Saturday, August 16, 2014

Sanford's Best

A few months ago, i was hanging out in my friend Tommy's studio at Gallery on First in Sanford during the 4th Friday of the month Sanford Art Walk. Some folks came into the gallery to film. Their project is for the River of Lakes Heritage Corridor, and they are filming in various locations all along the St. Johns River and that area.  Well, we got to talking about food and they asked me about food in the Sanford area, something I am very passionate about, and so I told them what I thought. I guess they liked what I had to say enough that they asked me to say it on camera, which I did. This is the result: http://riveroflakesheritagecorridor.org/things-to-do/photo-video-galleries/leon-konieczny-sanford-food-critic/. Yes, I've been renamed a bit, but the name does fit. Sanford has some great local restaurants and I highly recommend you visit us there some time. Enjoy! 

Saturday, March 15, 2014

LongHorn Steakhouse

A new LongHorn Steakhouse opened recently in Sanford, and so we were anxious to give it a try. I've generally had a good, consistent experience at the Lake Mary location, and this new location boasts being a "new concept" in decor. Indeed, it is very nice inside with lots of brick and wood in dark tones, very warm. But we were there for the food.

We arrived on a Friday night and quickly put in our name for a table. We were told it'd be a 25 minute wait but it was less than that, probably just under 20 minutes, before we were seated. We started off with a drink order and then studied the menu. We decided to begin with the Wild West Shrimp, crispy hand-battered shrimp that were fried and served with some spicy peppers (I counted pickled cherry, banana/pepperocini, and jalapeno) and ranch dressing. It as pretty good. The shrimp were cooked well, not rubbery. They were just a bit on the greasy side, though, and as we ate them, the oil left behind on the serving dish was apparent. Still, they were mighty good and we polished them off. One minor point about the ranch dressing container: it looks messy!  Why didn't then clean that up a bit before serving it. Attention to detail is needed.


We both had salads and they were pretty good. I had a house salad and thankfully ordered the raspberry vinaigrette on the side. It was not the most appealing salad i've ever eaten, visually, because it seemed to me the lettuce, tomato, and cucumber were all sort of tossed together with the requisite single onion ring and a few croutons and a few bits of cheese thrown on top. But, that said, it was a very tasty salad, and the raspberry vinaigrette was very nice.


Tommy ordered the house salad with Blue Cheese Dressing. Now, he likes Blue Cheese dressing, but to me it seemed a bit overdressed. But he liked it so that's all that matters. 


For his entree, Tommy had the Chop Steak, a grilled ground filet smothered with grilled mushrooms in a red wine reduction and topped with onion straws. He ordered it medium but in reality it came out between medium well and well done, maybe closer to well done. It was flavorful, but you can see very little "juice" on the plate, because it was not that juicy, a victim of a bit of overcooking. He had it with a loaded baked potato that was just that.


For my main course, I chose the Blackened Salmon & Cheddar Grits from the "Chef's Showcase" menu. It was a 10 oz. portion of hand-cut Atlantic salmon that was blackened and seared to perfection, served on a bed of creamy cheddar grits and topped with a citrus butter sauce. First of all, it was indeed seared to perfection. I cannot recall ever having a piece of salmon that was this perfectly cooked. A few degrees less and it would have been a bit raw, but this was not. As a result, the fish was tender, flavorful and delicious. Now, as for the "blackened" part--well, I did not really get that. "Blackened" should at least have some bit of good heat. I could see it, but not really taste it. The grits were good but they lacked something. Maybe it was the citrus butter sauce because i was left thinking that the dish needed a bit more acid--I did not get that in the "citrus" part of the butter sauce. I had the green beans as a side and they were nice and delicious, crisp and flavorful. Overall, I liked my dish. It was indeed good. I do, however, think that it needed just a few more tweak in order to be great, not just good. 

Overall, we had a generally good experience here. The wait was not long, the waiting areas, inside and out, were comfy and not crowded. The service was decent and the food was fair. Not outstanding, but good. I guess that I eat in too many local places where food is not an assembly line, and so I often find chains a bit lacking--they have the corporate recipes and formularies and stick to them, whereas a local place can taste, season, and adjust better. Still, would I go back to LongHorn? Yes, I would. But they have a lot of competition out there!
LongHorn Steakhouse on Urbanspoon

Celery Ball Cakes

On Saturday March 8th, 2014 Creative Sanford hosted their 6th annual Celery Ball at a gorgeous hangar at the Southeast Ramp of the Sanford Orlando International Airport. About 300 people enjoyed the "Great Gatsby" theme in a wonderful setting surrounded by old cars, airplanes and airplane memorabilia, and great music and dancing--not to mention the wonderful food. But one of the highlights of the evening was the cakes!  Yes--cake. 
Creative Sanford is the umbrella organization that sponsors Celery Soup, Florida's Folk Play. If you've never seen a Celery Soup production, you don't know what you're missing. The Celery Ball is an annual fundraiser and has many, many contributors to the effort, people and groups who contribute, time, money, and materials. 
So what does this have to do about a food blog--and about cakes? Well, one of the most delicious culinary treats at the Celery Ball was the cake table. All the cakes were hand made and decorated by Patty Mahany, who is also a Sanford City Commissioner. She made, decorated, and served up well over three dozen delicious cakes in at least sever different flavors. I admit to having sampled several, including the Red Velvet, Kahlua, Amaretto, and Lemoncello. All were tender, moist, flavorful and delicious. No one left the ball without getting their fill of cakes. 
And so, first of all, hats off to Patty for all her hard work and the donation of her time and materials and talent--both culinary and artistic. Hats off to not only the culinary masterpieces she created, but also for the decorating job she did with real flowers. These were just as wonderful to eat as they look. Enjoy, and let your mouth water!






 And last but not least, a view of the presentation. Patty and all the rest did a wonderful job. Yumm!
And, in case you missed it but are curious about all the fun, check out their Facebook page and some of the photos there. And while you're there, click "like" and consider joining us for some of the fun next year. It's a great cause and a lot of fun!

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Red Robin Gourmet Burgers

Red Robin Gourmet Burgers in Sanford (near the Seminole Town Center Mall) opens on March 3rd, 2014. I was fortunate to be a part of a test run for them a few days prior to their opening. It was a good experience, and I'm sure I'll return during regular business hours.

We were part of a "reserved/invite-only" pre-opening event, and as such we were able to order limited free food from their menu (entrees, burgers, etc., but no appetizers). We did have to pay for our wine, but other drinks, including a milkshake, were also gratis. We had a great experience here, beginning with our waitress. We later learned that she had worked for another Red Robin in the past and it showed, she sure knew here stuff.

I ordered a signature burger, the Smoke & Pepper. It was a 1/2-pound Angus Beef patty with black-pepper bacon, and extra sharp cheddar cheese on a toasted ciabatta bun. It was served with a smoke and pepper ketchup on the side. When I asked for medium-rare I was informed that they only cook them to a medium-well, just a bit of pink in the center. Though a bit disappointed at that, I agreed. And it arrived at a medium-well, though I must admit that it was plenty juicy and tasty and so I was satisfied with that. The burger itself was very good. I only used a bit of the smoke/pepper ketchup on the burger itself, preferring to dip a few fries in it--they were great. The burger was good, a nice bit of pepper taste from the pepper bacon. Underneath the burger itself there were some planks of nice and crispy pickles. They added a nice tang and a nice crunch to the burger and that's what really made it a good burger. The extra-sharp cheddar was a bit lost in it all, but still, it was one of the better burgers I've had. My side was the mac n cheese, and it was all it should be, nice cavatappi that was just a bit al dente--as it should be--and very rich and cheesy. It was a very good burger and I'd order it again.

My friend Tommy had the Guacamole Burger. Besides the obvious guacamole, it had bacon, swiss cheese, mayo, onions, and tomato. It too was a very good burger, nice and juicy. The red onion and lettuce gave it a bit of crunch, and the guac made it very smooth and creamy.  It was a very good burger. For a side he had the bottomless fries. They were good, especially when dipped in my smoke/pepper ketchup. I think they could have been cooked just a bit more, ore maybe it was just the new oil as they were not very browned. But still they were a decent fry with a nice potato flavor.

Tommy also had a Salted Caramel Milkshake which was very good as well.

We had a great experience here. The place was packed yet our waitress (Maria) was prompt and attentive, very friendly, and definitely knew the food. We managed to speak to a manager on the way out and again, were impressed. A good burger is hard to find and we both had good burgers here. I'm sure we'll be back again!
Red Robin Gourmet Burgers on Urbanspoon

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Alive After 5 Chili Cook-off

On the Second Thursday of the month, Sanford hosts Alive After 5 in beautiful, historic, downtown Sanford from 5-8 PM. Every second Thursday of the month, First Street is closed to traffic and lined with various vendors and food samples, as well as artists showing their wares, entertainment, and other fun events. However, the AA5 every January is special--it's time for the annual chili cook-off. Various purveyors, individual and restaurants hand out samples of their chili and the attendees vote for the best. 

This year, it was a popular vote that determined the winner. But no worry, I sampled about half or so of the 25 varieties there--there is only so much chili one can eat. Here's my rundown of what I had and what I thought was the best.

First of all, the best: there were three top contenders and an honorable mention in my book. Any of these were worthy of the top award, but I'll give my choices and reasons:

In First Place: In my humble opinion, the top chili this year was from Shantell's Grill & Oyster Bar, the "3 Sons and 7 Daughters Chili" (yes, that's her family--it does make you wonder where she had time to learn such great cooking skills!).  Why was it the top? Depth of flavor. Shantell's chili had a depth of flavor unlike any others there, I could tell there was layer upon layer. Yes, it was a bit hot, and I liked that. But just by the tiniest nose--and even though it had beans in it--I'd give it top billing. Shantell's restaurant is located just a block or two south of First Street on Sanford Avenue. It's well worth a visit, I just ate there last night!

Second Place: And a very, very close second, was last year's winner, the chili from La Sirena Gorda Cabana (the "Fat Mermaid," as everyone know it), they had their "WhoopAss Chili." By far, this was the most authentic (Texan style) chili. Chuck was cut and slowly roasted, chorizo was also used, the flavor was rich and deep, and the addition of Mexican chocolate (the secret but necessary ingredient for a really rich chili) was use. I was hard put to pick a winner, as it was a very close race. This chili was also on top for me, outstanding. La Sirena Gorda is just off First Street on Palmetto. I ate there last week and was there last night for happy hour. It's really great food and a fun place. You should give it a try as well. 

Third Place: A close third was the chili from Hollerbach's Willow Tree Cafe, "Chicken Scratch Chili." It was unique and unusual in that it also included some root vegetables such as rutabaga, parsnip, and etc. Owner Theo Hollerbach is a constant and star supporter of downtown Sanford, the attend every Alive After 5 and hand out samples each time. I've never found anything they've fed me to be anything less than top notch. The restaurant is located right on First Street, you can't miss it, there's always a bit of a line, and for good reason. I ate there just before the holidays and it was good as always. And, by the way, you owe it to yourself to visit their nearby Magnolia Market, just off First Street on Magnolia Square. You can find lots of authentic German and central European food there. Give them both a try, the restaurant and market. 

Honorable mention #1: Dexter's from Lake Mary put on a very decent showing with their chili, it was very good, assembled and garnished right as you waited. It was also very good and was the people's choice, the winner of the chili cook-off. They, too, had a very Texas-style with the "Texas Smokehouse Beef Brisket Chili." 

Honorable Mention #2: Buck's Catering had a "Turkey Chili" that was surprising because it's use of poultry seasoning and sage reminded me of a turkey and dressing dinner. It was actually pretty good.

Honorable Mention #3 was the chili from Gail Williams Insurance Agency, "White Chili." Her chili was second place in the voting overall. Her's was great in that you could tell that it was made with real, homemade chicken broth--it had that lip-smacking, mouth-feel that only gelatin can give. So it was also very good and I can see why it was so popular. 

Honorable Mention #4 has to go to Angel's Soul Food & BBQ, "Kickin' Lickin Chili." I would be remiss if I did not mention their chili. It was unusual and "outside the box." While a lot of the other chilis had beans in them, Angel's was unique because they used lentils! Yep, lentils. The chili was served over some rice and with a nice, crisp cracker that was extra-tasty. It really was a delight. Angel's is located just around the corner, a few steps south of First Street on Sanford Avenue. There is a reason they are so highly rated on urbanspoon.com--they do Soul Food and BBQ right. I've eaten there in the past and will again, and they, too are a great supporter of Sanford events, including AA5. You owe it to yourself to give them a try sometime. It may look like a dive inside, but the food is awesome!

People's Choice Third Place was from Dreams & Destinations Travel, their "Chili Chili Bang Bang." I'm sorry to say I did not sample their chili, but apparently it was pretty good to come in third among 25 entries. Good job!  

Also rans and misses:  There were a number of other chili offerings that I sampled as well, but those listed above were the best. Some of the others were OK. Some tasted like a can of tomatoes with ground beef. One of them had a burnt taste (you know who you are), and a few of them were cold. I was sorry that I could not sample all of them. I tried to hit the restaurants and local businesses first, and those who are frequent supporters of AA5 and other Sanford events. I congratulate all who turned out on a somewhat dreary evening to provide a lot of fun and good eats to all who were. there. It was another awesome time. A lot of people put a lot of hard work into their chili. Some spent days on it, and you could taste that depth of flavor. Some were more afterthoughts, but still, it's good that the spent the time (and their own $$) to support Sanford and this great, fun event. Kudos to all the participants for being there.

If you'd like to know more about Alive After 5, I suggest you find them and friend them on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/AliveAfter5

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Carrabba's Italian Grill

A new Carrabba's Italian Grill opened recently in Sanford, near the Seminole Towne Center Mall. We first went there on opening night, because they were donating a portion of their proceeds to the Wayne Densch Performing Arts Center. That was a busy night but we were lucky to snag one of a very few chairs that are right by the kitchen, and we were well entertained (plus had delicious food). We did have a small "hiccup" where our waitress said, "hey, it's still happy hour" but when she brought our drinks said "so sorry, we missed it by just a minute." Well, a manager later and we were square away and so was the waitress--heck it was a learning lesson for her as well. And the food and service were awesome.


Our next visit, and the subject of this blog post, was for my friend Tommy's birthday. We had an excellent experience and meal. We started out with our waiter telling us, "hey you just missed happy hour but i can squeeze you in!" And he did. Now that's what I call great service. I'd like to think our opening night experience helped train their staff a bit. We started off with some wine and had a coupon for a free appetizer, so we tried the Mussels. All I can say is wow. They were wonderful, very buttery with a hint of the tartness of a good white wine and garlic. There had to be a good two dozen of them and we devoured them. As you can see from the picture, we were mostly through them before I was even able to take a picture. Wonderful!


We both decided to start our meals with a cup of their Tomato Basil Soup. It was a good choice. The soup was wonderful. It had the great flavor of roasted tomatoes complimented by a bit of tang from some red wine vinegar, and then a bit of sharpness of parmigiano-reggiano. It was truly outstanding. The finish with the cheese and fresh basil julienne gave it a wonderful aroma. It looked great, smelled great, and, most of all, tasted great! 


For his main course, Tommy ordered a steak, the Filet Fiorentina. It was a nice tenderloin steak cooked on the wood grill, covered with a wonderful mushroom gravy, and accompanied by garlic roasted mashed potatoes. First of all the potatoes were excellent. Little lumps and some red skins all made it very rustic, and the taste was wonderful, smooth, and creamy. The steak was also very good, perfectly cooked, and had a nice aroma from the wood fire. 


For my main course, since I could not make up my mind, I had the Chicken Trio. This was a great combination, smaller portions of three different dishes, the Chicken Bryan, Chicken Marsala, and Chicken Rosa Maria. All somewhat different, yet each absolutely delicious. Mine was accompanied by some fresh green beans which were lightly sauteed but still a bit crisp--just the way I like them. Each of the Chicken dishes was wonderful in its own regard and I'd be hard-pressed to chose a favorite. I guess that's the reason for the trio, you don't have to choose.

Throughout our dining experience, our waiter was very attentive. The food was excellent. We are both fans of Carabbas and will be back, for sure. I suggest you give them a try as well.
Carrabba's Italian Grill on Urbanspoon

K Burgers Food Truck

We were at a recent First Wednesday Wine-Art event in downtown Lake Mary. One of the food trucks there was K Burgers Food Truck and so i decided to give them a try. They sure make a decent, delicious sandwich. I had the Black Russian Special.  It was thinly sliced pastrami served on black russian rye bread. The pastrami was piled high, topped with a chipotle slaw and swiss cheese, and then grilled to perfection. It was served with some homemade pickles on the side. And "how was it" you may ask? It was absolutely delicious. The presentation (inside a waxed carry-out box) was pretty good as well. The black russian rye was hearty and delicious, all that a good black russian rye should be. The pastrami was excellent, and the crunch of the coleslaw added great texture, along with the creaminess of the swiss cheese. Would I order it again? Yes, in a heartbeat!
K Burgers Food Truck on Urbanspoon

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Jimmy Hula's

We heard that there was a new restaurant that had just opened in Lake Mary, a chain, and so we decided to give Jimmy Hula's a try shortly before Christmas. I am always a bit wary of visiting a new place until they've had some "burn in" time, time to get things in order and smoothed out. This visit proved me right. The actual food itself was quite good, only the timing suffered a bit. Let me explain.

We walked in and were a bit confused about what to do, but the person at the counter was helpful and we soon had a menu in hand.  You order at the counter, then you get a number and they bring the food out to you. We placed our order and took a seat. It's a nice place and newly remodelled. Originally the site of our then-favorite Italian Restaurant, that had changed hands and went downhill. So Jimmy Hula's took over the space and gave it an extensive remodel. It feels a bit "Jimmy Buffet" and  bit "Key West." With garage doors that open it to the outside, i can imagine it'll be a great place to hang out when the weather improves a bit. Anyway, we placed our order and found a place to sit.


It was not a long wait before my burger came out. I ordered the Hulu's Burger, swiss cheese, bacon, BBQ sauce, and ceasar salad. It was quite good, actually. Yes, a bit on the messy side, but a decent burger. They did not ask me how i wanted it cooked and it came out medium well. I'd prefer closer to medium or medium rare, but it was decent. Well, now I had my burger, but my friend Tommy did not yet have his food. In a few minutes (maybe one or two) when someone came to check on us, we asked about it, they said they'd check. In another minute or two, someone else asked how it was and we again asked about Tommy's meal--they said they'd check. Now someone did come back and tell us they had a problem in the kitchen, then came back again and said they were remaking the order, and apologized for the wait.

Eventually the food did arrive, along with their apologies. Though we were just happy to have the food, the waitress was insistent that they'd refund the cost of it. I was glad they offered but was willing to pay for what we got, but she was insistent, so they did take it off the bill plus made the tacos.


Now, a word about the food: Tommy had two fish tacos, each different, and each good. They were pretty decent fish tacos. The fish was fresh, the salsa (especially the mango salsa) very good, and all the ingredients fresh. They were good and I'd order them again, for sure. They were accompanied by some chips which seemed a bit out of place, but so it goes.

Later on, as we were nearing the end of our meal, a manager came out and brought us a complimentary dessert and again apologize for the mix up and delay with our order. I was quite pleased with the customer service. Yes, it's a new place and you can expect some issues while they work out the kinks. I thought the food was good and decent and that they really outdid themselves in trying to make their mistake right. I will return, I'm sure. It looks like a fun place and a nice addition to the Lake Mary food scene.
Jimmy Hula's on Urbanspoon

Shantell's Cafe & Oyster Bar

We have known Shantell Williams, the genius behind her restaurant, 
Shantell's Cafe & Oyster Bar, for a while now. I first met her and her delicious food at Sanford's Alive After 5, where she'd often set up, hand out samples, and promote her catering business. Later we got to know her and Eric as the did karaoke at La Sirena Gorda Cantina, a favorite hangout of ours. And eventually, she took over that restaurant on Mondays, providing a buffet of great caribbean food. So it was with great joy that we heard she was opening a restaurant next to Fat Rats, a local watering hole. 


Since She's opened we've eaten there a few times. Above you can see a picture of the huge, 1 pound burger. Yes, it is huge. We've only had it once. Personally, I wish it was smaller, but then i can imagine that at two in the morning it looks awful good to someone who's been drinking all night. I was surprised by the first thing I ordered, the fish n chips, at left. The cornmeal based breading on the tilapia was excellent, and they were cooked perfectly. The only improvement I'd like to see is to use catfish, then this dish would be a home run. As it was, it was wonderful.


On another visit I had the Philly CheeseSteak (sans green peppers). I watched as Shantell herself prepared this and it was masterful. It was a very good cheesesteak and I'd order it again. The portion of fries, as with all the portions there, was more than generous. I could not eat them all, but managed to clean up every speck of the cheesesteak--it was that good.


Tommy has enjoyed the Jerk Chicken Ceasar Salad on more than one visit there, and rightly so. The jerk chicken is to die for, and a hallmark of Shantell's caribbean cuisine--she sure knows now to cook. I've also had a bit of her stewed cabbage--OMG, it was wonderful, i did not know you could make cabbage taste like that--like "not cabbage." I've even learned a few tricks from here, like when to pick my collards.

We've been to Shantell's a number of times now, and will certainly be back time and time again. The food is fantastic, the atmosphere wonderful, and all the employees are very helpful and pleasant. It's more like eating out with family than eating at a restaurant--that's how they treat you. We'll be back again and again until they get a restraining order!
Shantell's Cafe & Oyster Bar on Urbanspoon 

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Celery Soup: Remade Not Bought

"Remade Not Bought" is the title of this year's presentation of stories of Sanford and Seminole County by the local Celery Soup players. These are tales of life in years gone buy as recorded for posterity, gathered from some of Sanford and Seminole County's oldest and most distinguished residents. Tales of life long ago.

This year's performances are are held at the Princess Theater in historic downtown Sanford (115 W. 1st. St., Sanford, FL 32771; 321-578-1463):

  • October 18th -- November 3rd
  • Friday and Saturday -- 7:30 PM
  • Sunday --  2:00 PM
  • Doors open 30 minutes before performance
Opening Night Cocktail Party

This year, the Friday Night October 18th opening night performance will be preceded by a cocktail party for all ticket holders at 6 PM at Gallery on First, two blocks west of the theater. At 7 PM, Jeanine Taylor, the founder of Celery Soup, will lead all invited guest into the theater through the backstage entrance.


  Wine will be provided by local resident artist Tom Abbott, and yours truly, the Lake Mary Food Critic is providing celery appetizers. Here is what I am preparing and links to the original recipes. Note that, as a lover of food, I have taken these recipes as a "guide" only and have taken some liberties with proportions and ingredients. But I hope you find them all to be good eats!

Celery Soda

Wasabi Celery Root Slaw


Chilled Cream of Celery Soup


Olive Stuffed Celery


Cheddar Cheese Stuffed Celery


Blue Cheese and Pecan Stuffed Celery


Peanut Butter Stuffed Celery

  1. Recipe by Taste of Home
  2. http://www.tasteofhome.com/recipes/peanut-butter-stuffed-celery

Bacon and Horseradish Stuffed Celery


Check back after the event for some pictures! And if you stop in, make sure to introduce yourself to me, the Lake Mary Food Critic!

Sunday, October 13, 2013

The Port Steak & Seafood

I am hesitant to visit a new restaurant too soon after they've opened, but my recent visit to The Port Steak & Seafood in Sanford proved my fears groundless--I had an excellent meal there. They have only been open a week in a beautiful space right on Lake Monroe, but also the site of (at least) two previous restaurants that did not survive. I am hopeful that this one will, as Sanford needs (and deserves) a good steak and seafood place. 

It was a gorgeous October night with mild temperatures, and we walked to The Port from downtown Sanford. We were promptly greeted by a very attentive young man who, as I noticed during the course of the evening, not only acted as the host but fulfilled a number of other duties such as refilling drinks, checking on guests, and running food. To me this is the indication of a well trained staff, and experienced member, or both. He was quite young so I think the training is the answer!  


After a short wait our waitress, Jennifer, appeared. We ordered some Iced Tea and the Smoked Fish Dip Appetizer. Now, if first impressions mean anything, this was not that great. Wrapped Salines! Ugh! You know, it does not take much to go to Sam's Club or Aldi's (which are not that far away) and get some nice fancy crackers and arrange them on a plate. I think wrapped saltines like these are really deserving of a diner or a dive, not a nice restaurant. However.... the fish dip was really very nice and we enjoyed it. And after all, the appetizer was called a "smoked fish dip" and not "crackers with some stuff on them." So it was all about the fish dip, and that was good. But, if you're listening, Port, get some real crackers, please! 


For my entree I ordered the Fried Shrimp. For sides I chose the coleslaw, and Grits. Now, I certainly know my shrimp. I'm always hesitant to order fried shrimp, which I truly love, because I am usually disappointed by thick breading and overcooked shrimp. Well, i am happy to report the my shrimp were simply outstanding, among the best I have ever, EVER had!  Yes, they were that good. There were about 10 large shrimp, butterflied. They had a very light batter coating and when fried were light and delicious without any greasiness. And they were cooked absolutely perfectly. To perfection. I was very impressed. My coleslaw as OK, just ordinary I'd say. But the grits were also very good. So many places just throw some grits in milk and water, add salt, and cook them. These were very good, with a hint of onion and maybe something else, very mysterious, very good. I was more than satisfied with my meal. Best shrimp I've had in many, many years, actually. I'll be back!


My friend Tommy ordered the Coconut Chicken. Unfortunately, we had a bit of a misstep here, as the waitress (perhaps on the heels of my shrimp order) thought he ordered coconut shrimp. However, she was very apologetic and maybe five minutes later produced the ordered dish. It was also very good. The chicken was very moist and tender. Neither of us were big fans of the honey mustard that came with it, but both the shrimp sauce and the tartar sauce were much better with it, we thought. It was served with a baked sweet potato (with a side of brown sugar) and some fresh sauteed veggies. They were both very good, as well. But the chicken was the true star of this dish, and it was very good.

A bit later a manager stopped by to apologize for the misstep as well, and to check on us, an nice touch as well.

The Port is on a beautiful site. We ate outside, right along Lake Monroe which is really just a very wide spot on the St. John's river. It really was a very enjoyable evening and we hope to return again soon. Now that I've gotten the seafood part of their menu out of the way, i want to try the steak part, and maybe some of the sandwiches. The menu is very nice and very appealing. I'm sure we'll be back again soon. And you know that I'll give you my honest opinion, good or bad, about their food, service and value. But as of my first visit, and considering that they've been open less than a week, I am very impressed and very hopeful.
The Port Steak & Seafood on Urbanspoon

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Ravalia's Fresh Pasta & Italian Grill

We ate at Ravalia's Fresh Pasta & Italian Grill last night, and I'm sure glad we did--the food was excellent, way beyond expectation. I was excited to learn that there was a new Italian place in town, and even more excited when I saw a few of the other "thumbs up" reviews on Urbanspoon.com. I am now one of them and a big fan, I'll definitely be back.

We arrived on a Friday night to see what appeared to be a lot of cars in the area and a steady stream of people heading for the door. We were promptly greeted and told it would be a do-able 20 minute wait, unless we wanted to sit at the counter overlooking the kitchen. You bet! Score!  I love watching a well-run kitchen at work, and that certainly was the case here. We saw then put out dish after dish for fresh made food and everything we saw looked amazing, from the pizza and calazones to the pasta dishes and even the sauce. 


Our waitress, Jen, promptly provided a wine menu and took our drink order while we perused the menu. Meanwhile a plate of bread magically appeared. It was excellent.  We had olive oil and balsamic vinegar and a small dish for them and heartily dug in. The bread was great. And, by the way, the wine pour was a decent pour and good wine to boot.


For his main course, Tommy had the Chicken Parmesan, and it was absolutely delicious. The chicken itself was quite tender, the parmesan flavor was good and the mozzarella nice and gooey. It was served with rigatoni that was quite al dente and a tomato sauce that was really excellent. The tomato sauce was very bright and flavorful, not too sweet, with a hint of acid (maybe red wine vinegar) that really brightened the flavor. I could probably drink it by the glass-full--it was that good. My only thought is that the rigatoni could have been cooked just a slight bit more, but they were still good.

I chose the Tortellacci with Crimini Mushroom Cream Sauce. The flavor was outstanding. Tortellacci are large tortelloni which are in turn large tortellini. They were stuffe with sausage and were a very nice size, maybe 8-12 of them. The crimini mushroom cream sauce, while perhaps not the prettiest think on the plate, was an absolute delight to taste and eat. It had a nice, delicate mushroom flavor that did not overpower the sausage-stuffed tortellacci, which were themselves very good. The fresh pasta was evident, it was nice and tender as well.

We had great service during our meal and a wonderful time watching the kitchen at work. The place is not very big, but sure was doing a nice business. the host (maybe the owner) was certainly evident and ensured the front of the house was moving smoothly. The head chef was definitely in control of the two other chefs in the kitchen. I was impressed overall by the smooth operation.

One comment is that their web site, http://www.ravalias.com/, at the current time, only contains information and the menu from their original restaurant, in Casselberry. It needs a bit of updating as the Lake Mary menu is a bit different. But other than that, I cannot wait to return. Since my favorite Italian Restaurant in Lake Mary changed hands and then closed, I've been missing a place like Ravalia's. I'll definitely be back. I suggest you give it a try and let me know what you think!

Ravalia's Fresh Pasta & Italian Grill on Urbanspoon

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Taste of Sanford 2013

We went to Taste of Sanford the other night and once again got stuffed. It was a nice affair, fairly busy though not packed. So without further ado, I'll tell you about the food I had, the good, the bad, and the ugly. 

First off, the good.  My favorite "bite" of the evening was from Carrabba's Italian Grill, which recently opened a Sanford location. Without a doubt, they had the best bite: two goat-cheese stuffed ravioli with an alfredo and sun-dried tomato sauce, and some grilled chicken marsala. The depth of flavor of the mushrooms and the marsala was very, very good. It was by far the best thing I put in my mouth that night. Nice job, Carrabba's, and welcome to Sanford!

Also good:

  • The Meatball sub from Firehouse subs. It really was wonderful and the meatball itself was very good.
  • Debary Plantation had a nice bite as well, but at the moment, my memory is failing me. What was it? I remember it being good, however. 
  • Mr Fed's catering from Orlando had some awesome brisket, and his home-made BBQ sauce really rocked!
  • Chianti's had a decent sausage marinara with ziti, but the garlic knots really stole the show.
A few places came in "middle of the road" in my estimation:
  • The Breezeway had it's signature pork sandwich--thankfully a much scaled down version. It's really a good sandwich, i must admit.
  • Corner Cafe had a repeat of last year, and the year before, and the year before.... bacon wrapped figs and celery soup. Good stuff, but what else do you have there? 
  • Dockside bar and grill made me want to visit again. 
And a few places really were disappointing:
  • Colonial Room had a chicken and dumplings with a dumpling that was so dense it could have stopped a bullet.
  • Buck's had an apple stuffed chicken breast. The stuffing was tasty but a bit watery, and the chicken was pretty tough, unfortunately.
I must also mention best coffee:
  • Caffe Di Riverwalk. This is an excellent coffee and sandwich shop in Sanford, a real "mom and pop" place where you'll get the best service and food--I was glad to see them there.
And a new kid on the block, the soon to open "The Port Steak & Seafood."  They were quite impressive in that one of their offerings was Oysters on the half shell--the real deal. They were shucking them right there. Though I am not an oyster fan, i heard lots of great comments. This place will open in about two weeks right on the marina in Sanford. They have a location in Haines City which has an 87% "like" on Urbanspoon.com, quite a good rating. I will look forward to visiting once they're opened, the menu looks great and I wish them all the best.

There were lots of great desserts as well, but I did not partake. Some of them looked fantastic and I heard lots of great comments. 

I was a bit disappointed that there were not more local Sanford restaurants there--after all it is called "Taste of Sanford." Specifically, I noticed that the three restaurants voted the "best of Sanford" in the recent issue of Seminole Magazine (and the best Middle Eastern) were not there:

  • Hollerbach's Willow Tree Cafe
  • Marco Dino's Ristorante
  • La Sirena Gorda Cabana
  • Tony's Deli
As a matter of fact, outside of Caffe di Riverwalk and The Vineyard Wine Company, none of the restaurants voted in the "Best of Seminole" were in attendance. I know it can be expensive for a small business to undertake such an effort, but I think the Chamber of Commerce should do more to foster and encourage local places to participate in some way. They can have a caterer from way down in south Orlando, but not a few local places just down the block? What's with that? 

All in all we had a great time and had some great food--and some just OK. But it was a great event and I plan on attending next year again, it's well worth it. I hope to see more local Sanford participation in the future, too. Get a move on that, Chamber of Commerce!

Friday, May 31, 2013

Żubrów-B-Q Sauce

The other day, I made a unique barbecue sauce with a Polish twist. I took a favorite vodka BBQ sauce recipe of mine, but substituted my favorite flavored Polish vodka: Żubrów-B-Q Sauce, made with Żubrówka Vodka (It's pronounced Zhu-BRUFF-ka). Żubrówka  is also called "Bison Grass" vodka because it gets it's flavor from a grass that grows in Poland called "Bison Grass," a favorite food of Polish (European) Bison, a cousin to American Bison (or buffalo). Żubr is the Polish word for Bison. Hopefully it all makes sense to you.

But, with a play on the spiciness of American Buffalo wings, I've made this spicy BBQ sauce and christened it, Żubrów-B-Q Sauce. Here's the recipe:


  • 1/2 cup Żubrówka (Polish Vodka--accept no imitations!)
  • 1 Pint (16 oz) Ketchup (I prefer Hunts with no HFCS)
  • 2/3 Tbsp. freshly roasted and ground Cumin
  • 1 tsp. Garlic Powder
  • 1/2 Tbsp. Chili Powder (the hotter the better, I believe)
  • 1/2 Tbsp. Cayenne Pepper
  • 2 Tbsp. sugar
  • 1 Tbsp. Kosher salt
  • Juice of 1/2 fresh lemon
Combine all ingredients in a saucepan, bring to a simmer, and let simmer 20+ minutes to meld the flavors. Cool and server. Keeps several months in the fridge--if you can get it to last that long. Recipe is easily doubled. 

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Pine 22

On a recent Thursday evening, we popped in at Pine 22 for a quick bite and were not at all disappointed. It's a neat concept--build your own burger (or BBQ, or chicken, or...well, you get the idea). Add some fries or another side or two and and voila, a meal. I was there with Tommy and our friend Bill as we were attending an art show opening at City Arts Factory right across the street. The place was busy but not crowded. Oh, and they server beer and wine, too--and not just any beer, but with a selection of craft beers. Yumm.


Our food was very good. The pulled pork was tender and juicy with a lot of flavor. The burger was juicy as well. All of their food is organic, grass fed, yada-yada if you're into that sort of thing, though at the very end, I don't think the pig, cow, or chicken really cares because it is...well...the end for them. But what ends up on your plate is certainly delicious. Next time we're at City Arts Factory, you know where we're gonna head for a quick bite to eat as well as a tasty beer! 
Pine 22 on Urbanspoon

Saturday, April 20, 2013

CD's Mellons Bar and Grill

We decided to give the newly opened CD's Mellons Bar and Grill a try recently, and I'm glad we did. Good food was our quest, and we found it. We arrived around 6:30 or 7 on a Friday night. They were not very busy and most of the business seemed to be around the bar. As we sat there, I noticed a number of to-go orders going out though, and several patrons eating at the bar.


We were quickly greeted by our waitress, Jacqueline. She was fast, friendly and knew about the items on the menu and knew how they tasted, what was in them, etc. Very impressive. We started out with a glass of wine, a decent pour at a decent price. For an appetizer we ordered the Hand Breaded Fried Mushrooms. They came out fresh and very hot, with a nice horseradish dipping sauce. They were very good. The breading was not thick and overpowering, and they were not at all greasy. The mushrooms were large and very tasty. I'd order them again.


For his sandwich, Tommy had the Bacon Cheeseburger with cheddar cheese. OMG. It was piled high with topings like lettuce, tomato, and onion. It was a delicious sandwich. Now, though he ordered it medium, in truth it was more like well done. fortunately, all the toppings helped it to stay moist and juicy and it was a very tasty sandwich. The cheddar cheese really stood out as well. The accompanying fries were excellent. The appeared to be hand cut, with the skins on, and were perfectly cooked and seasoned. Again, not overly greasy as well, a sign that they were cooked at a proper temperature. I had a bite of the burger and more than a few fries and agree, it was all darned tasty.


For my sandwich I had the CD's Mellons Signature Buffalo Chicken Sandwich. Wow, it was very good. The chicken was fried and moist and tender. The blue cheese was some sort of blue chees croquette, almost like a slice of cheese. The taste of the sandwich was great, it had a nice hot buffalo sauce taste, the chicken was tender, and the taste of the blue cheese added to the experience. My only complaint is not really a complaint, but it was messy. I went through a number of napkins eating this sandwich and as it got to the very end, it just sort of fell apart. But that's OK, I was full. Fortunately our waitress knew what the sandwich was like and provided wet wipes....she knew I'd need them, and I did. But it was a very good sandwich. I ordered Onion Rings to accompany mine, and they were about the tastiest onion rings I've had in a long, long time. Thick slices of sweet onions were breaded in a tempura-like batter that was nicely seasoned. Then when servers, a dusting of Parmesan cheese over them put these over the top. They were delicious.

I really have no major complaints. We had a great meal and a great experience. At the end of the meal the bartender came out and asked me to sample a bit of a new wine, which I did wholeheartedly, a tier 2 cabernet. It was good. As we got to talking, eventually one of the owners joined us. We had a nice conversation. CD's Mellons Bar and Grill is a sports bar. It seems to me it's be a great place for a bite to eat late in the evening, or for a quick lunch during the week. They are a new place and I wish them well. I think I'll be back, for sure. I want another helping of the O-rings and there are a few other things on the menu I want to try!
CD's Mellons Bar and Grill on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Habaneros Mexican Grill

We went to Habaneros Mexican Grill in Sanford (Seminole Town Center Mall) recently for dinner and were hopeful for a good experience. Unfortunately, it was not to be. Mediocre (at best) food, spotty service, and a lackluster atmosphere left me longing for some good Mexican food. I doubt that I'll return. 
It's not that the food was bad--it just was not real good. We started with some chips and salsa. Tomato sauce out of a can was about the taste and consistency of the salsa. Not at all inspiring.


For Tommy's main dish he had the Chicken Fajitas. They were OK. Not bad, Just not spectacular.
For my dinner I had the Enchiladas, one each of cheese, beef, ground beef, and chicken. They were OK, but again, nothing special. 

For a go-with, there were refried beans. Again, nothing special, could have been (and probably were) dumped from a can and heated. Not at all special.
Habaneros Mexican Grill on Urbanspoon
Sorry, but I don't think I'll be back. There is much better Mexican food in Sanford, and it's not to be found here. But, feel free to see for yourself. Just remember, I told you so!