Sunday, August 26, 2012

Tijuana Flats

I can see why Tijuana Flats in Winter Springs was recently chosen as the top restaurant in Winter Springs by the readers of Seminole Magazine: they provide a great combination of food, service, and atmosphere at a reasonable price. Recently, Seminole Magazine and Tijuana Flats in Winter Springs hosted a "meet the bloggers" event for seven bloggers from the magazine who represent the seven cities of Seminole County, Yours truly was one of them (I blog there under my real name, Leon... check it out!) 

So, thanks to the coordination of Bill Ernst of Seminole Magazine and the generosity of Brenda and Rick Brown, owners of this franchise, as well as the logistics management Hector, the Manager, and all the staff, we had a great time at Tijuana Flats the other night. And the food was good, too.

My friend Tommy and I began our evening with drinks and some chips with salsa, queso, and guacamole, and were joined by our (new) friends, fellow blogger Jennifer and her husband, Daniel. Later on we were joined by blogger Lauren and her husband, Brian. (And, through the course of the evening we also met bloggers Gale and... oops, my memory is failing me now!)

So, the food.... Well, I've always liked Tijuana Flats and have eaten at a number of them. A small locally founded chain, one thing you can count on from a chain is consistency. Each one I've visited has been consistent in the food and the services, and that's very telling--it's why they were voted Winter Springs' best! So, in the midst of all the festivities and fun, I ordered my favorite, the Blackened Chicken Tostadas. Yumm. Always good, always consistent. And soo good. Nice crispy tortilla quarters are topped with cheese, tomatoes, black olives, blackened chicken, and jalapenos, and served with lettuce, salsa and sour cream. Of course I had to get my favorite hot sauce from their hot sauce bar (named "Don't Be a Chicken Shit!). I was in heaven and relished each and every bite of these.

Of course, the best part of the evening was the atmosphere. We sat outside on the spacious patio and had live entertainment provided by Bobby France...that boy can sing, it was fantastic. So we had it all: great atmosphere with live music and sitting outside, new friends and great visiting, good food, cold beer and other drinks, and a value as well. I can see why this must be a favorite gathering place for those in Winter Springs. Somehow, I'm sure we'll find an excuse to return there again. 
Tijuana Flats on Urbanspoon

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Mayslack's Restaurant and Music Lounge

My sister and I stopped in at Mayslack's Restaurant and Music Lounge for a brief rest when we were in Minneapolis recently. Well, truth be told, we stopped in for a beer. I had a Grain Belt. OK, it was not my favorite. But this is certainly a very interesting place. I looked over the menu and have seen the comments on, and I'd sure like to try the food here sometime. While we were here, we saw an order or two of food come out. It looked fantastic and, judging the relish with which the recpients dug in, it must have tasted equally good. My folks and Uncle and other family have all eaten here, and highly recommend it. I'll have to make it back some time for more than just a beer. I can't wait!
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Balistreri's Italian-American Ristorante

All I can say is, be careful what you order at Balistreri's Italian-American Ristorante, because if you order a large pizza, you will get one huge, gigantic, full sheet pan sized pizza...and a danged good pizza to boot! I was in Milwaukee visiting family, and a group of about six or seven of us went out to eat in Wauwatosa. Our first choice was closed for a vacation, so we came to Balistreiri's as a second choice, but it turned out to be a great choice. Not only were the pizzas large and good, but the beer was good and cold. It was a hot June day in Milwaukee, and we had a great meal here. 

For each of the two large pizzas we ordered, we ordered half-and-half pizzas, then had great fun sampling all four varieties. Which was my favorite? All of them, they were each excellent. As you can see in the photo, each pizza took up a full half-sheet pan (we barely had room on the table for our plates and beer glasses)! The crust was excellent, and nice and thin. The various toppings were good and plentiful, but not so much that they weighed down the pizza. They were both cooked perfectly. And, can you believe it, though there were only 6 of us, we ate it all! Every last slice. And it was all good. I'd certainly go  eat here again, in a heartbeat!
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Randy's Family Restaurant

My sister and I were driving from Milwaukee to Eau Claire on my last visit "up north," and we were hungry, so we decided to stop in at Randy's Family Restaurant in Eau Claire for a late lunch. As soon as I saw one particular thing on the menu, I knew I had to have it: Deep Fried Cheese Curds! Now, fresh cheese curds are definitely a "Wisconsin thing." They are simple fresh cheese curds, before they've been pressed into a block and aged. The have two definite characteristics that prove they are fresh: they squeak when you eat them (at room temperature, of course!), and they are a bit salty. Well, in Wisconsin, they've learned how great they are when they are battered or breaded and deep fried. And indeed they are wonderful. The ones we had at Randy's were very good, definitely fresh cheddar cheese curds, and fried nicely. Yumm.

For my lunch i had the mahi sandwich with a salad. The salad was average and, so was the sandwich, overall. The fish itself was a nice large portion, lightly blackened and fried to perfection. But it seemed to me a waste to put such a nice piece of tasty fish on such an ordinary bun! I guess if the bun is my worst complaint, it can't be all bad, and that's true. So, while the sandwich was good and the fish excellent, it could have been made better by a more tasty bun. But overall, we had a very pleasant lunch at Randy's Family  Restaurant and found the service good and the food decent at a very affordable price. Yumm!
Randy's Family Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Kramarczuk East European Deli

If you get to Minneapolis, make double-sure you don't miss a chance to savor the wonderful Ukrainian and Eastern European food being made and served at Kramarczuk's East European Deli! My sister Jean and I were in Minneapolis recently, visiting relatives and exploring the area where our Father and his family lived at one time. We visited a few Polish restaurants in the area, but saved the best for last when we ate lunch at Kramarczuk's. Our great-grandmother was Ukranian and we both remember lots of great Polish food at the table when we were young. And as it turns out, there is a lot in common between Ukrainian and Polish food--in some cases, only the names change, just a bit.

Now, it's true that I was like a kid in a candy store, and I ordered enough food to easily feed a basketball team, but I just had to try a little bit of everything, and I was not at all disappointed, not in the least. Where to begin??

Well, my favorite food in the world is probably pierogi, the Polish version of a ravioli, only much, much better. In Ukraine, pierogi are called varenyky, but they are the same thing: a wonderful filling is stuffed in a noodle-type dough and then boiled. Though sometimes also fried in Poland, in Ukraine, varenyky are traditionally boiled, then served with sour cream. We had the sampler platter and they were indeed outstanding!  We had three varieties, each one better than the other, and all excellent: meat, sauerkraut and mushroom, and potato and cheese. Yum, they were to die for, and the accompanying sour cream had just a touch of horseradish added to it. Wonderful wonderful, wonderful!  

But there's more. I also ordered the Holubtsi (called Gołąbki in Poland), a stuffed cabbage roll. But this cabbage roll was one of the best I've ever had, a close equal to those made by my mother and those made by my cousin Alicja in Poland. A nice meat and rice filling, pleasantly but simply seasoned, was wrapped in a cabbage leaf, then cooked for a good long time until the meat was juicy and flavorful, and the cabbage leaf tender and savory. But the best was the sauce. If I had to do it again, I'd buy a quart of the sauce, take it home, and try over and over again to duplicate the flavor, it was that good. It was creamy and tomato based, but the flavors were all very subtle. I actually used my spoon to eat it like a soup, it was sooooo good!  I'll never forget it and wish I could duplicate it.

But that was not all. We also tried the Borscht (beet soup) and braised red cabbage. Both were very good as well. The borscht (barszcz in Polish) was excellent, with a nice hearty beet flavor, served with a bit of sour cream. I could eat a gallon of that stuff. I washed down my meal with a Polish beer, Żywiec. And, once we were done pigging out on the excellent food, we also tried a pastry from the deli. You see, Kramarczuk's started out as a deli and meat market, then added the cafeteria-style restaurant later (and they still make their own sausage, some 20 or more different types). And we found one of the original Kramarczuk brothers has written a book about how their family emigrated from Ukraine to the United States after World War II. My sister Jean bought the book for me and I read it, it's truly an amazing story about life as it was in Ukraine long ago, and how a poor family came to this country and, with some hard work and surrounded by a loving and supportive family and community, melded into American society and prospered, while never forgetting their roots. It's a great story, and Kramarczuk's Eastern Eurpoean Deli is an amazing place. I highly recommend it!
Kramarczuk East European Deli on Urbanspoon

Eat Street Social

I was with my sister in Minneapolis recently, visiting my nephew (her son) and his wife, and they suggested Eat Street Social for dinner. It was a good choice and I'd go back there again, definitely!

There are a lot of good eating choices in Minneapolis. Eat Street Social could probably be described as urban-trendy with both modern and historic overtones. Set in an older building, the space itself is very open and airy. That also makes it a bit loud.

I had a wonderful pasta carbonara dish that was nicely done shell pasta served with peas, mushrooms, artichoke hearts, a bit of bacon, and a creamy sauce, topped with some parmesan and a bit of romano as well, I believe. It was very good though I will say just a bit heavy. Still, I loved it. My sister and nephew both had the steak, and both raved about it. The food was very good, the atmosphere superb, the drinks went down very well, and the company was priceless. I'd go back here, for sure!
Eat Street Social on Urbanspoon

Crabby Dave's

I was "back home" visiting family in June, and of course on a Friday it was required that we go out for a Fish Fry. So about 18 of us gathered at Crabby Dave's in downtown Marshfield. And what did we have? Well, a Fish Fry, of course. 
I have looked all around central Florida, but nowhere have I found the perfect "Wisconsin style" Fish Fry. I had it at Crabby Dave's in Marshfield, Wisconsin, however. Tender, battered, deep-fried fish is, of course, the star. Along with that there is the requisite coleslaw, french fries, and bread (note that i substituted more coleslaw for the fries, as seen in the photo. And don't forget the tartar sauce.

Everything was great here but the fish was indeed the star. Now, I will say that the fish portions appeared a bit on the small size, I'm glad I ordered the 3-piece dinner, but they were cooked perfectly, nice and tender and flaky, and not over-battered. The whole meal was wonderful, and made more so by the fact that my family was there: parents, brother, sisters, spouses, nieces and nephews and their families as well, down to my parents' "great-grands." It was a wonderful meal and a great time, and so nice that Crabby Dave's was able to accommodate a group of our size on a busy "Fish Fry" Friday evening. Well done! 
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