Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Go to Shula's for Great Burgers, Happy Hour

hambuger, burger, Lake Mary restaurant, Orlando restaurant
What is the first thing my husband wants to do after getting off of a 10-day cleanse/ fast? Eat a hamburger, of course. But not just any burger. A lot of thought and planning went into where we could get the best burger in Orlando. Teak Neighborhood Grill was on the top of our list, and we have also been wanting to try Beth's Burger Bar. Still, we have always had great burgers at Shula's 347 Grill in Lake Mary and, since it is closer to us, the restaurant won out.

As usual, my husband's Shula Burger, which is made with 100% Angus beef, was cooked perfectly. At $11, we think it's a pretty good value, too. It was such a decadent treat after several days of no meat! And we love the fries. Meanwhile, I took advantage of the Happy Hour appetizer specials - filling enough for dinner and a value at $3.47 each. The Boiled Shrimp app is tasty but I like the mussels app even more. The wine, garlic and tomato broth is yummy.

mussels, seafood, Lake Mary restaurants, Orlando restaurants Cocktails - including some of Shula's signature martinis - are also a great value during Happy Hour (Monday - Friday, 4-7 p.m.) at $3.47 each. However, the regular cocktail, wine and beer prices at the restaurant are out-of-control. $14 for an Old-Fashioned in a small tumbler glass? Sheesh! Go during happy hour, if you want to enjoy a drink. We love all the desserts at Shula's 347 Grill, but we were sad to see the Apple Cobbler go. That was a perfect dessert.

Friday, June 26, 2015

White Castle Food Truck in Orlando this Sat.!

burgers
I didn't know until today that there are White Castle food trucks traveling around the country this year. And one of them is coming to Orlando! It will be serving delicious burgers and more to Orlando Predators' fans - and anyone else in downtown Orlando - this Saturday night!

The White Castle Crave Mobile 2 will be on Church St. in front of the Amway Center June 27, from 3 p.m. to 9 p.m. If you are lucky enough to visit the truck, let me know how the food is. I have never had a White Castle burger, but have heard wonderful things about them.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Goodbye, Funky Monkey Wine Company!

It's sad to see any restaurant close, but especially one that has had such an impact on so many people. Many of my friends have enjoyed a glass of wine and the delicious food at Funky Monkey Wine Company on Mills Ave., and now the owners have decided to close up shop. Instead, they are focusing on the company's Funky Monkey Pointe Orlando location - in a great position with all the new businesses and attractions on International Drive - especially The Orlando Eye.

"After eight amazing years, and over 100,000 friends served, we are saying goodbye to our Mills Avenue location," owner Eddie Nickell wrote on his personal Facebook page. "We opened this location against all odds eight years ago, and many people thought we were absolutely insane. Funky Monkey has won many awards over the years, and has donated to many amazing charities and benefits."

To say goodbye to the Mills Ave. location, Nickell invited Facebook friends to join himself, co-owner Nick and Chef Ashley Nickell to an event on Sunday, June 28 from 6-10 p.m. Guests pay $25 for food tastings and wine, and the restaurant will donate a portion of the proceeds to the Mills 50 organization. Email eddie@funkeymonkeywine.com to attend the exclusive event.

Thank you, Eddie, Nick and everyone at Funky Monkey for contributing so much to the Orlando community. Your Mills Ave. location will be missed!

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Why Pay More When You Can Pei Wei?

I heard loud and clear from Flavorful Excursions' readers earlier this year: you love Pei Wei. After finally getting a chance to eat there myself, I understand why! I can order some of the same dishes that I would order at P.F. Chang's for a great value. The prices are reasonable, the portions are big, and the food is made to order, just like at a full-service restaurant. 

Did I mention that Pei Wei's food is pretty tasty, too? We ordered the Kung Pao Chicken ($6.69 for a small portion, $8.69 for original) and really liked the flavor. It was not the best Kung Pao Chicken we have ever had, but it was good. We also liked the Ginger Broccoli Chicken, which we ordered without the sauce. It is great that you can modify dishes at Pei Wei if you are gluten-intolerant or have food allergies. Plus, there are several vegetarian options. 

The Thai Wonton Soup was not as flavorful as we would have liked, considering it contains scallions, lemongrass and Thai basil. It was also way too salty. The best part of the soup was the chicken wonton.

I ordered the Asian Chopped Chicken Salad to go, and thought the flavor and portion size were great. So, while it is not the best Chinese food I have had, I would recommend Pei Wei for a quick and enjoyable meal out. Plus, there are many healthy menu options. Let us know: do you like to order there?

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Start Your Father's Day Tradition at Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress

Photo by Christine Blank
This is the fourth year in a row that our family will gather at the Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress in Orlando to celebrate Father's Day. We have had so much fun with all the activities the resort has to offer in the past, that we wanted to keep the tradition alive. Everything about this resort - from the beautiful pool area and grounds to the gorgeous guest rooms - make you feel like you truly on vacation, while still in Orlando. 

You can lay by the stunning pool that features two waterfalls and a water slide, or relax in one of the hammocks on the resort's own beach. For those who are more active - like our family - there is golfing and free rentals of bikes, kayaks and paddleboards for those staying at the resort. The rock-climbing wall is also very popular. There are even golf lessons and a fly-fishing experience, for an extra fee.
Photo by Christine Blank

While on property, you will want to try out the delicious food at the upscale Hemingway's restaurant. One of the Key West-inspired specials is its crab cakes, which are flavorful and packed with crab, not breading. There is also great variety on the menus at the resort's two other restaurants, Cascade American Bistro and Palm Cafe.

The Hyatt Grand Cypress is always running room rate specials and deals on golfing and spa packages. Check out how to save money when you book there: http://grandcypress.hyatt.com/en/hotel/offers.html

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Scrumptious Fried Seafood, Poor Service at JB's

Soft shell crab platter
JB's Fish Camp in New Smyrna Beach, Fla., is a magical place where you can eat, fish off the dock and rent kayaks and paddle boards. Last time we went, we rented kayaks and had the opportunity to see dolphins along our route! At the popular restaurant - it was packed mid-afternoon on a Saturday - you can sit by the water and watch people fish - and spot fish and crabs yourself.

While I like the atmosphere and some of the food, the service at JB's Fish Camp is terrible. Not only is it usually slow, but on our most recent visit, our server simply did not come back to the table. Once in awhile, other staff would check on our outside table. It took forever to get our food, the check, and drink refills. 

Still, everyone in our large party was fairly happy with the quality and flavor of the food they received. The Soft Shell Crab platter was tasty. We liked the breading, but thought there was a bit too much of it. The Fried Bay Scallops were also delicious, but the amount of breading overpowered the delicate shellfish. The Blackened Grouper Sandwich had great flavor. The hushpuppies - while not the best we have had - are high up on the list. They had great flavor, spiked by hot peppers. And we loved the flavor of the seasoned French fries.

I would recommend visiting JB's for the atmosphere and fried seafood - as long as you have time to wait for your food. The prices are reasonable, particularly for a family dinner.

Where: 859 Pompano Ave., New Smyrna Beach, Fla.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Go to Scratch for Quality, Not Price Point

I have seen the beautifully-crafted plates presented by the talented team of chefs at Scratch
Tapas & Craft on Facebook and Instagram since the eatery opened. Those delicious-looking dinners with high-end plate presentation drew us to the small local food-focused restaurant in Winter Park. We loved the eclectic, Bohemian decor, and the buzz of the regulars sitting at the bar or enjoying a date night at one of the few tables. We also loved the high quality of the food: mostly local, seasonal ingredients are featured on the menu that changes daily. 

What we were not as pleased with was the price. With the type of food quality and plate presentation offered - as well as Scratch's location near Park Avenue - I certainly expected a higher price point. However, when you hear, "tapas", I expect to order two or three different plates for $8-$12 each. Unfortunately, most of the tapas available were $14 to $16 each and one was as high as $25. That doesn't give diners a lot of opportunity to try different plates. The portion size was medium, so I felt like I needed to order two dishes to feel satisfied.
Grilled Poussin Legs    Photo by Christine Blank

That being said, the flavor of our food was outstanding. We started with the Chamberry Breeze cocktail ($10), which was sweet and light - very refreshing. The Frog Song Farm Greens with Local Blackberries, Radish, Palm Hearts and Mustard Vinaigrette was also tasty. One of our favorite dishes was the Buttermilk Risotto ($16) with Florida Rock Shrimp, Local Corn and Riso Carnaroli. The risotto and shrimp were cooked perfectly and the dish oozed cheesy goodness. 

The Grilled Pouissin Legs ($18) with Jerusalem Artichoke gnocchi, bacon powder and black garlic was also delicious. The young chicken was flavorful and tender; we just found the black garlic paste to be too bitter, even thought we ate it as part of a composed bite. All the components of the Roasted Wahoo ($14) with plum wine puree, yam puree, ramp tempura and Sprite Basil puree were tasty separately, but a bit too sweet as a composed bite. The sweet, watermelon puree somewhat overpowered this tasty fish.

Let us know your favorite dishes at Scratch, and whether or not you agree with our price-versus-quality argument.

Where: 223 W. Fairbanks Ave., Winter Park, Fla.