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!