Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Top Chefs Can be Found on Food Trucks

Bruno Fonseca making Balsamic "Caviar"
For all my friends who are still worried about - or snobby about - eating food from trucks, I give you Bruno Fonseca and the 5 Gastronomy truck and catering service. Like several other food truck chefs in town, Fonseca is a classically-trained chef who has worked for the finest restaurants in town. Have you heard of the top-rated Norman's at the Ritz Carlton Orlando? Fonseca was a chef de partie and house butcher there prior to being the owner and executive chef at 5 Gastronomy.

Now, let me get to my point: Fonseca recently won a hard-fought competition at the Whole Foods Market on Sand Lake Road in Orlando. Whole Foods Market's annual Chef Summer Cook-off event reminds me of the challenges that Top Chef contestants have to go through, and I was happy to see that, this year, the store decided to feature the very talented chefs from local food trucks. Over three nights, Fonseca; Bryce Balluf, owner and  chef at Fork in the Road truck; Catarina Triacca of Gastro Trina Truck; and Tony Adams with Big Wheel Provisions, competed. Each chef was given $20 and 20 minutes to speed shop for ingredients, then they had 20 minutes to prepare a delicious, affordable summer meal using only a grill. 

The final three - Adams, Balluf, Fonseca - competed in the last cook-off challenge late last week. Fonseca won with his Sous vide Corvina fish with grilled smoked sausage, accompanied by a Spanish sofrito and watercress salad with sherry vinaigrette. Still, Fonseca is not satisfied. He is always try to think of creative ways to incorporate his fine dining dishes into hand-held food truck fare. "We get really bored with food, and want to show what else we can do.The other food truck chefs and myself talk about how we can translate our fine dining sense onto a paper plate," Fonseca told Flavorful Excursions.

Readers of this blog have heard about some of my favorite dishes from 5 Gastronomy, which makes regular appearances at Tasty Tuesdays in the Milk District, RDV Sportsplex on Friday afternoons, and several other Food Truck Bazaars and events. My favorite dish is the Soft Shell Crab BLT and 5 Gastronomy's crispy fries (better than many other trucks' fries). I also love the "Perfect Burger", which features melted Gruyere cheese and hickory bacon jam, as well as the Pork Tacos, and the FIVE Mac 'n Cheese.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Outback: Great Food for the Price

Victoria Filet & Snow Crab
I have been visiting Outback Steakhouse restaurants more frequently, not only because my husband is on a low-carb diet but also because I have been enjoying delicious meals for the price. In the past, I thought of Outback as a pricier place to eat for my family budget - more of a special occasion restaurant. However, in recent months, Outback has been offering more discounts and specials.

For example, Outback consistently offers "$5 off on two entrees" coupons in Sunday newspapers, as well as on its Facebook page. Earlier this year, Outback was offering an appetizer, entree and dessert for $15. I wish they would bring that deal back!

Seafood Mixed Grill
We have been eating some new summer dishes - and old classics - when we visit Outback restaurants in Central Florida. The Outback Special is always a great deal, and our steaks are cooked perfectly. I am also very impressed with the new Hearts of Gold Mahi, wood-fire grilled mahi topped with artichoke hearts, sundried tomatoes, and a light lemon sauce with side for $15.49. My mahi was tender and flavorful. An added bonus? The sauce is delicious, and is dairy-free for those who are allergic.

Two of the summer specials are also very yummy: The Victoria Filet & Snow Crab special is a pretty good deal, since you get a few snow crab legs, a 6-ounce steak and two sides for $22.95. The new Seafood Mixed Grill is a better deal at $15.99 and you feel so healthy eating it the seafood, rice, and vegetables! You get a 4-ounce mahi fillet, along with grilled scallops and shrimp. While this dish was very tasty, I really felt the rice and seafood portions were too skimpy.

Let me know which good - or bad - dishes you have tried at Outback recently.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Winter Park Food Truck Stop is Place to Be

Peak Season Pops
While I love all the other Central Florida food truck events - including Food Truck Bazaars, Tasty Tuesdays, and Lake Lily in Maitland - the Winter Park Food Truck Stop on Thursdays has a vibe all its own. Located on 17-92, next to Tom n Jerry's Lounge, this is a fun spot to hang out with family and friends and listen to live music, while trying food from 15 or 20 different trucks. 

I went to the Winter Park event last Thursday, and was able to try delicious food and desserts from some very unique trucks. While they rotate their schedules, a few of the trucks at last week's event were: Monsta Lobsta, Gator Country BBQ, Tastebuds Catering, TJ's Seafood Shack, Shred-a-Bowls, SwedeDish, La Empanada, and Peak Season Pops. 

As usual, I wanted to try one dish from every truck: everything looked and smelled so good. Since that is not possible, I tried Venezuelan arepas - kind of a corn pancake - from Tastebuds Catering. Mine was stuffed with shredded chicken (I could also choose beef or shrimp), sauteed bell peppers and onions, and cheese. The chicken was moist, and the flavors all came together. They really did a great job! Tastebuds' Beef Tostones and Chicken Empanadas are also very popular.

Tastebuds' Chicken Arepas
Gator Country BBQ had gator virtually any way one would like to eat their alligator, including Gator Burgers, Gator Empanadas, and Gator Fritters ($7-$8 each). I opted to try something that I had never tried before: Gator Sausage and Fries. The sausage was a nice mix of ground pork and sausage, and was very spicy. Unfortunately, even though the flavor was good, the sausage was dried out and the fries were not great.

At least I was able to get a great dessert from Peak Season Pops. They make fresh artisan popsicles weekly from fruit grown locally. The menu changes often, but some of the great flavors were Christmas in July: White Chocolate Candycane, Pineapple Mango and Peach Raspberry. I opted for the Cantaloupe Coconut Pop, made with fresh cantaloupe, coconut milk, and coconut flakes. It was so smooth, and tasted exactly like the ingredients in the pop - a refreshing change from chemical-filled commercial frozen treats.

When: Every Thursday night, from 5:00 - 10:00 p.m. Tip: Arrive between 5:00 and 6:00, so you don't have to wait in line. 

Where: 1127 N. Orlando Ave., Winter Park, Fla.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Food Truck Wars Back in Altamonte

I'm so excited about Food Truck Wars II, being held at Crane's Roost in Altamonte Springs, Fla., this Sunday! Where else can you choose pretty much whatever you want to eat, from 40 different gourmet and international food trucks? In addition, the event features live music by Cactus Jack & The Cadillacs, a kids' play area, and a beer garden. 

Of course, the main attraction of this event is the competition: all those attending will be able to vote on the food trucks that they want to see win the following titles: People's Choice Award, Most Fun Food Truck Experience, Largest Single Food Item, Chef's Taste Off, and Favorite Dessertt. The Food Truck Wars event last year was so successful - nearly 38,000 people visited the trucks throughout the day.

Tastebuds Catering will be among the trucks featured. I tried their Latin American-inspired cuisine at the Winter Park Food Truck Stop last night, and would highly recommend it. A few of the other trucks in attendance include: Blue Bayou, Dimple Delights, Twisted Cuban, Gorilla Gurt, Kona Doug, Claw Daddys, Cafe Cocoa Mo, Mi Casita, Ice Cream Social, Cluster Funk, and Silver Bistro. 

If you are new to food trucks, this will be a great experience, but you may want to seek out one of the smaller weekly food truck gatherings. Expect big crowds and long lines to get your food. However, if you want to hang out for a couple of hours, enjoy a beer, and visit with other foodies, this is the event for you! Who is going?

When: July 15, 1:00 p.m. - 7:00 p.m.

Where: 150 Cranes Roost Blvd., Altamonte Springs, Fla.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Metrowest's First Apartment Food Truck Pod

Cluster Funk's Rich Boy: Fried Shrimp on Garlic Roll
Sigh. I often wish food trucks would just come to my house, and serve me their delicious fried & gourmet food. Tomorrow, the residents of the Estates at Park Avenue in Metrowest - and everyone else in the area - will get to experience just that. The apartment community is hosting its first Food Truck Mini Pod, featuring Cluster Funk, Honey Dripper, VI Vibes (authentic Virgin Islands food), and another truck - to be announced.

I haven't heard of apartment communities hosting food truck events before, but I think it is a great idea. It not only exposes the residents to the wide variety of food served from trucks, but also involves all those in the local community. Metrowest doesn't have a regular food truck event, so this is really needed in the area. "We are going to try to make it a monthly event or an every-other-month event," said Kelly Robinson, marketing manager for the Estates at Park Avenue.

Estates at Park Avenue
Flavorful Excursions knows Cluster Funk well: it is the one that primarily serves yummy Southern food, including boiled crawfish, crab, corn and potatoes. The truck also offers a wide range of sandwiches and desserts. And Honey Dripper features 100% organic fruit frozen ice - perfect for this hot weather. If you head out to this event, be sure to post your review below or on our Facebook page: www.facebook.com/flavorfulexcursions.

When: July 12, 5:00 - 8:00 p.m.

Where: 2801 Biltmore Park Drive, Orlando, FL 32835.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Local, Innovative Food in St. Augustine

Cornbread Panzanella
Many of my friends make fairly regular trips to St. Augustine, Fla., and are looking for new restaurants to try. I had not been there for a few years, so I also wanted to try unique restaurants that are off the beaten path. I came across one that I would highly recommend: The Floridian. It is in downtown St. Augustine, but is away from the tourist-y restaurants and shops on St. Georges.

It is a small, unassuming place, which are often the best places to eat! This place is unique because it combines Southern comfort food with healthy fare - including vegan options. What is most impressive is that the restaurant supports local farmers, ranchers, seafood suppliers, and artisans, utilizing mainly regional foods in its dishes. The fresh, local, and seasonal flavors are unmistakable when you enjoy one of The Floridian's salads or bite into the eatery's popular Dixie Burger.

Since we arrived around lunchtime on a scorching-hot day, we tried two of The Floridian's innovative salad options. I ordered the Elkton Salad, a delightful combination of local mixed greens, roasted sweet potatoes, fresh corn and chicken or the local fresh catch. I opted for the swordfish, and was so pleased that the fish was cooked perfectly - slightly pink in the middle - and was very flavorful. There is a bonus too: this salad is topped with a fried green tomato, which sports a light, cornmeal breading that is done just right.

My husband ordered the Cornbread Panzanella, which is an interesting combination of arugula and heirloom cherry tomatoes on top of made-from-scratch cornbread, topped with grilled shrimp, local cheese, and house-pickled vegetables. While the dish was tasty, it was a humongous portion for lunch and the Basil-Buttermilk dressing was just okay.

When you go, you may want to try some of the most popular dishes on the menu: Not Your Mama's Meatloaf Sandwich and Spicy Melt - a unique sandwich that can be made with the blackened fish of the day or with tofu. Prices are reasonable here: many entrees are between $8 and $13. Now, your turn: please share your favorite places to eat in the city.

Where: 39 Cordova St., St. Augustine, Fla.