Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Black Bean Deli, A Cuban Cafe



Winter Park’s Black Bean Deli has been a delicious, award-winning place to get Cuban Food for as long as I can remember. Located on Mills near Fairbanks they have a tiny location with extremely limited parking. They have just a couple of barstools for “Dining In” which means at least 90% of their business is “Carry Out”.
I have gotten food from there a handful of times over the years, but wish they had an actual Restaurant for the whole dining experience.
Well things have changed, and they just opened a second location on Colonial Drive – with tons of seating!!! Oh Happy Day!
This new location does not offer tons of parking either, however there is definitely more then Winter Park. There is also a Dollar Tree directly across the street that has plenty of available spots.
Upon entering you place your order at the counter and pay, you are then given a number and your food is brought out to your table.



There are about 12 tables inside, and there are also several covered picnic tables outside so there are plenty of seating options.


Now on to the food…
I have been to this location twice in the last couple of weeks.
On my first visit I ordered the Havana Pork Platter ($9.50). This is not a regular menu item but was the special that day and it sounded great. The Pork itself was super-garlicky, tender and delicious. It was also served with Black Beans, Yellow Rice, Fried Plantains and a Salad with a creamy and delicious House Dressing.
Everything was incredibly flavorful and I knew that it would not be long before I went again.




12 days later I went again and took a friend with me. I knew that he liked Cuban Sandwiches, and although I don’t particularly enjoy them I figured that they would offer the best in town (Sweet Ham, Roast Pork, Swiss Cheese and Pickles $6.25). It was very large and looked like it would be good. He really enjoyed it.


I ordered the Papas Rellenas (2 Fried Mashed Potato Balls, Rice, Black Beans, Sweet Plantains and Green Salad $8.50). You get Two Mashed Potato Balls and you can choose Ground Beef or Chicken.




I decided to get one of each to see which I preferred. I have had this dish at many different restaurants, and I would say that Black Bean Deli’s version did not disappoint. Although they were both really good, if I ordered this again I would get both Chicken because I liked that one just slightly better.


I have loved Black Bean Deli for a long time but have not been very frequent because of the non-convenient Winter Park location, however now that there is this second store I am hoping to be a little more of a regular patron.

Black Bean Deli & Cuban Café on Urbanspoon

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Theo's Kitchen



I remember going to Theo’s Kitchen many years ago when it was on Michigan. I also remember hearing that they moved to a new location on Curry Ford. We were in the area not too long ago and were looking for a place to get lunch and stumbled upon it.




It is located in a small strip mall, the atmosphere is nothing fancy at all – counter service and just a few tables to sit at.
I guess you would call it a Greek restaurant, but they also do a lot of Fried Chicken and several Seafood dishes.

My friend ordered the Gyro Platter (which included Fries and a Greek Salad $8.49)




I just got the Gyro Sandwich ($5.99) and also a side of Hummus (I think around $3.50)



The Gyro Sandwich was pretty good, but I have definitely had better.
The Hummus was really good though – super thick and the portion was huge.
I doubt that I would go back, because there are several Greek Restaurants that are closer to where I live and more authentic, but if I lived in that area it wouldn’t be bad from time to time.


Theo's Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Dandelion CommuniTea Cafe


DANDELION CommuniTEA Café is a local, organic, eco-friendly eatery that has become one of my favorite places to go for lunch. The Earth-loving, tree hugging staff is always super-friendly and they seem to be quite in tune with all things that are good for the environment including growing many of their products right on the premises.


Dandelion is obviously an old house that has been turned into a restaurant and offers either indoor or outdoor seating. You order and pay at the counter, and then they bring your food out to you. The menu consists of many Vegetarian or Vegan items (that can be ordered as a Bowl or a Wrap).


The Wraps are very good, however I always order the Bowl – for some reason I feel like you get more.


My favorite thing to order is Buffalo 66 (Cashew encrusted Tempeh Tenders, Carrots, Celery, Red Onion with a side of Buffalo Sauce and Vegan Blue cheese Dressing $9.75) I get it as a Bowl with a mix of Quinoa and Spring Mix. The flavors of the Buffalo and the Blue Cheese are so intense that you would never know they are Vegan and it is extremely satisfying. Their Hummus and Blue Corn Chips are a great side and give this meal a little extra crunch!


Another dish you need to know about is The Giddyup (Our famous Tempeh Chili topped with crumbled Blue Corn Chips, fresh Diced Tomato and Scallions. Served with Vegan Queso or Organic Dairy Cheddar $9). Now this dish is great any day of the week…. But Mondays (Giddyup Mondays) it is only $5 (with side included). In fact just about every Monday one of us ends up saying, “It is Giddyup Monday, should we go to Dandelion?” This is a highly recommended outing to start your week out right!


The Bean There, Done That (A Black and White Bean Duo mix it up with Tomatoes, Sweet Corn, Red Onion, Bell Peppers, Organic Dairy or Vegan (Soy) Feta Cheese and Cilantro with Gingerous Dressing $8.50) is also a hearty and satisfying meal!


Other things I like about Dandelion:

It’s counter service so you aren’t required to tip. (But I Always do, and you should too!)

If you order one of the Teas of the Day it is self serve which means free refills.


They display and sell the work of local artists.


They have a sign pointing you in the directions of other local businesses (including other restaurants), which ultimately gives back to the community and I feel that is a pretty cool thing to do.


Eating at Dandelion will bring Rainbows and Sunshine, and you will feel better for having been there!


Dandelion Communitea Café on Urbanspoon

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Cave Inn BBQ


I have a friend who lives in Winter Garden and loves going out to eat just as much as I do. I saw on her Facebook page that she had tried a place called Cave Inn BBQ and liked it, so I told her that I wanted to go there as well. I love BBQ and so we made plans and she and I went a few weeks back.
It is located in a small desolate strip mall just outside of the larger, more populated area of Winter Garden. My first thought was that this was a poor location and they were going to have a difficult time getting traffic.

We were seated and my friend immediately ordered us two helpings of the Pungent Lily Rings (Thinly sliced, seasoned, crisp sweet onions $4). Everything on the menu had a Dinosaur-related name, which was kitschy and fun.

 

As I looked around I enjoyed the “Flintstones” themed décor, a little cheesy but kind of funny as well. Even the bathroom had a pre-historic theme and they had a really cool sink in there. There were probably 3 other tables there that evening and they were just starting Karaoke (which was a little annoying, but a couple people were enjoying it so whatever).


Our server quickly brought out our appetizer, as well as samplings of several of their house-made BBQ Sauces (They had several on their menu consisting of an Apple Butter and a Raspberry Chipotle). This appetizer was fantastic! They were crispy and there was something sweet about them. There must have been sugar in the batter as well as a little crack (LOL) because they were so addictive. I was glad that we each had our own order, and I really liked sopping up the different sauces with them.



My friend ordered a giant Burger and a House Salad that came with a house-made herb Vinaigrette. I ordered a Pulled Pork Sandwich (served on grilled Naan Bread) with Coleslaw and Baked Beans on the side. This also came out rather quickly, although by this time our server was a little slow when it came to refills and bringing out the BBQ Sauce that we had requested. This Pulled Pork was delicious and the fact that it was served on Naan Bread was a nice touch. I could only finish about half of it and took the rest home (and it was just as good the next day right out of the fridge). The Cole Slaw was decent. The Baked Beans could have been cooked a little longer but the flavor was awesome, super- sweet, and the portion was huge.


Then with our bill she brought out a bowl of Chocolate Candy Rocks. This added to the kitsch factor and was also a nice bonus at the end. We left loving the food and couldn’t wait to go back and take another friend of ours who we also thought would love it.


The next day I saw online that the show Restaurant Impossible was doing their makeover on Cave Inn BBQ the following week. Being a fan of the show I wondered why they were going to be there, they had been open less then a year (and the show usually only comes to fix a business has been open for several years). They usually are asked to a place to repair the Food, the Ambiance, or the Service. We tried to get a reservation for the Grand Re-Opening but they were fully booked. Our thoughts were that the place could use a little improvement on Décor, but we sure hope that they weren’t going to ruin the Food.

 A week or so after the renovations we ended up returning and taking our other friend. We were both excited and nervous. As we walked in we were amazed out how different the place looked. There was a fresh coat of paint, what looked like more seating, and plenty of new décor. The walls are now filled with Dinosaur artwork (some of which look like models that you would find for at a science store) and a large “Cave” structure built out of the wall. Although it is very impressive at first glance, when you get up close it seems to have been done rather cheaply. (This was the same case for another “Restaurant Impossible” makeover that I have visited… which incidentally closed within the first year of its renovation.)




We had the same server as the previous visit. As she brought our menus we noticed that they were much smaller and most of the things we had enjoyed before were gone. (Dear Lord, Please let the Food be good.) When expressing our disappointment that many of the things we were excited about were gone she told us about some of the new items and that hopefully they would be bringing back some of our favorites. She told us how good they were so we each ordered a House Salad (Market Vegetables, soft and crispy Lettuces, shaved Radish with Green Goddess Dressing $4). It took an unusually long time for them to be delivered, and when they finally arrived they seemed rather small. I enjoyed mine but missed the Salad from before with the Herb Vinaigrette (but the other girls did not enjoy theirs at all). By this time our Drinks (which were not even right) needed to be refilled, which also took forever… and one of them never got refilled at all. What is going on with the service here?



When she took our order I decided to get the Pulled Pork Sandwich again to compare it to my first visit (served with Mustard Slaw and House BBQ Sauce, on choice of toasted Brioche or grilled Naan $9). She asked if I wanted it on BRO SHAY? Or Naan? I laughed (knowing that she didn’t know how to pronounce Brioche, but was still attempting to sound fancy. LOL). I figured that I better stick with the Naan. She also asked if I wanted Regular Fries, Sweet Potato Fries or Sweet Potato Tots. I attempted the Tots, however when it was brought out it was definitely Sweet Potato Fries (Surprise).

The Pork Sandwich wasn’t bad, but the portion of Meat was much smaller then before. I also missed the selection of BBQ Sauces that they previously offered. The Sweet Potato Fries were pretty good, a little salty but still tasty. I didn’t even try the Slaw – it looked gross.


I also tried the Baked Beans. They were not nearly as good as the previous ones, this was more like a Chili.


Our table also had an order of Whole Chicken Wings ($6) and a Brisket Sandwich (served with caramelized Onions, Horseradish Sauce and melted Swiss $11). There were no complaints about these items, other then the fact that Ketchup was requested and never brought out.



By this time we noticed that the couple sitting next to us (who had already sent their food back because it was wrong) complaining to management. We started talking with them and they were also previous fans; who were upset by all of these changes to the menu. Robert Irvine… what did you do?

I had signed up to their website and was issued a 15% off our entire check voucher. I gave it to our server but was still not issued the discount when she brought our bill. We brought it to the manager’s attention and he was very nice and fixed it.

On my first visit I thought the Atmosphere and Service could have been better but it really didn’t bother me because the Food was so good. On the second visit although the Atmosphere got slightly better, the Food was worse and the Service was awful. A lot of things can be overlooked if the Food is exceptional, however this was not a good experience and I doubt that I will ever be back. Besides, like I said from the beginning the location is so far off the beaten path that it is difficult for them to even get the traffic to be a successful business.

Since my last visit I have noticed from their website that they have added the Pungent Lily Rings back on the menu as well as a few more items. I am looking forward to watching the Restaurant Impossible episode (which is scheduled for mid May 2014) and it will be interesting to see why they changed the things that they did. Maybe more will be revealed to me but as of now I have no pans to return, however I do wish them luck and hope that they can get it together. I never like to see a business fail.



Cave Inn BBQ on Urbanspoon

Friday, April 11, 2014

Chuy's


Chuy’s is a Tex-Mex Restaurant that originated in Austin, Texas in the ‘80s. They have recently added a location in Orlando on International Drive and it has been generating quite the buzz. 


International Drive is very touristy and so is Chuy’s, so I think this could be a match made in heaven. The place is large and covered (and I mean covered) in the most eclectic and eccentric artwork. There is a huge statue of Elvis as you walk in, lots of bright colors everywhere, and each room has a slightly different theme to it. Imagine if Buca Di Beppo and Chili’s had a baby.




Now as for the Food, the portions are BIG and the flavors are even BIGGER!
As most Mexican restaurants do, they started us out with complimentary Chips and Salsa. Their Salsa was very good but definitely had a kick to it, almost too much of a kick. We wondered if the rest of their Food was going to have this same amount of heat.


I wanted to try a little of everything so I asked the server which was the best Combination Platter. She told me to get The Elvis Presley Memorial Combo (Beef Tex-Mex Enchilada, Cheese Ranchero Enchilada, Chicken Tomatillo Enchilada, a Seasoned Ground Sirloin Crispy Taco & Homemade Tostado Chips dipped in Chile ConQueso $10.99).
As far as each item on the Combo… I don’t know if I really had a favorite. Each one was enjoyable (and yes each also did have that element of heat… for certain people it would be way too much so beware to the people who like it Mild!). I guess if I had to pick a favorite it would be the Taco because of its freshness and its crispy-ness. The Refried Beans were also really flavorful!


There were three of us and we all ordered the same thing – that way none of us would be jealous of the others meal!


Even though we didn’t need it, two of us also ordered the Tres Leches Cake ($5.89).
This is one of my favorite desserts and Chuy’s did not disappoint. First of all the portion was HUGE, easily enough for 2-4 people depending on how hungry. It was rich, creamy and super-sweet. I neatly cut off half of it to take home with me, but the rest of it was easily devoured and fully appreciated.


My thoughts on Chuy’s are this… A great place for tourists and visitors, great prices especially for the portion size, a fun place with quick, friendly service. Beware of a little extra Heat. I doubt that I will visit very often because as a local I don’t like to go to the I Drive area, however I do think that it will do very well considering its Location!




Chuy's on Urbanspoon