Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Tastebuds Catering Food Truck in Winter Park, FL

I visited the Winter Park Farmers Market on a recent Saturday and decided to get some lunch from a food truck called Tastebuds Catering. Even though it was lunch time, I decided to get a second breakfast instead.
I ordered the Margarita Omelet. It was filled with tomatoes, organic spinach, mozzarella cheese, and was topped with pesto. Potatoes were served on the side. The omelet was tasty, although it did seem a little lopsided when it came to the cheese. One end of the omelet had plenty of mozzarella, while the other end lacked the cheese. Other than the cheese thing, I liked the omelet. There was plenty of spinach and tomatoes and the pesto was a nice touch. The potatoes were forgettable.
Overall, Tastebuds made a pretty good omelet that was a whole lot of food...

Tastebuds Catering on Urbanspoon

Monday, May 11, 2015

Spoleto in Orlando, FL

I was invited to try a new Italian restaurant called Spoleto. They are located across the street from UCF in a very new shopping center at the corner of University and Alafaya. This is Spoleto's first location in the United States, with two more stores opening soon in Winter Park and the Florida Mall. They are already a good sized chain with over 380 locations in Brazil, Mexico, and Costa Rica. I always find it interesting when an international restaurant chain chooses Central Florida as its stepping off point into the US market. I wonder how much market research went into deciding that UCF would be the ideal spot to begin expanding into this country?
Spoleto is a quick service style restaurant. You go up to the counter and pick your pasta, sauce, meats, and toppings. Everything was then tossed and cooked together by a chef, and then you pay and bring your food to a table to eat. The same thing goes for flatbreads, salads, or desserts.
I ordered the Potato Gnocchi in pesto with spinach, sundried tomatoes, caramelized onions, kalamata olives, roasted garlic, and an Italian cheese blend. All this was topped with a house-made giant meatball. It seems like restaurants like this find the need to yell something as something happens. At some places you get a "Welcome to Blank" as you enter. Other places get you bad singing if you leave a tip. At Spoleto, the entire kitchen would yell out "Polpette Grande" whenever a meatball was ordered. I enjoyed my gnocci!
Brick Oven Baked Lasagna.
I also tried the Artichoke and Goat Cheese Focaccia. This flatbread was topped with artichoke hearts, tomatoes, red onions, mozzarella, goat cheese, and B&W Farms baby arugula.
I tried the Nutella Bread with fresh strawberries for dessert. Nutella and fruit is delicious, but an entire flatbread of Nutella was overwhelming.
Spoleto was an enjoyable dining experience. I found it to be a notch above some other of the fast food Italian restaurants that have opened recently in the Orlando area, so that's a good sign for them.

Spoleto on Urbanspoon

Monday, April 20, 2015

Arepas El Cacao in Orlando, FL

Arepas El Cacao is a Venezuelan restaurant located on Kirkman Road in Orlando. They have a couple other locations as well, either as brick and mortar restaurants or food trucks. As the name implies, they specialize in arepas, which are corn flatbreads stuffed with various fillings. The El Cacao part of the restaurant's name is a little more confusing since there isn't any chocolate to be found anywhere on the menu. It was explained by a restaurant employee that Venezuela produces the best cacao in the world. Because of this, calling something el cacao in Venezuela is equivalent to saying something is the best. So Arepas El Cacao basically means The Best Arepas. With a claim like that, it must mean their arepas should be delicious.
Being that I've visited Arepas El Cacao several times now, their name certainly has been living up to their claim with my very limited experiences with arepas in the past.
My favorite arepa here is the Arepa El Cacao #1. This is filled with an insane amount of meats, salads, and toppings. This includes beef, pork, shrimp, chicken, and chicken salad. There's potato salad and beans in there as well. There's also lots of shredded cheese. I think I'm most likely missing stuff. All the fillings in this arepa are overwhelming, but this monstrosity is delicious. It's a huge amount of food for a good value.
One of their weekend specials is the option to have a quail egg arepa. I gave this a try on another visit, getting the arepa filled with pork, black beans, cheese, and the hard boiled quail eggs. I don't think I've ever had quail eggs in the past. The taste wasn't all too different from chicken eggs, but they were much smaller in size. This arepa wasn't nearly as overstuffed as the Arepa El Cacao #1 mentioned above, but still was a good amount of food.
They also make fresh juice, smoothies, and milkshakes at the restaurant with tropical fruits. Here's a cup of Passionfruit Juice:
I also tried their soursop or guanabana milkshake. This was my first time tasting this fruit in anything and it was a very interesting flavor. The milkshake tasted familiar, but I couldn't place where else I've tried guanabana.
Other than Arepas El Cacao, my other arepa experience is with what is often served at farmers markets and street fairs. That version of an arepa is basically a corn bread grilled cheese. Comparing those to what is served at this restaurant, Arepas El Cacao is the definite winner!

Arepas El Cacao on Urbanspoon

Friday, April 17, 2015

Mei Asian Chinese Buffet in Orlando, FL

Mei Asian Chinese Buffet is located on International Drive in Orlando. It shares the shopping center with King's Bowl and is right next to the Orlando Eye. Going to a Chinese buffet in such a touristy area was a potentially dangerous choice (not to mention the restaurant has a horrible 34% Liked rating on Urbanspoon), but I ended up enjoying the restaurant more than I was expecting. I arrived at the restaurant during lunch time and they had a good selection of foods. To me, their buffet choices were better than other Chinese buffets in the area and most of the food was pretty tasty. There also seemed to be a good turnover with the buffet tables constantly being refilled. 

The first plate of food consisted of bean sprouts, green beans, dumplings, tofu, mei fun, and an egg roll.
Plate #2 had some salmon, lo mein, crawfish, shrimp with broccoli, and some sort of meat filled dumpling.
The third plate had a little more of some of my favorites that I tried earlier (dumplings, tofu, and veggies), along with a butterfly cookie for dessert.
I've had far worse buffets than Mei Asian, but yet those have had much higher ratings on online review sites such as Urbanspoon and Yelp. I'm sure the poor ratings for this restaurant are coming from somewhere though. I hope they either saw all the horrible scores and drastically improved their food, just in time for me to show up, or perhaps I just caught them on one of their better days.

Mei Asian on Urbanspoon

Monday, April 13, 2015

Red Lobster in Sanford/International Drive

A few months ago Red Lobster was going to have a blogger tasting event to try their new menu. For whatever reasons, this event didn't happen. Instead, Red Lobster offered to send me a gift card to try the menu on my own time. It had been quite a while since I had eaten at Red Lobster and I was interested to see if there were any major changes since the chain is no longer owned by Darden. I took them up on their gift card offer and first ended up at the Red Lobster in Sanford for lunch. The meal started with a basket of their Cheddar Bay Biscuits.
My meal was served with a side caesar salad.
I ordered the Create Your Own Lunch. This menu option allowed you to pick two different dishes and a side. I went with the Garlic-Grilled Shrimp Skewer and Garlic Shrimp Scampi. Out of the two, I preferred the shrimp skewer. The flavorful, good sized, grilled shrimp were served over rice. The scampi consisted of several shrimp oven-broiled in a garlic butter sauce. I picked the mashed potatoes as my side.
My dining companion for the afternoon ordered the Rainbow Trout Lunch with beans and a baked potato.

Red Lobster on Urbanspoon


I used the rest of the gift card at the Red Lobster on International Drive near the OCCC. The Seaside Sampler appetizer was ordered to start the meal. It came with Lobster, Crab, and Seafood Stuffed Mushrooms, Parrot Isle Jumbo Coconut Shrimp and Chilled Jumbo Shrimp Cocktail. I'm not a big fan of mushrooms, but the stuffed mushrooms were the tastiest item on the sampler. The coconut shrimp followed, and the shrimp cocktail was my least favorite. Cold shrimp don't do much for me.
For my main course, I tried the Salmon New Orleans. This consisted of salmon topped with shrimp, served with mashed potatoes and broccoli for my sides. The did enjoy the sauce that topped the salmon and shrimp.
The side salads that were supposed to come with this meal didn't arrive until after the main course, after being pointed out that we never received them. Looking around, it seemed like salads at other tables in our section of the restaurant were forgotten as well. This was the only hiccup in both of my recent visits to Red Lobster, and the problem was quickly remedied.

Red Lobster on Urbanspoon

Red Lobster seemed like the same restaurant that people either love or hate. I noticed no major discernible differences post-Darden. I know they have new menu items, but as a very infrequent Red Lobster diner, I'm not sure if I would have noticed the changes. The food I tried was tasty and I was full after eating, so I suppose that's the important part!

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Rosie's Smokin Hot Bar-B-Que in Kissimmee, FL

I tried Rosie's Smokin Hot Bar-B-Que in Kissimmee for dinner. This restaurant is located along 192 and has the same owners as Wildside BBQ. While the Wildside locations are full service sit down restaurants, Rosie's is cafeteria style and resembles 4 Rivers (a whole lot).
I ordered the sliced pork platter. Just like at 4 Rivers, it was served on a tray covered in a sheet of paper.  The pork looked good, chopped into larger pieces rather than the typical pulled/shredded pork often found at BBQ places. Unfortunately, the pork was sort of chewy, was very bland tasting, and was room temperature. It was made a bit better with barbecue sauce, but it definitely looked better than it tasted. One of my sides was macaroni and cheese. It was okay, but was also room temperature. My other side was collard greens. These were the best part of the platter. They were really flavorful and contained bits of pork. The sad part was that the pork in the collards was much better than the main dish pork. The collard pork was nice and tender and had plenty of flavor on its own, not requiring barbecue sauce. While the collards were good, their temperature didn't seem to be where it should have been either.

I suppose the Wildside people thought they would be able to follow the 4 Rivers formula to make a successful barbecue restaurant, but it wasn't working. I don't think I'd bother trying Rosie's again. I'm not sure why but it seems like I've been having bad luck with Central Florida barbecue lately. Smokey Joe's in Sanford had a similar problem with room temperature meats. I've also been to the 4 Rivers in Winter Garden twice since then and have seen quality issues there as well. Hopefully I'll have better luck next time.

Rosie's Smokin' Hot Bar-B-Que on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Chicago's Stuffed Pizza in Orlando, FL

I can't say I've had much experience eating Chicago style stuffed pizza. Previously, my only meals eating this type of pizza has been at the Giordano's locations near Disney. Giordano's pizza was different and unique in the Central Florida area, but it was also a cheese overload every time I've eaten there. A new restaurant called Chicago's Stuffed Pizza has opened since my visits to Giordano's on Church Street next to the SunRail Station in Downtown Orlando. I was definitely interested in trying this style of pizza that wasn't from a national chain. Being that Giordano's is my only other Chicago style stuffed pizza data point, I'll be doing a lot of comparing in this post.
I ordered a personal sized stuffed pizza with sausage and peppers. This pie had a similar crust setup to what Giordano's has. There was a bottom layer of crust covered in the cheese and toppings. A second layer of crust was placed over this, and sauce topped the pizza. I found the pizza at Chicago's to be nicely balanced. Unlike the pizzas I've had at Giordano's, there wasn't a disgusting wall of cheese that came oozing out of the slices. This is a good thing. The amount of sausage, peppers, sauce, and crust seemed to equal out the cheese. There was still a whole lot of each of these, but this stuffed pizza was tall enough to support a whole lot of the toppings. The sauce and sausage both were flavorful.
Now that I have a second data point for Chicago style stuffed pizza, I would say that I preferred the pie I had here over what I've had at Giordano's. The main reason for the favor going to Chicago's was a little more balance between the cheese and the rest of the pizza. I think I still would take a more traditional pizza over one of these stuffed pies, but I'd still be willing to get these again.


Chicago's Stuffed Pizza on Urbanspoon

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Pleasant's Bar-B-Q in Ocean Springs, MS

While driving home to Florida after my trip to New Orleans, I stopped for lunch at a restaurant called Pleasant's Bar-B-Q in Ocean Springs, MS. Barbecue styles seem to vary in different areas of the south, so I was interested to see how smoked meat is served in Mississippi.
I had their pulled pork sandwich served with collard greens and baked beans. The pork was served on a  standard white bread hamburger bun. It was finely shredded and was drenched in sauce. The sauce was tasty, but I couldn't really discern any unique Mississippi BBQ style in here. I've had many similar pulled pork sandwiches in Florida. The beans were alright, but the collards were really good. They were nice and tender without being cooked to a mush. I liked.

Pleasant's Bar-B-Q on Urbanspoon

Friday, March 20, 2015

Diva Dawg Food Truck in New Orleans, LA

One of my last food experiences in New Orleans happened at a food truck. They were called Diva Dawg and specialized in hot dogs, fries, and shakes.
The first thing on their menu is what caught my attention. They had a Mardi Gras Beignet Dawg. From the way it was described, it was similar to a corn dog, fried in beignet batter and topped with powdered sugar. I decided I had too many beignets on this trip already and wasn't in the mood for a hot dog so I ordered the Homemade Etouffee Fries.
I had a list of stereotypical New Orleans food items that I wanted to try while in the city. Crawfish etouffee was on this list, and these fries crossed etouffee off the list. The fries were widely cut, topped with the etouffee. It was messy to eat, but it was also delicious. There were plenty of crawfish tails over the fries and the creamy roux from the etouffee made a wonderful sauce for the fries.
Diva Dawg provided me the opportunity to almost complete my food list in New Orleans. The only food I was unable to find was Crawfish Pie. Apparently Crawfish Pie is a food item that's not very common in New Orleans...


Thursday, March 19, 2015

St. Charles Tavern in New Orleans, LA

I got a recommendation to try the St. Charles Tavern in New Orleans from someone who was staying in my hotel. Not having any dinner plans, I walked a couple blocks down the street and gave them a try.
I had the Boudin Ball Po'boy. I tried boudin balls for the first time at Jacques-Imos Cafe a couple nights earlier in the city, but I had yet to have a po boy in New Orleans. A combination of the two sounded good! These boudin balls were different from the ones I had a Jacques-Imos Cafe. These had less of a batter around the meat inside and were a bit more uniform in their consistency. Different, but also good. The boudin balls were served on a white bread with lettuce, tomato, and a remoulade sauce. Fries were served on the side.


St. Charles Tavern on Urbanspoon

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Central Grocery in New Orleans, LA

I've never had a good muffuletta in the past. I've tried ordering these sandwiches several times at various restaurants in Florida, but they always end up being disappointing. More specifically, every muffuletta that I remember trying has always been very dry and bland tasting. Central Grocery is a New Orleans restaurant which was recommended I try while in the city. They advertise that they are home to the original muffuletta. I was setting myself up for having a disappointing sandwich, but it turns out the original is indeed the best.
The muffuletta from Central Grocery consisted of a large sesame roll filled with mortadella, salami, mozzarella, ham, provolone, and olive salad. This olive tapenade is what set Central Grocery's muffuletta apart from the others I've tried. In the other muffulettas, whoever makes the sandwiches is always really stingy with the olives. At Central Grocery though, they piled the olives on, adding a whole bunch of flavor to an otherwise boring sandwich. The oil from the olive salad also provided some much needed moisture to the sandwich, preventing the muffuletta from being too dry.
Thanks to Central Grocery, I now know that muffulettas can be much better than I've experienced in the past!

Central Grocery on Urbanspoon

Monday, March 2, 2015

Audubon Zoo Food (Roman Candy Company and Cypress Knee Cafe) in New Orleans, LA

I spent one afternoon in New Orleans at the Audubon Zoo. Food happened while I was there. The first thing I ate came from this nifty looking food cart called Roman Chewing Candy. Apparently this cart is a New Orleans landmark because I later started noticing it on postcards sold in gift shops elsewhere in the city.
I'd never heard of Roman candy before, but it turned out this was a type of taffy. It was being pulled right there in the cart. There was a choice of vanilla, chocolate, or strawberry. Since strawberry was being made fresh as I approached the cart, that's what I went with.
It was chewy and sweet. Like most taffy, this got horribly stuck in my molars and made me want to brush my teeth for the rest of the afternoon. Regardless, it was still a tasty candy.

The Roman Candy Company on Urbanspoon

The Roman candy didn't quite hold me over until I was done exploring the zoo so I stopped into a restaurant there called Cypress Knee Cafe. While all the other restaurants I passed in the zoo served typical zoo/theme park snack bar foods, Cypress Knee Cafe had a bit more interesting menu. They were located in the Louisiana Swamp section of the park, and had appropriately themed local cuisine.
I hadn't had any jambalaya while visiting New Orleans. I ordered it here to remedy this. Cypress Knee Cafe served a decent sized bowl filled with flavorful rice and chicken. I didn't get any shrimp or sausage in my bowl which are normally standards in the jambalaya I've had in the past. I don't know if these aren't in the zoo's recipe for jambalaya or if I just got a bad mix in my bowl. Regardless of the lack of variety in the meats, when it comes to the flavor of the jambalaya here, it surpassed my low expectations for a snack bar in a zoo.

Cypress Knee Cafe on Urbanspoon

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