Wednesday, September 29, 2021

24 Hours at Amelia Island

If you only had 24 hours to stay and play in Amelia Island, what would you do?
Instead of seeing some of the more well-known sights, such as the Amelia Island Lighthouse and Fort Clinch State Park, my husband, daughter and I opted for a more relaxing visit. 

I'm so glad we stayed at Courtyard by Marriott/Springhill Suites Amelia Island, a new, clean property that is quiet and restful, but also provides fun options for families. The bonus is that it is just a short walk from the beach and directly across from Fort Clinch State Park.

We started our day with one of the most massive and delicious complimentary breakfasts I have encountered. It was nice to see high quality eggs, breakfast potatoes, and waffles offered, along with cereal, pastries, fruit, and other items.

Then, we headed to the expansive pool with fountains, where floats are provided for kids to enjoy. My daughter wanted to stay and play all day. I was surprised to see a number of guests at a poolside Yoga & Mimosas class, held every Saturday morning. What a cool idea!

We enjoyed lunch at the hotel and a visit with Niko Anagnostou, executive chef and director of food and beverage. An avid fishermen and a longtime resident of Amelia Island, Anognostou utilizes local seafood such as Mayport shrimp at the restaurant whenever possible. Soon, Anognostou will start offering cooking classes, such as how to make an authentic Greek dinner. 

For dinner, we wandered downtown and happened across a restaurant with a wonderful outdoor patio area and fountain. We were pleasantly surprised that the quality of food matched the decor. The Shrimp & Grits with Onions and Gravy was one of the best my husband has tried, and that is saying a lot after growing up
near New Orleans.

Leaving out the next morning, we were overwhelmed by the many restaurants offering brunch. Of course we did not have time to try them all, but are so glad we checked out Beach Diner. My husband loved his house special breakfast, which included scrambled eggs, bacon, potatoes, and toast. The simple things - all done right. My daughter's waffle was also delicious, and they accommodated my dietary restrictions with an egg white omelette with shrimp and crab that was outstanding.

Disclosure: Hotel stay sponsored by Innisfree Hotels, which operates Courtyard by Marriott/Springhill Suites Amelia Island.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Top 5 favorite things at SeaWorld Orlando

Dolphins jumping in the air. The over-the-top orca show. The delicious food. It was difficult to narrow down the most fun things we experienced during our recent day at SeaWorld Orlando, but here are a few of our favorites:

1. One Ocean. This is the infamous killer whale show, featuring smart and beautiful orca whales. It is amazing that these mammoth creatures can leap so high into the air! This and the dolphin show are the most thrilling shows at the park.

2. Dolphin Days. Similar to One Ocean, this show features several well-trained dolphins performing wondrous feats. Don't miss this show when you visit!

3. Antartica: Empire of the Penguin exhibit. Who does not love the cute way that penguins
waddle? Even better are the frigid cold temperatures, allowing a brief reprieve from the Florida heat. 

4. Pets Ahoy. I was surprised that this show - featuring all types of animals, including mice, ducks, cats and dogs - was so entertaining for both children and adults. This was my first time seeing this show, and I will definitely check it out again!

5. The food. SeaWorld restaurants have other options than just burgers and fries, unlike some other theme parks. We ate flavorful, healthy food at Seafire Grill. We would recommend the fajitas, the Tex-Mex Bowl, and the desserts.

Unfortunately, the roller coasters were having technical issues and long waits the day we visited, so I can't provide a review of those. When you visit this summer, beware of the heat. The park is hot and there is a lot of walking. The dolphin, sea lion and orca shows are outdoors, so they do not provide much relief from the heat - unless you sit near the stage/ tanks!


Fab animals, food at Disney's Animal Kingdom

Don't miss new Star Wars event at Disney Hollywood Studios

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Top 5 reasons to visit Seasons 52 Orlando for brunch, lunch & dinner

Meyer Lemon & Ricotta Ravioli   - Photo by Mike Blank
Although we have dined at the Seasons 52 location in Altamonte Springs, Fla., several times, it was such a treat to visit Season 52's Orlando location on Sand Lake Rd. on a recent weekend. The first-ever Seasons 52 built, this restaurant is very beautiful and expansive, and has a wonderful waterside view. What a wonderful atmosphere. 

Here are the other top 4 reasons to visit this restaurant - as well as other Seasons 52 locations:

1. The service.Julian Koerner, the manager, and our server, Matt, both took care of our every need. It truly was an outstanding service experience.

2. Brunch (including Mother's Day brunch!). The Orange Marmalade Parfait Mini Starter was decadent and not too sweet, and the Shakshuka was truly original. This dish consists of two eggs baked in a sauce of sweet peppers, tomatoes, chorizo sausage and feta cheese. While it was delicious and unique, there was too much pepper/ tomato sauce, for my taste. However, we loved the Eggs Benedict on toasted brioche, with mushrooms and spinach.
Mini Desserts - Photo by Mike Blank
 The crushed potatoes served with this dish are awesome, too.

3. New spring dishes. Our favorite dish on the new menu was the Meyer Lemon & Ricotta Ravioli, with brown butter, roasted peppers and English peas. This dish is beautiful to look at, and delicious to eat. It is also a very light dish. Other seasonal dishes you should try include: Crispy Green Tomato and Burrata Board with honeycomb, Kona-Crusted Rack of Lamb, and Stir-Fried Snow Peas with Shitake Mushrooms.

4. Mini-desserts. Who can resist Seasons 52's Mini Desserts? No matter how full we are, we always have to order one or two of these. Our favorites on this visit were: Belgian Chocolate S'More, Chocolate Peanut Butter Torte and Mocha Macchiato.

Full Seasons 52 photo album available on Flavorful Excursions' Facebook page.

*A special thanks to Julian Koerner and Courtney Moed for setting up this media dinner for Flavorful Excursions.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

A personal message from Chef Greg Richie, Baoery Asian Gastropub

Like many of our readers, we were heartbroken to hear that Baoery Asian Gastropub in Orlando will be closing soon. The food that we tried from Baoery at the Downtown Food & Wine Fest was outstanding, modern and unique. However, the restaurant simply couldn't survive in its Thornton Park location. 

We reached out to Greg Richie, executive chef/ partner for both Baoery and Soco Thornton Park, to learn more about the eatery's closing and find out what is next.

Flavorful Excursions: What would you like to say to our readers who are sad the restaurant is closing?

Richie: I would like to thank your readers for any support they have given us. And, if you value and cherish a restaurant, go there. I have heard it heartbreakingly too often: "I hear such great things about your restaurant! I'm really looking forward to trying it." Well, we were open more than a year and a half. Many people "never got around to it". It's very sad.

Flavorful Excursions: When will the restaurant close?

Richie: We have a few good days left in us!

Flavorful Excursions: What ventures are next for you?

Richie: I'm going to focus on Soco for the time being, marshal my forces, and look for the next opportunity to try to bring yummy food to the hungry diners out there!

Again, we very sad to hear about Baoery closing. We say: there is no time like the present to try this great Orlando restaurant - and any others you have been dying to try!

Also see:

Gavin DeGraw, oustanding food and wine at Downtown Food & Wine Fest

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Excellent Food, Drinks & Atmosphere at Coast Seafood & Brew, Beau Rivage

by Guest Blogger Lauren White

We were wowed by the excellent seafood, cocktails and brews showcased at Coast Seafood & Brew in the Beau Rivage Resort & Casino last week, when the restaurant unveiled its all-new seafood menu.

The concept for the new menu is "dock-to-table. The restaurant and bar sources the best fresh, local seafood and beers and serves them in a fun and laid-back - but still upscale - atmosphere. They utilize local chefs who know the area and can cook with what is around them. 

While we loved everything we tried, here are some of our favorite dishes and drinks:

  • El Jimador Spicy Margarita. Served with a lime and a sliced jalapeno, this cocktail has a definite kick but is not too spicy to enjoy. It is very well balanced.
  • Red Snapper Escoveitch. In this Jamaican preparation, the snapper has a delicious glaze over the top that also gave it a little crunch. The fish is very moist, and didn't have a fishy taste.
  • Catfish Sliders. Yes, you read that correctly. These were very tasty, thanks in part to the breading, which was very crispy and flavorful. The catfish was also cooked perfectly, flaky and moist. 
  • Shrimp Cocktail. Huge, juicy shrimp are featured, and the cocktail sauce is very flavorful with a nice kick.
  • Oyster Po' boy Slider. Perfectly-cooked oysters are breaded with a batter that doesn't overpower the oyster, but is flavorful. Just like the Catfish Sliders, we loved the soft, fresh bread the restaurant uses.
  • Deep Fried Crawfish Jambalaya. This was surprisingly very moist, with deep flavors and a nice kick at the end of each bite. The rice was well cooked and the crawfish were tender.  
  • Mother Shucker. These are huge Louisiana oysters, which are topped with a hollandaise sauce and bacon. All the flavors paired very well to give you a great bite every time, and the oyster was perfectly fried.
  • Salty Dog beer from Biloxi Brewing Company. While this brew does have a salty tinge, it is light and easy to drink.
  • Kiln Mississippi Gold from Lazy Magnolia Brewing. This beer is smooth and easy to drink. It had a different, surprising flavor, and was very delicious. 
  • Pomegranate Martini (Pom-Tini). This was sweet, but very smooth. We loved it!
  • Lost on the Beach. This is fruity drink that makes me think of the sand in my toes! It was very refreshing and yummy.
We appreciated Beau Rivage inviting us to this media preview of Coast Seafood & Brew. After our amazing food and drinks, we had an opportunity to stay at the resort and casino. This is a staycation that we would recommend to anyone along the Coast looking for a relaxing, fun getaway.

Not only will you enjoy top quality food at Coast Seafood & Brew - along with Beau Rivage's buffet and other outstanding restaurant on property - but you will be staying in a wonderful, upscale atmosphere with the best service.

Every employee we passed in the hallway was nice and said hello. The staff who checked us in and out was extremely efficient and personable. The valet was also very prompt. They told us it would take around 15 minutes to get our car, and it only took and it only took five.

We were also able to check in using the VIP area, which was very nice. They had coffee, tea and water out and couches and chairs to relax in. They also had cookies out the afternoon that we checked in.

The room was very nice.  Not only was it clean and comfortable, but it was quiet at all hours, and the blackout curtains made it so cozy at night. The bathroom was spacious and the shower was big and roomy. We also loved our view of the city and the Shuckers baseball park. 

We will return to Beau Rivage to eat - and stay - soon!

Also see: 

Enjoy outstanding food & more at Beau Rivage

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

New fave Orlando seafood eatery: Reel Fish

Photo by Shad Bookout, OpinionsVary
We finally have a real beach seafood restaurant in Orlando! Now, I know what you are thinking, and you are right. There are plenty of seafood-focused restaurants here - from independent standouts like Two Chefs Seafood in downtown Orlando to chains such as FishBones and Bonefish Grill. 

However, Reel Fish Coastal Kitchen + Bar in Winter Park is the first seafood restaurant I have seen in Central Florida that has the quality, service and decor of a beach seafood restaurant - done perfectly. "We have the fish camp culture in a coastal kitchen in an inlet setting," Owner Fred Thimm told Flavorful Excursions when the restaurant invited us for a media review. "We have great fried fish and other fried items; then, on the other hand, there is fresh local fish every day."

In addition to the "Daily Catch" specials, such as Yellowtail snapper, corvina and hogfish, you will find Southern specialties such as Shrimp 'n Grits, fried green tomatoes, and collard greens - prepared extremely well. You would think you're in your grandma's Southern
Photo by Shad Bookout, OpinionsVary

Here are just a few of the dishes that we recommend you try when you go:

1. Raw oysters and Oysters Rockefeller: You can choose from whichever high quality oysters are in season, including James River, Blue Point and Gulf. Very fresh and high quality. 

2. Shrimp or Oyster Po'Boys. Using bread flown in from a New Orleans bakery, as well as perfectly breaded and lightly fried shrimp and oysters, makes these sandwiches taste truly authentic.

3. Mayport shrimp: This sweet Florida shrimp is excellent served boiled (regular or spicy) and fried. This shrimp from near Jacksonville Beach is used in all Reel Fish's shrimp dishes. And most dishes don't cost more than at restaurants serving farmed shrimp from Asia.

4. Smoked Fish Dip: We love the heavy smoke on this fresh dip, as well as the crunch of green apples.

5. Shrimp & Avocado Louie Salad. The crispy bacon pairs perfectly with shrimp, avocado, hard-boiled egg - and such a delicious vinaigrette. This is one salad you don't want to miss out on!

6. Southern Green Beans with smoked bacon onion broth. Drooling just thinking about the bacony goodness of these beans!

Truly, everything we had was outstanding, which is quite outstanding for a restaurant that has been open less than a month. And, now that the restaurant is open for lunch and Sunday brunch, we have plenty of opportunities to return. And we will!

Also see: 

Mouthwatering Reel Fish photo album on Facebook.

Win brunch for two at Two Chefs Seafood

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Top reasons to visit new Planet Hollywood Observatory at Disney Springs

High Roller App Platter,
Photo by Shad Bookout
It was very exciting to revisit the newly-renovated restaurant, Planet Hollywood Observatory at Disney Springs in Orlando, Fla. 

For those who have visited before, one of the first things you will notice is the upgraded entertainment aspect: this is not just a place to eat; it is a great place for family entertainment. Eight video projectors light up the massive sphere that is Planet Hollywood, streaming popular Disney pop videos and other music. Some tables even feature the same videos - what a fascinating option for kids! 

Soon, a D.J. will interact with guests, and those interactions will be displayed on the screen. "We are fun dining. We appeal to all ages, as well as couples," General Manager Mark Ehrli told Flavorful Excursions. Large groups will also love the new restaurant, since there is seating for 650 people, including at an expansive, covered outdoor terrace.

As for the food, it is a fun, whimsical menu of with a multitude of choices, including specialty Guy Fieri burgers, traditional Planet Hollywood dishes like L.A. Lasagna, and milkshakes like you have never seen before, featuring cake and candy toppers. 

Morgan Veggie Burger, Photo by Shad Bookout
On our first visit, we were guests of Planet Hollywood, and had a much better food and service experience than the second visit, when we came on our own. The service was outstanding on our first visit: everyone from managers to servers were passionate about where they work and assisting guests with their every need. 

The specialty cocktails are delicious, as was the mojito we tried. Some of our favorite apps were: Texas Tostadas, Hummus Trio and Five Cheese Dip. For entrees, we recommend the Bacon Mac-n-Cheese Burger, an award-winning Guy Fieri burger that we were not able to try but others loved it; L.A. Lasagna (stuffed pasta with ricotta and Bolognese meat sauce that is fried); the scrumptious and healthy Shrimp Florentine Pasta; and Morgan's Veggie Burger. Also designed by Guy Fieri, the veggie burger is a very flavorful treat for non-meat eaters, but doesn't hold together well.

Our favorite dessert was the Planet Meltdown, a chocolate sphere melted table-side by hot
Planet Meltdown, Photo by Shad Bookout
chocolate sauce to reveal a decadent fudge cake, fresh strawberries and whipped cream. The Supernova Shakes look delicious, but really aren't that tasty. The Strawberry Big Bang shake we tried didn't taste like it was made with real strawberry ice cream, and the cake topper was not great. However, I am sure that kids will go crazy for any of the shakes offered here.

As I mentioned, there were some food and service flaws on our second visit. For example, the flavor of our Prime Time American Kobe Burger was just alright, and it was overcooked. Our server did not ask how we would like the burger cooked. For a $19.99 burger, I really expect the food to be outstanding. Likewise, the Pimento Grilled Cheese Sandwich looks outstanding, but is just alright. 

The bottom line: I still highly recommend Planet Hollywood Observatory for families, as well as couples and groups meeting for drinks and apps or dessert after a movie. There is a great management team in place, and I am quite sure that any service kinks will be worked out soon. Let me know your experience in the comments below.

Also see:

Cupcake ATM and much more at Sprinkles

Top reasons to visit Disney Hollywood Studios