Thursday, June 28, 2007

Restaurant Review - Famous Dave's Bar-B-Que, 1443 Route 22, Mountainside, NJ

Famous Dave's in New JerseyGrandpa, Grandma, BB and I went up to New Jersey a couple of weeks ago to visit my sister and bring my nieces back down to Florida to visit Mickey Mouse. While we were there, we ate at Famous Dave's Bar-B-Que, which just happened to be close to our hotel. Famous Dave's is a BBQ chain that has not made it's way to Central Florida yet. However, with the way chain restaurants are flying in here lately, I'm sure it's just a matter of time before one sets up residence here. Famous Dave's has a really fun, kitchy decor with several highly themed rooms. Each is decorated slightly differently but all give off the impression that you are at a hunting/camping lodge. Our room was wood panelled with lots of pictures of American Indians canoeing and duck decoys. Think lots of wood and lots of lumberjack plaid.

Famous Dave's menu is nicely laid out with fun graphics and ways that you can basically mix and match everything on the menu to make your own combo. There's even an All-American BBQ Feast for five or more hungry folks that is essentially a sampling of many of the menu items. Grandpa wanted to order that but then everyone wanted different sides than were offered on the Feast so we all decided to order our own individual meals. The kids menu, complete with crayons and drawing activities, featured "Lil Wilbur Meals" (Lil Wilbur isn't so little - he's a pig that looks like a "hefty" Porky Pig). BB wanted to get the kids rib dinner ($4.99), but he didn't want any bones. I thought maybe the Rib Tips appetizer on the adult menu would be what he was looking for but the server told us that those did indeed include bones and she warned us that they were tough and were not one of her favorites. BB and I reviewed the kids menu again and I realized he could get the kids pulled pork sandwich ($3.99) sans bread which would give him the BBQ meat he wanted without bones. I chose the Two-Meat Combo ($13.99) and chose the lemon pepper chicken and beef brisket. Grandpa ordered the Texas Beef Brisket ($12.99), Grandma ordered the Georgia Chopped Pork ($10.99) and my brother ordered a half slab of the Baby Back Ribs ($15.99).

We all ended up trying a little bit of everything. The pulled pork was the winner of the night - extremely tender, light smokey flavor, very tasty and savory. The beef brisket, while also very good, was a bit too smokey for me and was not quite as tender as the pulled pork. I wished I had ordered the pork instead. My lemon pepper chicken was fantastic - perfectly done, moist, with full lemon Famous Dave's Lemon Pepper Chicken and Beef Brisketflavor and just the slightest hint of pepper seasoning. And the lemon flavor was in every bite, not just in the skin. All combo meals come with a cornbread muffin and a small corn-on-the-cob, as well as two other sides. My Sweet Potato Smash was an ice-cream scoop shaped portion of mashed sweet potatoes topped with melted butter and cinnamon sugar (oh yeah!). Again, very nicely done, not overly seasoned, just the natural potato finely smashed and the sweetness of the topping. The Famous Dave's Kids Pulled Porkcole slaw was another story. To me, it was too vinegary, and not creamy enough, however, that is probably an individual taste preference. I had a few bites and left the rest. BB loved his pulled pork and was happy with his potato salad as well. All kids meals also come with a small package of Oreo cookies. My brother was very disappointed with his baby back ribs. He said they were very tough and had obviously been cooked too long. Since this would be our only visit to Famous Dave's I don't know if that is how they normally are or if this order was an anomaly. Also, no one ordered the St. Louis-style spare ribs so we couldn't compare the two types.

I had to try dessert because the photo of the bread pudding just looked amazing on the menu. Up until a few months ago, I didn't think I liked bread pudding, but after trying it at the House of Blues Gospel Brunch, I realized it wasn't too bad! As I ordered the bread pudding, our server warned us that it has golden raisins instead of regular ones. I didn't even know it had raisins so I told her that was actually a good thing because I don't like regular raisins but I do like golden raisins. That started a discussion between us on the attributes of each type of raisin (the black ones remain chewy - which she liked; the golden ones soak up the sauce and get very soft - which I like). When the bread pudding arrived, it was enormous. It was easily enough for four people. I Famous Dave's Bread Puddingbegged everyone at the table to please help me eat it because there was no way I was going to finish it. I scooped up a spoonful of the warm creamy bread, scraped up a bit of the vanilla ice cream served on the side and then dipped a bit into the praline sauce pooling around the bottom of the pudding. OMG! It was great! The texture was perfect - slightly firm but giving like a stiff flan. And the sauce was just incredible - caramel and cinnamon with bits of pecans - a perfect accompaniment to the pudding and ice cream. I forced myself to eat as much as I could - just because it was so darn good - but then had to leave more than half of it over. Famous Dave's is a fun family-friendly place and I'd welcome a location or two here in Central Florida.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Restaurant Review - Hurricane Grill and Wings, 1700 W. Sand Lake Road (near Florida Mall), and 3120 South Kirkman Road (Metrowest), Orlando, FL

Hurricane Grill and WingsHurricane Grill and Wings, a new wings chain to arrive in Orlando, touts themselves as a "getaway for the whole family." This is a home-grown chain, originating in Ft. Pierce, FL, in 1995. Two locations recently opened in the Orlando area - one in Metrowest and one by the Florida Mall - and I tried them both (separate days of course), with the boys, and Grandma and Grandpa in tow.

The decor is very bright and beach-y inside. You get the feeling that you are on a bamboo-walled dock, on a pier somewhere, by the ocean. And the music adds to the atmosphere with 50's and 60's beach tunes like (natch) the Beach Boys. There are also large flat-screen TVs on every wall, which helps to keep the kids (and the dads) entertained. It's also a full-service restaurant (yay!) which is a welcome change to all the fast casual chains that have been opening up lately.

There is a kids' menu, complete with coloring and puzzles, which the boys were very happy about. The kids' offerings are pretty simple and mostly chicken. For $4.95, kids get a choice of wings, chicken bites, chicken strips, grouper fingers, Mac-n-Cheese, or a grilled cheese sandwich. The chicken and grouper items come with a choice of sauce. All the kids' meals come with two sides: either fries, applesauce, cole slaw, salad, or celery; and a drink: milk, juice, or soda. I like how milk is one of the choices, that's actually pretty rare to see nowadays. The regular menu is a lot more extensive, and frankly, a little overwhelming. There are appetizers, platters, sides, wings (both with and without bones), 33 sauces to choose from (yes, that's right... 33!), sandwiches, Philly sandwiches, entree salads, side salads, desserts, beers, and wine. Whew. We decided to take the easy way out and order wings. With 33 sauces, we figured we would have enough to decide on.

The sauces (FlowingWithFlavor Sauces & Rubs as Hurricane Grill and Wings calls them) are broken out into five categories, with Category 1 the weakest and Category 5 the strongest (get it - just like a hurricane is categorized?) Pretty much anything you can imagine is a sauce on this menu. For Category 1 there is a mild Hurricane sauce (basically a mild buffalo-style sauce), BBQ, teriyaki, Tuscan Herb Toss, etc. In Category 2 there is Mango BBQ, Honey Garlic, Maple Pepper Glaze, and more. Category 3 has Chile & Lime, Cajun, Spicy Pina Colada and others. Category 4 features Jamaican Jerk, a Citrus Chipotle and two others, and Category 5 has two offerings - Ridiculously Hot Hurricane Sauce, and Habanero Lime Toss.

On our first visit to the Florida Mall area location, I ordered the Garlic & Parmesan Fries ($3.75) as an appetizer and the 6-piece Boneless TenderWings with Mild Hurricane Sauce ($4.75). BB ordered the Kids Chicken Bites with Barbecue Sauce and fries and applesauce and LB ordered the Chicken Bites plain with fries and applesauce. Grandma ordered the 6-piece boneless wings with the Raspberry Ice sauce (a CategorIs this cup really made out of corn??y 2) which combines raspberry and horseradish. Grandpa order the regular wings with Mango Barbecue sauce (also a Cat. 2). We also ordered drinks ($2.25), with the boys getting lemonade (included in their kids' meal price). After the drinks arrived, in very normal looking plastic cups and lids, I read in the menu that Hurricane Grill prides itself on its beverage cups that are made from 100% corn which is 100% compostable. That led to ten minutes of us all marvelling at the cups and trying to figure out how in the world they were made out of corn! Our Garlic & Parm fries arrived and boy, were they good! They were definitely lick-your-fingers good. About 15 minutes later, our food finally arrived (both locations were slow in the service department - don't know if that is because they are new or if that is standard). My Mild boneless wings were fantastic - all buttery and vinegar-y, and actually a touch of hotness - not so completely mild. Grandpa though his Mango BBQ wings were "okay". Grandma thought her Raspberry Ice bites were too mild - just tasted like raspberry jam and were too sweet... until she reached the sauce on the bottom that really had a kick to it. So, Hurricane Grill Kids Mac-n-Cheesemake sure to toss your sauce when you get it! LB barely ate because he had loaded up on the garlic fries. BB decideHurricane Grill Mango BBQ Wingsd he didn't like the chicken bites already tossed in the BBQ sauce and wished he had ordered the sauce on the side.

For our second attempt at the Metrowest location, we all strived to do better in our ordering. This time, I ordered the Shrimp Tenders as an appetizer ($7.50), again with the Garlic and Parmesan sauce. LB decided to get the Mac-N-Cheese this time and BB went with the Chicken Bites again but with the sauce on the side and with cole slaw and celery this time. Grandma, Grandpa, and I decided to go for the 24-piece Flavor Sampler ($16.95) which comes with chicken tosHurricane Grill Kids Chicken Bitessed in four different sauces. We went with the boneless wings and choose Mild Hurricane Sauce again (really a winner), Chipotle Raspberry (Cat 3), Chile & Lime (CatHurricane Grill Shrimp Tenders with Garlic Parmesan Sauce 3), and Mojo Glaze (Cat 2). I also ordered a side of celery and bleu cheese dressing for 99 cents because I was worried some of the sauces would be too hot for me. The Shrimp Tenders came out and they were delicious. I pretty much think they could serve napkins drenched in the Garlic & Parm sauce and everybody would eat them. Grandpa thought the shrimp were a bit too pink and mushy for him but I was happy with the little shrimp and so were the boys. Our main courses came out a bit later and we did a lot better in choosing this time. The boys ate their food - BB was happy dippinHurricane Grill Flavor Samplerg his chicken in the sauce - LB liked the Mac-n-Cheese. All of our sauce choices were great. We couldn't decide which one was best - the mild was still very good, the Raspberry was sweet and smoky at the same time, Chile & Lime had a strong citrus/orange flavor and then a kick at the end, and the Mojo Glaze was citrus and garlic. Actually, we felt all of them were about the same in heat level - even the Cat. 3 sauces didn't get too hot. We cleaned the plate, with Grandpa swiping fries from LB's plate to sop up the leftover sauce. I'll definitely be back - there are still more sauces to try!

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