Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Burgers of All Types & Old-Fashioned Shakes

Photo by Shad Bookout
I couldn't wait to try out the Burger 21 that just opened near UCF in Orlando, Fla. I had been seeing tantalizing pictures of its delicious burgers and shakes on Facebook for two weeks before I had to chance to go in. Plus, there is another Burger 21 by the Mall of Millenia, but I haven't tried it yet.

When I walked in the new restaurant on a busy Friday night, I noticed the fun, modern decor. The decor is such a contrast to the type of desserts offered: old-school milkshakes, sundaes and floats. In fact, that is one of my favorite parts of the restaurant: the bar area where you can watch your milkshake or sundae being made. This ice cream bar has modern twist, though: you can also order beer and wine.

I was also blown away by the 21 different burger choices on the menu. We are not just talking beef. There are seafood, veggie, chicken, and turkey burgers. How refreshing! I almost never see these options on burger restaurants' menus. Plus, there is a gluten-free menu: you can order several hamburgers with gluten-free buns, which is also unheard of.

Photo by Shad Bookout
We ordered The Bacon Cheesy and The Mediterranean, a grilled chicken burger with Panko bread crumbs, feta spread, carmelized onions and roasted red peppers. I was pleasantly surprised that the chicken burger was so moist and flavorful. And all the toppings worked together so well. The Bacon Cheesy is a beef burger with applewood-smoked bacon, red onions, and cheese.  This is a better burger than Five Guys, but is certainly not the best we have had. For the price ($7.49), I think it's great!

We also ordered the Black & Bleu burger form the gluten-free menu. I was surprised that a gluten-free bun could have such great texture and flavor. The French Fries and the Sweet Potato Fries were okay. They came out cold and they were normal shoe-string fries. 

Dessert is pretty much the star of the show. We tried the shake flavor of the month: Apple Crumble. While it is a little too sweet, it tastes exactly like apple cobbler or apple pie. What a treat! The prices are so reasonable here: $5-$7 for 4.5-ounce burgers and $6-$8 on average for 6-ounce burgers. 

To celebrate the opening of the UCF Burger 21, Flavorful Excursions is giving one of our lucky readers a $25 gift card. Simply tell us your favorite burger topping in the comments section below or on Facebook (www.facebook.com/ flavorfulexcursions) and you will be entered to win! Deadline: March 28 at midnight.

Where: 11551 University Blvd., Orlando 

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Pinocchio's Marionette Theater Great for Kids

There are only three operating marionette theaters left in the U.S., and we are lucky enough to have one of them right here in Central Florida! At the Altamonte Mall, a talented troupe of individuals that are part of Pinocchio's Marionette Theater provide cheap entertainment for your kids for only $6 per child. 

I took my niece recently to an afternoon performance of Cinderella. Wow. It was so neat - for both the kids and the adults in attendance - to see the story come to life through these large wooden puppets. The fairy godmother character even flew! It was refreshing to see children so attentive to something other than television or video games. The performance was a little long for some of the kids, and I would recommend the theater for ages 2 or 3 and above.

Still, there were only three children in the audience of a huge auditorium. Pinocchio's Marionette Theater is a non-profit organization and could really use the community's support. It is easy to support such a great cause, though, to give your child a cost-effective afternoon of fun.

The great show currently running is Beauty and the Beast, and then the theater will feature the Wizard of Oz.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Try New Food and Drinks at Epcot Flower and Garden Festival

I love how Walt Disney World in Orlando has changed things up this year and added food and drinks to the annual Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival! Epcot's talented chefs have created fresh dishes that are inspired by gardens and backyard living.

For example, the Florida Fresh at World Showcase Promenade features Shrimp and Stone Ground Grits with andouille sausage, Zellwood corn, tomatoes and cilantro. Other tasty dishes around the World Showcase include: "Frushi", made with fresh fruits and coconut rice; Smokehouse barbecue, and Angel Food Cake with Florida Strawberries. 

Meanwhile, fresh fruits and veggies are the inspiration behind the alcoholic drinks and "mocktails" during this year's Festival. The Dole Whip has been upgraded to include spiced rum - there is nothing that sounds bad about that! Florida Orange Groves Winery is featuring its Hot Sun Tomato Wine. The refreshing-looking non-alcoholic beverages include Wild Berry Slush and Frozen Desert Violet Lemonade. I can't wait to try these.

Of course, the Flower & Garden Festival has all of the other things that makes this annual event so popular, including the unbelievable topiaries, HGTV seminars, and the fun Flower Power concert series. To see all the photos from this year's Festival, visit Flavorful Excursions' Facebook page.

When: March 20 - May 19, 2013

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Make Paula Deen's New Light Recipes

After celebrity chef Paula Deen demonstrated some of her new healthy recipes earlier this week, I wanted to try some out for myself - they looked so good! Paula helped Florida Hospital kick off its new "Healthy 100 Approved Menu Items" program on Monday. Partnering with the hospital's dietitians, 16 Orlando-area restaurants and food trucks now feature special Healthy 100 appetizers, entrees, side dishes and desserts.

Paula's new, lighter recipes for diabetics and, really, anyone trying to eat healthy are available on the Diabetes in  New Light web site: http://www.diabetesinanewlight.com/recipes.aspx. All of the recipes on the site - including Vegetarian Gumbo, Lady and Sons Lasagna, and Strawberry Cream Cheese French Toast - look delicious. Here is a one of Paula's recipes that is easy to make. I love Spinach Artichoke Dip, but am always worried about fat content, so this is a great alternative:

Hot Spinach-Artichoke Dip In a New Light


1 10-ounce package frozen, chopped spinach
1/4 c. shredded, reduced-fat pepper jack cheese
1 c. freshly grated imported Parmesan cheese
2 14-ounce cans artichoke hearts packed in water, rinsed and drained
1/2 c. light mayo
1/2 c. fat-free ricotta cheese
2 tsp. fresh lemon juice 
1/4 tsp.ground red pepper
Vegetable dippers, such as strips of bell pepper, carrot sticks, celery sticks or endive spears or whole-wheat bagel or pita chips.


Preheat oven to 350 F. Spray a 1-quart baking dish with nonstick spray. 

Microwave the spinach according to package directions. Drain, let cool, and then squeeze dry. Transfer spinach to a large bowl. To make the topping, combine the pepper jack cheese and 2 Tbsp. of the Parmesan cheese in a small bowl until blended.

Pulse the artichoke hearts in a food processor until smooth. Transfer the artichokes to the bowl with the spinach. Stir the remaining Parmesan, mayo, ricotta, lemon juice, and ground red pepper until well mixed. Scrape into the prepared dish. Sprinkle evenly with the topping.

Bake, uncovered, until the filling is hot and the cheese is melted, about 30 minutes. Serve with the vegetable dippers.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Paula Deen Kicks Off Healthy 100 in Orlando

Paula Deen at Bob Carr, demoing healthy recipes.
I feel pretty fortunate that the Queen of Southern Cooking herself, Paula Deen, graced Orlando with her presence today. While the bigger-than-life TV personality is known for her decadent Southern meals and desserts, she has quickly transformed her lifestyle and her recipes to focus on healthy recipes.

Ever since she received her Type II diabetes diagnosis last year, Paula has been on a quest to transform the way she eats and lives her life - and has extended that transformation to her family. She and her two sons have all lost a ton of weight in the past few months, and Paula visited Orlando to share how others can have the same success.

Paula also helped Florida Hospital kick off its new "Healthy 100 Approved Menu Items" program. Partnering with the hospital's dietitians, 16 local restaurants and chains now feature special Healthy 100 appetizers, entrees, side dishes and desserts. For example, Panera Bread of Orlando is now carrying a Power Breakfast Eggwhite Bowl with Turkey and Power Chicken Hummus Bowl, while Chick-fil-A is selling Grilled Chicken Nuggets. I have never heard of "healthy" chicken nuggets, so I can't wait to try these ones.

Other local eateries with special recipes include: White Wolfe Cafe, Rangetsu, Infusion Tea, Cocina 214, Shushi House Orlando, and Simply Divine Food Truck. See all of Florida Hospital's Healthy 100 recipes at www.healthy100.org.

Paula also shared her Healthy 100 recipes with the crowd gathered at Bob Carr today, and Flavorful Excursions will share them with you throughout this week!

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Truffles & Grouper Cheeks From a Food Truck?

Grouper Cheeks Over Saffron Rice
Many of my friends still worry about ordering food off a food truck. I guess they are worried about food sanitation, which is silly since the trucks have top-of-the-line freezers and refrigerators. I can't vouch for the quality on every food truck, but I do know that some Orlando-area food trucks serve original, gourmet food, made from the finest ingredients.

Take Ford in the Road, a gourmet food truck headed by Bryce Balluf, a former executive chef at Orlando restaurants. He puts together a unique, upscale menu that you won't see on any other truck. Today, I was excited when I saw the lunch menu at Fork in the Road. Among the dishes I wanted to try were: Escargot Puff with Mustard Cremeux, Bison Burger with Bacon Jam, Grouper Cheek Over Saffron Rice, and Mako Taco. I opted for the Grouper Cheek and MakoTaco. 

Chef Bryce Balluf
The Grouper Cheek was lightly dusted in cornmeal and spices and delicately fried. It was served with a jam that complemented the fish and saffron rice nicely. The Mako Taco was my first introduction to shark, which was also lightly breaded with cornmeal and fried. The Taco was topped with slaw and a delicious spicy mayo sauce. I truly loved the flavors and textures of both dishes. I would also highly recommend Fork in the Road's White Truffle Fungi Fries, which are topped with a delicious mushroom gravy. 

The only shock I had was when I went to pay: $22 for two entrees. While this is higher than many other food truck dishes, the quality is outstanding. At food truck events, I recommend going with friends, ordering items form a few different trucks and splitting them, so everyone gets to try delectable dishes such as those from Fork in the Road.

Where: See where Fork in the Road will be next at www.facebook.com/forkintheroad

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Go for the Food, Not Service, at Silvano's

Seafood Linguini with Pink Vodka Sauce
I used to think that small, family-operated restaurants were quaint and charming. That was until I suffered through a busy weekend dinner service at Silvano's Ristorante Italiano in Altamonte Springs, Fla. We arrived on a recent Saturday evening to the small, but beautiful restaurant, behind T.G.I.Friday's. While we were seated fairly quickly, a waitress did not visit our table for 10 or 15 minutes. Then, after she brought us water, we waited another 15 minutes or so for her to return to take our order. Maybe Silvano's was short-staffed that night, but it seemed that one or two servers trying to handle the entire room, which consists of several tables.

I might have gotten up and left, if I did not have a Restaurant.com gift card to Silvano's. Despite the long waits between the rest of our dinner, we were very pleasantly surprised with the quality and flavor of the food. We noticed that the food is what garners high ratings on Yelp and Zagat, not necessarily the service. This is authentic Italian fare that is not meek in its flavor profile. The warm bread brought to each table is also delicious.

Petti Di Pollo Sensese
My husband had the Chef's Special: Mixed Seafood Linguini with Pink Vodka sauce. It was one of the most flavorful vodka sauces he has ever had, and the seafood was flavorful and cooked right. I ordered the Petti Di Pollo Sensese, chicken breast sauteed in white wine, butter and lemon, served over linquini. Wine and lemon usually go together well, but there was something "off" about the flavor that I couldn't put my finger on. I ended up really liking the dish, though. While we loved the food, we thought it was over-priced at $16 to $22 for most entrees. 

I was especially impressed that one chef, who is also the manager, was the only cook in the small kitchen for the entire restaurant. I am surprised I had not heard about this long-time Orlando restaurant before now. I am sure some of you have eaten there: what was your experience like?

Where: 249 W. State Rd. 436, #1105, Altamonte Springs