singers asking everyone to stand up and clap or sing along and some audience members really got into it - dancing around the room and singing. It was like an old-fashioned revival and I found it to be very entertaining and enjoyable (even though I am not that religious). The boys were clapping along and were dancing in place to the music. The group played for 45 minutes, so the experience as a whole was an hour and a half. On the way out, I asked BB what he thought about the show and he said he thought it was "cool". LB said, "Yeah, I liked it." It was a very nice way to start out my mother's day.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Restaurant Mom is on the (Internet) Radio!

I am so excited about this! There are two moms - Michelle and Suzette - here in Central Florida that have started a website and internet radio show/podcast all about being a mom in Central Florida. It is called Central Florida Moms and the radio show is called Madness of Motherhood. The shows are weekly and run about an hour but are chockful of neat ideas, fun things to do, and interviews with real moms including... yours truly! Yes, I will be on the Madness of Motherhood radio show regularly giving my latest restaurant reviews. What's great about the podcast is that it is available whenever you are - you just hit the play button and you can listen when you have time (I usually listen while I am surfing the net after the kids have gone to bed). Let me know what you think!

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Restaurant Review - Nine Dragons, Epcot (in China in World Showcase), Walt Disney World, Orlando, FL

My favorite Disney theme park is Epcot and one of the main reasons is the food especially all the different cuisines available in the World Showcase section of the park. And, as a Disney Cast member, I can pop in to Epcot just to eat lunch if I want. On a recent weekend, however, the occasion was the Epcot Flower & Garden Festival. Grandma M wanted to check out the foliage and the boys and I wanted to accompany her.

As soon as we got there, my thoughts already turned to where we could eat lunch. Since we didn't have a dining reservation, I thought the best bet would be a counter service eatery. I had heard that the Lotus Blossom Cafe in China had just updated their menu and I wanted to check it out. So, after looking at topiaries and riding on the newly updated Mexico boat ride with the Three Caballeros (see how I cleverly turn this into an ad for Disney - my company would be so proud!), we headed to China. The Lotus Blossom Cafe has some snazzy new digital menu boards so we stopped to review the new offerings. I was a little surprised that there was only one kids' meal offering - Beijing Barbeque Drumstick served with white rice and applesauce. Gee, just a drumstick? Not exactly what I was looking for in Chinese food. Also, Grandma M admitted that nothing really looked good to her either on the menu. Okay, change of plans! Grandma M asked about the full-service Nine Dragons restaurant next door. I checked my watch - it had just turned noon and they were just opening - we should be able to get a table. We went inside and we seated right away (yeah!).

Now, I have a confession. I have eaten at Nine Dragons once before - about 10 years ago. I was not impressed at the time as I thought it was overpriced food that tasted like the take-out Chinese restaurant in any neighborhood. But I was willing to give it another try.

The boys busied themselves with coloring on the kids menus while Grandma M and I reviewed the main menu. Our server came by to take our drink orders - I ordered a lemonade for BB and a chocolate milk for LB, and I decided to go for the Jasmine Green Iced Tea (it was very good - very floral tasting). The kids menu really had two options - Fried Rice and Spring Roll for $4.75 and Sweet and Sour Chicken for $5.75 (both included drinks and ice cream for dessert). I asked LB what he wanted and he said he wasn't hungry. Okay, I guess he'll be eating off of my meal. BB said he wanted the Kid's Delight which is the Sweet and Sour Chicken plus pork Potstickers for $8.50. I wasn't sure he would be able to finish all that but he insisted so I agreed he could order that. Most of the adult lunch entrees were in the $15 range, with beef, chicken, seafood, and pork offerings. However, I noticed there was also a Nine Dragons Lunch Sampler for Two which came with a choice of Hot-and-Sour or Wonton soup, and then Canton Pepper Beef, Honey Sesame Chicken, and Stir-Fry Seasonal Vegetables, all for $29.99. Both Grandma M and I agreed it was the best deal plus it gave us a sampling of a beef and chicken dish. When our server returned with our drinks, we placed our order.

We had ended up with a great table at the front of the restaurant so the boys were able to watch the tourists walk by and that seemed to occupy them pretty well. Shortly afterwards, our soups arrived. I have to say, this was one of the best wonton soups I have ever tasted. It had two big wontons stuffed with pork and the broth was very tasty flavored with sprigs of cilantro. When our food arrived, LB immediately spoke up and announced he wanted everything (I guess he was hungry after all). We got an extra plate for him and I cut up some chicken and beef for him and gave him a big scoop of steamed rice. BB also declared he wanted to try everything as well so we ended up sharing the whole meal, including his Sweet and Sour Chicken. Everything was really delicious, nothing spicy at all which is typical of the mostly Cantonese food on the menu. The Sesame Chicken was crispy and sweet, the beef in the Canton Pepper Beef was very tender in a flavorful brown sauce, and the Stir-Fry Vegetables tasted very fresh. BB's Sweet and Sour Chicken was served with the sauce on the side which allowed to boys to dip the chicken pieces and eat them like chicken nuggets. The server then came by to ask BB what kind of ice cream he wanted... chocolate? vanilla? Red Bean? Caramel Ginger? When he choose chocolate, I challenged him to try something new like the Red Bean or the Caramel Ginger - he can get chocolate ice cream anywhere! He changed it to Caramel Ginger (good boy!). It was delicious as well. The caramel smoothed out the flavor of the ginger so that everyone liked it. However, I ended up eating all the big chewy pieces of caramelized ginger in the ice cream because the boys and Grandma M thought they were "yucky". That's okay, more for me! I have definitely changed my mind about Nine Dragons and it will be added back in to my possible restaurant selections when we return to Epcot.

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