Saturday, December 18, 2010

Just Pizza

A new kid on the block, Just Pizza opened recently in Sanford near the Seminole Town Center Mall. They were giving out samples as the last Alive After Five in Sandford, and it was good. So my friend Tommy and I decided to give them a try on a recent Friday evening.

Just Pizza is franchise operation. They have over 75 varieties of pizza as well as subs, tacos, and other fare. They also server beer at this location, and not just any beer, they have a nice little selection of really good beer (I had a Dogfish 60-minute IPA--well, OK, i actually had two!). You order at the counter and they bring it out to you. They also have a drive-thru so you can order ahead and pickup, and also advertise delivery.

When we walked in, it was fairly busy. I did notice a number of empty tables in need of cleaning and in fact no really clean tables. We ended up sitting at one that was in pretty decent shape, but I really think they need to pay more attention to the tables.

The young man at the counter was very friendly and outgoing and based on a few things we said, recommended we get the Hollywood Pizza--a traditional red (tomato sauce) pizza with double cheese, double sausage, double meatballs, and double pepperoni. We did and sat down to wait.

Our wait for the pizza was a good 20 minutes but then again, it was fresh made and had a lot of ingredients. The pizza itself was good and I'd go back but I also have a few complaints.

First off, what we ordered had a lot of toppings and so was very thick and heavy. In retrospect, I'd order somethign with less toppings next time. It was just too much to eat and because it was so thick, i think it could have cooked just a bit longer, the cheese was melted but could have been browned just a bit more--yes, a minor point.

It should have been cut better. It was not cut all the way through. The utensils they provided were very flimsy plastic forks and plastic knives. We really had to fight to cut the first slice--it's not easy to battle with hot pizza in need of cutting with inferior utentils.

Of course, it was also a bit hard to eat, partly because it was so thick. It was hard to cut with fork and knife and messy to pick up. 

However, that said, it was still pretty good pizza. We ordered the medium and only managed to eat half of it. I think it will be much better the next day when we reheat it on a pizza stone and cut it properly.

I will go back to Just Pizza. I want to try jsut a simple basic sausage or pepperoni pizza, to see how good they can be. So, for now I'll recommend them and tell you to give them a try! They are a new place and may need a bit of fine-tuning yet--like paying better attention to the dining area. In fairness, a bit later when it was less busy, they did get the dining area cleaned and we did have someone check on us later and ask how it was.
Just Pizza on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Stone's Throw Bistro

After a recent Groupon was offered for Stone's Throw Bistro (pay $20 for a $40 gift certificate), my friend Tommy and I once again went to what is one of the best restaurants around. We were not disappointed--we had an outstanding meal.

At Stones Throw Bistro, calling ahead for reservations is always recommended. They specialize in the freshest of ingredients and to keep prices down, the run along a narrow line of availability. So if you don't have a reservation and have more than just a few in your party, you might be out of luck. But we called ahead and had a reservation, and the meal was out of this world.

We started with the Shrimp and Grits. Without a doubt, this was the best shrimp n grits I've ever had. A nearby restaurant was my previous first place in this dish, but the Shrimp N Grits here was truly outstanding. The shrimp were perfectly cooked and the creamy smoked gouda and bacon grits had a nice and gentle heat about them--perhaps it was the chipotle hollandaise--but I'm not sure what gave them the heat, but it was a warm and fuzzy type of heat. I'd order this as an entree, it was so good.

Along with our meal we had some bread. It is worth mentioning because it had a nice hint of rosemary to it. It was served warmed and was fresh and flavorful, absolutely wonderful.

We both had the Seafood Chowder as well and it was exceptional. There was the nice seafood flavor, and a nice and rich creaminess, but what really set this dish apart for me was the slight grittiness of the corn that was in it. I'm sure it was fresh corn, but it was not highly pureed but allowed to be a bit gritty, and that gave it an exceptional texure and good mouth-feel. I'd order this again in a moment, it was that good.

We both had salads as well. The salads were very fresh spinach that was served with goat cheese, fennel and apple slaw, and a sage infused honey mustard that was very thick. It was excellent!

Now it was on to the main courses! For mine, i chose a special, the Pork Duo. This was a tenderloin of pork and a piece of pork belly, served with pumpkin ravioli and a natural sage jus. The tenderloin was expertly cooked and very tender and juicy.  To be honest, the pork belly was not my favorite, but primarily because I don't like a lot of non-meat "stuff"--the fatty like stuff. But the meat itself was extremely tender and had a great juiciness to it. In talking with the chef about it afterwards, he did mention he thought it was somewhat of an acquired taste. But it was very good.

Tommy had the New York strip steak. It was perfectly cooked and moist and tender. The accompanying requested chipotle and crab hollandaise was exceptional as well. Tommy is a real hollandaise fan so he really loved it. He had the garlic roasted potatoes with his as a side and pronounced them the best potatoes he'd ever had!

I must say that our meal was exceptional and I now have a new favorite restaurant in Sanford, Stone's Throw Bistrol. I suggest you give them a try some time. But make sure you get that reservation. You will not be disappointed. The menu may be a bit pricey, but it's worth every penny in exceptional food and good service.
Stones Throw Bistro on Urbanspoon

Monday, December 13, 2010


"What is Krupnik," you may ask? I would reply "nectar of the gods...."

I've heard and read about Krupnik before, and when I was in Poland this past Fall, I had some. I knew then that I had to make some. Krupnik is a honey and grain alcohol based liqueur, popular in Poland and Lithuania (where it's called Krupnikas). I've searched the Internet and found many, many recipes, each with its own variation. And so after careful thought and research, I came up with my own. I made it last night. It is wonderful.

And now, you can make it too. here it is:

Mix 1 cup water and 1 cup honey and bring just to a boil.

Add all of the following (mix or match as is your pleasure!):
  • 4 cinnamon sticks
  • 12 allspice berries
  • 1 whole vanilla bean, split
  • the peel of one Orange (use a peeler to get just the peel without the white pith)
  • 12 peppercorns
  • 12 juniper berries
  • once chunk of nutmeg (about 1/4 of a whole one)
  • 12 cloves
Bring the above just to a simmer and simmer gently for about 15 minutes.

Cover and let steep for 30 minutes so the flavors meld.

Warm back up to near boiling and slowly add 2 1/2 cups of good quality Polish Vodka (I used Sobieski). Be careful, alcohol and flames to not mix! Do not boil!

Once very warm, strain through a very fine strainer, or though six layers of cheesecloth, or through a coffee filter.

Krupnik is traditionally served warm, but may also be served cold. Bottle it and store it in a cool place. You'll notice some sediment may settle to the bottom, that's fine. When ready to serve, warm gently and pour carefully so as not to disturb the sediment.

That's all there is to it. You'll have about 750 ml of one of the world's most delicious drinks. Drink responsibly! Bardzo Smaczne!

Peach Valley Cafe

I have eaten at Peach Valley Cafe a number of times, and there are certain things here that are constants:
  • The food is always good, fresh and served hot
  • The service is always prompt and friendly
  • The place is always fairly busy, no matter what time of day.
  • The prices are resonable as are the portion sizes.
I had lunch at the Lake Mary location today, and once again all of the above were true. We were smart and went early as the lunch rush was just beginning when we left.

They had a special, beer battered Alaskan Haddock, and I had that. It was very good. The chips and coleslaw were excellent, as always. I also shared some biscuits and gravy and they were as good as always, definitely homemade and definitely homemade fresh biscuits. I guess that's why I keep on coming back, for the reasons stated above.
Peach Valley Café on Urbanspoon

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Tatanka -- the perfect drink!

I have discovered what may be the perfect drink and it's very easy to make! Take one part of Żubrówka, a Polish Vodka, and add two parts of apple juice, then serve over ice. Yes, it's that simple.

But what is this Żubrówka? Żubrówka is called "bison grass vodka" because it is flavored with an extract of bison grass, a grass that grows in the eastern part of Poland where the do indeed have bison native to that region. Each bottle of Żubrówka has a blade of bison grass in it, showing that it's authenic.

When I was in Poland in September, we stopped at a bar and asked the waitress for a suggestion of a good vodka. She did not speak much English--and we spoke little Polish--but she enlisted the help of a patron, a nice young man who spoke excellent English. He suggested Żubrówka. We fell in love. It is an excellent vodka for sipping and has a wonderful fragrance and a soothing taste. I'd say it has notes of vanilla and cinammon in it, though other taste other flavorful notes. No matter, it's a great vodka for sipping, especially if you keep the bottle in the freezer--which I do.

Which brings up the question of where to buy it. Well, the only place I know of in Orlando that carries it is Total Wine. It is worth the trip to get it and worth the price, all ~$23 for a 750 ml bottle. Now, in Poland I was able to buy a half liter for about 20 PL or about 7 dollars.... but i'm telling you, it's worth every penny. Best danged vodka I've ever had.

So, head out to Total Wine, get a bottle. Stop at Publix and pick up some apple juice. You are all set and instore for an excellent drink. I guarantee it.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Brickyard Lounge

I figured there must be some reason that so many reviews on raved about the burgers at Brickyard Lounge, so on a recent Saturday night, my friend Tommy and I went there to investigate for ourselves. I was pleasantly surprised.

We arrived a bit late on a Saturday evening. It's really more of a bar than a restaurant, but in the back there are maybe a half dozen tables that'll hold up to four people. We were lucky, there was one open. We sat down and were quickly greeted and a drink order taken. We also ordered the Jalapeno Popper's for an appetizer.

Brickyard Lounge is not a very large place. It's rather narrow and has a very small kitchen near the front. Yet they seem to put out a hell of a menu from that tiny kitchen.

In due time our Jalapeno Poppers arrived. They were pretty typical, though the remoulade that was served with them was very good. A jalapeno had been slice in half and the seeds/ribs removed, stuffed with a cream cheese mixture, breaded and deep fried. They were decent enough, but nothin exceptional. Just good. But the remoulade was very good.

We both ordered burgers. I had a cheeseburger with Cheddar cheese, medium, and with onion rings instead of the fries. Tommy also had a cheeseburger with cheddar cheese, medium well, and with the fries. Both of us had the coleslaw.

First off, I liked the presentation. There was a small container of coleslaw, but it was certainly overflowingly packed. That was nice. My burger, though ordered medium, was actually cooked to a solid medium well. I was, however, really excited by the outer char that it had--it was very nicely charred and that added alot of flavor to it. It was said to be a half pound of sirloin, and I believe that to be so. In any case, it was very good, tough at medium well, just slightly on the dry side. Still, it was very good. Same thing for Tommy's burger, he liked it a lot.

Overall, we had a very nice meal here. The burgers were indeed very good, tender and flavorful. Though it's more bar than restaurant, they do a fine job with the food and I'd recommend them. A job well done!
Brickyard Lounge on Urbanspoon

Fish & Chips Restaurant

I've long wished to visit Fish & Chips Restaurant in Altamonte Springs, and a recent Friday evening was my lucky night. Yes, it sure was lucky, as we had a great meal here.

I miss having a good Fish Fry place in the Orlando area--I'm originally from Wisconsin where they have a Friday tradition of a great fish fry. So when I heard about Fish & Chips Restaurant and saw the rave reviews they'd gotten, I knew that I had to get here, sooner or later. That day finally came!

My friend Tommy and I went here on a recent Friday evening. It's a small place and very homey. It was a bit busy when we arrived but cleared out rather quickly. We sat at a small table, but as soon as a larger table cleared, the waiter asked us if we'd like to move. That was great, but we stayed put, we were satisfied. Our drink orders were quickly taken and drinks quickly returned. In short order our waitress appeared. I'm guessing she was the wife of the chef and one of the owner. No matter, she knew her stuff and quickly suggested we try the crab cake, and we did. And we ordered.

Tommy ordered the She Crab Soup. It was a good choice. I had quite a few good sips of this soup and it was excellent, very, very good. It had a nice bit of a crab flavor, but also a very savory flavor. I suspect the ingredients had been simmered together for a very long time. The care that was put into this soup showed--it was excellent.

I ordered the crab cake at the suggestion of our waitress. Let me tell you, I have never, ever, had a crab cake quite like this one before. It was mostly crab! Now, I'll say it was mostly backfin meat, not a lot of huge pieces, but it was mostly all crab with just a bit of mayo to bind it. Certainly not a lot of filler like most of the other crab cakes I've experienced before. This crab cake was dipped in bread crumbs and then fried, but not at all greasy. It was exellent. It was served with a remoulade that was also very good. This was a great appetizer, I'm so glad we ordered it.

Both Tommy and I ordered the Fish and Chips for our main course, I had the cod, and also substituted onion rings for my chips. It was all very good. First, a comment on the coleslaw--excellent! Very good coleslaw, and decent sized portion too. The onion rings also were very good, nicely fried with a good breading that was just right. But the star of my plate was the cod. It was cooked perfectly, not at all overdone or dried out, as can easily happen. It was tender and juicy and flavorful--well, as flavorful as cod can get. But it was very good, the breading did not overpower it. I liked it a lot, about as good as any fish fry I've had in my life, and I've had plenty.

Tommy ordered the haddock fish fry with french fries. Again, it was very good. The french fries were very nice, thicker slab-style fries. And the haddock was also cooked just right. 

We were very pleased with our meal here and can fully understand why this place has had such good reviews. Our service was attentive and accurate, too. We'd go back in a flash. There aren't any good authentic fish fries in the Orlando area, but this is about as close as it comes to perfection!

Fish & Chips Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Sweet Potato Pierogi

My second cousin asked me if I had a recipe for Sweet Potato Pierogi. Well, the answer is, "yes and no." You see, I've thought about this for a while now. And I think that what I've come up with in my head would also work for Pumpkin Pierogi as well. That said, here's my recipe, straight from my head.

First things first: keep in mind that this is a developmental recipe. There is not absolute, no right or wrong. I am just giving some guidelines. Above all, taste things as you go along. So, here goes.

Take about a pound of fresh sweet potatoes, make sure they're clean. Line a half sheet pan with aluminum foil (trust me, don't admit this or you'll be stuck in "cleanup hell"). Slice each sweet potato into large chunks, 2-3 inches apart. Then put them in a 400 degree oven and roast for 40-60 minutes. They are done when a sharp knife gets no resistance and comes out cleanly. 

Let them cool until you can handle them. Hot sweet potatoes contain a lot of sugar which gets very hot!  Once cool enough to handle, simple use a tablespoon to scoop the meat out of the skins. Put the skins on your compost pile, and the meat into a large bowl. Now you are ready to begin. 

For sweet Sweet Potato Pierogi, add the following:
  • 1/2 to 1 teaspoon Cinnamon
  •  1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon fresh grated Nutmeg
  • a pinch of salt (1/8 teaspoon if you like to measure things)
  • The zest of 1-2 Oranges
  • (optional) 1/2-1 Tablespoon of Grand Marnier
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup toasted pecan chips
  • 1/4 cup dark brown sugar (or substitute maple syrup for half of the brown sugar
  • (optional) 1/4 cup chopped coconut (give it a few spins in the food processor first to make it easier to fill the pierogi)
  • 1 egg, slightly beaten.
That's it. Now mix thoroughly with the sweet potatoes and chill for a bit until somewhat stiff. You can also perpare this ahead and make the pierogi the next day.

For savory Sweet Potato Pierogi:
  • 1 Tablespoon butter
  • 1 clove or garlic, minced
  • 1 shallot, minced
  • 1 - 2 teaspoons of chopped fresh Sage (if you are not a big sage fan, substitute Basil for the sage!)
  • 1 teaspoon of fresh chopped Thyme
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt.
  • 1 cup of Ricotta or Farmer's cheese
  • 1 egg plus one egg yolk, beaten
This first part is optional, it depends how far into "savory" you want to adventure: Melt the butter until it foams, add the shallot and stir a minute or two until soft, then add the garlic and stir another 30 seconds or until fragrant. Remove from heat and add to sweet potatoes.

In all cases, add the remainder of the ingredients and mix well. Chill untill a bit more firm and easier to handle. That's it.

Now, make your favorite pierogi dough and fill them with the Sweet Potato mixture of your choice. Boil them until cooked (they'll float when cooked), then drain.

For the sweet recipe, fry in a bit of butter, then serve with a dollop of whipped cream or a bit of sour cream. Yumm.

For the savory recipe, cook some butter until it foams, add a bit of sage, then add the pierogi and fry in this brown butter until a bit browned. Serve with a bit of the browned butter.

There, now you have it, fresh from my mind to your kitchen. Give it a try and let me know what you think!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Alive After Five for November

Today is Alive After Five in downtown Sanford, 5-8 PM. Come on down, get some free food samples, enjoy the music, tour the shops. The weather is supposed to be fantatic. And, if you want, meet me. I'll be wearing my bright red "Polska" shirt with the Polish white Eagle on it, because today is Polish Independence Day, and I'm going to celebrate it. See you there!

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Stuffed Sausage Bites

I created a new appetizer a few weeks ago. It's called Stuffed Sausage Bites, and here's what I did.

I boiled (cooked) some mild Italian sausages in beer until done, then cooled. Once cooled I put them on the grill and grilled then until nicely charred. Then I set them aside to cook, and refrigerated.

Once nicely chilled, I took a sausage and sliced it longitudinally almost all the way through (butterflied it) and then split it open. Once open, I used a sharp melon baller to remove a "trench" of the sausage from both sides. See the picture at left. Now I was ready for the stuffing.

To make the stuffing, I softened a cake of cream cheese, then i took two chipotle peppers and chopped them finely. I added them to the cream cheese with about two teaspoons of the adobo sauce and mixed it thoroughly. Now i was faced with a dilemma--how to keep the filling in?  Easy! I took a piece of thinly sliced turkey or chicken lunchmeat (a nice, neutral flavor) and laid it flat. Then i took a "rope" of the creamcheese/chipotle mixture and rolled it up, cut it to length then place it in the sausage. I closed the sausage (gently), then placed 8-12 toothpicks about 3/8" to 1/2" apart and sliced the sausage, then did the rest, placed them on a bed of lettuce, and served.

They were at their best once they warmed up a bit. All I had to do was sit back, watch them get gobbled up, and enjoy all the compliments! Bardzo Smaczne!

Friday, October 29, 2010

Cafe Positano NY Pizza

Good New York style pizza at a decent price, that's how I'd summarize Caffe Positano NY Pizza and my recent experience there. I stopped here with my friend Tommy on a recent weekend afternoon. They were not very busy, but not totally dead either. We were quickly greeted and chose a table. Our waitress was polite, friendly, prompt, and accurate.

I started out with a beer and Tommy had an Iced Tea. For starters, we ordered a half order (half dozen) of Garlic Knots. The garlic knots were very good, but quite garlicy--which I liked. The marinara that was served with them, however, was very ordinary. Too bad. But the knots were good, so this was a "thumbs up dish!"

For his main dish, Tommy ordered a Meatball Sub. Oh my, it was absolutely delicious--and huge! The crusty bun was perfect for containing the juiciness of the sub, and with the cheese and sauce, this was very delicious. I will say that the meatballs themselves were kind of ordinary--they could use a bit of pizazz. But overall, it was a great sandwich, one i would certainly order. And it was huge, more than a meal for one.

I was hungry and had big eyes--and a yen for leftovers--so I ordered the Roberto Pizza--it featured fresh mushrooms and fresh onions and was topped with marinated tomatoes. And it was finished with some julienne fresh basil. Oh, and it was huge! I bet it was about 18 inches. But it was also oh, so good. It was a very good thin crust New York style pizza. And enough for a crowd. We only managed to finish half of the meatball sub and half of the pizza. But let me tell you, the pizza was equally great reheated, and i eventually ate every bite of it. Yumm! I'll be back, this was really good pizza!Cafe Positano NY Pizza on Urbanspoon

Monday, October 18, 2010

Hollywood Bistro

We stumbled upon this place almost by accident, but I'm sure glad we did, the meal I had here was fantastic, and I'm sure I'll be back again--soon!

My friend Tommy and I attended the Winter Spring Festival of the Arts on a recent Sunday morning. After seeing all there was to see, we settled down at a table near the "food area" to have a drink and listen to the music. One of the tables there was for a place called Hollywood Bistro, right around the corner. So I pulled out my trusty iPhone (I love my iPhone), checked my UrbanSpoon app, and sure enough, it was very close and had good ratings. So we decided to check it out for lunch. Was that ever a good decision. 

They were not very busy when we entered, just after noon, but we were promptly greeted and give our choice of tables. We chose to sit right along the open-air courtyard, just inside. There are several large "garage-type doors" that can open and make you be inside and outside at the same time, and it was a perfect October day for that. Our server, Christian, was very attentive and answered all our questions.

For starters, we ordered the Shu-mei, a 4-piece pork dumpling appetizer served with a Thai "BBQ" sauce. It was amazing, simply outstanding. The pork "dumplings" were tender and tasty, with pork, and, surprisingly, some chopped water chestnuts that gave it a nice crunch. They were served on a bed of napa cabbage mixed with a Thai BBQ sauce--it has just a tiny bit of heat but a huge helping of flavor. Another sauce that I could not quite identify complimented this, and black and white sesame seeds topped it all of. It was absolutely wonderful. I detected a spice/flavor that I was not sure of, but later learned was indeed Chinese Five Spice. It was not overpowering, just gave the dish an interesting and appetizing aroma. I loved this dish.

For his meal Tommy had the A.B.C Omelet--an Avocado, Bacon, and Cheddar Cheese Omelet. It was very good, nice and fresh, and not overcooked. It was served with toast and breakfast potatoes.The real star of this dish, however, was the potatoes. Red creamers had been expertly cooked--the centers were warm and creamy and delicious, the outside crisply and well seasoned. They were really really very good.

For my lunch, I had the Dirty Harry's Pulled Pork Sandwich--slow roasted pulled pork was piled high on a nice, hearty roll and topped with Cheddar Cheese, fried onions, and a chipotle BBQ sauce. It came with fries but they gladly substituted a side salad with a strawberry viniagrette dressing for me. This was undoubtedly one of the best lunch sandwiches I've had in a long time, and one of the best pulled pork sandwiches ever. The pulled pork was very good, slow roasted and tender. But the real star, for me, was the BBQ sauce because it contained a unique flavor which made all the difference for me--more Chinese Five Spice! Yes, this really made the sandwich sing and set it apart from so many others. The BBQ sauce was put on with a light hand, so the flavor of the meat was still central to the dish. The hearty, somewhat crusty bun was perfect for this sandwich, soaking up extra juice while not becoming soggy at all. And the salad was good too, nice and fresh and crisp, all it should be.

We ate here at lunch time, but I notice the dinner menu and it looks wonderful. I want to return here sometime soon to experience lunch. A friend from work lives nearby and he confirmed that he has eaten here a number of times and alway found it to be very good. I will be back!Hollywood Bistro on Urbanspoon

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Buck's Seafood Buffet and More

At a recent second Thursday of the month Alive after Five event in Sanford, Buck's Seafood Buffet and More was there, handing out some samples. Based on that experience, my friend Tommy and I decided to head there on a recent Friday evening and give them a try. 

We went there base on a "buy one get one half off" coupon and decided to try the Seafood, all you can eat buffet for $13.95, full price. Now, in all honestly, it wasn't all that bad...but then again, it wasn't all that great, either.  

So I had the seafood buffet along with a salad. The salad was decent, for sure. The seafood buffet was OK, some winners, some loosers, and some items were just a draw.

For winnners, I'd have to pick the fried shrimp and the cormeal crusted catfish--both were pretty good. Add to that the baked haddock, also quite nice.

For misses and near misses, though, the list in longer. The mac n cheese, while somewhat cheesy, had been cooking way too long and the "mac" part of it was totally overcooked. The cheesy grits, though OK in flavor, were just too runny. The "peel and eat" shrimp were not flavored with--well, with anything, they were very bland.

Tater tots? Only average. Onion rings? Nothing to write home about. Clam strips? Well, Tommy said they were good. Tartar sauce for the fish? Out of a container and very below average.

So, overall, our meal here was just OK. The decor is nice and we had good service, no doubt. But I guess a place that is only open two evening a week just isnt' that great of a place, else they'd be open a whole lot more. I'd go elsewhere for my seafood next time, sorry!
Buck's Seafood Buffet and More on Urbanspoon

Line Drive Burgers

Wow, my second time here, and I liked it, a lot. My friend Tommy and I decided to have a late dinner here on a recent Friday night. We walked in around 8 PM to find the small place full, but by the time we placed our order, a table had opened up. Hooray!

Recently, there had been a few anonymous negative posts about Line Drive Burgers on my first blog post about them. I'm not a big fan of anonymity, but I decided to see for myself, so I went back to Line Drive for a second time. All I can say is, the anonymous posters have it wrong--they know how to make a fine burger here. Now, it wasn't a perfect experience, but the burger here (and remember, they have "burger" in their name) was very danged good!

But, before I get to the very good, let me start with a few disappointments. I ordered the cheesy fries--or at least I tried to, but they were out. So I ordered the onion rings instead. They were very normal and just OK, maybe even a bit to bready for me. I'd say that the oil they were cooked in was on its last legs. They weren't bad, they just didn't wow me at all.

Next was cleanliness. When we got there, admittedly they were quite busy. So we sat down at a table that was not gross or disgusting, but was not clean either. In all the time we were there, I did not notice anyone cleaning any tables--at all. I did notice the trash in the back. As customer after customer discarded their trash, the had to each in some fashion push the trash into the container--it was quite full. At no time was any manager of any sort apparent, and no one really seemed to be taking care of the dining area. Yes, they were busy in the kitchen, but still... come on, you need to keep the dining area in good shape. It was late on a Friday and the oldest employee seemed barely old enough to drink alcohol, but to have a successful restaurant you need to manage your help. Enough said! It wasnt' disgusting, but was certainly not ideal. On to the good.

My friend Tommy ordered a double cheeseburger with provolone cheese. He was very impressed. I think the best burger we've ever had was at a place that is now, sadly, closed, Morgan's Burger Bistro in Sanford. They had the most amazing burgers there that are the standard for us going forward. He said this was not quite as good, but danged close. That is high praise. He also mentioned that perhaps a single burger would have been good enough, the double was quite a bit to tackle!

I also ordered a double cheeseburger. Last time I was here I had a single but made the mistake of adding a lot of toppings which obscured the burger taste. So this time, to make up for that, i ordered a plain and simple double with cheese--cheddar, of course!  OK, well I did order some onions on the side....but just in case. At any rate, my burger eventually arrived, cooked to a medium well, and it was very, very good. Sure, it was a bit greasy, but that's a good grease... flavor!  My only complaint was the bun. Oh, it was good, but I'd sure prefer a toasted bun. Now, in all fairness, I did not ask, perhaps they'd have toasted it if I'd asked. But still, it would have really made this a kick-ass burger.

Overall, the burgers here are very good, The prices, while not exorbitant, are certainly not  cheap. But then again, you get what you pay for, and I left feeling like I got what I paid for. Nice job, Line Drive...Line Drive Burgers on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Alive After Five for October

Things will be happening again this Thursday, October 14th, from 5 to 8 PM in downtown Sanford at the monthly Alive After Five street party. As usual, I'll be hanging out at the Art Affair Gallery, but also will make sure to sample all the great food and drinks up and down First Street in historic downtown Sanford.

This month's theme is Oktoberfest, so I imagine the beer, sausage, and oom-pah music will be plentiful. Alive after Five is always a lot of fun, and with the cooler weather setting in, you better arrive early to get some of the food--and a decent place to park, I know I will!

BJ's Restaurant

We stopped here for a second time on a Sunday evening recently and again had a nice meal. BJ's Restaurant was quite busy, but it was a beautiful evening and we were glad to sit outside--the temperature was perfect!

First off, I like the fact that they have some of their own beers on tap, and I love their pale ale. But aside from that, the food has been good so far. I'd say the service still needs a bit of work--my salad came before our appetizer, and all the food and the beer seemed to come from someone other than our server! But she did follow up quickly on each serving. Still, it can be a bit confusing when the server does no know who gets what or what's alread been served. They have a bit of work to do here.

But lets talk about the meal. As I mentioned, my salad was the first thing to arrive, even though we'd ordered appetizers well in advance. Oh well. The salad was very good, fresh and flavorful.

We ordered two appetizers. The first was the Mini-chicken Quesadilla. It was good, not spectacular, but good and I'd get it again.

The second entree was the Mac 'n Cheese. This was very, very good. It had a nice cheesy flavor, a bit of bacon and onion in it. Yumm. I'd order this again in a hearbeat. My friend Tommy thought the pasta should have been something other than rotini, but I was fine with it. We both enjoyed this dish a lot!

Then there was a long wait. Really, too long of a wait. But eventually our entrees came out. Tommy ordered the MeatLoaf Sandwich--it was huge, and very good. A large chunk of meatloaf was on a bun, smothered with gravy and topped with shredded onion rings. It was very tasty indeed, though the bun was really just a prop and was a bit heavy. Still, it was very good. 

For my entree, I chose the Fish 'n Chips, but substituted the aforementioned salad for the chips. The fish was good, several pieces of white fish had been battered and deep fried. OK, it was not quite as good as a Wisconsin fish fry, but it was still pretty darned good. I was not crazy about the tartar sauce--it was too sweet and lacked the acid it needed. But i added some lemon juice to it and that seemed to give it the kick it needed. Not great tartar sauce, but at least passable.

BJ's has a large menu, and there are a number of dishes on it I'd like to try at another time. Overall I enjoyed the meal we had here. The food delivery could have been better and faster, but what was delivered seemed to be pretty good for the fair price we paid. I'd come back here, for sure!BJ's Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Papa Murphy's Take 'N Bake Pizza

OK, so maybe it's not a restaurant, but it's sure a good concept. You go to Papa Murphy's Take 'N Bake Pizza, you order one or more pizzas with the ingredients you like, and they put it together right in front of your eyes, while you wait (and yes, you can call ahead too, so you don't even have to wait). Then you take the pizzas home, cook them at home according to their directions, and you have fresh, home cooked, piping hot pizza just the way you like it--and no kitchen cleanup to attend to. Brilliant!

I'd received some coupons in the mail and so decided to give them a try. I'm a big fan of "garbage" pizzas, that is, pizza with a lot of toppings, many, many toppings. So we (my friend Tommy and I, after I convinced him a bit)--we decided to try the 5-meat stuffed pizza, regularly $14.99 but I had a coupon for $9.99. The pizza itself was huge and weighed in at almost 4 pounds! Not liking plain hamburger on a pizza, they gladly substitited mushrooms for it. Most of the topping were placed on the dough, then another layer of dough placed on top and the bottom dough crimped to it, then a bit or sauce and the mushrooms and more cheese were placed on top. It was huge.

We took it home and baked it for about 20 minutes according to the directions in my convection oven. It came on a special tray on which it could be baked, too. Sure enough, 20 minutes later it was nice and golden on the outside. I placed it on a big cutting board and cut it with my scimtar. OK, not really a scimtar, just a 12" chef's knife--a pizza wheel would have massacred it. I cut it in half, then the half into four slices. After we each had two, we ourselves were stuffed, and wrapped up the rest for another meal. And the taste? Well, it was very good, I loved it! Now in truth, next time I'd like to try something a bit more simple, but I know there will be a next time. This was so much better than delivery or take-out at Papa John's, and so much easier than making a pizza at home from scratch, and nearly as good. I'll be back!
Papa Murphy's Take 'N' Bake Pizza on Urbanspoon

Stuffed Round Steak, Pyzy, and Mushroom Gravy

Based on my recent trip to Poland and some of the wonderful food I had there, I decided to try to make my own Polish meal, from scratch, with not much for recipies. I made three different things:
  1. Mushroom Stuffed Round Steak
  2. Pyzy (potato dumplings)
  3. Mushroom Gravy
My first challenge was the gravy. I had some excellent mushrooms and mushroom sauces in Poland, but those used fresh Polish mushrooms, something you can't really find here. I tried to find chanterelles, but alas, no on seemed to have any. So I settled for baby bellas. I chopped about three medium onions and softened them in 2 or so Tablespoons of butter with a dash or two of salt, and cooked until most of the moisture was released and the mixture was starting to caramelize a bit. I added a bit more butter, then two Tablespoons of flour, cooking for a minute to make a roux. Then I added 12 oz of O'Doul's non-alcoholic beer, about a quarter cup of cream, a half cup or red wine, and a half cup of beef broth, stirring to make a sauce. To this I added about 12 ounces of quartered baby bella mushrooms. I let this cook slowly at low heat for a good half hour until the mushrooms were tender but still recongnizable. Finally I seasoned with a bit more salt and pepper. Smacznego!

I could not find a larger round steak, so settled for two pieces each about 5 inches by 10 inches. I lightly salted and peppered them, then set aside for a bit. For the stuffing I took about two large onions, halved and sliced, and sauteed them in a few Tablespoons of butter until softened, then added about 12 ounces of sliced baby bella mushrooms and cooked the mixture until tender. To this I added the crumbs of four slices of white bread (processed in a food processor) and some beef broth just to moisten a bit. It made a fairly dry dressing. To form the roulade-like "loaf," I basically made a sandwich of the two pieces of round steak with the stuffing in the middle, closing up the sides well. I tied it with butcher twine. Now to cook it.

I got a heavy pan good and hot, medium high, then added a few teaspoons of oil and seared the "roll" on all sides, top first. Once it was good and seared I left it in the pan, added a bit of beef broth, and baked in a medium hot oven (375) until done but not overdone, about 150 in the center of the dressing. I let it rest a bit on the cutting board, then removed the butcher string and sliced in half on the bias. You can see the result in the picture.

The pyzy were fairly easy as well. I took about three mediums size russet potatoes, peeled then and cut into chunks, then boiled in salted water until tender. When they were done, I drained them, then let them dry out a bit in the hot pan. Finally, I pressed them through a ricer into a bowl. To this I added about a half cup of flour, a quarter cup of mashed potato flakes, and one beaten egg, as well as a half teaspoon of salt. I took two more slightly larger russets, peeled them, then grated them on the fine setting of the grater. I drained them in a strainer and pressed to remove as much moisture as possible, then added to the other mixture. I added this all to the food processor and processed a number of pulses to combine, then added more flour until the dough was somewhat thick. I used a portioning disher to make small balls, rolled them with a little flour, then boiled them in salted water. Once they floated, I waited another 3-5 minutes to ensure they were cooked through.

Finally, I put this all together on a plate, the lices of mushroom stuffed round steak, the pyzy, and the mushroom gravy. My friend Tommy was the lucky recipient of this wonderful meal. If he spoke Polish, I know he'd have proclaimed it bardzo smaczne!

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Norville Barnes' American Fare

We were attending the Deland Fall Crafts Show on a recent Sunday afternoon and came across Norville Barnes' American Fare, a quaint little restaurant right in downtown Deland. Deland has a number of seemingly good places to eat, I'll have to return soon. But what drew me to Norville Barnes' was the mention I saw of their Beer and Cheddar Cheese Soup. I'm a sucker for that. So, we looked at the rest of the menu and decided to give them a try.

We enjoyed our meal here, but there were two disappointments, neither major. The first, however, was that they did not have the Beer-Cheddar Cheese soup on this day! Oh no, dang! But, the menu did look good and so we decided to stay and give them a try, and overlook this minor transgression.

I thought we'd try an appetizer, so ordered the Potsmokers. Yes, a clever play on the potential for weed-flavor, if you know what I mean. The menu said that these were "hand rolled and filled with spicy sausage that will put you under the influence." I'm not sure exactly what that was supposed to mean, but this was my second disappointment. They were just OK. Whatever the spicy sausage was supposed to be, it was not spicy and didn't taste all that much of sausage either. They weren't bad, they just weren't what I expected. They were served with a sour cream sauce of some sort. It was very mild. Had these "potsmokers" been indeed spicy, the sour cream would have been a welcome relief. But as it was, it was not needed. I would not order these again as they were just average and ordinary, nothing at all special like I was expecting.

Having gotten over my earlier soup disappointment, my friend Tommy ordered their soup of the day She Crab Soup. It was actually quite good, with a lot of crab and a lot of crab flavor in it. Up until this time, our favorite She Crab Soup has been from Two Blondes and a Shrimp in Sanford. Theirs is more chowder-like. But the soup Tommy had here was equal to that, and perhaps even the best She Crab Soup he's ever had. That's a good compliment. My earlier disappointments were erased by now!

For his main course, Tommy ordered a special of the day, a Chipotle Chicken Wrap. It was served with a choice of regular potato fries or sweet potato fries, he chose the regular fries. The wrap itself was very good, and a large portion. It had a very good flavor with lots of chicken, cheddar cheese, and a nice chipotle flavor as well, not too overpowering, just right. It was a real hit. The fries, too, were very good. They were cooked just right and served nice and piping hot. Overall, this dish was a hit.

I asked for a side salad in place of fries with my sandwich and ended up with a very delicious salad, full of romaine lettuce, walnuts and craisins. It was also topped with quite a few cherry tomato halves. For a dressing I chose a Feta Viniagrette and it was an excellent choice as it complimented the salad's ingredients very well. I'd rate this salad and its dressing as first class, all the way!

For my main course, I had a sandwich--or Sammich as the menu puts it. I had the Roast Beast Peppercorn sammich, and it was very large and very filling. A large portion of nice and tender, shaved roast beef was piled on a roll and topped with provolone cheese, and grilled. It was served with a side of a sort of jus--I guess this was the brandy and peppercorn dressing. It was very, very good. Now i have a confession to make: I ate the whole thing! Yes, it was that good, I loved it. So I overcame my earlier disappointments and really enjoyed my meal here.

During the course of our meal, we had really good and attentive service, both from our waitress and from the manager, who stopped by several times to make sure we were taken care of. Now, there are a few other places in downtown Deland that I'd also like to try, but I'd certainly go back to Norville Barnes' anytime. Next time I will call ahead to see if they have the Beer-Cheese soup, and also I'm going to try their version of tomato pie next time--it sounds very intriguing. A very nice place, I recommend it!
Norville Barnes' American Fare on Urbanspoon