Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Biker Jim's Gourmet Dogs in Denver, CO

I went on a trip to the Denver area for a few days recently. One of my first dining experiences in Denver was at a restaurant called Biker Jim's Gourmet Dogs.
Before I visited Denver, this was one of the restaurants that I got a recommendation to try. Biker Jim's doesn't serve your standard hot dog. The dogs that they serve contain exotic meats. They had reindeer dogs. There were jack-a-lope dogs. The hot dog that I tried was the Rattlesnake and Pheasant. The sausage was filled with two meats that I had never tried before. Pheasant, a wild game bird, combined with venomous reptiles. How could I resist trying something like that!?
I had my dog topped with The Desert. This was harissa roasted cactus, Malaysian curry jam scallions, cilantro, with fried and grilled onions. For the sausage itself, the pheasant and rattlesnake combination had a very poultry-like flavor and consistency. If I didn't know what I had ordered, I'd assume this was a standard chicken or turkey sausage. It makes sense with the pheasant, but rattlesnake was an unknown. I guess rattlesnake tastes like chicken? The toppings really made the hot dog. I think if it was only the sausage, I'd be disappointed with Biker Jim's (besides the thrill of eating venomous snake). The cactus was delicious, and along side the other toppings, provided a delicious flavor combination.
Biker Jim's Gourmet Dogs was probably one of the most unique hot dog restaurants I've been to. It was a very nice introduction to food in Colorado...

Monday, July 13, 2015

Casavana Cuban Cuisine in the Fort Lauderdale Airport

I'm going to start a string of some blog posts about food from my recent travels outside of the Central Florida area. An airport is a good place to start talking about traveling.
I flew out of the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport on Spirit. My plane ended up being delayed about three hours, so I had time to kill there. Eating is a good way to pass the time. There was an interesting choice of foods in Spirit's terminal. Rather than the typical airport chains, this terminal had a Kafe Kalik serving Bahamian food and a second restaurant called Casavana Cuban Cuisine. Each restaurant was split into a fast food and sit down section. Being that the prices were similar in both, I ate in the sit down section of Casavana.
I had the Pan con Bistec. This was a sandwich consisting of steak, onions, tomatoes, fried potato sticks, and cheese. The sandwich was disappointing. Eating the steak was like chewing on leather. Even with the cheese and vegetables, the sandwich was very dry and needed some sort of sauce (none present on the table). Somehow a whole lot of the potatoes ended up outside the sandwich rather than between the bread. The sandwich may have been disappointing, but I enjoyed my experience eating here more than I would have if the airport terminal only offered the typical McDonalds/Burger King/Wendy's options, plus eating here consumed time before my flight left.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Urban Cantina Mexican Restaurant in Tampa, FL

On a recent rainy evening, I stopped for dinner in Downtown Tampa at a Mexican restaurant called Urban Cantina. My initial destination was going to be a nearby Taco Bus location to give them a second try. After walking by and seeing that restaurant deserted with all the employees outside smoking, we decided to give Urban Cantina a try instead.
Chips and salsa was served first. The chips were interesting. They were probably double the thickness of a typical tortilla chip. They reminded me more of a pita chip than a tortilla chip.
I had their Three Taco Combo. I tried the Carne Asada taco, the Tinga taco, and the Al Pastor taco. The carne asada was filled with steak, onions, cilantro, queso fresco and avocado. The tinga was served on a hard taco shell, filled with chipotle marinated chicken, onions, lettuce, pico, and queso. This was my least favorite of the three tacos. The chicken lacked flavor and toppings combined with the hard shell reminded me of something Taco Bell would serve. My personal favorite of the three tacos was the Al Pastor. This soft tortilla was filled with marinated pork, pineapple, cilantro, onions, and cheese. The sweet pineapple provided a nice balance between the savory pork and the salty cheese. Refried beans and rice were served alongside the tacos.
Overall, I liked my tacos. The food was good. My one complaint about Urban Cantina is the TV placement in the restaurant. They had televisions placed around the dining room, like many restaurants do (although I'm not a big fan of this). The problem in this restaurant was that the TV that I was facing behind our table was so low that it was very hard to ignore. Seeing silent images of some sort of crime scene reconstruction show slightly above eye level for my entire meal was really distracting.

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Monday, June 29, 2015

New Orleans Cajun Seafood in Orlando, FL

New Orleans Cajun Seafood is located in Pine Hills, near the intersection of 50 and Kirkman. They are in a small building that appears to have once been another sort of fast food restaurant, perhaps a Captain D's. If this is what once occupied the building, New Orleans Cajun Seafood is a huge improvement!
I had a pound of crawfish on one visit, smothered in cajun garlic butter. Of the crawfish I've had in the Orlando area, New Orleans Cajun Seafood seems to use the most potent flavoring. The crawfish are completely overloaded with garlic and the cajun spices give them a nice spicy kick. I also had a side of corn and potato, also covered in the same seasoning as the crawfish. Using the potato to soak up even more crawfish juice made it even tastier.
I tried the Soft Shell Crab Po-boy on another visit. Served on a baguette, this sandwich was filled with the deep fried soft shell crab, lettuce, tomato, pickles, and sauce. The sandwich was good, although the soft shell crab did seem slightly past season with the shell being a bit too hard in a couple spots. It was still mostly good besides the occasional hard part that I spit out. 
The crawfish at New Orleans Cajun Seafood seem to be the star menu item. I've noticed that's what most other patrons are eating on my visits, and they were superior to the po-boy. They also serve Vietnamese food here as well, such as phos and other soups. Perhaps I'll give these a try on a future visit to New Orleans Cajun Seafood...

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Thursday, June 25, 2015

Marlow's Tavern in Waterford Lakes, FL

Marlow's Tavern recently opened up their third location in Central Florida at the Waterford Lakes Town Center. This joins their Winter Park and International Drive locations. This new location is located in the center rear of the shopping center, near the movie theater. Marlow's Tavern hosted a Media Tasting at their new location which I attended. Here's some of the foods I sampled:
Asparagus Fries were crispy thin asparagus with tarragon and a citrus aioli.
J.T.'s Kettle Chips was a tasty mound of crispy potato chips topped with gorgonzola cheese, bacon, Roma tomato, and scallions.
Shrimp and Crab Nacho Plate. These overloaded nachos were piled high with rock shrimp, crab, pepper jack cheese and fresh jalapeno. I heard comments from others at the table that these were spicy, but these nachos were pretty mild to me. Perhaps I got a nacho with a weak jalapeno.
Grilled Chicken Stack. This dish featured Grilled Prestige Farms Chicken, Squash “Carbonara,” Apple-Wood Smoked Bacon, Sautéed Spinach, Fines Herbs, Parmesan, Sun-Dried Tomato Sauce and Parslied Olive.
Tavern Burger was a classic burger, topped with lettuce and tomato. Fries were served on the side.
Shrimp and Grits consisted of a white cheddar grit cake, spinach, Roma tomato, shallot, and Roast Tomato Beurre Blanc. Since my very first visit to a Marlow's Tavern location, their Shrimp and Grits has been my favorite thing I've tried on their menu.
Classic Creme Brulee was house-made with Madagascar Vanilla Bean and Crispy Sweet Crust.

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Monday, June 22, 2015

Reunion Cafe in Davenport, FL

During a return drive from Tampa to Orlando, I made a pit stop for lunch at a restaurant called Reunion Cafe. Technically, I guess the restaurant is located within Reunion based on the name, but I was always under the impression that Reunion was more of a golf resort than an actual town. Wikipedia says Reunion is located within Four Corners (another non-town?), so I suppose it's not an actual city? I'm still not sure, besides the fact that I had a tasty lunch at a restaurant with Reunion in the name.
Reunion Cafe sold all sorts of Middle Eastern food. I went for their Gyro Combo, which included a gyro pita, French fries, and a beverage. The pita was filled with lots of lamb. It was slightly spicy and had lots of flavor. Lettuce, tomato, onions, green peppers, and a creamy mayonnaise-like sauce finished it off. The fries were okay, but nothing to write home about. A pickle was also served on the side.
Reunion Cafe had a tasty gyro. They are far from home for me, so I don't think I'd return soon, but might stop in again on a drive to or from Tampa.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Oreganatta in Orlando, FL

I tried an Italian buffet on International Drive called Oreganatta. They are located in a new building near Wet n' Wild. There was another Italian buffet nearby on International Drive several years ago that was above average. They ended up closing and a CiCi's Pizza took over the space. Perhaps my memory of this long gone buffet gave me hopes for Oreganatta that were slightly too high.
Oreganatta was almost completely empty except for another couple eating there. That's a bad sign for a buffet, but it was still early for the lunch hour so I gave them the benefit of the doubt. I started out by trying their pasta. The pasta was custom made by a cook where you picked out sauce, type of pasta, and a choice of BBQ or spicy chicken. I had penne with pesto and spicy chicken. The pesto was okay. The chicken had a weird, slimy consistency and I didn't eat most of the meat. The option to add vegetables into the pasta as well would have been a big improvement.
I tried some of Oreganatta's salads next. I had some Caesar salad, pasta salad, and a chickpea salad. No complaints here. The salads were the best tasting food I found on the buffet.
The pizza was similar to what could be found at CiCi's, only without the big selection of pies. It was cheap conveyor belt pizza. There was a cheese and pepperoni pie on the buffet table. One of the employees offered to make another with my choice of toppings, but I passed.
They had lots of mini dessert cups on the buffet as well. I tried some sort of chocolate dessert, rice pudding, and a custard. I liked the rice pudding the best, but the desserts were mostly forgettable.
I don't think I'd return to Oreganatta any time soon. I was not impressed overall. The salad was okay. The pasta bar has room for improvement, and CiCi's would be a better option for the pizza, just based on ready made buffet selection (and I wouldn't recommend CiCi's). I personally don't see Oreganatta surviving long...

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Friday, June 5, 2015

National Doughnut Day

Today is National Doughnut Day. That means you get doughnut deals at the various doughnut chains today. Krispy Kreme seems to be doing the best National Doughnut Day offer where you get your choice of a free doughnut. I went to Krispy Kreme near Millenia and got a Lemon Kreme Cake Doughnut. They describe it as a lemon flavored cake doughnut with a rosette of lemon-infused Kreme filling in the center, topped with cake crumbles and powdered sugar.
You can also get your free doughnuts from Dunkin Donuts. You still get a free donut, but you need to buy a beverage. Not nearly as good of a doughnut deal, but Dunkin Donuts are much more prevalent in Central Florida compared to Krispy Kremes.


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

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