Saturday, September 10, 2016

Don Julio Mexican Kitchen & Tequila Bar

We had dinner last night at Don Julio Mexican Kitchen & Tequila Bar. I'm glad we got there when we did, because our wait was only a few minutes, but there were a number of people waiting when we left--a testament to the popularity of this place on a Friday evening. 

After our very short wait--only a few minutes--we were seated and quickly given some chips and salsa to start. Our waitress was there in what seemed like seconds to take our drink order. We learned that margarita's were on special for $3 so we opted for those. They were in fact very good, nice and refreshing on a summer evening. They appeared quickly and we were ready to order as well. 

The salsa was a bit of a disappointment. It was not bad, but was also not over-the-top good, either. It seemed to me that perhaps canned tomatoes were used? I could see/taste some onion and cilantro, and it had a bit of heat which I enjoyed. I'd have liked it to have been much chunkier and fresher tasting, that's all. It was just OK. But the "OK" with our meal did stop there, as everything else was very good.

I chose to have the Quesadilla Don Julio, and requested a mix of carnitas and chicken for the filling. I was not disappointed. First of all, presentation is everything, and this was a nice presentation, as you can see. There was a side of yellow rice that was good, and also a side "salad" of lettuce, pico de gallo, sour cream and guacamole that was very fresh and refreshing. I loved the balance that it gave to the savory, gooey, cheesy, meaty quesadillas. The quesadillas were excellent. Both the chicken and the carnitas were way over the top tender and good, and it was a nice and cheesy quesadilla. I loved it and had one piece to take home for another day, along with some rice. 

Tommy had the signature Chimichanga with the shredded beef. And again, presentation is the first impression, and the presentation again was marvelous. Take a look at that picture to the right. The deep-fried chimichanga was uniquely shaped--not a traditional rolled up, burrito-sytle, but was filled and gathered at the top, like a sack of sorts--it really was unique and tasty. The chimichanga was sitting on a pond of queso and salsa. It was accompanied by the same sides I had. The flavor was very, very good as well. This was a good dish and Tommy had some to take home for another day as well. We both agreed, we'd eat here again.

The place when we visited was packed, with people usually waiting a bit for tables. But it was also a bit loud. I think because of the noise level, everyone had to shout to make themselves heard. I'd certainly go back for the food, but would probably try for a quieter time, later at night or a weekday, or perhaps lunch or very early dinner. But again, the food was very good. Hopefully we got their on a "bad salsa" day because the salsa is the first impression. Luckily, great food overcame that. Give it a try, let me know what you think....


Wop's Hops Brewing

Don't let the "brewing" in the name fool you, because a few months back, Wop's Hops Brewing expanded into the space next door and now server some gourmet Italian bar food--and more. Wop's Hops Brewing is Sanford's first (and as of this writing, only) local micro brewery. Wop's Hops Brewing crafts English-style ales and does not use fillers, HFCS, GMOs, or other additives--the brew real beer and that is where they got their start. A popular local place, when the next door restaurant closed, Wop's Hops Brewing took the chance and moved into that space and started serving pub food, but good pub food, along with the beer. We recently gave them a try and did not leave disappointed.

After selecting a beer, I ordered the Chicken Pesto Flatbread. I'd been by before during an outdoor event and saw a few of their flatbreads flying out the door. They looked so good and seemed so popular that I already knew I wanted a flatbread--and I was not disappointed. I was surprised, first of all, by the abundance of chicken, and a nice tender chicken here. Usually flatbreads are a bit lean in the meat department, but this was really loaded. I'd say for my taste, perhaps a bit high on the garlic in the pesto, but it was a great and filling dish--I even had some to take home to enjoy another day. I'd get this again, though there are a few other items on the menu I want to try next time--and I know for certain there will be a next time, soon!

Tommy chose the Meatball Sub, served with a pasta side. The pasta side, first of all, was very good, nice and tasty. He also got a side of "gravy" (tomato sauce) for the sub. Overall the sub was good--the meatballs nice and tender and tasty. I thought it would have been better had some of the sauce been served on the sub itself, but that's a personal preference. There was one misstep here, and that's what I consider a procedural step in the kitchen--the bun was slightly burned when they toasted it. Not terribly, horribly burned, but definitely charred a bit too much, I imagine the cheese burned, so that was just a bit off-putting. Not enough to ruin it or send it back, but it showed a bit of lack of attention to detail--if I were chef, I'd have redone it. Perhaps it was because the chef appeared to have friends in the dining room and spent time with them. But it was a bit of a misstep.

Nonetheless and overall, we enjoyed our meal, and both took some portions home, the food was a healthy, full serving. And of course the beer and cider was also very good. Greg and his staff do a great job, and we felt very well taken care of. We'll be back, for sure. And, by the way, I spied someone having nachos. Not Italian, maybe, but definitely bar food, and they looked way good, too. I'll be back for them sooner rather than later.

Oh, and about being Sanford's first and only micro-brewery so far--well, Sanford Brewing Company is getting set up about a block away and will be opening within a month or two with a full kitchen as well, and a smaller place, Inner Compass Brewing Company, will open sometime in the near future a few blocks away. Along with the downtown Sanford Homebrew Shop which supplies all sorts of brewing needs for beer, wine, cider, cheese, etc., and nearby Celery City Craft which has 51 craft beers and ciders on tap plus hundreds more in bottles and cans (and Celery City is set to expand later this year into a much larger space), Sanford is now truly a craft beer lovers destination. But the granddaddy of them all is Wop's Hops Brewing, they really started it all for those who truly treasure the experience of drinking craft beers and ciders. Come for the beer, stay for the food and fun, you won't be disappointed. They have a great outdoor patio which is fun in the cooler months and evenings, and often have live entertainment as well. You will not be disappointed, I guarantee it!

Dreamy Cakes

I've stopped a Dreamy Cakes several times, and right now I wish I'd taken some photos of their unique interior. It's a very quaint, warm, and inviting place. When you step into Dreamy Cakes, you feel like you've stepped outside an old home that's been converted into a shop/restaurant--you are looking at the exterior of a home they've built inside. It's really worth stopping in just to see it.

We've had their cupcakes a few times, but recently when my husband was working nearby and I had the day off, I stopped by to get lunch for him, to go. First I got the ham and cheese croissant. It was nice and buttery, and we split it, so it was filling. I do wish it'd had a bit more ham (and cheese, since I'm a cheese-a-holic), but it wast tasty. Nothing highly special, but definitely tasty and hit the spot. 

But of course the main draw here is their bakery, and at that they surely excel. Tommy has the sweet tooth in our house, and so I ordered for him a Salted Caramel Chocolate Cupcake. OMG, it was to die for. First, let me apologize for the picture, the top got a bit smushed in the transport. But we've had this and other cupcakes at Dreamy Cakes before, and they really are good--tender, moist, tasty, and above all, highly sugary, topped "mile high" with a light, fluffy frosting. The presentation sure is wonderful, but the tasty very good. 

They have another item on their lunch menu that i want to try, a Walnut Chicken Waldorf salad that I've heard great things about--I'll have to give that a try next time, and I'm sure there'll be a next time. 

So next time you have a sweet tooth, be sure to try Dreamy Cakes, I'm sure they'll satisfy that craving. And lunch is pretty good, too. I think I'd eat in next time, just to enjoy the unique and warm outdoor-indoor feeling.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

La Spada's

I'd heard a lot of good things about La Spada's, so I finally decided to check them out for myself. The sandwich I had was indeed very good, but there were a few missteps along the way, too, so I'm not sure I'll be going back.

First of all the food.... I ordered the Mushroom Cheesesteak, basically a Philly cheesesteak (steak, cheese, onions) with the addition of mushrooms. It was a very good sandwich, very, very good--all that a Philly cheesesteak should be, I'd say. The steak was flavorful, the mushrooms and onions hot and adding a lot of flavor, and the cheese, definitely good, typical American type cheese. The bread it was on was up to the task of holding up to such a good sandwich, too. I ordered the small which the menu said was 8", but for some reason, when i picked it up, it was the 10". Not a big deal, and I managed to eat it all, but not exactly what i ordered. I guess the order taker was not paying good attention....


Tommy had the cheesesteak special, an 8" with fries and a drink. The sandwich was very good, and the fries as well, nice and hot, though the fries were rather ordinary. I'd guess they come frozen in a bag or the like. His came with a drink, and I ordered a drink separate. 

Now, to be honest, both the sandwiches were very, very good. I had no qualms about the quality of the sandwich. But there were a few other issues that I had.

First of all, when we got there, the place is pretty "ordinary" on the outside. Let's just call it tired. The outside could use a bit of care. There's a corner by the door that just looks neglected. It could use a plant or two, something to say "we care about the looks of this place. Secondly, the interior is a bit dated. The "wallpaper" is peeling in places, it could use some attention. A few carpets or rugs were still piled atop a garbage can. I got the impression that "we don't really care a lot about how this place looks."

When we found a table, we had to clean it ourselves. In our whole time there, no one came out and wiped any of the tables. Even though they had time to stand around. Again, not once did anyone come out of the kitchen area--even though at times they were standing around--to pay attention to and clean up the dining area. This, to my mind, is a cardinal sin. 

The three employees there were not very professional looking. All were wearing whatever t-shirt they decided to wear, nothing that said "we are La Spada's." I watched while one employee, wearing gloves from (I assume) handling food, came out and did some stuff in a freezer out front, still wearing the same gloves, then went back behind the counter, and continued to work with food, still wearing those same gloves. 

Upon leaving, I took a good look at the grill area. The wall behind the flat-top seemed, to me, a bit dirty with a greasy build up. The stainless front of teh grill seemed to be dirty, more than just from the day's activity, I'd guess. As we were sitting and eating, I noticed the windows were really dirty. The whole interior looks like no one really cares a lot or cleans a lot. It was really rather dirty and dingy, overall.

On top of that, the counter was cluttered, the signage was messy and sloppy, and the whole feeling I had while there as "we don't really care a lot." The "daily specials" sign at the counter had been edited with sticker over the prices--I'll assume raising prices. But at any rate, it was sloppy and unprofessional. There were a bunch of signs there, one falling off. It just looked sloppy and messy. Very unprofessional, like a really old, greasy diner that is past its prime.

So, overall, while the food was good, I was totally unimpressed by the decor, the cleanliness, and the unprofessionalness of the employees. It just did not impress me at all. Will I go back? I doubt it. I know where to get an equally good cheesesteak in a better maintained atmosphere in Sanford. Should you go there? Well, that's up to you. The food was good, but the service and value were lacking, in my mind. But go and see for yourself. Feel free to disagree with me. But take a good look around when you go there and see if you see what I saw. And be ready to sit at a dirty table or clean it yourself--that's what we experienced.  



La Spada's

I'd heard a lot of good things about La Spada's, so I finally decided to check them out for myself. The sandwich I had was indeed very good, but there were a few missteps along the way, too, so I'm not sure I'll be going back.

First of all the food.... I ordered the Mushroom Cheesesteak, basically a Philly cheesesteak (steak, cheese, onions) with the addition of mushrooms. It was a very good sandwich, very, very good--all that a Philly cheesesteak should be, I'd say. The steak was flavorful, the mushrooms and onions hot and adding a lot of flavor, and the cheese, definitely good, typical American type cheese. The bread it was on was up to the task of holding up to such a good sandwich, too. I ordered the small which the menu said was 8", but for some reason, when i picked it up, it was the 10". Not a big deal, and I managed to eat it all, but not exactly what i ordered. I guess the order taker was not paying good attention....


Tommy had the cheesesteak special, an 8" with fries and a drink. The sandwich was very good, and the fries as well, nice and hot, though the fries were rather ordinary. I'd guess they come frozen in a bag or the like. His came with a drink, and I ordered a drink separate. 

Now, to be honest, both the sandwiches were very, very good. I had no qualms about the quality of the sandwich. But there were a few other issues that I had.

First of all, when we got there, the place is pretty "ordinary" on the outside. Let's just call it tired. The outside could use a bit of care. There's a corner by the door that just looks neglected. It could use a plant or two, something to say "we care about the looks of this place. Secondly, the interior is a bit dated. The "wallpaper" is peeling in places, it could use some attention. A few carpets or rugs were still piled atop a garbage can. I got the impression that "we don't really care a lot about how this place looks."

When we found a table, we had to clean it ourselves. In our whole time there, no one came out and wiped any of the tables. Even though they had time to stand around. Again, not once did anyone come out of the kitchen area--even though at times they were standing around--to pay attention to and clean up the dining area. This, to my mind, is a cardinal sin. 

The three employees there were not very professional looking. All were wearing whatever t-shirt they decided to wear, nothing that said "we are La Spada's." I watched while one employee, wearing gloves from (I assume) handling food, came out and did some stuff in a freezer out front, still wearing the same gloves, then went back behind the counter, and continued to work with food, still wearing those same gloves. 

Upon leaving, I took a good look at the grill area. The wall behind the flat-top seemed, to me, a bit dirty with a greasy build up. The stainless front of teh grill seemed to be dirty, more than just from the day's activity, I'd guess. As we were sitting and eating, I noticed the windows were really dirty. The whole interior looks like no one really cares a lot or cleans a lot. It was really rather dirty and dingy, overall.

On top of that, the counter was cluttered, the signage was messy and sloppy, and the whole feeling I had while there as "we don't really care a lot." The "daily specials" sign at the counter had been edited with sticker over the prices--I'll assume raising prices. But at any rate, it was sloppy and unprofessional. There were a bunch of signs there, one falling off. It just looked sloppy and messy. Very unprofessional, like a really old, greasy diner that is past its prime.

So, overall, while the food was good, I was totally unimpressed by the decor, the cleanliness, and the unprofessionalness of the employees. It just did not impress me at all. Will I go back? I doubt it. I know where to get an equally good cheesesteak in a better maintained atmosphere in Sanford. Should you go there? Well, that's up to you. The food was good, but the service and value were lacking, in my mind. But go and see for yourself. Feel free to disagree with me. But take a good look around when you go there and see if you see what I saw. And be ready to sit at a dirty table or clean it yourself--that's what we experienced.  



Sunday, July 17, 2016

Candlelight Cafe

We have been to Candlelight Cafe several times now since the first opened, so it's about time I wrote about the wonderful food here. We've been here before, and will keep going back because the food is king, and a great value to boot. Chef Sennet Williams, Patti McGarry, and all the staff there work hard to make sure you have a great experience and do not leave hungry. Trust me on this, you will not leave hungry!


Tommy had the club sandwich, but asked for Chef to add some bacon. OMG. The sandwich was huge, as you can see in the photo. This was a triple-decker, ham, turkey, lettuce, tomato, cheese and bacon layered in a way that it was impossible for a human to take an incomplete bite without unhinging a jaw--but it was oh, so good. The bread was very good and nicely toast. This was a HUGE sandwich, and we ended up taking half of it home--it made another whole complete meal. Where else can you get a sandwich this huge and this good that makes two full meals. Oh, and the onion rings were good, too.

I had the special, a chicken cordon bleu sandwich. A chicken breast had been breaded and deep fried, then covered in ham and cheese, and grilled. It was served with LTO (lettuce, tomato, and onion) on a bun with some mayo. Well, this was a very messy sandwich--good, but messy. The small end of the breast was a bit tough and overcooked, but overall the sandwich was very good, and the ham and cheese--as well as the LTO--brought a lot of flavor to this party. O did manage to finish it, but just barely. At the end I had to use a fork and knife, and left a bit of the bun and onion on the plate, it was just too much to eat, but pretty darned good. 

We had a chance to visit a bit with Chef Sennet Williams. He is always willing to accommodate special requests, so don't hesitate to ask for something special or not on the menu. He offered us a number of other things, each one sounding better than the one before. Beside being an excellent Chef, he is also a big supporter of Sanford and the community. Candlelight Cafe is a great and welcome addition to the Sanford dining scene. They currently serve breakfast and lunch. Give them a try, you WILL NOT be disappointed, I promise you. And if you have a special request, just ask and you shall receive!

Oh, and by the way, we had the remnants of the club for a late night dinner later that night--outstanding!



Jimotti's Restaurant

We recently had dinner at the new Jimotti's Restaurant and based on that experience, we will be back, and soon. "Jimotti" means "local people" in Japanese, a fitting name for a new locally owned restaurant, a welcome addition to the growing Sanford restaurant scene. They specialize in high quality Japanese food, using local fresh ingredients as well as some fish imported directly from Japan. While their start is sushi and Japanese food, the menu is varied and also caters to more traditional American tastes as well. 

In the restaurant world, Chef/Owner Junichi is no newcomer to fame, having cooked for many Hollywood celebrities including Oprah, and he helped open "Morimoto's Asia" at Disney Springs. And now he has brought his talent and skills and attention to detail to Sanford. Lucky Sanford.

We arrived shortly after 5 on a Friday afternoon. Lucky for us, it was happy hour with Kirin Ichiban beer for $3 a glass and several appetizers on special ($5). We were promptly greeted and seated. Our waiter was polite, friendly, and knowledgeable, and the one time he did not know the answer to our question, quickly found out. After ordering drinks (the Kirin Ichiban for me, a glass of wine for Tommy), and after a lot of studying of the menu and questions answered, we ordered. Our food appeared rather quickly, too.

For an appetizer I had the "Sausage Bro," two sets of three small sausages. First of all, the plating was superb. The sausages were sitting on a smear of whole grain mustard (itself very good), garnished with some peas and a slice of watermelon radish, and further topped with a tiny bit of pea tendrils. Very pretty plate. The sausages were superb. Though both very good, for some reason I slightly preferred the ones on the lower right. But all were extremely tasty, flavorful, and quite juicy. The mustard was a nice compliment. This was a very good dish, and i would assuredly order it again!

Tommy ordered the Kala-ague for his appetizer--Japanese Fried Chicken. Chicken thigh muscles were divided here, sort of tempura-battered, and fried. First of all, the chicken was extremely tender and juicy, full of flavor. I think it could have used just a tad less salt, but was very good. The plate was garnished with a battered, fried pepper (a bit hot) and a slice of lime which we put on the chicken. This too was very good. Different than traditional American southern fried chicken, it was still excellent. You cannot get chicken this good at a traditional grocery store, it was bursting with flavor and as tender as any i've ever had. And perfectly cooked, too, just perfect. Another thing we'd order again.

Finally, it was down to the entrees. We were in a sushi restaurant, and so we ordered sushi:  the Spicy Yellowtail Roll for me, and a California Roll for Tommy (who is not a friend of uncooked fish). My Spicy Yellowtail roll was very good. I thought it could have been a bit more spicy, but it was still very good, the fish very tender, the flavors right on. Tommy's California roll was pretty typical for a California roll, but certainly well executed. We were very happy with our choices. I would say that the wasabi, to me, was a bit underpowered. I like a very, very strong wasabi and this was fairly mild. But that's a minor point, we still loved what we had to eat and will certainly be back. 

One other thing to point out, and that's the attention to detail. If you look closely, you can see regular and black sesame seeds.  You can also see the delicate texture and color of the Yellowtail. My guess is that this was Japanese amberjack, but whatever, it was excellent.

Several times during our meal, we were graced with Chef Junichi himself, who checked to make sure everything was to our liking. We also has a nice conversation about Sanford in general and Alive After 5, one of our favorite Sanford events. It sounds like he may come next month and participate and promote his restaurant. I sure hope he does, because this is a gem of a place. 

Jimotti's has been a few things in the past few years, and is an older place. But they have put a lot of time and effort (and paint) into cleaning it up, updating an modernizing what they could, and making it an inviting place. I think they'll be around for a long time. It's really very good and I'm already scheming for my return visit. I have some friends from College Park that really like good sushi, i think I'll invite them, and I'm sure they'll be impressed at what Sanford has to offer!  Give it a try, I think you'll be amazed, just like we were. 

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Otters on the River

Otters on the River has undergone a number or name changes over the past few years, I cannot remember them all, but that tells you something. However, with the latest name change came a remodel and I must say, it looks pretty nice inside, they've done a good job. I'm not quite sure if they're finished, there was a stage-like area where they were still doing something, there was someone doing some sort of repair outside when we were there, and, oddly enough, there was a tall ladder in the middle of the dining room, just sitting there, when we visited.

We went on a Friday evening about 5, hoping to avoid any dinner rush. We didn't need to worry, there were not many people there, but more arrived later. 


Otter's on the River is located in a marina on the St. John's River, at the west end of Lake Monroe. It's a nice location and has a lot going for it. It's a restaurant/bar in a marina, and they have a large patio and pool area, i can imagine this being very popular on a weekend with boaters and families. It looks like a fun place, definitely. The recent remodel brought the dining area up a few notches and it looks much better and more modern than in the past. It's a pleasing space inside. Outside is pretty typical for what you'd expect at a marina, though probably a fun place when the sun is low.


Our service was pretty good and our dinner was pretty good. The waiter was new but did go to find the answer when asked a question about the menu. Tommy had the Chicken Salad and it was indeed delicious, with lettuce and tomato on toast. He really loved the fries, and I have to agree, they were very good, nice and crisp and well seasoned. All the food was fresh and flavorful. This was a hit as far as Tommy was concerned.


For my dinner, I had the "Ice Age Melt," basically your typical patty melt, one of my favorite sandwiches, and also had fries. The sandwich itself was pretty good, though a bit dry. When i ordered, i specified medium-rare, but what i got was really well done. With a bit of imagination, maybe medium-well, but it was, IMHO, just overcooked a bit. The onions and cheese were good, but again, the meat itself was just a bit dry. The fires were likewise good.

Overall, we had an OK experience. I guess I was a bit put off by the empty ladder in the middle of the dining room, and the activity on the stage, moving a piano I guess, and the repairman outside. I can understand those activities need to happen, and maybe they were happening because it was slow, but it was just a bit odd. I am torn on giving this place a 3 or a 4 out of 5. It's really a 3.5 in my book. For me, it was good, but not much more than average. Still, i hope you give them a try and let me know what you think!

Saturday, May 28, 2016

The Tennessee Truffle

I've eaten at The Tennessee Truffle in downtown Sanford three times now. There's a reason I keep coming back, and that's excellent and adventurous food, with local, fresh ingredients, done right!

The Tennessee Truffle is Sanford's first "pop-up" restaurant--the idea is to pop up a new concept restaurant quick and easy for 30 days, and see what happens. If it takes of, then it'll be around a lot longer. But, if in 30 days it flounders, well then time to move on. Based on my experience there, I hope they're around for a lot longer than 30 days, I really liked everything I've had there. More about the concept later.

My first chance at tasting their food was even before it opened--I was invited to write a blog about it on the Sanford365 blog. Lucky me, because it was great and I got a personal preview. Read that article for more. 


It was so good, I had to go back--on their second day open! I went for lunch and thoroughly enjoyed it. I had the pork loin sandwich on a biscuit and potato salad. I added on a side of collard greens as well. The pork loin was excellent, tender and juicy, not dry. it was topped with a marmalade or chutney made with sweet onions and applesauce--the perfect balance for pork. I will say that eating a sandwich on a biscuit is a bit of a challenge--the biscuit was very tender and flaky. But it was oh, so good. My potato salad was light and refreshing, red potatoes dressed with some mayo and just a bit of red onion and red bell pepper. Truly delicious. The collards as well were very good with nice chunks of what i believe were duroc pork--they were tender and flavorful.


Tommy had the BLT, but not your ordinary BLT. The bacon was duroc pork. He found it a bit salty and a bit hard to eat on the biscuit. The lettuce and tomato were very fresh. To go with he had a warm macaroni and tomato salad. This was an unexpected and pleasant surprise. It was very, very good! 



On our second trip there, I went in specifically for one thing: the Sausage Gravy & Biscuit. I was not at all disappointed. This may well be the best sausage gravy and biscuit I've ever had! Ever! First off, the biscuit was exquisite, large, tender, flaky, buttery--just a lot of goodness.The gravy was packed full of very flavorful sausage and had a hint of fennel in it. This was a perfect counterpoint to the chervil that graced the  top of the dish--it added that over-the-top element to what was already a great dish. I could easily find myself addicted to this dish, it was that good.


Along with this I ordered a single egg, over medium. It was perfectly seasoned and cooked perfectly. Tommy had two eggs over medium and some toast which he really liked. He also had some local honey over the toast and that was a big hit as well. I'd certainly go back, and there are a few other things on the menu that i really, really want to try.


The concept of The Tennessee Truffle is true southern cooking. Chef Nat Russel grew up in Tennessee and the restaurant gets its name from pickled ramps (made in-house) which in Tennessee is known as a Tennessee Truffle--now you know the rest of the story. They specialize in locally sourced, organic, and fresh ingredients and the menu may change based on availability. On the preview day, I had the privilege of sampling five other dishes as well. I started off with the creamed corn, made in house with fresh Ocoee corn, some pickled ramps (the Tennessee truffle), and a dash of espelette, an mild pepper. Excellent. 


After that it was on to the Ansen Mills Grits, a really outstanding dish and probably the best grits I've ever had. We moved on to some roasted baby carrots (yellow and orange) served with a sort of whole grain mustard and tarragon sauce. Again, a hit. Then it was on to a Bibb lettuce salad that was very fresh and had a great dressing. We finished with a Chicken Salad--more fresh, what more can I say. 

Tennessee Truffle is the brain child of Nat Russell, formerly an executive chef at a fine dining restaurant in Winter Park. He sees the potential and has taken a risk. From my view, he's made a great choice and Sanford is lucky to have him. I hope he's around a lot longer than 30 days, but is suggest you run there now (Tuesday-Saturday, 7:30 AM to 2 PM) and not chance it!   

Nathaniel's Steakhouse

I have to confess that I visited Nathaniel's Steakhouse and did not try the steak. I'm sure that is my bad. But what I did have was a pretty decent meal. Being a big fan, I had to try the Shrimp N Grits.  It was pretty good. The grits were nice and creamy, I liked them a lot. The red-eye gravy that was squirted on top was tasty, but I'd have liked a bit more of it. The shrimp were average, nicely seasoned, but cooked maybe 20 seconds longer than they needed to be. Decent, but not over the top. All in all, it was pretty decent.

Tommy had the smothered chicken breast with homemade mashed potatoes. First of all, the potatoes were really excellent, they sure tasted homemade, were nice and creamy, and full of flavor. The tender breast of chicken was smothered in onions, mushrooms, and cheese, and it was very good as well. I'd go back just for another bite of those mashed potatoes, though.

Tommy also had a salad to go with his meal, and it was a nice, decent salad with fresh greens and more than just iceberg. 

Throughout, out waitress was attentive. At one point Nathaniel himself (namesake of the restaurant) came over as well. It was a decent meal. It's a large place and i got the impression that they were not quite finished with it. I hope they do well. YOu should give them a try and leave a comment!

Another Broken Egg

I was attending training at a facility across the street, and decide to give Another Broken Egg a try for lunch. However, I did have breakfast on my mind, and so settled for the Classic Biscuit & Gravy. This was homemade sausage gravy over a split biscuit. Mine was accompanied by two eggs, scrambled, two patties of house made sausage, and served with seasoned country potatoes.  

First of all, the sausage gravy, the star of this dish, was very good and tasty. It was all a sausage gravy should be with not too many other flavors to mar it. My only complaint is about the portion--it was not really enough to go along with the biscuit. But what there was of it was quite tasty. The biscuit itself was very light and fluffy and very good. The sausage was also excellent and had  a great flavor--definitely a huge step about the frozen stuff from a grocery store. The seasoned potatoes were OK, though nothing over-the-top special. 

Overall, I enjoyed my meal here and thought is was a decent value at just under $10, if only there had been a bit more of the delicious sausage gravy.

Tibby's New Orleans Kitchen


We ate with friends at Tibby's New Orleans Kitchen recently and were impressed. The Shrimp & Andouille Cheddar Grits I had were outstanding, among the best I've ever had. First of all, presentation is king, and this was a nice presentation. Creamy, cheesy grits were surrounded by red-wine gravy. There were about 9 shrimp on top, and they were cooked perfectly. The dish was finished with a bit of andouille which gave it a nice bite and a bit of heat. The red-winegravy was nice and tangy with a deep rich flavor. And the cheddar grits? Quite creamy and tender, not at all starchy with a nice cheddar cheese flavor. This was a hit for me and I'd order it again and again.


My friend Tommy had the half-size 12-Napkin Roast Beef Sandwich. I'm not sure he needed 12 napkins, but the roast beef was plenty tasty, though just a bit chewy. The fries were absolutely outstanding. It certainly was a bit messy, just as promised. 

We'd started out with some fried pickle and found them to be very good, not over-breaded, nice and tangy, with a tasty remoulade.

We were here with friends and we all agreed that this was a great meal--we'd all return again!

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Fuel BBQ

Well, the wait is over, and Fuel BBQ in Historic Downtown Sanford have finally opened....softly. First of all, my verdict...and that is....outstanding 'cue!  Top notch. Best BBQ. But now that the excitement and anticipation of what I think is over, let me elaborate.

I saw on social media thatFuel had opened on Thursday, April 28th. Not wanting to rush things, Tommy and I headed over there for dinner early on the next afternoon, Friday the 29th. The wait was not bad at all, but the bad news was that the Beef Brisket that had Tommy excited was 86'd--they were out.  No Brisket! So, Tommy ordered the BBQ chicken half and I had the ribs, a half rack, but a large half rack. The ribs? Fantastic!  They were easy to pull off the bones, but still had a nice texture, full of flavor and moisture. The ribs were dry in that they had only a dry rub on them, but were still juicy and flavorful--I only aspire to make ribs this good. We both had BBQ beans for a side, he had the mac n cheese, i had coleslaw, and we also got cornbread. Read on for the details. My ribs are pictured to the left.

Then on Sunday May 1st, we headed over again for lunch with friends, during the St. John's River Festival of the Arts. We all ordered the Brisket. OMG. It was like butter. Let me be specific--best brisket I've ever eaten, no doubt. Top of the line. Out of the world. So fantastic. I also had the green beans, and Tommy again the Mac N Cheese.

So, now for the details. The picture at right is a poor representation of the brisket. It was like butter. But butter with a nice bite to it, with some pepper and other great flavors. The brisket was absolutely perfectly grilled/smoked....it needed no sauce at all and was tender and flavorful. I could eat this brisket all day. All four of us had the brisket sandwich, and we all loved it, no doubt about it. It's the stuff of dreams. We all agreed that it was superb, excellent, and whatever other flavorful superlative you want to choose.

So far, score for brisket, score for ribs. 

Now on to the rest. The first night there, when they (on their soft opening) were out of Brisket, Tommy went for the half chicken. It was salty. Even when you pulled the skin off, and though it had a nice flavor, it was just too salty--over brined, I think. It has potential, but they have to work that out.

But there is good news in here. The cornbread was OK. The beans were OK for me--maybe a bit too much tomato, not enough smoky/BBQ flavor. I think they need some work, maybe some brisket or pork end pieces in them, just something to kick them up a notch. They weren't bad, just not "over the top.  The Mac N Cheese was very good, no doubt. And my coleslaw---yes, very good, though just a tad dry.  

And as for my green beans....well, as one who grows and cooks his own, I'd say these were very good "southern style" green beans--that is, they are cooked a lot and very soft, but also with a load of flavor. 

So, as i mentioned we were there--two times--during their soft opening. I have no problem with slightly slow service (though they were working hard) and a few missteps during a soft opening--and they did very well. When we sat down, we were checked on a few times and if we asked for something or about something, the response was instantaneous. For me, I think the flow of operation will just take a bit of time to work itself out...they are working hard, trying hard, very busy, and have an excellent product to back themselves up with..top notch. Now, i have not yet tried the pulled pork, but i'll be back, and soon, to try that. I cannot wait for the pulled pork!

There was one mishap, and i witnessed it twice, though they quickly recovered from it. On my first visit, when trying to add or rearrange a hotel pan full of mac n cheese to the steam table, it fell into the water bath. Unfortunately, there was too much water in the steam table and it got a dose of water in it... so much for the mac n cheese. But on my second visit, i witnessed the same disaster with a hotel pan full of pulled pork. I felt very bad for them, but was impressed by the recovery--I heard someone in charge of the kitchen giving orders to all kitchen help to stop what they were doing and get some pulled pork out ASAP, and it appeared in minutes! My hat is off to people who know how to get results, and they did. But they need to learn to put less water into the steam table--these disasters could have been mitigated--less water, just check on it occasionally, the water is there for the steam, hence the name "steam table." They'll learn, it's a hard lesson.

Yes, this is a long post. But i am passionate about at least two things in life... good 'cue, and Sanford. Fuel is the marriage of both things, IMHO....it is great BBQ (from my ribs to my brisket) and a great addition to the dining scene in Sanford, which already boasts a lot of great restaurants and bars..

So, my advice to you is to run, don't walk, to Fuel in Historic Downtown Sanford. Give their homemade sauces a try (so far so good), but come for the brisket or the ribs, no doubt. You will not be disappointed and you will not leave hungry. Remember, they are still in their "soft opening." If it's this good for a soft opening, what will it be like when they have some time and experience under their belts? I am betting on superb food and experience. I am so expecting that is will be the best BBQ in all of central Florida--maybe even in the south!

Saturday, October 31, 2015

The Smiling Bison

People in the Sanford area are smiling a lot these days, with good reason: The Smiling Bison has opened just off Magnolia Square in beautiful, historic, downtown Sanford. I've been there several times now, and each experience has been excellent.

We first went there at 5:10 on their opening night, 10 minutes after they opened. I was immediately hooked on their Celery Julep at happy hour prices, and we also tried the Poutine. Wonderful, thick, hand cut potato chips (more like chunks) were perfectly cooked, topped with a hearty and flavorful mushroom gravy and Canadian cheese curds.
We kept going, splitting a Roast Beef Sandwich which was very good. I loved the stone ground mustard and the bun. But most of all, I was amazed by the mushroom ketchup--OMG is that great.

On our second visit, besides some great craft cocktails again, we tried appetizers. I had the pickled shrimp. The picture does not do it justice. Tender shrimp were lightly pickled which gave them a very interesting flavor with wafts of bay, lemon, coriander, and other flavors. It was great.
Meanwhile, Tommy had the Zellwood Corn Soup. It was also very good, a bit on the sweet side, testament to the sweetness of the corn. It was topped with a Jalapeno Hush Puppie which was a great touch, and equally delicious.
Finally, last night--on our first visit there for the evening, we stopped back later for a drink--I had their "signature" dish, the Bison Burger. OMG. It was cooked perfectly, tender, juicy, flavorful, utterly fantastic. And complimenting that was an excellent "coleslaw"--more like a tender, pickled red cabbage slaw--the flavor was outstanding. 
Tommy had the Rock Shrimp Roll. It was excellent. The shoestring fries were wonderful and accompanied by the aforementioned wonderful mushroom ketchup.
Finally, I must again mention the cocktails. They have a limited bar, but a great variety, and they have excellent craft cocktails. I've had the Celery Julep a number of times and it is really great, a fantastic bourbon with a simple syrup and a celery reduction, very refreshing. 


This place is a real keeper, and a welcome addition to the already great dining and bar scene in downtown Sanford. I know we'll keep going back for the food, the drinks, the ambience, and the friendly atmosphere and helpful staff.

The Smiling Bison Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Salamanders Sports Grill

I went to Salamanders Sports Grill to meet a cousin who was passing through town. It was a good choice, and I can't wait to go back again. 


I ordered a burger--a friend had told me they were great--and it was indeed very good. The burger was cooked will and served with cheese with lettuce, tomato, and onion on the side. I had coleslaw for a go-with. Everything was very good. The burger was cooked properly. Above all, our server was excellent. We'd met to chat and talk and sat there for a few hours, yet she cheerfully kept refilling our iced tea and kept track of us throughout the afternoon. It was a great experience and I'll go back again, for sure. I know now why this place is so popular! 
Salamanders Sports Grill on Urbanspoon

Pig Floyd's Urban Barbakoa

I think I've "finally" found it--the best BBQ in Central Florida! Sure, there are a few good places, but my recent visit to Pig Floyd's Urban Barbakoa with friends left us talking about it and wanting a return visit--even later the same night! 

I'd heard about Pig Floyd's Urban Barbakoa from a co-worker, and so when some friends were in town and looking for a place to eat in the Orlando area, I suggested it. They were sure glad I did--and so was I. I'd like to tell you the names of what we all had, but their web site does not have a menu yet--I guess they've been too busy taking care of their customers, and they sure took good care of us.


I ordered a "take two" dish, two types of meat, pulled pork and brisket. OMG, both were very good with a great smoke ring. The brisket was moist and juicy and tender and the pulled pork as well. I had the house "hot" BBQ sauce and it was absolutely divine.  My sides were equally excellent. The apple fennel slaw was as good as any slaw I've ever had. And the black beans and rice had an outstanding flavor, nicely seasoned. There was nothing about this dish that I'd complain about, and I ate every last bit of it.




My friend Billhad a sandwich and it was piled high with meat. He said it was excellent in every regard and I've no reason to doubt that since he ate every last bit of it. The fries were done just right as well.


Tommy had a sandwich with brisket as well, and one of it's best attributes was the onion relish--it was sweet and flavorful, a real winner. 


Finally, bill had the pulled pork plate with plantains. It too was excellent.

We all enjoyed our meal a lot, and talked about it a few times over the weekend. We all agreed, we'd go here again in a heartbeat. On the way out I spied a guy and girl who'd just been served a full rack of ribs, I imagine they were going to split them. They looked out of this world great. When we left, the place was really packed, and I can see why. I know i'll be back, and sooner rather than later. I suggest you give it a try as well. You will not go away hungry and you will go away immensely satisfied, I'm sure of it! 


Pig Floyd's Urban Barbakoa on Urbanspoon