Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Top Orlando New Year's Eve Celebrations

There are all types of concerts and huge parties in and around the
theme parks in Orlando, but I prefer the more intimate and unique events - as well as the gatherings that foodies would appreciate.

Here are some of Flavorful Excursions'  top New Year's Eve events in Orlando:

1. Enzian Theater's annual James Bond New Year's Party. Come "dressed to kill" as James Bond or your favorite Bond girl and you could win a fabulous prize. "Diamonds are Forever" starts at 5:30, and the New Year's Eve party with champagne, signature cocktails and a DJ begins at 8.

2. The Orlando Museum of Art is holding its first New Year's Eve party! It features red carpet entry and valet, live music by Soul Funktion, yummy food and drinks and fireworks.

3. Rangetsu Japanese Restaurant and Bar. This year, the restaurant is featuring taiko drummers at 9 p.m. and midnight, along with its delicious sushi and special dishes.

4. Sam Snead's. Enjoy prime rib, Grouper Oscar, and other special New Year's Eve dishes while listening to Mudel & Co.

5. Carmel Kitchen Winter Park. Enjoy a special menu, including cold water lobster tails, and 90+ point rated wine for $10 per glass. This is the atmosphere for a fun but laid-back New Year's Eve!

Where will you be ringing in 2015? Leave your suggestions for us in the comments section below!

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Don't Miss Crane's Roost Christmas Lights...and Pizza

One of the must-visits this holiday season is Cranes Roost Park's Christmas light display. It is probably the best non-residential display in town. Kids and adults love walking the mile around the lake to see the oversized animal displays and lit arches. My favorite part, though, is the massive Christmas tree near the "dancing fountain".

Before we went to see the great lights the other night, we ate at the nearby Tuscan Pizza (formerly Red Brick Pizza) near Marshall's, so we could easily walk to the lights. Tuscan Pizza is a very family-friendly place that has pretty good food (not excellent, but pretty good). There are flat-screen TVs and remote controls at each table, which I don't like, but I guess it helps keeps kids occupied. You order your pizza, salads or sandwiches at the counter, and they are made-to-order in front of you.

We tried the Mushroom, Hamburger and Mozarella pizza which was fairly good. Not the best we've ever had, but some good flavors. We were suprised that the Chinese Chicken Salad was so good, with fresh ingredients including mandarin oranges. Our favorite part was the dessert, with several gelatos and sorbets to choose from, at a reasonable price. The pistachio gelato is a must-try, as is the strawberry sorbet.

While I wouldn't make a special trip to Tuscan Pizza, it is definitely a fun, convenient place to dine when visiting the magnificent Christmas lights at Crane's Roost.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Where to See Awesome Christmas Lights

This Winter Park family must be fans of the Osbornes, the famous family in Arkansas that added so many Christmas lights to their house that they had to buy houses around them to expand their light display. Finally, they were shut down by the city and donated their lights to Walt Disney World, which now features the Osborne Dancing Lights at Disney Hollywood Studios.

Every year around this time, my family makes the short trip to Winter Park to view not only the main house in this neighborhood that is covered with lights, but also the other houses in the neighborhood. Two houses feature garages full of mini town displays, complete with bridges, waterfalls and even mini hot air balloons. These houses have become a tourist attraction, and one offers the ability to donate to disabled veterans. 

Back to the main house that drew us to the area in the first place: something like 800,000 lights are used on the outside of the house. But we also love the garage display with life-size Santa and Mrs. Claus and the beautiful window displays with working toy trains. The front yard is covered with lit mechanical Christmas displays, such as teddy bears riding a ferris wheel. I can honestly say I have never seen anything like this.

Make sure to take your family to this amazing sight this year. And let us know which other neighborhoods have great Christmas lights displays in the comments section below!

Where: Garden Grove Circle, Winter Park, Fla.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Peach Valley Cafe: Yummy Breakfast/ Brunch

Apple Fritters with 3 Dipping Sauces
Peach Valley Cafe in Orlando and Lake Mary is the perfect brunch spot. It has such an extensive menu of breakfast and lunch options, that everyone in the group is bound to be happy. I will say this up front, though: while the quality of food is 4 out of 5 stars, the service has been very slow any time I have visited. I have only eaten there during slow times, so I am not sure why it takes 25 minutes to get breakfast food and a sandwich.

On to the food: we opted for some unusual menu items. Instead of the typical Eggs Benedict, I ordered the Vegetable & Egg Croissant Benedict, with grilled tomato, asparagus, red onion and hollandaise sauce. It was much more exciting and delicious than it sounds. The hollandaise sauce was creamy and flavorful, the croissant was moist yet toasty on the outside and the asparagus added a nice crunch and flavor to the dish. Plus, I loved Peach Valley's roasted potatoes: not many restaurants get those right, in my opinion. I love them crispy and flavorful, and these were both.

The Lemonberry Pancakes - which were seasonal and may no longer be there - were moist and delicious. The flavor combination works very well, surprisingly. Next time, I want to try the Pecan Cinnamon Roll Pancakes. Those sound divine. We also had the French Dip sandwich, which had a delicious au jus dipping sauce, but the sandwich itself was just okay. 

One mistake I made was not ordering the hot Apple Fritters. I have heard great things about these little bites of goodness, and will definitely pick up a bag on my next visit!

Monday, November 10, 2014

Where Veterans Can Eat for Free

I have such admiration and respect for every veteran who has served in the U.S. military,
especially my niece, a veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps and my dad, a U.S. Army vet. It seems only fitting then, that many restaurant chains across the country are honoring our nation's vets by offering them free meals, appetizers and more.

Here are some of top restaurant chain deals for Veterans Day on November 11:

* Applebee's: Veterans and active duty military can get a free Signature Entree, including the American Standard All-in Burger, from the restaurant chain's Veteran's Day menu.

* Red Robin:a free Tavern Double Burger and Bottomless Steak Fries.

* Olive Garden: a free meal from a limited menu.

* Outback Steakhouse: Free Bloomin' Onion and soda, and 15% off for active and retired military for the rest of this year!

* Denny's: free all-you-can-eat pancakes.

* Krispy Kreme: free doughnut and small coffee.

* California Pizza Kitchen: one free pizza for active military and vets.

* Chili's: one free entree all day from its special Veteran's Day menu.

* Menchie's: free 6-ounce frozen yogurt.

Plus, Bed Bath & Beyond and World Market are offering veterans 20% off their purchase through November 11. And Home Depot and Lowe's both offer a 10% discount to veterans on November 11.

These are great deals, and I hope everyone who can takes advantage of them! You certainly deserve it, and I thank you for your service.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

What I Love about Yard House

I love the bar/ restaurant atmosphere at Yard House, including large silver pipes from the ceiling to the bar, carrying some of the 120+ brews on tap at this newer restaurant on International Drive in Orlando. Even though it is a Darden Restaurants brand, Yard House only came to Orlando earlier this year. I've heard people in other areas of Florida and the U.S. rave about this restaurant.

I can see why. The staff is well-trained and friendly. And I mentioned the atmosphere. Plus, the food and drinks are really good. We had the House Honey Blond Ale, and would definitely order it again. Yard House is known for their great burgers - including its Black Truffle Cheeseburger - but there are so many different dishes and flavors from all over the world. 

We tried the Fish and Chips and the Blackened Swordfish Tacos. The Fish was crispy and flavorful. We haven't really found Fish and Chips we like around Orlando, so it was great to find one that is perfect. The Blackened Swordfish Tacos had a lot of flavor, thanks to the addition of cilantro, cumin crema and a mango papaya chutney. The side of rice was also delicious.

One other note: our server and management went above and beyond to ensure that my meal did not contain any of the ingredients that I have intolerances to. It made for a relaxing, worry-free meal!

Where: 8367 International Dr., Orlando, Fla.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Get Your pre-Halloween Freak On

Orlando Zombie Ball
Where are you going to get your fright on? While many people love Universal Orlando's Halloween Horror Nights, there are so many other smaller, not-as-flipping-crowded events where you can have a blast this month. 

Here are some of our favorites:

1. A Petrified Forest: this longtime Altamonte Springs favorite is back this year and features twice the trails. In addition to ghouls, goblins, and other scary creatures along this trail, food and entertainment is provided. There are even overnight camping options! This attraction is only available on weekends, so hurry and enjoy it.

2. Orlando Zombie Ball is THE place to be on October 22 at Firestone Live. Costumes are mandatory and the best costume wins $1,000! Phantasmagoria will be performing live, and VH1 celeb DJ Brian Dawe will be spinning.

3. Halloweenfest is back October 31 in downtown Winter Garden. The free event includes family activities, live entertainment, and several vendors.

If you have attended these events in past years or this year, leave your comments and suggestions below!

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Delicious, Local Ice Cream at LuLu's

If you have never been, Lu Lu's Ice Cream Shop is a small, family-run hut next to the Krispy Kreme Doughnuts shop in Winter Park. I love supporting Central Florida businesses and, in this case, it is not hard to do. I have been eating Lu Lu's ice creams and sorbets for years, and they are truly my favorite. And fresh. For heaven's sake: the Orlando creamery they buy from uses fresh strawberries (local, when in season) for its signature Strawberry Basil Sorbet.

The other day, I had the pleasure of trying some of their new flavors. Pumpkin Pie ice cream tastes exactly like it sounds: like the most flavorful homemade pumpkin pie, frozen into a smooth cream. They also had a new sorbet I had not tried - Blueberry - and again, it tastes like you are eating fresh blueberries. For those of us who have trouble with dairy, Lu Lu's sorbets are a great alternative to ice cream, but still have that smooth, creamy texture. 

We also love just the plain old Chocolate ice cream flavor, along with Chocolate Peanut Butter ice cream, Strawberry Basil Sorbet and Pineapple Sorbet. There are so many different flavors, you can always have something different. And the price is very reasonable, so bring a cooler and take some home.

Where: 1111 S. Orlando Ave., Winter Park, Fla.

Friday, October 3, 2014

New fall flavors at Yum Yum Cupcake Truck

Oh Yum Yum Cupcake Truck. How I have missed you. I have been craving cupcakes, but you are rarely in my area of town. Finally, I found you at Food Truck Bazaar in Lake Mary on October 1, along with some other great trucks and vendors. Unlike some other food truck events, the monthly Lake Mary event features a handful of food trucks and tons of local artists, jewelry makers, and other neat vendors. The beautiful park by Lake Mary City Hall is a great, relaxing setting to enjoy the food and the art.

Now, back to the cupcakes: as usual with Yum Yum, there were some hits and misses with the new fall flavors and other cupcakes. While we couldn't get enough of the El Churro (with its crispy, cinnamony, sugar exterior and delicious frosting), the Pumpkin Gingy cupcake fell short. While it had a delicous cream cheese frosting, the cupcake batter had a hint of baking soda or something slightly off. Otherwise, it was moist. I had been craving pumpkin treats, and was looking forward to the perfect bite.

The new Hootenanny Harvest Apple cupcake is pretty good. You get a hint of sour apple with real apple filing in the middle. The Chocolate on Chocolate is good, but again the batter tastes slightly of baking soda. There were lots of other good food trucks to try - such as Baja Grill - but unfortunately, I have food allergies and didn't see items I could eat.

All in all, I had a wonderful experience at the Food Truck Bazaar, and can't wait for the next big one: October 12 at Fashion Square Mall!

Monday, September 29, 2014

The Ups and Downs of Magical Dining Month

The great thing about Orlando's Magical Dining Month is that you get to try upscale restaurants that you normally wouldn't even be aware of. This past weekend, I had the pleasure of dining at Fiorenzo Italian Steakhouse, inside the Hyatt Regency Orlando on International Drive. I won the dinner for two from Visit Orlando on Twitter! I really appreciate all that Visit Orlando did to promote Magical Dining Month and make my experience wonderful.

While we loved some of the dishes on Fiorenzo's Italian Steakhouse Magical Dining menu, we were underwhelmed by others. For an appetizer, we chose the Calamari Fritti, which unfortunately was oversalted and unimaginative. However, the Cinnamon & Orange-Scented Lamb Ragout with ricotta and chocolate parpadelle was so delicious, we made sure to take leftovers so we wouldn't miss a bite. The lamb was cooked well, and the chocolate flavor was subtle.

Dessert was also delicious, particularly the Chocolate Ice Cream Sandwich. The Vanilla Gelato with Berries tasted great, but was a bit boring. Unfortunately, this restaurant's Magical Dining menu was more limited than other Magical Dining menus we have seen, so there were not "safe staples" to choose from if one didn't like the two entree offerings. However, the presentation of the plates was beautiful.

I may try the regular menu at Fiorenzo sometime, and determine how I like the restaurant's food overall. I'm so happy that Magical Dining Month introduced me to a new Orlando restaurant - at least for me!

Friday, September 26, 2014

Don't Miss New Events at Epcot Food & Wine

In addition to my favorite activity - "eating around the world" - during the annual Epcot Food and Wine Festival, I love all the special dinners and culinary classes that go on during the festival. The average person can see cooking demonstrations by celebrity chefs, or taste food they never would have tried.

This year, the Festival added many fun new events. Here are my favorites:

* Italian White Truffle & Wine Pairing Dinner: Enjoy a luxurious, five-course meal featuring truffles, set in an Italian summer villa atmosphere.

* Party for the Senses: The biggest Food and Wine Festival event every year, this upscale dinner features Disney chefs from all over the world, preparing dishes from their country. Get tickets now for the October 25 dinner.

* Dining Through the Decades - A Tribute to Walt Disney: Honoring Walt Disney's creative genius, this dinner is served with a side of fantasy and magic. I can't wait to see the unique dishes - and wine pairings - the chefs come up with.

* Mediterranean Food & Wine Pairing: The menu is inspired by the spice trades of Africa and Europe and is held in the restaurant at Morocco. I love the atmosphere at this restaurant!

* Late Nights Live: this year, you can stay after the regular park hours and take part in a street party with dancing, food and drinks! I love this addition for Orlando residents who want to enjoy the festival in the evening.

* Food for Thought: Join celebrity chefs for cooking tips, their personal stories, and tastes of their delicious food. Featured chefs this year: Robert Irvine, Andrew Zimmern, Rick Bayless, Cat Cora, and others!

To obtain reservations for these special events, call 407-939-3378.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Excellent Seafood, Fun Atmosphere at Salt Life

Salt Life Food Shack has been a mainstay of Jacksonville Beach for years, and just recently
expanded to St. Augustine. Right on the pier, the two-story restaurant with bar and a deck gives Central Florida seafood lovers yet another opportunity to try the company's excellent food.

However, for this visit, we went back to the Salt Life Food Shack we love in Jacksonville Beach. We had a great meal there a year ago, and wanted to see if the food was still up to snuff. The restaurant surpassed our expectations in regard to quality food and friendliness of the servers and management. And the fun, surfing atmosphere is still in place!

For an appetizer, we tried the Grilled Garlic Parmesan Oysters ($10.99 for six huge oysters). The oysters were grilled perfectly and smothered in cheese, which surprisingly did not detract from the great flavor.

For lunch, the Soft Shell Crab BLT ($9.99) was truly delicous. The crab is fried perfectly, and we like the "Shake Sauce" that is drizzled overtop. This is all sandwiched in ciabatta bread. Our other lunch entree was the catch of the day, which happened to be wahoo. I appreciated that the fish was cooked perfectly, and liked the real grill flavor. This was accompanied by fried plantains, which were cooked perfectly, and other yummy sides.

The menu is so extensive at Salt Life, but you will probably love whatever you order. The fish or shrimp tacos are delicious, and the poke bowls are some of the most popular dishes there.

Where: 1018 3rd St. N., Jacksonville Beach, Fla. 

Friday, September 19, 2014

What's New at Epcot Food and Wine Festival

Today marks the start of the fabulous, over-the-top Epcot Food and Wine Festival, an event I look forward to every year. This really gives me a chance to try foods from all over the world, while walking around a beautiful park, at my own pace. Every year, Epcot ups the ante on classes, special events and the type of food offered at each country. 

Here are the top new foods and beverages you will want to try this year:

At the new Patagonia Pavilion (featuring South American dishes), check out the Roasted Salmon with Arugula Chimichurri, the Grilled Beef Skewers, and the Beef Empanadas. Several delicious wines are also being served at this pavilion. While the Australian pavilion always features some sort of lamb dish, this year you can also get
Conch Salad
Garlic Shrimp with Roasted Tomatoes and Pavlova, a dessert that features custard and berries inside a crispy meringue shell.

Instead of its traditional escargot dish, the French Pavilion is featuring a delectable-looking Escargot Tart with garlic, spinach, bacon and Parmesan. At the new Farm Fresh Pavilion, check out the Griddled "Yard Bird", griddled chicken with braised greens and habanero sauce. I love that this pavilion features several Orlando and Florida ales as well. The new Conch Salad at the Puerto Rico Pavilion looks very tasty as well!

Of course I want to try these new dishes, but I also have to stick with some of my old favorites, such as the Belgian Waffles with Berry Compote and Whipped Cream in Belgium. Please let me know your favorites - and the new dishes you try this year - in the comments section below.

When: Sept. 19 - Nov. 10, 2014

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Another Broken Egg - Worth the Wait?

It's a good thing that breakfast cafes are becoming more popular around Orlando. I am definitely a breakfast person, and don't want to wait for Sunday brunch to go out for a good breakfast! 

I finally had a chance to try Another Broken Egg Cafe in Winter Park, Fla., the other day. I really liked the menu selection, atmosphere and - for the most part - food, but the service was not great. When I checked in at the restaurant on Foursquare, all the commenters agreed with me: "great food, lousy service". I definitely expected a wait at the popular spot, since I went on a Saturday at 1:00 p.m., but I was seated right away.

After I was seated, it took awhile for a server to greet me. Then, once I ordered, it took 20 minutes for a simple order: a plain waffle, bacon and poached eggs. By this point I was starving, but still sent the waffle back because it had arrived cold. However, once I did get to try the waffle, it was very light and fluffy with a bit of crispy exterior - exactly as I like it. The sweet, crispy bacon was also good, as were the eggs.

There are so many choices on the menu, it was hard to make up my mind. Many of the omelettes look great as well as the Signature Benedicts - especially Crabcakes Cavallo. A fellow food blogger recommended The Floridian omelette, which is filled with cream cheese and topped with garlic sauteed crabmeat, Monterey Jack and green onions. I couldn't order this mouth-watering dish because of a dairy sensitivity, so it would be great to see vegan cheese as an option for all the omelettes.

However, I was impressed by the vegetarian options on the menu, as well as the gluten-free pancakes and several healthy options. Another Broken Egg serves several burgers, sandwiches and salads too. More dishes for me to try - if I come expecting a wait. I like the vibe of the restaurant, too. Several 20-something patrons were watching football at the bar - a great place to hang out and order mimosas or Bloody Marys with your brunch.

Where: 430 N. Orlando Ave., Winter Park, Fla.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Yummy, Unique Food at Fresh to Order

"People sometimes associate healthy food with not tasting great," Darshi Patel, catering director at Fresh To Order in Orlando, Fla., told me recently. She is right. That is a mistake that people often make, but they would be wrong to think that of the tasty, high quality food at the recently-opened Fresh to Order in the Waterford Lakes Town Center in Waterford Lakes.

Fresh to Order, which just started offering catering services from the location near Oviedo, offers healthier menu options - in other words, no French fries - that are delicious. You order at the counter, and receive your food fairly quickly, but this is far from fast food. The broad menu has soups, salads, entrees, better-for-you-burgers, panini sandwiches, along with freshly made desserts and sides. "There are no freezers here. Everything is cooked fresh," Owner Giriam Patel told me.

I sampled two of the entrees: Almond Chicken Skewers, which feature a unique
Almond Chicken Skewers
almond rosemary crust and are served with two sauces: one is a teriyaki-type sauce and one is a sweeter sauce. Both complement the skewer perfectly. The skewer is slightly too salty and greasy, but otherwise the flavors are great. The sides - Ginger Apple Coleslaw and Sweet Mashed Potatoes - 
are delicious and different than what you see at other restaurants. I also loved the Coconut Curry Salmon with Roasted Peanut Corn Relish and Wheatberry Rice. The rice is another example of a healthy side that is tasty (although I wish it was slightly more flavorful, perhaps with the addition of an herb). The salmon, though was cooked perfectly, and I liked the flavor of the curry sauce. I am used to spicier curry sauces, but this one is not. 

Fudge Brownies
Fresh to Order is known for their Icebox pies, fudge brownies and freshly baked cookies. While I didn't try the pies on this visit, I would recommend any of the cookies. The Oatmeal Raisin and Peanut Butter cookies I had were obviously made fresh that day. They were just so tasty! I didn't like the flavor of the brownies as much. I don't know how to describe it; it was just a stronger, different flavor than I am used to. 

Overall, I would highly recommend this restaurant. And watch for other Fresh to Order locations opening around Central Florida! Meanwhile, to have your business meeting or event catered by Fresh to Order, call 407-800-8110 or email cateringorlando@fresh2order.com.

Where: 851 N. Alafaya Trail, Orlando

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Where to Find Real French Pastries in Orlando

Oh, Chez Jaqueline. Why did it take me so long to find you?! You have the best croissants, macaroons, and other pastries in Orlando, and you are only a few minutes from my house! 

At least I finally discovered this real French bakery across from City Hall in Lake Mary, Fla., which is apparently loved by many others. It was voted Best French Restaurant in Seminole County for the second year in a row! Chez Jaqueline is operated by French baker Jacqueline, who bakes most of the Delicious treats herself. The shop carries a broad range of pastries, as well as refrigerated desserts such as creme brulee, crepes, candies from France, and other food and drinks.

I have enjoyed every dessert I have tried, but my favorites are the almond croissants, plain croissants, macaroons (several different flavors to choose from), and coconut macaroons. If you like coconut macaroons, you need to try these. The crispy exterior and moist interior make this such a treat. The regular macaroons, baked fresh daily, are the perfect texture and the fillings are very flavorful. These are also much more affordable than Le Macaron and other bakeries in town at $1.50 each.

The croissants are perfect. The best thing to do is to get to Chez Jacqueline first thing in the morning, bring the croissants back home, and make the best Croissant, Egg and Cheese Sandwich you have had. That is what we did on one recent morning!

I haven't tried Chez Jacqueline's baguettes and desserts such as cheesecake and chocolate mousse yet. But that just leaves more deliciousness for me to discover. 

If you have any questions or comments on this bakery, please let me know below.

Where: 101 North Country Club Rd., Ste. 106, Lake Mary, Fla.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Christner's Old-School Portions, Atmosphere Lacking

I am still having trouble making up my mind about Christner's Prime Steak and Lobster
(formerly Del Frisco's) after dining there last week. It's not that the food and service weren't great; they were. I just think the atmosphere and food did not match my expectations of a great steakhouse.

The decor of the restaurant threw me off; the old-school 80s style leather booths, red rug, and dark surroundings are just not what I'm used to seeing in the current restaurant environment. Also, the oversized portions - and prices to match - are not what is happening in leading independent and chain restaurants across America. Guests are now more interested in trying a variety of small plates for $5 to $12 each, rather than the huge portions given at traditional steakhouses.

For example, the Shanghai Style Fried Calamari appetizer was a huge portion - enough for two or three people - and was $16. We couldn't have tried other apps because of the price. Still, the appetizer was drizzled with an unique sweet and spicy sauce as well as hot peppers and cilantro, that made this a really tasty dish. I would definitely recommend it.

The entrees are also overpriced, for their quality, at between $35 and $57. I understand that these prices are not out-of-line for an upscale steakhouse, the dishes just need to be perfect to match the prices. My husband had the 16 ounce Prime Strip steak ($47), which was large enough for two people. The waiter did not ask how he would like his steak cooked, so it needed to be sent back. The pepper crust on the steak was overpowering, so we could not enjoy the taste of the meat as much. Don't get me wrong: the steak was delicious, just not nearly the best steak we have had.

I ordered the seafood of the day - grouper - which was delicious. However, like the steak, the Cajun rub on the steak was overpowering. I love when restaurants honor the fish and the seasoning complements the seafood. Again, the portion was enough for two people. We really loved the mashed potatoes (with flakes of peel, they tasted so real!) and the asparagus.

I would also recommend the desserts at Christner's. The Mandarin Orange Cake, which is very popular there, had a great flavor. The orange sauce that you drizzle over the cake is just right. However, since it is a pound cake with heavy filling between the layers, it is definitely a heavy dessert to end a steak meal with. Again, it is a dish for two, three or four people to share!

While the food at Christner's was pretty good, the prices may limit some to visit just on special occasions once or twice a year. Also, the outdated decor doesn't make someone my age (Generation X) or younger customers such as millennials feel comfortable. Do you agree? Please post your comments below.

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!