Friday, June 29, 2012

New Bahama Breeze Summer Cocktails Transport You to the Islands

It's Friday, and I can almost taste Bahama Breeze's yummy rum and coconut cocktails. I am already a huge fan of the food and drinks at Bahama Breeze. So, when the restaurant chain introduced a line of "Legendary Island Cocktails" for the summer, I was thrilled. They all sound so good, and all are tied to stories surrounding the Bahamas, Barbados, Cuba, and other islands. For example, the new Painkiller - a mix of Cream of Coconut, Pusser's dark rum, pineapple, orange and nutmeg - was invented at the Soggy Dollar Bar on the island of Jost Van Dyke in the British Virgin Islands. 

The Dark 'N Stormy - known as Bermuda's national drink - features Gosling's Black Seal Rum and ginger beer. Another new offering from Bahama Breeze - the Goombay Smash - is actually known as the Bahamian national drink. It is made with Captain Morgan, Meyer's Dark Rum, orange juice and pineapple juice. I would also recommend trying other new creations, including Barbados Rum Punch, Batida de Coco (Brazil's version of the Pina Colado made with Leblon Cachacha Rum, Cream of Coconut and pineapple juice), the Havana Hotel Special, and Parrot Passion.

I would also highly recommend a drink that has been on Bahama Breeze's menu for awhile: The White Satin. I am so happy I tried it last time I was there - it is my new favorite! It's a smooth, delicious mix of Parrot Bay Coconut Rum, Cointreau, coconut milk and ginger. It is very light for the summer and is a perfect "girly" drink. 

As far as food, you can't go wrong with any seafood appetizer or entree at Bahama Breeze. I love the Coconut Shrimp, Fish Tacos, and surprisingly - the Seafood Paella. I am surprised the flavors are so good, since paella typically takes hours to prepare correctly. This one tastes like it was done right and is generous with its seafood, chicken, and sausage. Bahama Breeze also does a great job with non-seafood entrees, including its Wood-Grilled Burger, its Jerk Chicken Pasta, and the new Tropical Curry with chicken.

To top it all off, Bahama Breeze's staff go out of their way to help people with food allergies have a great experience. Have you tried the new Legendary Island drinks or some of the new appetizers and dinners on the menu? If so, let me know how you liked them!

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Lobster Spring Rolls, Vegetarian Options Featured on Seasons 52's Summer Menu

Summer Vegetarian Tasting
I am not sure which dish I want to try first: I love most of the dishes at Seasons 52, and the restaurant chain's new Summer Menu looks delicious. They even have something new for my vegetarian friends: a "Summer Vegetarian Tasting", which includes a soft taco stuffed with grilled peppers, avocado and cilantro, a stuffed chili relleno, and Cedar Roasted Tofu topped with Mango Chutney. 

I love seafood, so I am glad to see new seafood dishes on the menu, including: Grilled Jumbo Shrimp Cavatappi Pasta and Chilled Lobster & Shrimp Spring Rolls. The pasta is brightened with organic tomatoes, broccoli, and carmelized garlic. The Spring Rolls are very unique (I rarely see spring rolls with lobster!), and feature a cool salsa verde, aromatic lemongrass, and sweet-hot red chili. Seasons' new appetizer is Organic Tomatoes with Warm Crusted Mozzarella, served in micro greens with basil and pesto vinaigrette.

Lobster & Shrimp Spring Rolls
One of the things I most excited about is Seasons' featured wine this summer. The Jam Jar Moscato 2011 from Western Cape-South Africa has notes of peach, apricot, and orange blossom. I love sweet wines, and this moscato offers an unique flavor profile. As my blog readers know, dessert is probably my favorite part of every meal. Seasons' new Berry Cheesecake Mini Indulgence is something you definitely need to try. The dessert is topped with fresh blueberries, raspberry sauce, and graham cracker crumbs, and is every bit as good as the other mini-desserts on the menu. In fact, Seasons 52 provides a great atmosphere for a date night of dessert and drinks: there is usually a piano player in the evenings, and you can easily get a seat at the bar when the restaurant is full on the weekends. 

When you try out these new dishes and beverages, be sure to let me know how you liked them! Where: 463 E. Altamonte Dr., Altamonte Springs, Fla. There are also several locations in other Florida cities, as well as in Georgia, California, Illinois, Maryland, Texas, New York, and Pennsylvania.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Sign Petition to Save Tasty Tuesdays Event

La Empanada - Photo by Mike Blank
After posting about how great the Tasty Tuesday in the Milk District event is earlier this week, I was disgusted to learn that Orlando Code Enforcement temporarily shut down all of the food trucks - including Melissa's Chicken and Waffles, Yum Yum Cupcakes, and Saigon Sizzle this week. Code Enforcement fined all the trucks, then they were forced to move from their spot on the street in downtown Orlando, to a parking lot behind local businesses. 

The reason behind the action? Even though the food trucks have been parking on the street every Tuesday for over a year, an unnamed business owner in the area called the City of Orlando to complain. Meanwhile, the other businesses there - such as Sandwich Bar - realize the great economic and community benefit to having the trucks there and are sponsoring a petition to convince the City to let the trucks back on the street.

Sandwich Bar - Photo by Mike Blank
A similar action happened in Oviedo this week: food trucks have been meeting peacefully at the corner of 434 and Mitchell Hammock on Wednesdays and Friday nights. They are looking for another spot after Code Enforcement shut them down. Both of these actions are so short-sighted! Not only do these food truck events support the truck owners, their employees and their families, but they economically support all the surrounding businesses. 

In addition, food truck events bring such a sense of community and fun to Orlando. Thanks to these enterprising entrepreneurs, our city is becoming known in other states, as a place to try gourmet, unique ethnic food from our diverse food trucks. I had out-of-town relatives visiting the other day, and they couldn't wait to try food from all the different trucks they have heard so much about. The owners of the Yum Yum truck put it well in a letter to Tasty Tuesday patrons: "While shutting down a food truck event may seem trivial to most, it is very important to some. It is all about meeting new faces, seeing regular ones, working with other businesses, serving food that we're passionate and proud of and most of all, it is about having FUN," Joey Conicella and Alex Marin wrote.

Orlando's strict "food truck parking" regulations have got to change! The owners of Melissa's Chicken and Waffles said they once received a fine because their truck was parked at their mechanic's shop! I hope city officials realize the importance of these local, small businesses and alter their parking regulations. Until then, I urge Flavorful Excursions' readers to sign the petition to allow the Tasty Tuesday food trucks back on the street:

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Tasty Tuesdays' Food Trucks - Part Deux

Kona Dog - Photo by Mike Blank
As you read in last week's blog post on Tasty Tuesdays in the Milk District (downtown Orlando, Fla.), I had a great experience trying out food and desserts from many of the trucks at this fun, social event.

In addition to Melissa's Chicken and Waffles and Twisted Cuban, we also had delectable fare from Big Wheel, Five Gastronomy, Kona Dog, Yum Yum Cupcakes, and Pop Craft. Kona Dog features jumbo beef, sausage or veggie dogs, served on a Hawaiian bun. Then, you can choose from a few different "Hula" sauces, mustards, and fruit sauces to really give the meal a tropical feel. The one we ordered was mighty tasty!

I am still blown away by the quality, gourmet food that comes out of food trucks - demonstrated in this case by Five Gastronomy and Big Wheel. Five Gastronomy's owner Bruno served us up a Soft Shell Crab BLT, Pork Tacos, and Crispy Fries. The fries really live up to their name - I love my fries crispy. The soft shell crab on the BLT was lightly breaded and fried to perfection. The Pork Tacos, served with smoked corn puree, pickled onions, jicama cilantro salad and avocado drizzle, were so moist and flavorful!

Yum Yum Cupcakes - Photo by Mike Blank
I wanted to order everything off of Big Wheel's menu, which includes a variety of gourmet Southern dishes, but was pretty full. We did try the Crab Stuffed Tomato, though, which was delicious (but a little hard to eat while standing), and I would highly recommend the truck's Fried Green Tomatoes. The corn breading is light and the tomatoes are sweet. The accompanying aoili for dipping is also tasty.

I was able to try Pop Craft Pops (natural artisan pops) for the first time. One of the owners, Bonnie, said that Strawberry Balsamic and Lime are two of the cart's most popular non-dairy popsicles and you should also try their Coconut Cream and Mexican Chocolate flavors. I opted for the Pear, Thyme and Tarragon pop and really loved it. Although everyone may not appreciate the texture - you can taste chunks of the herbs in the popsicle - I loved it. 

Bonnie Rich - owner, Pop Craft Pops
I also tried newer cupcake flavors from Yum Yum: James and the Giant Peach and Blemony Snicket. The latter is the truck's new vegan lemon and blueberry creation. Unfortunately, this cupcake does not deliver. The texture of the cake is not great, unlike Yum Yum's other vegan offering: The Lady Bird. That cupcake is so moist and flavorful, and the frosting has a great cream cheese flavor. However, the peach cupcake - with its layers of graham cracker crust, cake, peach drizzle and peach slice - is the perfect mouthful. The flavors all come together to from some sort of amazing, moist peach cobbler-type dessert.

When: Every Tuesday, 6:30 - 10:00 p.m.
Where: 2424 E. Robinson St., Orlando

Note: Tasty Tuesdays has a rotating selection of food trucks, so the ones I reviewed may not always be there. However, you will get to try some new ones every week, so be sure to give me your review!

Monday, June 18, 2012

Don't Go to Joe's

This is really tough for me. I am a professional writer of the seafood and restaurant industries, and I would love to support both. However, when I have had a meal as bad as I had this weekend at Joe's Crab Shack, I have to let the readers of Flavorful Excursions know about it.

I haven't been to a Joe's Crab Shack in a few years, so I was excited to try the crab (of course!) and see what was new on the popular chain's summer menu. Some of the new crab buckets, including Lobster Daddy Feast and The Bean Town Bake - two whole Maine lobsters, split and surrounded by clams,  shrimp and smoked sausage - sounded great. However, I find both the Buckets of Crab and Steampots to be overpriced at between $22 and $30 each. 

We opted for the grilled Lobster Daddy Feast, a mix of snow crab, lobster claw, corn, and potatoes. I have to say, the snow crab was tender and cooked to perfection. However, both the lobster and snow crab were extremely over-salted. I usually love to savor the sweet flavor of the lobster meat, but was unable to do so because of the extreme saltiness. The corn on the cob. Wow. Even though there is local Florida and Georgia corn available, I can't imagine that is the corn that Joe's uses. It is fairly flavorless - almost like it was produced in a factory - and under-cooked.

The next dish was worse, though. I ordered the Coconut Shrimp with a side of mixed vegetables. I am aware that it is fried food, but I have never had Coconut Shrimp that is just dripping in grease. It made the whole dish very unappetizing. The mixed vegetables were flavored well, but - like the corn - they were very undercooked.

In addition to salt overload, we suffered from sugar overload with Joe's mixed drinks. The new summer Twisted Cherry Limeade sounded so refreshing (and with Three Olives Cherry Vodka, how can you go wrong?). When I took the first sip, I knew I made a mistake; perhaps I should have picked up on the sweetness by the multitude of sickly-sweet maraschino cherries adorning the bottom of the glass. It was so over-sweetened, and didn't really need to be. I swiftly sent it back and decided to order the chain's regular Mojito. That would not be too sweet, right? Wrong! It's strange how I can order the mojito at other chains - Bahama Breeze, Outback, Applebees, etc. - and it does not taste like this.

After all these complaints, I do have one positive note: the staff was very friendly and helpful with questions on food allergies. And I love how all the waiters and waitresses danced to "At the Carwash". It made for a very fun atmosphere. I am sure some families love it, but I will not be going back anytime soon. Maybe I am missing something. What has your experience at Joe's been like? Post comments below.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Try Out Tasty Tuesdays in the Milk District

Photo by Mike Blank
I am thrilled that I finally had an opportunity to try out Central Florida's Tuesday night food truck event: Tasty Tuesday's in The Milk District, across from T.G. Lee in downtown Orlando. What a fun, foodie atmosphere! With around 10 trucks and carts, the event feels more intimate than other huge food trucks events. You can mingle with your friends on the sidewalk or bring the food inside the bars there - including Milk Bar and Spacebar - and grab a beer. You can pretend it is Friday in the middle of the week!

Don't get me wrong - it is still a family-friendly and pet-friendly event, but not like the Maitland Food Pod at Lake Lily every Wednesday night is. Unlike the Maitland event, there is no seating here and the trucks are parked by the sidewalk. So, the street is noisy and hot from the trucks.

I dig the collection of food trucks at Tasty Tuesday, though. You can find a great variety, including: Kona Dog, Melissa's Chicken & Waffles, Big Wheel Food Truck (gourmet Southern food), 5 Gastronomy, Twisted Cuban, La Empanada, The Crepe Company, Yum Yum Cupcake Truck and Pop Craft.

Outside Sandwich Bar - Photo by Mike Blank
We sampled several new foods and desserts. You need to try Twisted Cuban's G.B.D. Balls - a moist, Spanish-style chicken and rice mix deep fried in Panko bread crumbs. G.B.D. Balls' accompanying red-pepper dressing heightens the flavor. We also had Twisted Cuban's Yucca Fries - which I have told you about before - and they were as yummy as ever. I just don't know how they get the fries so crispy and not greasy. I could eat those all day long. A few of Twisted Cuban's signature dishes are: Mojo Roast Pork Sandwich, Cuban Burgers, Beef Tacos, and Pork Tacos.

As a waffle lover, I have been dying to try some of Melissa's Chicken & Waffles' creations. Among Melissa's selections are: Chicken & Gravy Waffles, Waffles with Nutella & Marshmallows, and Jerk Chicken Wrap with Waffle Fries. We had the Honey Chicken Waffle, and it was amazing. The fried chicken, cheese, and honey mustard sauce all combined to make a great chicken sandwich. I was impressed that the waffles were flavorful and not dried out.

There were  more great trucks that we tried out, which I will review in next week's blog post. Stay tuned!

When: Tuesdays, 6:30-10:00 p.m.
Where: 2424 E. Robinson St., Orlando.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

What is a Cluster Funk?

Signature Dish: Cluster Funk
When the Cluster Funk Truck made its debut on the Central Florida food truck scene earlier this year, its name was the first thing to grab my attention. "What is a Cluster Funk and what type of food do they serve?", I wondered.

Then, I noticed the truck's mouth-watering photos of boiled crawfish and crab legs as well as yummy desserts such as the "Red-Headed Step Child" - a concoction of red velvet cupcakes, New York-style cheesecake and cream cheese frosting. Still, I wondered how the truck owners, Stacie and Dino Smith, came up with the unique name.

"We created all the dishes ourselves, and the menu seemed random at the time: seafood, barbecue, and other random items. We figured, it's a cluster you-know-what, so we'll go with that for the name of the truck!" Stacie Smith told Flavorful Excursions. "Cluster Funk" is also the name of the truck's signature dish: a mix of snow crab legs, red potatoes, and corn on the cob, cooked in a garlic butter sauce.

Red-Headed Step Child
One of Cluster Funk's most popular dishes is The Boogie Boat, which is garlic-sauteed scallops, shrimp, onions and peppers on top of a garlic bread boat. The other most popular dish is The Sunset, a casa dia filled with sauteed shrimp, scallops, onion and Pepper Jack cheese and accompanied by mango salsa.

Cluster Funk serves up primarily seafood dishes but has created other delicious options for those allergic to seafood, including a Steak and Cheese Sandwich and "Fingers on Fire" - a fried chicken finger sandwich and spicy seasoned fries topped with Bayou Mayo and Guava Spicy Drizzle.

Where: Cluster Funk's schedule changes weekly, so check their Facebook page for updates. You can find them most Wednesdays at the intersection of Conway Rd. and Gatlin Rd. for "Wild Wednesdays" - a gathering of a few local food trucks.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Make Your Own Winning Banana Cream Pie

As I promised in yesterday's blog post, here is one of the winning recipes from the recent National Pie Championships in Orlando, Fla.: Peg's Banana Cream Supreme Pie. John Sunvold of Winter Springs, Fla., won "Best in Show - Amateur Division" for this unique creation. Sunvold, a speech communications teacher at Seminole State College, based the pie on a favorite childhood dessert and perfected the recipe over three years!

Peg's Banana Cream Supreme Pie 

Use 9/9.5 inch plate. Serves eight. 

1 1/4 Cups Graham Cracker Crumbs 
1/4 Finely chopped walnuts 
3 T Sugar 
5 Tablespoons Melted Butter 

Mix all ingredients together and press mixture into pie plate. Bake in a 375 -degree oven for 10 minutes, or until brown. Allow to cool down to room temperature. 

Cream Cheese Layer 
6 oz. Cream Cheese 
1/3 C. Powdered Sugar 
6 oz. Cool Whip 

Beat cream cheese and powdered sugar until smooth. Fold in the Cool Whip and chill. If you are using a smaller pie pan, make sure you get around a 1/2 inch layer of this cream cheese layer (use the rest for a fruit dip). 

Bananas and Cream 
2-4 Bananas* 
2/3 C. Sugar 
1/4 t. Salt 
1/4 C. Corn Starch 
1 C. Heavy Cream 
5 Egg Yolks 
1 1/2 cup Milk 
1 T Vanilla Extract 
2 T Butter 

Mix sugar, salt, and starch in a pot. In a bowl, whisk egg yolks and cream slightly. To the pot, slowly add the milk, then the egg yolk and cream mixture. Heat over medium heat, whisking frequently, until thick and bubbling (but not rapidly boiling). Once the cream is bubbling, continue to cook and whisk for 30 more seconds. Finally, add the butter and vanilla and mix until the cream is smooth. Set aside. 

Cut bananas into even pieces. Place a layer of bananas on the cream cheese layer. Try to cover as much as possible as this acts as an insulator and keeps the heat away from the cream cheese. Add a layer of hot cream, a layer of bananas, and then top off the bananas with as much of the cream as possible. Place a plastic sheet over the cream in order to prevent a skin from forming on the cream filling. Place in refrigerator until completely chilled. 

2-4 cups sweetened whipped cream 
1/8 cup caramel topping 
1/4 cup nut topping 

Top with your favorite whipped topping (whipped cream recommended, Cool Whip not recommended). Drizzle with (room temperature) caramel sauce and top with a prepared nut topping (such as Fisher Nut Topping). Keep cold. (Tastes better the next day). 

*Bananas should have yellow stems and have a few brown spots. 

Recipe courtesy of the American Pie Council. View all the winning recipes at:

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Fla. Teen Wins Pie Competition

Coffee Toffee Crunch a Bunch Pie
I love how more children and teenagers have taken to baking in recent years. Perhaps it is because of hte growth of The Food Network and the popularity of celebrity chefs. However, I believe it is the result of parents who are cooking at home more after the economy went south, and parents who have the desire to share the enjoyment of cooking with their children. 

I was exited that a local teen won "Best in Show" - Junior Chef at the recent annual APC/ Crisco National Pie Championships in Orlando. After practicing by baking every Sunday night for the past four months, Ana Ramirez of Polk City, Fla., won Best in Show for her "Spider Monkey Peanut Butter Pie". I love chocolate and peanut butter, so that sounds perfect. Meanwhile, Susan Boyle of DeBary, Fla., won Best in Show - Professional Division for her "Coffee Toffee Crunch a Bunch Pie". And John Sunvold, a teacher at Seminole State College in Orlando, won Best in Show - Amateur Division for his "Peg's Banana Cream Supreme Pie".
SSC Teacher John Sunvold

If you haven't been to this pie competition and tasting - which is also televised on The Food Network - before, it is a great time. Make sure to mark your calendars for next year's National Pie Championships, April 26-28 at the Caribe Royale Orlando. And, watch for tomorrow's blog post: I will share one of the winning pie recipes with you!