Friday, December 16, 2016

Gulfport Harbor Lights: Best Holiday Light Display in the South!

Photo by Shad Bookout
I have now seen the second best holiday lights display of my life. Nothing beats the Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights at Disney's Hollywood Studios, but the Gulfport Harbor Lights Winter Festival at Jones Park is my second favorite. 

This massive holiday lights display, which takes up more than a city block near the water, is unlike anything I have ever seen. This year's underwater theme sported huge displays of oysters, octopuses, crabs and other sea life. The beautiful ferris wheel at the center of all the action is very popular - as is all the fair-type food such as funnel cake.

But the centerpiece of this holiday light display is the 15 or so dancing and singing Christmas trees. Seriously, I don't know how the City of Gulfport pulled off this technologically-advanced and stunning feat, but you can watch a variety of Christmas pictures and designs displayed on these trees to the timing of a variety of Christmas songs. A set of bleachers allow you to sit there as long as you want - always with a different song and light display. 

The "dancing Christmas trees" and other fantastic attractions at the Gulfport Harbor Lights Winter Festival were made possible by a $2.5 million donation from Island View Resort and Casino, right next to Jones Park. "It is the largest light show in the state of Mississippi and maybe beyond," said Cathy Beeding, vice president and general counsel of Island View. 

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Delicious Seafood & More at Island View

Best of Three Worlds - Beach Blvd. Steamer
We recently had the pleasure of staying in the gorgeous, new modern rooms at Island View Casino Resort's South Tower in Biloxi, Miss., and dining at some the resort's outstanding eateries.

One of the best dinners we have had in a long time was at the Beach Blvd. Steamer. This beautiful restaurant across from the casino/ resort is known for its plates full of steamed Royal Red Shrimp, Alaskan crab and other delicious shellfish and accompanying vegetables.

We started with the housemade, warm bread, which is just to die for. We love the addition of cheese and herbs on this bread! Beach Blvd. Steamer's gumbo was one of the best we have had, with the most heat. Very comforting - especially on a chilly night.

For entrees, we would highly recommend The Best of Three Worlds Platter, with steamed Royal Red Shrimp, fried Gulf shrimp and Broiled Crabmeat-Stuffed Shrimp. The crabmeat stuffing is so scrumptious and the Gulf shrimp is fried perfectly. The Royal Red Shrimp is very flavorful and is best with lemon and dipped in drawn butter.

We will definitely be back for the Wood Fired Charbroiled Oysters - delicately cooked over pecan wood flame. Many meats and seafood served at the restaurant are cooked this way, and the flavor is just delicious.

Don't forget dessert here - the Chocolate Bombe was oh so decadent and our favorite, but we want to return to try the Key Lime Pie, the huge three-layer Strawberry Tall Cake and the Southern Pecan Pie.

Blackened Snapper - With Cream Sauce & Crab
We also had an impeccable meal - from start to finish - at one of Island View's other eateries, Beach Grill. When you visit, the Blackened Snapper with Cream Sauce and crab is a must as well as the restaurant's New Orleans-style Char-Grilled Oysters. Both were delicious! Also save room for dessert here - the warm Berry Cobbler is now one of my favorite desserts. I wish I could have it every day.

At both restaurants - and throughout our stay at Island View - we were so impressed by the friendly staff. Employees who are just passing you in the hallway are incredibly friendly! This definitely sets Island View apart from other hotels and resorts we have stayed at.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Why you need to eat at Hemisphere restaurant

Photo by Shad Bookout
The renovated Hemisphere restaurant at the Hyatt Orlando Airport screams modern and comfortable - but not just in the "wow" design. The menu reflects the current dining trend: small plates that are shareable over great conversation and even better cocktails. But these are not your typical small plates. After working in several different cities across the U.S., executive chef Jeff Powell and Sous Chef Jason bring completely original and flavorful dishes to the new menu.

For example, the Chef's Signature Pork Belly is unlike any pork belly dish I have had, and the pork belly itself is probably the best one I have had. It is served with succulent slow-pickled blueberries, a sun choke puree and candied jalapenos. Another revelation was the Avocado Toast, which again, is unlike any other avocado toast dish. The sweeter tomato jam complements and contrasts the avocado toast nicely - as does the radish and tangy queso fresco.

Pork Belly - Photo by Shad Bookout
We also tried the most unique Haricot Verts (green beans), which have a delicious earthiness from nduja spicy Italian salumi, and sauteed red onions. It is served with a sunny side up organic egg - a perfect complement to this dish! We also loved the Soft Shell Crab dish, which is served with fried green tomato, boursin grits and arugula salad. Both the crab and tomato were perfectly breaded and fried and so flavorful!

Every dessert we tried also stood apart from any other restaurants. For instance, the Molten Lava Cake is ooey-gooey like you want it to be, but has a nice surprise with the gingersnap crumble. The Key Lime Pie Choux au Craquelin is unlike any Key Lime Pie you have had - and more delicious. We also tried two outstanding signature cocktails that are different than those offered at any other restaurant: Hendricks Pink Fern Gin and Silver Basil - sort of like a margarita, infused with basil.

Photo by Shad Bookout
While the atmosphere inside the restaurant is outstanding, many travelers through the airport dine at the eatery for the incredible view. It is so fun - for kids and adults alike - to watch planes arriving and departing. And when there is a launch from Cape Canaveral, you can see that, too! Before our next flight, we plan to forgo the fast food options in the main terminals and relax with outstanding food, wine and cocktails at Hemisphere.

See our complete photo gallery on Facebook.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

An unforgettable dining experience at 1921 by Norman Van Aken

Mount Dora Fla., Orlando, Orlando restaurants
Photo by Shad Bookout
If Mount Dora's charming shops and spectacular lake background are not enough reason for you to visit this town, I have discovered a restaurant that will make Mount Dora become a destination for you and your family.

My husband and I had a completely unique, memorable experience at 1921 by Norma Van Aken. We started out at the restaurant's partner across the street, the Modernism Museum - a visit that I would highly recommend. Once you immerse yourself in the art, history and culture of the works at this museum, you have a greater understanding of the philosophy and modern wood and metal decor featured throughout the restaurant - including the authentic chairs and tables that are used.

In addition to gorgeous art pieces scattered throughout, the stunning drapes in one of the dining rooms really help you feel the drama and "Old World" American feel of the eatery. 

1921 by Norman Van Aken's cuisine is equally as dramatic and unique - and I mean that in a very good way. Chef Van Aken, also the founder of Norman's at Ritz Carlton, is lauded as the founder of "New World" cuisine, a celebration of Latin, Caribbean, African Asian and American flavors. 1921's dishes feature some of these flavors, but with more of a modern Florida and local seafood focus.

In fact, the restaurant uses only Florida, sustainable seafood - including some lesser-known species that are very tasty. Kudos to Chef Van Aken for keeping Florida fishermen working, while providing outstanding meals and atmosphere to guests. I would highly recommend 1921 to anyone - especially for a special occasion like an anniversary or birthday party. With the high level of service here, you will definitely feel special and pampered.

We started with a Roasted Beet Salad with burrata, toasted sunflower seeds and a citrus-vanilla vinaigrette. The burrata mozarella provided a nice creaminess against the golden and red beets and the crunch of sunflower seeds. We paired this dish with a Muga 2015 rose wine - a wine which we really enjoyed and paired perfectly with this dish. For snacks and starters, you also need to try the Conch Fritters and the Spiny Lobster & Rock Shrimp Dumplings.
1921 by Norman van Aken, Chef Norman van Aken, Shad Bookout, OpinionsVary
Photo by Shad Bookout

Next, we feasted on Cape Canaveral Wreckfish over a Charred Zellwood corn puree with potatoes, mussels, chorizo and sauce mer noir, as well as the Ponce Inlet Golden Tilefish in a coconut curry sauce with conch fritter, charred pineapple and acorn squash. In both dishes, the fish was absolutely cooked perfectly. The wreckfish was seasoned simply with salt and pepper. With the tilefish, the coconut curry sauce was so light, it did not detract from the flavor of the fish; instead, it added to the complete meal.

For dessert, we would highly recommend the Zellwood Corn Panna Cotta, with popcorn tuile and maple crumble. The crunchy maple crumble was the perfect texture to mix with the smooth panna cotta. And a cookie made from popcorn: what a revelation!

The restaurant just started serving Sunday brunch, and I will definitely be back for that. Among the unique and delicious brunch dishes: S'Mores Doughnuts with Chocolate & Fluff Sauces, 'Korea Town' Chicken & Waffles with Asian Spiced Syrup and Smoked Brisket Hash with Confit Potatoes, Pickled Sweetie Drop Peppers, Thyme & Vinaigrette & a Poached Farm Egg.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Top 10 Veterans Day Deals in Central Florida

The Orlando restaurant industry always helps others in a time of crisis (remember them offering free meals and water following the Pulse shooting?). Now, they - along with outstanding retailers - are doing something nice for active military and veterans on Veteran's Day, November 11.

Here are the top 10 deals we found:

1. Publix stores - 10 percent off the grocery bill for military personnel and veterans.

2. Walgreens: 20% for active military, veterans and their families.

3. Twin Peaks in Altamonte Springs: a free entree from a special menu for service members.

4. Tijuana Flats: Free entree.

5. Krispy Kreme: Free coffee and a doughnut. Yum!

6. Applebee's: Free entree from a special menu plus $5 off coupon to use on a future visit.

7. Restaurant Ash: Free soup with purchase.

8. Red Robin Gourmet Burgers: Free Red's Tavern Double Burger and Bottomless Steak Fries.

9. BJ's Restaurant & Brewhouse: Free meal under $12.95.

10. Texas Roadhouse: Free lunch from a special menu for active military, former military and veterans.

If you know of other great restaurant and retail deals for veterans, please post them in the comments below!

Monday, November 7, 2016

Election Day Restaurant Deals in Orlando, U.S.

I love when restaurants and bars make the process of voting so much more fun. Whoever wins the presidential election this year, we should at least go out and celebrate the fact that we took part in the process with food and drinks, right?

Here are the top Election Day restaurant and bar deals in Orlando:

Restaurant Ash, Orlando restaurants, Orlando1. $1 burgers all day at Restaurant Ash. Yes, if you come in with your "I Voted" sticker, you can get a grilled burger and side salad for only $1. Plus, enter to win other prizes. This is a great promotion from a restaurant that serves craft sandwiches and other yummy fare. The chef/ owner of this fabulous location is Ashley Nickell of Hell's Kitchen fame.

2. Free drinks from 9 p.m. to 10 p.m. when you show your "I Voted" sticker during Southern Nights' viewing party. Doors open at 9 p.m.

3. Free doughnut at Krispy Kreme locations all day when you show your "I voted" sticker.

4. Free cup of coffee at participating 7-Eleven stores. The catch? You have to use their mobile app.

5. 30% off your order at Bob Evans.

6. Free cookie at Great American Cookie when you show your "I voted" sticker.

I am actually surprised not to see more local, independent restaurant deals on Election Day. If I have missed any, please comment below!

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Top 10 Dishes at 2016 Epcot Food & Wine

Photo by Shad Bookout
There are many more than 10 delicious dishes to enjoy at the 2016 Epcot International Food & Wine Festival - not to mention all the lovely wine and cocktails - but we wanted to give you a quick list of items that you should not miss when you go this year. Hurry, though - the Festival only lasts through November 14!

1. Loaded Mac 'n' Cheese at Farm Fresh. This was our favorite "comfort food", and we loved the addition of pepper bacon and peppers!

2. Buttered Chicken with Micro Cilantro and Naan Bread in Africa. One of our favorites last year, too, we loved the flavor of this dish, and it was fairly filling, making it more of a value than some of the other dishes.

3. Artist Palette of Wine and Cheese at Wine & Dine. At $11 for three delicious wines, along with small cheese and bread tastings, this was a pretty good deal and we enjoyed trying new flavors. If you like blue cheese, you will love the blue cheese with walnuts!

4, Sweet and Spicy Shrimp in Australia. This is the dish we thought of if you want to be adventurous and try something new. The flavors were spot on, and the pineapple and snap peas in the dish were cooked just right and very scrumptious.

Duck Confit - Photo by Shad Bookout
5. Duck Confit with Creamy Polenta and Fire-Roasted Salsa at new pavilion The Greenhouse Guru. The duck was tender and delicious and made a perfect, flavorful bite with the polenta and fresh salsa.

6. Boeuf Bourguignon, Cabernet-braised beef short ribs with mashed potatoes, in France. The beef had sort of a pot roast texture, and the sauce was delicious.

7. Le Cellier Wild Mushroom Beef Filet Mignon with Truffle-Butter Sauce at Canada. We get this every year. The filet is outstanding and the wild mushrooms had such flavor!

8. Roasted Verlasso Salmon with Quinoa Salad and Arugula Chimichurri in Patagonia. The salmon was tender and delicious and that chimichurri sauce is everything!

Photo by Shad Bookout
9. Liquid Nitro Chocolate-Almond Truffle with Warm Whiskey-Caramel and Ghiradelli Chocolate Raspberry Torte at Chocolate Studio. I did not try these desserts myself, but were told both were a perfect way to end an evening at the Food & Wine Festival!

10. Chocolate Baklava in Morocco. The inside was a little weird tasting, but the dark chocolate and crispy phyllo dough make this dessert worth trying!


Photo album: 2016 Epcot Food & Wine Dishes

Top 10 Favorites at 2015 Epcot Food & Wine

What's New at Epcot Food & Wine Festival

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Top 6 Reasons to Visit New Rubio's

Finally! We got a Rubio's Coastal Grille in Orlando...Winter Park Village, to be exact. As a seafood lover, I have been watching this California taco/ burrito chain for years and hoping it would eventually come to Florida. That is because many fast casual eateries - even if they offer tacos and burritos - are very light on seafood dishes. But not Rubio's. And the seafood they use is high quality. Wild salmon and pollock from Alaska. Delicious mahi mahi. And yummy shrimp. Of course, they offer all sorts of delicious vegetarian, chicken and steak dishes too.

The restaurant officially opens September 15, and we were fortunate to get a sneak peek the night before. Here are the top 6 reasons to visit the new Rubio's:

1. The location. Next to the AMC Theater in Winter Park Village, this is the perfect spot to grab an affordable dinner - and wine or beer - before the show. Since it's a fast casual eatery, prices are reasonable at between $3.99 for tacos and $8.49 for salads and rice bowls.

2. The Grilled Shrimp & Bacon Burrito was one of our favorite things on the menu. Ingredients include bacon, avocado, toasted cheese, blackened jalapenos, citrus rise and salsa fresca. However, if you are wary of heat, ask for little or no jalapenos - they can really surprise you!

3. The service. Even though the restaurant just opened, the managers, cashiers and other employees are all friendly, helpful and knowledgeable. We had a great dining experience, and every need was taken care of.

4. The Original Fish Taco, which features a battered and fried fish, was one of our other favorite dishes. We love how crispy it is - without being overcooked - and how flavorful the breading is. We will definitely order this again.

5. The California Bowl is delicious. With a base of citrus rice, guacamole, black beans, lettuce, chipotle sauce and salsa fresca, you can choose from shrimp, mahi mahi, Alaska coho salmon, all natural chicken or grilled veggies to top off your bowl. Everything tasted so fresh and the shrimp was cooked perfectly. Also, this is not greasy like the rice bowls I have had at Jimmy Hula's.

6. The ambiance. We love the modern, comfortable decor with wood tables, cool lighting and glass fish art on the wall. 

What are you waiting for? You must try this delicious, fresh Baja California-style food soon!

Where: 510 N. Orlando Ave., #100, Winter Park, Fla.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Why TR Fire Grill is a new favorite

I'm glad one of our friends introduced TR Fire Grill in Winter Park to us recently. Even though it has been open a few months, little did I know that we were missing out on delicious food and cocktails, as well as outstanding atmosphere and service!

The restaurant sources locally-produced meats and you can tell in the flavor of the dishes, such as the Bibb Salad with Chicken, which was very interesting and fresh. Our favorite dish, though was the Salmon & Zoodles, which features a large portion of perfectly-cooked salmon, zucchini noodles and a scrumptious cream sauce with Feta and Romesco. This is definitely a treat - and an original dish compared to other restaurants.

Ending the meal, we enjoyed one of the best desserts I have had in awhile: Chocolate Mayhem. (Tip: order the "small" size for two to three people). The decadent chocolate cake was accompanied by a crunchy coffee ice cream and a mouthwatering chocolate ice cream. We will never get tired of this dessert!

We also want to try the Bacon-Wrapped Smoked Meatloaf, Smoked Meatballs and the Chicken and Waffles.

Beyond the tasty, high quality food, we were most impressed with the service. Servers are very professional and friendly, and even bring hot towels at the end of the meal in order to clean your hands. We also love the modern decor and lighting!


Top 5 reasons to try new Lakehouse restaurant at Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress

Top 5 rolls at Fuji Sushi

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Top Eateries in Fort Lauderdale

My husband and I recently enjoyed a quick getaway to Fort Lauderdale. Besides the 100 degree temperatures (and everyone on the beach staring and pointing at me because my skin is so white!), we had a great trip! 

Locals told us about some not-to-miss eateries and here our favorites:

1. Jaxson's Ice Cream Parlour & Restaurant. Located in Dania Beach, this is a not-to-miss treat when you visit the area. A 30-year-old, family-run business, the shop makes all their ice cream from scratch. You can choose from four different cones, malts, shakes, banana splits, sundaes and regular ice cream. Our Chocolate Malt was delicious and tasted exactly like it was supposed to. I tried the sugar-free Strawberry ice cream, and it was outstanding. 

2. Colada Cuban Coffee House & Eatery. Craving authentic Cuban Cafe con Leche, we sought out this coffee house near the Victoria Park neighborhood in Fort Lauderdale. Not only were we impressed with our coffee, but the food and service were outstanding. The staff was very friendly, and Steven was the one who helped us find outstanding local restaurants. The coffee house gets all their authentic Cuban pastries and bread from the nearby Miramar Bakery. I would recommend the Bacon Egg & Cheese sandwich with avocado on croissant and a side of plantains. 

Runner up: The Brass Tap off of Federal Highway in Fort Lauderdale. Yes, it is part of a chain. But we really enjoyed the live music on the night we went and the in-house brewed craft beer. Our Pepper Jack Mac 'n Cheese was very tasty, as was our Mahi Tacos.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Dine on Healthy, Yummy Food at Whole Foods

When dining out, many people don't think of a going to a grocery store. However, after visiting the new Whole Foods Market in Altamonte Springs, Fla., I want to return for healthy and tasty lunches and dinners.

Of course, the new store - close to the Altamonte Mall - is gorgeous. In addition to the large selection of good-for-you products to buy in-store, I was most impressed with all of the dining options. The self-serve hot bar just seems to go on and on, offering all types of vegan and vegetarian fare, as well as Indian, Mexican, Italian, American and other cuisine from around the world. 

The in-store Asian foods provides sushi and rice bowls, such as Teriyaki, made to order. So, you can ask for whatever type of sushi you would like and for the rice or pasta bowls, you can customized your veggies, meat and seasonings. I tried a bowl with chicken, white rice, asparagus, brussel sprouts, peanuts and chili seasoning. It was delicious and light - I felt like I was eating healthy.

There is also a pizza eatery in the store - I sampled a piece and it was pretty good! I want to return to try some of the many meals and snacks available from the hot bar, including plantains.

Also see:

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Top 5 ways to dine out and support Orlando

The outpouring of love and support for victims and others affected by the Orlando tragedy has been heartwarming. Let's keep the good vibes going and support these restaurants that are donating a portion of their proceeds to the OneOrlando Fund and other funds:

1. Dine Out for Orlando United. Several Florida restaurants will be donating proceeds on June 30 to the OneOrlando Fund, designed to respond to the needs of the local community, now and in the time to come. Participating restaurants in the Orlando area include: A Land Remembered at Rosen Shingle Creek, Baoery Asian Gastropub, BJ's Restaurant and Brewhouse, Bonefish Grill, Boston Lobster Feast, Christner's Prime Steak and Lobster, Funky Monkey Bistro & Bar, Hawkers, Krispy Kreme Dougnuts, Morimoto Asia, Miller's Ale House and many more. See the full list on the web site. 

2. Benefit Barbecue for the GLBT Community Center of Central Florida on July 10. Hosted by Chef Kevin Fonzo of K Restaurant Wine Bar and Jamie McFadden of Cuisiners Catered Cuisiner and Events, it will be held at East End Market from 4-8 pm.

3. 4 Rivers Smokehouse and The Coop are giving guests the option to round up their purchase or donate any dollar amount to the victims and families affected by the Orlando tragedy. "Our thoughts and prayers go out to everyone involved," the restaurants said. 

4. The Sanctum Cafe: During June, the vegan eatery's Karma Bowl will be offered for $5. Any proceeds donated above that, will go directly to the GoFundMe account benefiting victims who have been affected by the tragedy. 

5. The Osprey Tavern has added the Orlando Strong cocktail to its menu, and 100% of the sales of this cocktail will be donated to Equality Florida's Pulse Victim Fund.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Support Orlando restaurants helping our city

Sanctum Cafe
I, for one, am not going to hide in my house after the crisis in Orlando. Now is the time to get out and be social with friends and family, celebrating the lives that we have. Several Orlando restaurants are donating a portion of their sales to help families of the victims. I have included a few examples below, and I hope you support these businesses:

4 Rivers Smokehouse and The Coop are giving guests the option to round up their purchase or donate any dollar amount to the victims and families affected by the Orlando tragedy. "Our thoughts and prayers go out to everyone involved," the restaurants said. Plus, 4 Rivers is opening its Winter Park location on a Sunday for the first time in its history this Sunday, June 19, from 11 am to 3 pm. Proceeds from the day will go toward the One Orlando Fund to benefit victims and their families. 

The Sanctum Cafe: During June, the vegan eatery's Karma Bowl will be offered for $5. Any proceeds donated above that, will go directly to the GoFundMe account benefiting victims who have been affected by the tragedy. 

K Restaurant continues to donate a portion of its sales to benefit the family of Cory Connell, an Edgewater High graduate who was killed.

The Osprey Tavern has added the Orlando Strong cocktail to its menu, and 100% of the sales of this cocktail will be donated to Equality Florida's Pulse Victim Fund.

Sweet by Holly in Orlando and Jacksonville will donate 50% of the sales of its Orlando Pride cupcakes (available in regular and gluten-free via special order) to Equality Florida.

Also kudos to the Waterford Lakes Chik-fil-A, which stayed open on Sunday to pass out water to those donating blood. There are a number of other restaurants that donated food and water - and continue to help during the aftermath. Please let us know about other Orlando restaurant benefits and fundraisers in the comments section below!

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Enjoy outstanding food & more at Beau Rivage

When visiting Biloxi, Miss., recently, I was so impressed with the hospitality, food, decor, guest rooms and casino at Beau Rivage Resort and Casino. I cannot say enough great things about this gorgeous facility.

From the moment you walk in, you realize that you have employees who really care about Beau Rivage. Thousands of fresh flowers line the walkways around the lobby and, on this visit, a bicycle of fresh flowers had been built. What a unique touch! 

I like to gamble a bit - just slots and roulette - and this casino has so much to offer. You can choose from a variety of card games, poker tables, and slot machines. But, if anyone goes here just to gamble, they are seriously missing out. First, from Orlando, you can catch an inexpensive direct flight to Biloxi via Allegiant Airlines. So, this is  fun, easy trip.
By Shad Bookout

Plus, I would stay here again, just for the food. It is seriously some of the best food I have had in a long time - and I have been lucky enough to dine at the top restaurants in New Orleans, Orlando and elsewhere. There are five outstanding restaurants on property, including an endless buffet. When we dined at the buffet, we enjoyed fresh boiled crawfish, filet mignon, snow crab legs, a huge assortment of Italian and Asian food, a number of desserts (including sugar-free options) and the list goes on and on. I was impressed how each type of food was high quality and tasted so fresh - not like typical buffet food.

We also got to try the new menu at Coast restaurant, which will be unveiled soon. The revamped menu features a lot of small plates, along with entrees, that are mostly from local food and seafood, in season. We sampled the unique and scrumptious Crawfish Deviled Eggs, as well as a whole snapper cooked on rock salt with star anise and Indian spices. The raw and stuffed oysters here are not to be missed. The restaurant buys only top-notch oysters from places like Murder Point, Alabama. Some of the stuffed oysters are topped with house-made bacon, which you will love. 
Photo by Shad Bookout

Other favorite dishes include the Fried Oyster Slider and Shrimp and Oyster Po' Boy sandwich.The gumbo at all the restaurants on property also has the perfect amount of heat and is truly delicious. 

The Beau Rivage guest rooms are also luxurious, including a huge sunken tub and a comfy bed. Of course, the views of the Gulf from your room are outstanding. I even spotted dolphins on my walk on the beach near the resort!

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Don't miss pop-up Tennessee Truffle in Sanford

Only 10 minutes from my house and getting great reviews, I couldn't resist trying a pop-up restaurant in Sanford that has only been open for two weeks. While one of the owners, Nat Russell, originally said that The Tennessee Truffle would only likely be open for a month, he is hoping to extend that after a great reception from the community.

I can see why. This small restaurant in downtown Sanford has a great vibe, friendly owners and staff, and delicious Southern food. "I grew up in Memphis, and I love the grittiness, the music and the food," the chef said of his inspiration for the restaurant. Plus, he generously greeted every customer and explained their dish to them. 

A mainstay of The Tennessee Truffle's menu is the biscuits, so they have to be very good. I am happy to report that the chefs produce very delicious biscuits. They are airy and tasty, but dense enough to hold together to be used as bread for sandwiches. I ordered the Chicken Sandwich with Pickled Zucchini. I got the perfect bite: the combination of scrumptious biscuit, perfectly-cooked and flavored chicken (not fried!), along and sweet and tangy zucchini. 

The side was also tasty: Macaroni and Roasted Tomatoes. No cheese, and still very yummy. I also wanted to try the Anson Mills grits, which have received rave reviews, but was too full. I will get to taste those when I return for breakfast. 

I got to try the house-cured bacon and am a huge fan. I think the Bacon, Egg & Cheese Biscuit will be my next breakfast order! I also need to try the desserts, including homemade ice cream and Chocolate Gravy Biscuits. 

Also try:

Top reasons to visit The Smiling Bison - Sanford

Monday, May 16, 2016

Cupcake ATM and much more at Sprinkles

By Guest Blogger Sarah Hawthorne

Wouldn't it be great if, with a push of a button, you could get a freshly-made gourmet cupcake any time of day or night? Ten years ago, you might have thought this type of machine was only available to The Jetsons, but today it's a reality at Sprinkles, the newest addition to the Disney Springs family. 

This is the nation's 20th cupcake ATM, offering all of Sprinkle's cupcake flavors made fresh to order, along with their dog-friendly cupcakes (not for human consumption). The cupcakes are $3.95 for mini-cupcakes (offered in four traditional flavors) and $4.95 for full-size.

Touted as the first cupcake bakery by the Food Network, Sprinkles is much more than a cupcake ATM. Open 10 a.m. to midnight, the beautiful shop has dozens of cupcake flavors, including Banana Peanut Butter, Cuban Coffee, Sprinkles, Dark Chocolate and Red Velvet. Additional offerings include sugar-free, gluten-free, and vegan cupcakes; ice cream (Cap n Crunch was my fave); cookies and a cupcake decorating center. 

But what you really want to know is, "How do they taste?" Simply amazing. Personally, I'm not a huge cupcake fan. A mini cupcake is usually all I can handle, before I lunge for a glass of milk. What sets them apart from every other cupcake bake shop is balance and quality ingredients. First, their flavors taste exactly how they should. You aren't getting a typical overly-sweetened, artificially-flavored cupcake. Sprinkles gives you something more like a moist, natural, perfectly-sweetened muffin. 

Sprinkles Disney Springs, Walt Disney World, Orlando
Second, the icing complements the cupcake without overpowering the other flavors and again, it is creamy and flavorful - not overly-sweetened. At Sprinkles, I never bothered to check their menu for milk. I am a huge ice cream fan and I did find their ice cream to be on the sweeter side. So, if you do prefer a sweeter flavor, I recommend their sundae. It is a cupcake with the top cut off and ice cream put in the middle for between $5.50 and $9.95.

According to one of the super friendly employees, Grace, the cupcakes will last approximately two days and should not be refrigerated. Her favorite flavor is Red Velvet with Red cupcake with Red Velvet ice cream. Sprinkles will offer seasonal flavors such as Key Lime and Gingerbread.

One of the biggest selling points for sprinkles is their rewards program, which steps up the rewards for frequency. When you sign up in-store or online, you immediately receive a free cupcake and you receive points for every cupcake you buy. The more cupcakes you buy in a year, the more points you earn per purchase and even bigger rewards for the following year. You also get a free cupcake on your birthday!

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Sweet & Savory Yogurt is in

Why have I never tried Noosa Yoghurt before now? Friends rave about it, and I recently was sent some of their innovative new flavors. First, the texture of European-style yoghurt is thicker, creamier and - in my humble opinion - more flavorful than regular U.S. yogurt. I even love the plain Noosa!

Plus, Noosa has different yoghurt flavors than what you typically see on the shelf (such as Vanilla or Strawberry Banana). The company recently launched Blackberry Serrano, Key Lime and Blood Orange flavors, as well as 4-packs of its Salted Caramel flavor. 

Of course I tried the weirdest first: the combination of sweet and savory with blackberries
Blackberry Serrano Yoghurt
and serrano peppers. It's not for me. I guess I don't want spice with my dessert, even though I love hot peppers and appreciate that this yoghurt had a fair amount of heat. The friends who tried it were pretty evenly split: half loved it and half hated it.

Same with the Blood Orange: half of my friends loved it and half hated it. However, the Key Lime has a strong lime flavor and is delicious. And the Salted Caramel is so yummy. I think I will stick with the sweeter flavors! 

In Central Florida, you can find Noosa at Publix, Fresh Market and other stores.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Helps Kids and Eat Pie this Weekend!

Every year, I anticipate the National Pie Championships in Orlando, Fla. Our city is so fortunate to host this great event that recognizes national bakers, and is televised on Food Network. The National Pie Championships, which are open to the public, will be held April 29 and April 30 at Caribe Royale Hotel.

This year, the Championships are even better because they include the American Pie Council's "Pie Party" to benefit Give Kids the World. Tickets for the event are only $5 for two slices of pie, plus several fun activities will be held. You can challenge the pros in an Iron Chef-style competition, watch a 200-pound pie being built, and of course, enjoy pie. 

If you go, please post photos and comments of your favorite pies!

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Go to Carrabba's for Flavor, Value

We decided to give Carrabba's Italian Grill a try again after years of not eating there because of high prices and dishes that were not that inventive. After trying the recently-opened Carrabba's in Sanford, Fla., we are happy to report that we liked the taste of our dishes, as well as the incredible value for our dinner. 

The incredible value was obtained because we went on a Monday, when the chain runs its
Flavorful Excursions, Sanford restaurants, Sanford fla, Christine Blank
"Amore Mondays" promotion, offering three courses starting at $12.99. I would suggest going on Mondays - or for its specials on Tuesdays or Wednesdays, since many pasta entrees are around $20 on the regular menu.

For $12.99, I was able to try the delicious new Linguine Positano with wood-grilled chicken, crushed tomatoes, garlic, olive oil and basil. I would have loved more basil flavor, but otherwise the dish was seasoned well and came out steaming hot. I also was able to get a large side salad and the Brulee Ricotta Cheesecake. The cheesecake was not my favorite, but I typically don't like ricotta cheesecake. However, my husband enjoyed it!

For $15.99, my husband had the Fettuccine Weesie - Fettuccine Alfredo with sauteed shrimp, basil garlic and mushrooms in a white wine lemon butter sauce - as well as the Meatballs & Ricotta appetizer and the Minestrone soup. The fettuccine was very tasty, and we loved the flavors of the meatballs. 

Plus, our meals were so filling that we were able to take leftovers home. We rarely get to do that anymore when eating out! We also enjoyed eating outdoors in a nice atmosphere in Sanford. 

Where: 4675 St. John's Parkway, Sanford, Fla. (near Seminole Towne Center mall)

See the complete photo album from our dinner on Facebook.


Top Reasons to Visit The Smiling Bison - Sanford

Outback: Great Food For The Price

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Must-eat in Houston: Irma's Southwest

Guest blogger: Shad Bookout

Yesterday, we ate at Irma's Southwest Grill in Houston, Texas. There is no menu here; it is whatever is on the board for the day. 

We had good service, especially for an off time. My buddy Will enjoyed a combo with a shrimp taco, beef fajita, and a cheese enchilada. I had wild boar tamales. Both were delicious, but the best was by far the wild boar, which has the right blend of savory sauce to complement the gamey meat.

See complete photo album on our Facebook page!

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Must-try: Brunch at The Porch

Winter Park restaurants, Orlando restaurants, Orlando
The Porch in Winter Park, Fla., recently started serving its brunch on Saturday from 11:30 am - 3 pm, in addition to its Sunday brunch. Of course, the brunch menu is as inventive and delicious as The Porch's regular menu. There were so many dishes from the brunch menu that we wanted to try, including Candied Bacon and an amazing Hawaiian French Toast dish. 

However, on this visit, I chose the Croissant Egg Sandwich with crispy bacon, arugula and tomato, with a side of smashed potatoes. This sandwich was truly the perfect bite, as egg yolk ran into the bacon, arugula and tomato. I also loved the smashed potatoes, which are like breakfast potatoes but smashed - and with more oil and seasoning.

My husband stuck to his favorite at The Porch: fried chicken tenders with tater tots. The fried chicken is always tender on the inside and crispy on the outside, with a tasty breading.

Bottom line: we will be back for brunch at The Porch and you should check it out too!

Also see:

Yummy TV dinners and more at The Porch