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/ 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 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, 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

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: 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