Thursday, August 21, 2014

Salty Spam Fries & More at Hawaiian Grindz

by Guest Blogger Sarah Eberwein Hawthorne

Hawaiian Grindz features a cozy and inviting atmosphere, reminding one of a Hawaiian hut with relaxing music in the background. I was greeted by a friendly cashier and noticed the lunch specials. For a mere $6.99, I could choose two meat entrees along with a scoop of white rice, macaroni salad, and a drink. I opted for the Kalua Pig and the Mochiko Chicken. 

Of course, I needed to try the Spam Fries, one of Hawaiian Grindz's specialties. I mean, who has heard of Spam Fries?! Since i am a spam virgin, I went into this experience with open taste buds. The presentation is cute: the Spam Fries are displayed in an empty Spam can and are accompanied by four sauce options.

At first bite, they tasted like cheap fish sticks, but I think that's because they were so salty. I tried the sauces and that helped bring out the flavor. The options were spicy mayo, sweet 'n sour sauce, ranch, and soy sauce. I found myself slightly repulsed by the fact that I was eating spam fries, but the breading was so good that I dipped in and ate a few more while waiting for my entree. After a few, the salt was getting to me. And my tea, which tasted more like water, wasn't helping. 

The entree came quickly, though, and she brought me two bottles of sauces along with them. They looked similar but one was labeled sweet and the other spicy. I put a little of the sweet on my plain white rice and it tasted like the soy sauce and sweet 'n sour sauce had been mixed together. It was actually quite tasty. 

I delved into the Kalua Pig first and my mouth was filled with a salty, greasy mush. You could not taste the pork behind the massive amount of salt...even saltier than the spam. Moving on to the Mochiko Chicken, I was happy to find that they used the same light but
crunchy breading as on the spam fries, even though this breading was obviously mixed with a very sweet add-on. It tasted like a breaded bourbon chicken. It was just a little too sweet for my taste (and I have a major sweet tooth), but it was a nice contrast to the salt. 

The highlight of my meal was the macaroni salad. I will be probably be back just to buy this tasty little side. It was perfectly creamy, with carrots adding a nice crunch and lightly seasoned with pepper. After I put the last macaroni in my mouth, I wanted to lick the plate. 

As I was leaving, I noticed a large white board that had 12 Chef Special dishes. I wish I had seen that or been offered those options prior to ordering, as there were several dishes that looked quite interesting. I also noticed the Spam Fries clearly advertised on the board for $4, despite not being on the menu. 

While the food was not my cup of tea, I thoroughly enjoyed the atmosphere, the good service, and the speed in which I could eat and be back on my way.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Guide to New BJ's Restaurant - Oviedo

Avocado Egg Rolls
I recognize that it was kind of silly to visit BJ's Restaurant and Brewhouse in Oviedo this past weekend, after it had only been open a week. However, I have been wanting to try BJ's after friends raved about the Sand Lake Rd. location.

The wait was crazy. It was a Friday night and there was a line out the door. As a result, the bar area was crowded with people as well, standing around with their drinks while they waited for tables. Despite the crowds, I really enjoyed the atmosphere at BJ's: high ceilings and a light, clean feel. Plus, the happy hour specials from 3:00 to 6:00, were great: $4 craft beers and $4 calls. 

Speaking of BJ's craft beers, the menu of the restaurant's own beers on tap and others is so extensive, it's hard to choose just one. Our friends really liked the Jeremiah Red and BJ's Oasis Amber but the Harvest Hefeweizen was just okay. I ordered one of BJ's signature cocktails, the Strawberry Smash. I was disappointed because all the ice in the glass left only a small drink, plus it had a slight medicine taste. Next time, I will order the Strawberry Mojito, which was highly recommended by my friend. Plus, all of BJ's mojitos and martinis are only $5 each, all day, every Monday.

Harvest Ale
Now to the menu. It is pages and pages, similar to Cheesecake Factory, but not as bad as that. I like that BJ's provide a bit of something for everyone, for whatever mood you are in. BJ's has a lot of bar food, including wings and potato skins, but typically provides a different twist on the appetizers and entrees that would normally be served at a restaurant/ bar. Plus, there are some healthy items like salads that looked gerat.

The potato skins were good, and the Avocado Egg Rolls were even better. I also wanted to try the Thai Shrimp Lettuce Wraps and the Chicken Pot Stickers, but couldn't fit everything in. For entrees, I would definitely recommend BJ's pizzas, which reminded me of Pizza Hut's personal pan pizzas, but bigger, crispier, and not as covered with greasy cheese. Both the Pepperoni and Cheese pizzas were delicious! On the lighter side, we loved the flavor of the Lemon Thyme Chicken, which featured perfectly-cooked chicken breasts, a light lemon thyme sauce, and was served with brown rice and vegetables. 

We didn't have room for dessert, but next time, I will order the beignets or one of the many other desserts there! What are your favorites here? Let me know in the comments section below.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Save Money, Eat Great at Carmel Cafe

One of the reasons that I always recommend Carmel Cafe & Wine Bar in Winter Park and Altamonte Springs to friends is that I can get a good deal on my meal and drinks here. Plus, every time I have visited, I have had excellent service in a relaxing, classy atmosphere.

Braised Short Ribs
I was reminded of the feasibility of dining at the restaurants recently when I ate there on a Sunday and a Monday. On these two evenings, a three-course Prix Fixe menu is available with a few different entrees features. For $14, one can choose from two different apps (including my favorite - Chickpea Fries!), soup or salad, and from four entrees. On the nights I went, the Steak Frites, Moroccan Lemon Chicken, Spinach Gnocchi, and Basil Grilled Salmon were all available. The entrees alone are typically $12-$13 for the small size so the Prix Fixe menu is a great deal!

I have tried all of the dishes except the Spinach Gnocchi, and was very pleased with all of them. The Moroccan Lemon Chicken is accompanied by a light, delicious sauce and the chicken is tender. I would suggest ordering a different side than the roasted vegetables, though, since some of them are not cooked that well. The Basil Grilled Salmon was also cooked perfectly and very flavorful. If you order the Steak Frites, the steak is pretty good - not the highest cut of meat or anything - but the crispy fries are to die for.

Moroccan Lemon Chicken
We also tried the Braised Short Ribs entree and were impressed with how tender the meat was and how delicious the accompanying sauce was. While the Poached Pear is the most popular dessert at Carmel, I wanted to try a new dessert. I would recommend the Pound Cake and Strawberries, which reminds me of a shortcake. While the strawberries were not that great, the cake was simply delicious.

Let me know your favorite dishes at Carmel in the comments section below.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Loving the Unique Flavors at Spice Thai

Soft Shell Crab Curry
It is not often that I recommend a restaurant that has poor service. That is because, in this case, the eatery had excellent food that I want to go back and get more of. Perhaps they were just having a busy Friday night at Spice Thai on Semoran Blvd. in Orlando. While servers were not that attentive, food for a table of six was brought out piping hot.

Now let me tell you about the excellent food. Spice Thai does not feature your average curry dishes. Instead, it has several signature dishes that are different from any other Thai restaurant I have visited. I had the Soft Shell Crab and Curry, and was impressed at the crispiness of the crab, even with the curry sauce and vegetables. Plus, the flavor of the yellow curry sauce was excellent.

Tiger's Tear Steak
We also loved the Spice's Lemongrass Fried Rice, which includes shrimp, squid, mussels and scallops with eggs, onions, bell pepper and basil in a spicy house sauce. Mmm...we savored every bite. We were also impressed by the Tiger's Tear Steak, which was brought out on a steaming hot plate, which always makes for great entertainment and aroma! The grilled New York Strip streak, which was cooked perfectly, was accompanied by sauteed onions, bell peppers and mushrooms, and served with two sauces.

The apps were okay. My favorite was the Chicken Wontons, but the Pork Dumplings were pretty greasy inside and burnt on the outside. The other thing we were not impressed with was the Coconut Milk Soup (Tom Kha), which was watered down and lacked flavor. Unfortunately, it was not like the authentic dish from Thailand.

Where: 6125 S. Semoran Blvd., Orlando

Friday, August 8, 2014

How Cost-Effective, Healthy Meal Delivery Service Came to Be

After you hear this inspiring story, you will want to start eating healthy yourself. A few years ago, Marc Elkman, who was a certified personal trainer at a high-end country club in Boca Raton and a competitive weightlifter, used a meal delivery service so he could keep his diet on track. Unfortunately, the "healthy meals" tasted awful. Marc talked to his friend at the club - executive chef Patrick Delaney - about the problem with the meals, and Patrick developed ways to make the lackluster delivered meals taste better.

And so, a great idea was born. Marc and Patrick teamed up and founded Fresh Meal Plan, the healthy meal delivery service that I told you about earlier this week. What I was so impressed by the meals I ordered - the paleo diet in this case - was their freshness, amazing flavor, and unique recipes that always kept me excited about sticking with the plan. 

Many more people are shifting to a paleo diet - which also happens to be gluten-free - thanks to the crossfit phenomenon. "The paleo diet was initially adopted by the crossfit community, so the paleo program is growing as crossfit grows," Marc told Flavorful Excursions. 

To help paleo dieters feel like they are eating the same type of foods as traditional meals, Patrick and team developed paleo bread and dessert recipes that taste incredibly close the real thing. They utilize fruits and vegetables in sauces to mimic traditional, processed sauces such as caramel sauce on a dessert and sweet and sour sauce on chicken. 



However, Fresh Meal Plan does not stop there. Customers can choose from a variety of different plans - including "traditional" meals and regimes for vegetarians and high-performance athletes. Athletes can customize their meal plans to include a certain number of calories, carbs, and protein content. This concept is so successful, that Fresh Meal Plan provides all the pre-game meals for the Miami Dolphins, as well as customized plans for individual Dolphins' players.

But the program is also for "regular" people, who simply want to eat tasty, healthy meals and are too busy to prepare them. Fresh Meal Plan is so successful, that it has 2,500 subscribers and will be expanding to Tampa soon. Already, the delivery service is available in South Florida, the Keys, and Orlando. 

The cost is extremely reasonable as well - particularly when you consider that Fresh meal Plan is using high quality ingredients such as free-range chicken and grass-fed beef. The average cost is $25 a day for three meals, or $16 for two. That is less than I can prepare healthy meals at home for!

What are you waiting for? Visit www.freshmealplan today to sign up!

Monday, August 4, 2014

Eat Healthy at Home with Fresh Meal Plan

I was fortunate to be selected as one of the first VIPs to try fresh meal delivery service Fresh Meal Plan, which just expanded to Orlando. I am so excited to share my experience with this healthy meal delivery service, designed for those who want to simply eat better, as well as those who want to lose weight and improve their athletic performance.

First off, it was such a treat not to have to cook for three days. Having meals delivered to my home is so much easier. Instead of spending hours planning, shopping and cooking, I had time to work out and accomplish other things. Plus, knowing that I got to taste new paleo recipes left me feeling inspired and healthy.

On Fresh Meal Plan, you can choose meals that are vegetarian, paleo, or traditional, or those geared towards high-performance athletes. Since my husband and I have gone on the paleo diet in the past, we decided to try the paleo meals. Our breakfasts, lunches, dinners, snacks, and desserts were all paleo (basically, whatever cave people could pick, hunt and gather). 


Chicken Madeira and Sherry Wine Turkey
I had no idea that paleo meals could be so diverse, and that I could have great-tasting desserts to top off my meals! Dishes like Sweet and Sour Chicken, sweetened with pineapple and other fruits and juices, and the Bison Kafta Salad were so unique and delicous. The Sweet & Sour Chicken had a good flavor - although it was not strong enough - and was very tender. We loved the accompaniment of sweet potatoes, pineapple and flaked coconut for something different. 

For breakfasts, we got to enjoy the Steak Egg & Bacon Wrap. The wrap fell apart when reheating and had a dry consistency, but were were amazed that we were able to have a delicious, different breakfast than we would have ever made. The Bananas Foster French Toast (made with almond flour instead of regular wheat bread) was absolutely a treat, as was the Waffle (albeit somewhat dry) and accompanying turkey bacon, turkey sausage and fresh fruit.

Some of our other favorite meals were the Steak with Guava and Passionfruit Glaze, which was tender - to our pleasant surprise - accompanied by firm and flavorful plantains. For lunch one day, we had the Bison Kafta Salad. The bison was very salty but flavorful, and the salad was fresh and crisp. The Chicken Madeira had a delicious flavor and a crispy exterior breading - made from almond flour! The texture of the Sherry Wine Turkey was somewhat rubbery, but the flavor was very good. The sauce - not really wine at all - was delicious and had a nice acid to it that we liked. The green beans were crispy and not mushy.
Pesto Bison Burger

The desserts - especially for being paleo and gluten-free- were very flavorful. Even though the Caramel Coconut Pie does not contain dairy, you really get that caramel flavor. The Macadamia Brownie Bites provide a nice chocolate flavor and the Carrot Cake Cookies, while a bit dry, had a wonderful flavor.

I almost forgot to mention: I was not hungry while on Fresh Meal Plan at all. The portions were great, and the snacks and desserts helped fill in when needed.

Tomorrow, I will tell you more about why I am such a fan of Fresh Meal Plan. You can also sign up at www.freshmealplan.com. Here's to healthy, delicious eating!

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

New Carmel Cafe Altamonte Excels

You have heard me rave about Carmel Cafe Winter Park in the past. Now, Carmel Cafe Altamonte Springs is open and the food and atmosphere are just as great as its Winter Park counterpart. Actually, I like the design of the bar area a bit better at the Altamonte location. And service is outstanding at both locations. 

When we dined at Carmel Cafe Altamonte with family recently, we were able to taste some new items we hadn't had before. That night, the happy hour special was a house-infused Cherry Bourbon cocktail. I don't normally like bourbon, but this was delicious and refreshing! By the way, Happy Hour - every weekday from 4 to 7 p.m. - is a good time to go to the restaurant. You get to try some of the restaurant's appetizers and drinks for only $4 each.


On this night, we tried some apps and entrees that we had not tried before. The Short Rib Empanadas were so flavorful, and the Braised Short Ribs with Creamy Polenta were cooked perfectly and flavorful as well. I'm so glad I ordered the Moroccan Lemon Chicken, a tender chicken breast with pine nuts, saffron, and olives. Again, the flavor was delicious and different than anything I had tried before.

We also recently visited Carmel Cafe Winter Park and tried some of the new summer entrees and traditional apps on the menu. We started out with the Mezze Platter, a huge sharing plate that was more than enough for a table of five. The platter features Edamame Hummus, Goat Cheese-Stuffed Peppers, Crispy Fried Feta and Marinated Artichoke Hearts, and other tastings, served with warm pita. If you like hummus and Mediterranean cuisine, this is definitely a dish to order.

We also tried the Pasta Marseilles, which is a light, flavorful bouilliabasse broth with plentiful helpings of shrimp, scallops, mussels, fennel and gnocchi. This is different from any bouilliabasse I have had, and I must say, it was delicious. The fennel paired very nicely with the seafood and broth.

For dessert, we always get the Warm Poached Pear, which is served with caramel sauce and ice cream. It was delicious. Soon, I hope to have room to try the Chocolate Lava Cake and the Pound Cake with Strawberries.

Every visit, I have great food, service, and atmosphere at both Carmel locations. Let me know your experience at Carmel Cafe Altamonte and Carmel Cafe Winter Park in the comments section below.