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