Thursday, February 25, 2016

Why we Love Zoes Kitchen

Orlando restaurants
Photo by Shad Bookout, OpinionsVary
Welcome, Zoes Kitchen, to Orlando! The 173-restaurant chain opened its first Orlando location in Winter Springs back in November and we were lucky enough to try out their delicious Mediterranean food this week.

While everything we had was very tasty, here are our favorite dishes there:

- Basil Pesto Hummus with pita bread. 
- Red Pepper Hummus with pita bread and cucumbers. We suggest the hummus trio.
- Shrimp Kabobs: watch out - they have a kick of heat, but it's a kick I like.
- Salmon Kabobs: the salmon was tender, plus we love the peppery sauce.
- Braised white beans: I don't typically like beans. This flavorful dish with rosemary is a notable exception - we couldn't get enough!
Mediterranean food, Greek food
Photo by Shad Bookout, OpinionsVary
- Rice Pilaf: Very flavorful and different from the typical sides at restaurants.
- Spinach Roll-ups: healthy and delicious.

I also heard the Greek Chicken Pita and Chicken & Orzo Soup are outstanding. We will try those on our next visit.

Where: 5930 Red Bug Lake Rd., Winter Springs, Fla. 32708

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See also:

Delicious, Authentic Fare at Greek Village

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Inside The Orlando Eye & Madame Tussaud's

What a great day my husband and I had on Valentine's Day - one that I would recommend to other couples and families! We played hometown tourists on International Drive, experiencing The Orlando Eye, Madame Tussaud's Wax Museum and Orlando Sea Life Aquarium for the first time.

You can buy a package to visit all three attractions - which are in the same building - or you can just visit one or two. The Orlando Eye did not disappoint, with 360-degree views of The City Beautiful and out to the coast. While I have stayed at several Orlando-area hotels, I have never seen Orlando from this vantage point. We truly enjoyed the stunning scenery.

We took a break for lunch at Yardhouse, but there are several other great restaurants in the area you can choose from, including Tin Roof, Funky Monkey, Shake Shack and Paramount Fine Foods. We have always had good food and service when we visit Yardhouse, and this time was no different. 

I ordered the Chicken Pot Pie, which I thought was pricey at nearly $16. However, I didn't realize that the pie would be the size of a dinner plate! The flavor was excellent and it was stocked full of huge pieces of chicken and carrots. My husband ordered the hamburger, which was also excellent and well worth the $12 price tag.

Next on our adventures for the day was Sea Life, which is a small aquarium, but is great for families. You can see baby sharks, octopus and so many other cool fish and sea turtles. I could see children spending quite a bit of time here. Of course, if you have visited Sea World, this will be a letdown because it is on such a smaller scale.

Madame Tussaud's Wax Museum was outstanding. The wax figures of all the celebrities and political figures are truly spot-on. See our photo album on Facebook to get a glimpse of the celebrities you get to have your picture taken with!

Also, listen to more about our visit here


Top Reasons to Visit Disney's Hollywood Studios

What we love about Yardhouse

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Top 5 Reasons to Visit Orlando's Downtown Food and Wine Fest

Orlando, Downtown Food and Wine Fest, Flavorful Excursions
The 8th Annual Downtown Food and Wine Fest returns to Orlando on February 27 and 28, and I am not going to miss it. Why? Here are the top 5 reasons you want to attend the Downtown Food and Wine Fest:

1. Michael Franti. Sorry that I put him ahead of the excellent food and wine, but I have been a fan of his music for years and am thrilled to watch him perform in person!

2. The food. Where else can you taste scrumptious food from 30 leading Orlando restaurants, including Primo Restaurant, Siro Urban Italian Kitchen, Hawkers, Hard Rock Cafe and TR Fire Grill?

3. The wine. I relish the chance to taste several different wines from Little Black Dress Wine, Jackson Family Wines, Cupcake and many more.

Orlando, Downtown Food and Wine Fest4. Excellent entertainment. In addition to Franti, American Authors, Mud Flappers, Firefall and several other groups are performing. American Authors have several hits and we love the Mud Flappers after seeing them perform live.

5. Lake Eola. The entertainment, along with food and wine tasting, is all taking place at the picturesque Lake Eola. It will be great to spend a day outside in this beautiful setting.

To purchase tickets, visit this link.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Top 3 Sweet Gifts for Valentine's Day

There are plenty of amazing Central Florida restaurants and bake shops where you can eat incredible desserts. But do you know where you can find unique sweet treats for your love? 

Here are our top picks for best sweet gifts for Valentine's Day in the Orlando area:

1. Le Macaron Melbourne. The shop not only has the most delicious macarons, but is also a great place for you to pick up high quality chocolates (with heart and lip shapes) for your significant other. 

2. Babycakes Arrangements. This company makes custom cupcake bouquets - which look like real flower arrangements! -  along with custom cookies, cake pops, cakes and more. I know I would rather receive a scrumptious edible bouquet than real flowers!

3. Peterbrooke Chocolatier. Like Babycakes Arrangements, I like that Peterbrooke makes all sorts of custom chocolates. Would you like your love's name in chocolate? They can make it. Is your wife a shoe lover? They can make chocolate heels that look like the real thing. Also be sure to try their Chocolate-Covered Bacon and Chocolate-Covered Oreos.

Have you tried these desserts? If so, let us know your review in the comments section below. Which sweet shops should we add to the list?

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Why This Orlando Resort is My Favorite Staycation

Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress poolEarlier this week, I told you about the new LakeHouse restaurant at the Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress in Orlando. I think this restaurant - or the classy, unique Hemingway's restaurant at the resort - would both be a special spot to celebrate Valentine's Day.

Now, I want to tell you what it is like to enjoy a staycation at Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress for Valentine's Day - or anytime. This is a resort where my family has stayed many times over the years - including celebrating every Father's Day here. That is because we not only enjoy great accommodations and food, but there are so many things for families to do here. 

I literally feel like I am in a different world when my family and I stay here. I lay in the hammocks, dip my toes in the sand and look out on the lake. We use paddleboats and canoes for free. We go rock climbing as well as bike riding and walking along the resort's beautiful trails. The best part is the pool -three huge areas for families and couples. There is not another like it in Orlando. The pool area features waterfalls you can swim under, a water slide, a cool wooden bridge and a hot tub. We often just lounge by the pool - what a relaxing staycation!

Of course, the entire grounds are just beautiful, and include bronze statues, bridges and fountains. You really do feel transported to another area of the world - say Southeast Asia. 

Eggs Benedict, eggs, Orlando, Orlando resorts, LakeHouse
And, when you rise in the morning, you can choose a casual, quick breakfast or take advantage of LakeHouse's many options - which my husband and I did on our last visit. The Breakfast Buffet - $24.95 - is pricey, but there is so much delicious food to choose from. Omelettes, waffles and pancakes are cooked to order. But there is also a broad array of fresh fruit, cereals and pastries. We loved the buffet. I also ordered the LakeHouse Benedict ($16), which features poached eggs with avocado on Ciabatta bread, along with Canadian bacon, roasted tomatoes and Hollandaise sauce. This dish was outstanding.

Let me know if you have stayed at the Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress - or have any questions on staying there - in the comments section below

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Top 5 Reasons to Try New LakeHouse Restaurant at Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress

Orlando, Orlando resorts, LakeHouse
Those who follow this blog know that my favorite Orlando staycation spot is the Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress. I truly feel like I am in another world - say, on a private island - when I vacation at the resort. I will tell you more about what it is like to stay at HRGC in my next blog. First, I want to focus on the incredible new LakeHouse restaurant inside the hotel.

LakeHouse is the renovated version of the previous restaurant, Cascades. Man, it is starkly different than its predecessor. Missing is the huge mermaid fountain, which will be made into a bronze statue, and out-of-date decor. This place has been completely transformed into a modern, hip place to dine or simply meet for cocktails. When I am looking for a good restaurant in the attractions area - for a special occassion or every day dining - I will now consider LakeHouse first. 

And that is because of the stellar menu - basically comfort food with a twist. Plus, the food is fresh, seasonal and local - and I can enjoy my food in a beautiful atmosphere, with a view of a lake, a fountain, greenery and an expansive herb garden. Even though I have dined at many different restaurants, I tasted some cocktails and dishes that I have never had before. Here are a few of our favorites: 
Flavorful Excursions, HRGC, Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress, LakeHouse
1. Almond Filled Dates wrapped in Bacon. First, I never thought about pairing dates and crispy bacon before now. I wish I had, because I would be eating this daily at home! This small plate is a perfect app, and the Sriracha dip brings the perfect amount of heat.

2. Margherita Pizza. Simple but delicious pizza with sliced Roma tomatoes, Mozzarella, torn basil and parmesan. We also loved the House Pizza (Chef's Special), which featured peaches and goat cheese on this occasion.

3. Filet Mignon with Herb Bread Pudding, Port Wine Sauce, Beech Mushroom and Asparagus. You had me at Herb Bread Pudding. I could have eaten this - and the Port Wine Sauce - all day. I was also impressed that the filet was perfectly cooked and seasoned.

4. Grilled Shrimp Cocktail with Spicy Bloody Mary Sauce. Wow. The shrimp were grilled and seasoned perfectly, and we love the corresponding sauce with a kick of heat. This is much different than your average Shrimp Cocktail dish - and tastes much better.
Orlando resorts, Filet Mignon, steak
Filet Mignon with Herb Bread Pudding

5. Sushi, sashimi and nigiri. All of the options we tried were delicious, but the HRGC roll was our favorite. The roll features krab salad, avocado, sliced mango and eel sauce. Yum!

There were also a variety of beautiful desserts. We weren't blown away by the taste of some, but we loved the presentation of Milk & Cookies, which can be ordered for an individual or the whole table.