Archive for July, 2012

July 22, 2012

My mind always flutters away from my daily activities and proceeds to think about food. Specifically, where can I experience the best this world has to offer?

Books and websites may be able to help my dilemma, but I prefer to rely on first-hand accounts from people I know and trust. So I posed three important questions to a group of volunteers who seem to feel either excited, dejected or perturbed when I asked them for their help. But I appreciate the responses I received. Questions two and three will be posted at a later date.

Question No. 1 – What is the best eatery in Orlando?

I knew what the majority answer would be, and that rests in the name of 4Rivers Smokehouse. But only four people put it at the top, although many still said it was one of their favorites. I personally cannot answer 4Rivers yet since I have only frequented this establishment once, and my minimum number of visits before placing it in my top five is two (good gosh were those ribs amazing).

I was surprised at the mix of answers, but here are the results (it continues to be updated):

4Rivers – 4

Lazy Moon – 2

Graffiti Junktion – 2

Shula’s Steak House – 1

Mellow Mushroom – 1

Chick-Fil-A – 1

Chipotle – 1

Tibby’s New Orleans Kitchen – 1

Bahama Breeze – 1

Huey Magoo’s – 1

Tijuana Flats – 1

The Ravenous Pig – 1

Greens & Grille – 1

Bonefish Grill – 1

Mark’s Caribbean Cuisine – 1

Houston’s – 1

Townhouse – 1

Some the best descriptions provided in these answers (descriptions were not required, but certainly welcomed):

– Shula’s Steak House at Dolphin Hotel – finished the famed 48-oz steak. – MD

– Lately (in the last year or so) I’ve become a big fan of Tibby’s New Orleans Kitchen.  Pretty darned good authentic food. The ambience is pretty cool, too. I also love to go for oysters at a place called “The Thirsty Gator” on Goldenrod south of University.  It’s a dive bar that has great big Galveston Oysters and a pretty good burger. – JK

– I cannot give ONE favorite in Orlando so I will have to list The Ravenous Pig, Pine22, Luma on Park Ave., 4Rivers BBQ, Cecil’s BBQ and Amura Sushi. I’ll stop there. – SN

– There was a place called Houston’s on Orlando Ave in Winter Park that was pretty impressive. Lots of flavor in their dishes. It’s called Hillstone now, but I have not tried it since the name changed. I also frequent Royal Thai on Semoran or Wasabi in Winter Park when I’m not eating garbage bar food while watching sports on big-screen televisions. Orlando Alehouse, anyone? – JC

– I would have to go with the Townhouse in Oviedo cause I break for Chickens. – JH

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Original Bacon Double Cheeseburger from A&W Restaurant – Standish, Mich.

June 10, 2012

Smothered Chicken from Wheeler’s Restaurant – Standish, Mich.

June 15, 2012

Just when you think you are driving to the middle of nowhere, a small town pops up and serves up some exquisite food. This always occurs when I head up through the rustic countryside of Northern Michigan, and especially the uneventful town of Standish situated by the Saginaw Bay. I am not quite sure if there is anything that makes Standish famous, with the exception that it was one of the final towns considered to house inmates from Guantanamo Bay. It really does have a unique flair.

During my annual trip this summer, a must on the small list of things to do was frequent the A&W Restaurant. I have been coming to this unique establishment since the 1980s, and each year I discover it never changes. The drive-thru resembles that of a Sonic, while inside, each table has a phone connected to the kitchen and you place your order through that fascinating device.

A first-time visitor needs to acquire the Original Bacon Double Cheeseburger with a tall A&W root beer. It honestly does not differ from any standard bacon cheeseburger, but being in a car for a few hours easily makes the mouth water for virtually anything. And this burger will go down easy with help from simple French fries and a tasty root beer.

After camping for a week, I returned to Standish a few days later and this time tried a new adventure, also known as Wheeler’s Restaurant. An enjoyable staple in the local community for years, Wheeler’s provides a hometown feel and a home-cooked meal. Parking in the back and the entrance in the front, it contains a small bar on the left and a few tables arranged randomly with a salad and soup bar in the middle. The distinctive items were old photos of Wheeler’s and Standish spread out on the walls, along with a weird fireplace-looking thing in the back. And most of the menu items were pretty cheap.

Hungry as hell, I surprisingly took advantage of the free soup and gobbled up some chicken noodle and potato soup. The first indulgence tasted as though the chicken was chopped up that morning – very warm and cuddly. For the main dish, I requested a plate of smothered chicken and a side of fries. When it arrived, I found myself sitting with two chicken breasts covered with bacon and melted cheese. Although the chicken was not the juiciest in the world, my stomach ached with joy when it experienced the unhealthy mix of flavors. For the price, ambiance and service, I loved it.

Wheeler’s proved a point during that trip. And that point is how the best food experiences almost always take place where you least expect them.

Preface – When I read this guest column, my pride for Eric shot through the roof. He embraces what food offers for the body and the soul, and his elegant words capture the fine details of a truly perfect dish. – Brian

Written By: Eric DeSalvo

Sometimes some of the tastiest meals are the ones you make. And sometimes they are the ones you had no intention of whipping up. That’s what happened when I walked into Publix on a rainy Wednesday night after getting a workout in. The best part of my favorite supermarket is all of the deals, mostly BOGOs (buy one, get one), that are put out in front as you walk in. One item in particular caught my eye–Mama Mary’s Flatbread pizza dough with crushed red pepper baked in. Ever since my voyage to Flagstaff, Ariz., where I spent two years, I decided to really turn up the spice in my life when it comes to food. Crushed red pepper became a mainstay in my kitchen and has livened up plenty of great dishes that ended up in my belly.

With my flatbread in hand, I knew I was going to need to jazz it up with some more ingredients. Any good grownup pie these days needs some vegetables. I headed over to the produce section and instantly grabbed a sweet onion and green pepper. But I wanted more. I decided to live life on the edge and purchased an orange bell pepper along with a fresh jalapeno. Adding to this medley of veggies, I heaped on some browned ground turkey, Bertoli olive oil and garlic pasta sauce and pepper jack cheese. If that array of ingredients doesn’t send you over the top, I don’t know what will.

Prep work:

-First I took one of the two flatbreads that came in the package and dabbled on some olive oil to give the crust that little extra flavor.

-I busted out the cutting board and got to work on my veggies, slicing half of each pepper while dicing up the jalapeno by hand as well. I added about 1/4 of an onion to the mix as well. (Side note: use gloves when slicing up a fresh jalapeno. Although you won’t feel it right away, the juice from the pepper will set your hands on fire, so be careful!)

-After slicing and dicing, I put the veggies in a skillet with some olive oil and sautéed them up.

-With the best pasta sauce one could ask for spread across the crust, I sprinkled on the ground turkey and proceeded to load on the freshly sautéed veggies. I topped of this tasty treat with Sargento shredded pepper jack cheese.

-With the oven preheated to 450, I slid the round cookie tray in for nine minutes to let the flavors collide.

Eying the cheese melted perfectly, I took the pie out of the oven and let it sit for a few minutes and cool down. I busted out my biggest knife to slice this bad boy and realized I really need to invest in a pizza cutter, but who cares, I’m cheap. With each slice loaded to the gills with ingredients, I could only devour just half of this flatbread in one sitting. As I took my first bite, I could taste the heat from the jalapenos, the sweet bell peppers and the crushed red pepper and of course the tasty garlic pasta sauce. It was surely my finest pizza creation and my Sicilian ancestors would be very proud!