Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Kappy's - Maitland

"I've been coming here for 25 years." The lady said.

She was sitting at the picnic table opposite us with her son. We were waiting for our orders to be called out when she struck up a friendly conversation to pass the time. Asking us if we had come through before, we told her we were rookies. Having heard nothing but positive things about this place from our friends we figured it was about time we gave it a go.

25 years.

Do I even need to continue this little review? That's gotta be what, like 200 in mom and pop restaurant years? The amount of time Kappy's has managed to stay open whilst Quiznoses, Firehouse Subses and Subwayses popped up and down this popular street speaks volumes.

Located just north of Horatio on 17-92, Kappy's has been slinging Philly Cheese Steaks and other assorted burgers and subs to Maitland's residents for (apparently) over a quarter century. After we dove into our order, it was easy to see why.

From the street Kappy's looks almost like a broken down mechanic's garage. It's not bright, it's kinda a dingy white. It's not flashy, it's a bit run down. The sign looks like something those dude's from American Pickers would squabble over and the inside looks like the joint where Marty ordered a Pepsi Free in part 1. However, as we all know, one should never judge a book by its cover.

We parked the car and walked in the door, there you find yourself alongside a row of classic vinyl bar stools lined up at the counter. On the other side, a grill, the menu and a couple of friendly employees.

Like I said earlier, we hadn't been before, but we were tipped off on the Philly Steak. Ordered one of those and the gal asked us how we liked it. They offer an assortment of veggies you can throw in that sub, you can get it as a Chicken Philly or even pizza style (with provolone and pizza sauce). Didn't get too fancy, stuck with the red peppers and onions.

Here's the thing, as you probably are aware, most Philly's are served with steak that is chopped or sliced thin, like steak-ums. At Kappy's they serve it that way or their way which is more of a ground steak texture. Reminded me of that place Roseanne worked with the loose meat sandwiches.

So, we got the highly recommended Philly, Kappy's style. Check. I also wanted to get something a little more unique to Kappy's. That's when I noticed "Earl's Special." As soon as I saw it on the marquee, it had to be mine. A juicy cheeseburger topped with hot pastrami. BINGO! Talk about a tale of two awesomes. Ordered a side of fried mushrooms with ranch for dipping, and we also got a side of their waffle fries.

After we ordered we sat down and took a look at the other items available on their menu: Chicken Parm, Philly Pizza Steak, BBQ Beef Sub...quite the variety. The waitress asked if we planned on eating at the counter or outside and we decided to go take a seat on the bench outdoors.
The mother and son also waiting for their order told us they always get the Philly when they go there. She told us, "I never get the red things though (peppers). The best way to do a Kappy's Philly, is just good ol fashioned onion and mushroom, try that next time.

Well nice lady with very limited vocabulary, I think we just might.

7-10 minutes passed, maybe less...when the sliding window popped open with our order. Opening it up, everything came wrapped in white butcher's paper. There were very little grease spots though. That's a good thing, (technically speaking) but I'll be the first to admit, sometimes the site of a nice translucent wrapper is just what the doctor ordered. Plopped open my side of fried mushrooms first, not bad. Crispy on the outside, warm and juicy on the inside. Hey, it's hard NOT to mess up a fried side item though. I reckon you can't get too excited when they are good at timing how long something should be sitting in boiling oil. Speaking of deep fried treats, the waffle fries were equally delicious. Not stale, not lukewarm/cold. Hot and tasty--like they should be.

Grabbed the Philly and the burger out next. Both were very dense. A good sign of things to come. My juicy cheeseburger was in fact quite juicy and stacked thick with delicious pastrami and the hoagie was packed with chopped up steak goodness. The peppers tasted fresh as did the lettuce and tomato on top of my sandwich. You know what wasn't packed and stacked though? The Bill. Appetizer, fries, drink and two mondo sandwiches all came to less than 20 bucks after a few bills were thrown in the tip jar for good service. That's karma you know? Maybe next time they'll throw a few of those fried mushroom in my Philly, now THAT'S an idea!

As we enjoyed our dinner beneath the glow of neon lights, I wondered how busy Kappy's actually got. We arrived just before closing on Saturday night so only a few patrons came and went as we ate. I can't imagine that place during a lunch rush. The lack of space inside would make it not unlike a can of sardines. Add a line around the building waiting at the walk up window and that could spell a long long wait for those who are tyring to get it and go. Of course, this is just speculation, maybe my next trip back will be at noon time during the work week to check-in on such notions.

I think Kappy's is an EXCELLENT excuse to play hookie, so I just might go ahead and do that.

501 N Orlando Ave
Maitland, FL 32751
(407) 647-9099
Open until 9:00 Monday through Saturday and until 4:00 Sunday

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The Ravenous Pig - Winter Park

"Your reputation precedes you." As we made our way to The Ravenous Pig in Winter Park I couldn't help but think of that saying. Ever since this place opened up it has been noted as one of Central Florida's must try eateries. Word of mouth spread like wild fire, all positively glowing reviews. In fact, while dining at the very well received Kress Chophouse, our server told us that "The Pig" was her favorite place to eat in town. It was high time we made it over for a first-hand taste. We swung through on a Saturday night, right around 5 when we pulled up to the valet. It's complimentary (especially if you're a miser like me and don't tip...EVER) and located in the brick-lined alley right next to the entrance. You can't miss it, just look for the murals of beef and pork cuts. Now, if you plan on heading out on Saturday or Sunday you'll wanna make sure to call ahead well in advance. I was informed that the dining area gets booked solid on the weekends very regularly. However, we were going to have a few drinks and watch some March Madness over on the pub side of the restaurant, so we were able to slide in at the bar right away. As we plopped down the friendly bartender gave us our menus and two bowls filled with snacks. "It's your lucky day, " he told us. "What's usually just popcorn is actually caramel corn mixed with sweet-glazed pecans tonight." Well, aren't we off to a smashing start? I ordered a pint and took a look at the menu and our surroundings. A very modern selection complimented the very modern interior. There were assorted works of art strapped flat against the ceilings on the pub side, the vibe on the dining side was very open and airy...airy? Is that a word? I think you catch my rift. The whole place has a very relaxed feel to it, despite the busy wait staff rushing food from kitchen to table. The lighting in the pub area was a little dark, but not so bad that you can't see the drink you're trying to dump roofies in. It felt cozy what with all the bottles of wine resting behind the draft taps and all. The dining area was very bright with simple light fixtures dangling and windows allowing the beaming rays of the late afternoon sun to brighten up the room. We decided to start with an appetizer--Pub Fare as it is noted on their menu. After a little debate, we tried the House-made Soft Pretzels (winning just by a nose over the trio of Lobster Tacos). What a treat...the soft, doughy pretzels were perfect parts crispy/buttery crust and chewy/warm insides. What really made this appetizer work though, was the dipping sauces it came with. A very intense house mustard alongside their taleggio-porter fondue. Heaven. Straight up Heaven. The Cheese was soft and mild, while the mustard was bold and basically cleared your sinuses like a mouthful of horseradish...just the way I like it. When it came time to order our entrees, I went with the Roasted Duck Breast. It came on a bed of heirloom carrots, one smoked potato peirogi (extra large) and some cipollini onions, all dressed with their red wine jus. The Steak Frittes with truffle fries was also ordered, as well as the Maine Lobster tail. For as bustling as the dining and pub area were, it was only a short wait before our food arrived. The duck was so succulent I was cutting it with my fork. I was able to snag a bite of the steak fritte and lobster too before they were all gobbled up--top notch. The duck was crispy but just fell off the bone as you cut into it. The meat was cooked perfectly and the portion was just-right. The smoked pierogi was huge, almost the same size as an empanda! Inside we find the rich texture of potatoes and cheese. It tasted like the finest Gouda was swimming in mash. The steak fritte was delicious, the flavor of the char on the outside mixed with the tender middle, perfection...but lets not skip to the lobster yet. Someone has to tell you about these truffle fries. Cut shoestring style and served in a pint glass; between the serving size and taste--it was as if 5 Guys was transformed into 5 star dining. The thinly cut potatoes were overflowing from the glass, how lucky for us...how lucky for us all. The salty, crispy morsels were some of the best tasting fries I've had in a while. The lobster was delicate and flavorful as well, served with glazed radishes and lobster foam (lobster foam?). I'm not going to front and act like I can compare this lobster to all the others I have enjoyed in my life--in fact I could probably count on one hand how many times I've enjoyed this dish. That said, this was still a great selection and I would highly recommend it. If you should happen to go to the RP, order the lobster and hate it...you can call me a liar. At the end of the night after the bill was delivered: many drinks, appetizer and 5 entrees--we got outta there right around $200.00. Steep you might say but thinking about it, I spent $15.00 on dinner for 2 at Krystals not long ago. By my guesstimate, that would be just about congruent to what we spent over at "The Pig."

So, did this place live up to the hype? Mos Def. And I'm glad! My buddy Tyler works there. I reckon I would've had to give him a hard time for being employed by a poseur had it not. Throw in the fact that they regularly have whole pig feasts and we also saw an advertisement on their chalk board for a lamb roast coming up in April. Thanks for the excuse to go back sooner than later!

The Ravenous Pig. Great name, great food.

1234 N. Orange Ave.(between Orlando and Denning)
Winter Park, FL 32789
Phone: (407) 628-2333
Email: info@theravenouspig.com

Monday, December 13, 2010

Polonia Polish Restaurant- Longwood

I had never even heard of a Pierogi until my 3rd year of college. That's when a young kid named Skrypczuk (it took me a long time before I finally memorized that spelling) moved in next door. One night he asked me if I wanted to eat with him and naturally, I thought, 'Free food, and I don't have to help cook?? Sign me up!'

So goes my first introduction with these delicious little potato-pillows. That night we had them with peppers, onions and sour cream. I was upset it had taken me so long to finally enjoy the best thing a Pole has given mankind right after a bevy of terrible jokes. Flash forward many years later, and here I am, still hangin around with Skryp (easier) and still enjoying pierogies. Last Saturday, we were at a little place on 17/92, called Polonia Polish Restaurant.

This store is maybe the size of a 7-11. Small, quaint, no frills. Just good cookin and great service. When you enter the establishment, you come upon a deli counter. For those of you who would rather purchase a homemade delight for a take and bake evening, there's plenty of keilbasas, blintzez and fresh baked goods ready to go. We, however, were there to enjoy the all that the cafe had to offer us. Following the host around the corner, there's seating for maybe 40 people give or take a 4-top. It was Saturday afternoon, so the crowd was small but we noticed that beneath the tables, in the center of the dining area, there was a wooden dance floor. I'm guessing there's some crazy Polish partying going on in this joint when the sun goes down.
Decorations lined the walls reflecting Polish heritage: pictures, art work and the blazing red and white symbol of their homeland.
Since it was still early, we dined off the lunch menu. Not a lot of gimmicks. Not a lot of bells and whistles, just classic fare. Soup, salads and potato pancakes were a few options as a starter. Many varieties of kielbasa, pierogies and stuffed cabbage for the main course. There were also plenty of sandwich options available too.
We started with a helping of the potato pancakes. However, before they arrived our server (who was possibly the best server I've had at ANY dining establishment in recent memory) brought us a basket of fresh bread. This wasn't your typical yeast roll/french bread though. I dove into a sweet, moist selection with poppy seeds on the crust. It tasted like the finest of Hawaiian rolls. We all enjoyed a few pieces before the potato cakes were brought out. Three burger-patty sized cakes flattened, crispy and ready to go. They came with a side of sour cream and homemade granny smith apple sauce. The apple sauce was a little different than what Mott's gives you. It had small chunks, like if you were cleaning a carrot and those little strands go flying off? It was like that. A mound of apple strands with a rich, brown color and light texture. I had never tried potatoes with apples before, but I'll tell ya what--I'll do it again.

We devoured our pancakes and even scooped another bite or two of the leftover apples before our lunch was dropped off.
Skryp and I got basically the same thing, two pierogies, one stuffed cabbage and kielbasa. That's their Polish Trio...his was the platter though, which came with all of the above plus a side of sauerkraut.
The kilebasa was awesome and the stuffed cabbage was a first for me. I like trying new things, but wasn't sure if I'd enjoy this selection. I was pleasantly surprised. It came out about the size of a burrito with your choice of sauce drizzled on top. I got mine half and half, with the regular red sauce, which was good, but not very--what's the word...overwhelming? It didn't add much to that half of the cabbage, but it didn't take away from it either. The other half had this rich mushroom sauce, THAT was the winner. So good! Creamy with lots of diced up mushrooms drizzled all up on it. The cabbage was soft; stuffed with meat, onions and who knows what else. It all tasted delish. The wife got a plate of pierogies. They had three varieties that day (I suppose it differs as they make them fresh). You could take the regular potato and cheese, there was spinach with farmers cheese, and a mushroom filled one as well. She got 4 regulars and two spinach. I had one spinach and one regular with my trio. They came with some nice caramelized onions on top and lots of sour cream on the side.
As we were finishing up this Polish feast, our server swung by with the dessert...assorted babkas. There were a few different kinds to choose from. Too bad none of us left room for the sweets, but it definitely gives me a reason to go back. Speaking of going back, whenever we decide to enjoy some pierogies for dinner at home, we'll make sure to swing by Polonia's to pick up a portion of theirs, homemade. The ones we find in the grocer's freezer aren't bad, but they don't even compare to the real deal.
After all was said and done, with a coke I think we got outta there spending about $25.00 including tip.

So if you like the sausage, you like the potatoes, you'll like the Polonia. Just a short drive from downtown.

750 South Highway 17/92
Longwood, Florida
(407) 331-1933

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Hollerbach's Willow Tree Cafe' - Sanford

We had to make our reservations 4 weeks in advance. I didn't think it was necessary, but apparently, this joint hidden in Sanford, FL is one of the nations best to enjoy Germany's finest...
Months ago a coworker was telling me about her trip to Munchen for Oktoberfest. I said that's something I would love to see firsthand. Of course, I'm not going to Germany anytime soon, so obviously it'll have to wait.

Not quite.

She went on to say that there is a little gem of a German Restaurant in Sanford she had been to that really did a good job of bringing that experience to the states, it's called Hollerbach's Willow Tree Cafe. She'd attended what's known as Schunkel Abend. A few times a week they dust off the lederhosen and pay homage to Oktoberfest.

First off, if you're going to go...you might as well plan on going on an evening they're holding Schunkel Abend and you'll want to make reservations ahead of time. Of course, this charming little cafe is probably a nice place for lunch or a quiet dinner on those dates they don't have anything going on. However, if that's the case, make sure to make a follow-up visit on one of the event nights. You'll be happy you did.

When we arrived, we walked up to the hostess stand and found her talking to another lady about the wait time...it was obvious this other patron didn't have accommodations already made as she eventually stormed off in a huff.

What do you expect? From the looks of the patio dining alone, this place was probably at capacity. After a very short wait, we were brought to our table right next to the stage. What a great spot. We could see the entire dining area. Many smiling faces sitting around us, enjoying their dark biers and schnitzels, all the while swaying back and forth to the authentic sounds of the entertainment on stage. That night, we enjoyed th musical stylings of an older gent, (the musician lineup varies) fully hosen, playing the accordion (amongst other instruments).

As I mentioned before, the dining area was quite full. As we sat down, I had the feeling that it would probably be a bit of a wait before we saw our server. However, not a few minutes after we were seated, a friendly waitress came over to take drink orders, help us with any questions we had and drop off a nice little bread basket. Questions indeed, Hollerbach's offers 50 different German beers and wine (as well as a full liquor bar). After that, not a few minutes went by before she was back, stocked full of steins of all shapes and sizes. I went with the liter to start...and to finish...and in the middle--I got pretty drunk.

As we sat back and enjoyed the music, our entertainer switched back and forth between a few different instruments, but the accordion seemed to be everybody's favorite. We sang happy birthday, Edelweiss, did the chicken dance and of course, the old Zicke, zacke, zicke, zacke, hoi, hoi, hoi!

When it came time to order, the menu was surprisingly diverse. Of course you had your wide variety of German sausages, krauts, schnitzels and all that. However, they also had salads, seafood and sandwiches. I started with the appetizer of the gourmet potato pancakes. Good LAWD! They might have been the best thing I've eaten all year. They're topped with smoked bacon, cheddar cheese and sour cream. You get two pancakes, the size of a burger patty and they are making me drool just thinking of them. In hindsight, although my entree was very tasty, I would have been happy just ordering another round of these.

For dinner, I wanted to try and get a good sample of what they had to offer, so...why not go with the schlachtaus platte fur zwei? I'm guessing that translates to butcher shop platter for two? Who knows, it had 3 different kinds of wurst, a ham loaf, smoked pork loin and three sides: their famous heaven and earth potatoes (which is a house recipe of mashed potatoes mixed with sauteed onions and apples…not bad) sauerkraut and red cabbage. The menu says it's a feast for two, or one really hungry person!

The assorted wursts (Knock, Brat and Weiss) were all plump and juicy...the ham was also tasty, with only a few fatty spots that had to be put to the side. I don't do cabbage, gave it a try, hated it, but that's just me. Same goes for the kraut--hate the kraut, loathe the kraut. If kraut is your bag, you'll probably have a different experience.

The food was a hit all around the table, my friends let me try their dishes (some terrifically fried chicken) and we shared ours. With the abundance of meat, there were plenty of leftovers to enjoy the following day. That, of course, cannot be said for the boot the table next to us ordered. Ah yes, das boot...infamous really. This 3 liter leviathan is not for the faint of heart. Once ordered, the musician made a special announcement like there was a general on deck. The group all stood up, acknowledged the rest of us with a silent nod and went to work. One at a time they would stand, drinking till they couldn't drink no mo, hand off to the next victim and sit down. It was definitely a team effort. As the beer line slowly got lower, with each hand off, the crowd would go into a frenzy chanting, "Chug, chug, chug!" Hoping to see the last of it disappear. If I remember correctly (and only lord knows if I do, I alone was 3 liters deep) it was a small girl that finally took the bull by the horns and killed the mighty beast. Whadda gal!

As the night wore on (our reservation was for 7:30) the long tables of drunken patrons began to slowly thin out. It occurred to me that making a reservation for a late dinner would probably be a little less necessary. However, by then it was 9 o clock and lets face it, if you're going for the party, you wanna be there when it's popping, not dying out.

I should tell you that The Willow Tree Cafe isn't just the patron of my praise, they have a very impressive list of accomplishments worthy of mentioning. In 2010 they've garnered: Best restaurant in Sanford on yelp.com and the #1 spot for German/East European restaurant in the Orlando Sentinel's foodie awards. Oh, local awards aren't nuthin to brag on, huh? Well what about the number 2 spot in the NATION on GermanDeli.com's list of America's Top German Restaurants in 2009? That do anything for ya?

Go for the show, go for the food, go for the beers as big as your head, just remember, they ain't no Hollerbach girls (it seemed funny after 3 liters of beer, lay-off).


Willow Tree Cafe

Sanford Historic District

205 East 1st Street

Sanford, FL 32771

(407) 321-2204

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Lac Viet Bistro - Orlando

If you're familiar with the Colonial Town section of Orlando, you know that's where to find the most authentic Oriental cuisine in the city. This is also where you can find a little place called Lac Viet Bistro.
Located on 50, just down the block from the retro Publix downtown, Lac Viet doesn't look like much from the outside (with the exception of an EXCELLENT statue). An old building worn out by intense heat and pounding rain, but once inside you'd have thought someone pulled the old switcheroo on ya--it's almost inconceivable. The ornate details, authentic decorations and friendly staff make you instantly forget your first impression walking up.

We went on a Friday night but had no problem getting a table right away. This was not due to a lack of customers. Certainly not. There were many patrons there that night, several of them with large families and groups of 6 or more. Lac Viet just has lots of space and are able to accommodate everyone, hooray!
The waiter arrived, asked us if we had any questions and took our drink orders. After he left, I got up to wander around a bit. As I mentioned before, the details and decorations were very well done. A water feature teeming with goldfish, several traditional musical instruments and art work donned the walls surrounding us in very tasteful fashion.
Our drinks were dropped off shortly thereafter and we ordered an appetizer. We went with something easy, the spring rolls. They were light and delicious. Packed full, but the cabbage and veggies were so fresh they didn't leave you feeling heavy. This is exactly what an appetizer should do right? Not fill you up, make you more hungry.
At the recommendations of our friends we all tried the same thing for dinner, Pho Bo. This is a beef noodle soup and you get to choose the proteins to add to it. I went with the Bo Vien beef meatball, Tai eye-round steak and the skirt flank. We also ordered a side of fried rice, as we were told it was the best in the city.
After a beer or two our entree arrived. Since we all got different variations of the same thing, you'd have thought we were all competing in our own apple bobbing competitions. I mean, I could have gone swimming in this soup bowl it was so massive (and we only ordered the regular size!). Along with the steaming plate of fresh fried rice, dinner was served.
The Pho Bo comes with a plate of bean sprouts, fresh basil leaves, lime wedges and jalapeno peppers to add at your discretion. My friend and I also asked for the house hot sauce. It was a welcome addition if you enjoy the heat.
The soup was awesome. It was layered with so many flavors--what with the the lime juice and jalapenos giving it touches of sweet and hot. The bean sprouts added a crunchy texture and the savory meats were just oozing their juices into the rich broth (not to mention the heaping amounts of noodles swarming at the bottom of the bowl). After a few minutes I realized I hadn't even given the fried rice a try yet.I had a small side plate and scooped some on there, gave it a whirl with the hot sauce. Yes, between the ample amounts of chicken, egg, carrots and peas, this fried rice was definitely leaps and bounds above the dishes I am used to (side note, I usually only get fried rice when I eat mall Chinese, but still, I mean, this...was good!).
After a couple of bites I thought I'd, "do me," as the kids say and added the fried rice to my soup. Brilliance. I just took this dinner to the next level.
We enjoyed good conversation and good food for what seemed like hours when I realized I had barely dented my meal and was already pretty full. The waiter asked if we wanted to take home the leftovers, but I declined. Our friend got hers and it looked like two more meals worth in the to go container.
We got the bill and I was amazed. Appetizers, beers, two HUGE meals and a side of the best fried rice this stink town has to offer came out to just around 40 bucks...WITH TIP. We weren't there for happy hour, we didn't have a BOGO coupon, nuthin, just amazing food on the cheap.
Oh, I almost forgot to mention-- they also have a dish near the exit with the best selection of your grandpa's favorite hard candies. Game-Viet-Match.

So, there ya go..Lac Viet Bistro. Amazing Vietnamese food, amazing prices and authentic decor.

Tell'em Daniel sentcha.

Lac Viet Bistro
2021 E Colonial Dr, ORLANDO, FL 32803
(407) 228-4000

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Agave Azul - Metrowest

I'm going to get straight to the point, Agave Azul should change their name to Chimichurris, or something of the like. Confused? Let me bring you up to speed. For what seems like months now I've been hearing about this place that seemingly serves up some of the finest Mexican food in town. I had no idea where it was, I didn't know what to expect. All I know is, I finally got around to checking this place out, and boy--was I surprised. First off, as we are rolling into the parking lot, I immediately notice we're in a strip mall...great. A strip mall restaurant, why don't we just go to Quiznos? So kinda had a bad first impression walking up. They have a decent outside seating area, lots of tables with some nice lighting fixtures, but I dunno--if I am eating outside I'd like it to be a step up from eating inside. When all you're doing is eating next to a giant parking lot, it just doesn't come across as that appealing. So, we make our way inside. This, in essence, would be the exact point where Alice goes through the door and finds herself in Wonderland. Everything changed. You enter what seemingly is a Hollywood, upscale establishment lit up by blue lights that create a nice hue all around. The decor is all top notch and the architecture feels like something from Miami's South Beach. The host's stand is in front of an elegant waterfall partition, separating it from the dining area. On the left is a nicely displayed set of fine tequilas. On the right, a trendy looking bar where most of the patrons were dressed to impress. It was then that I felt relieved to have ditched the flip flops and shorts and wore something a little classier than Cocoa Beach gear.
So we put our name on the list. The wait wasn't terribly long even though the place was pretty packed. I was worried we'd be sitting around for a while when all of a sudden, our booth was ready.
The host led us around the wall to a quiet little spot with a view of the entire dining room floor. This place was much bigger than I thought. However, the dull roar of about 50 people eating and chatting didn't create the need to talk loud or say, "Whaa? Huh?" as our conversations went on.
We looked at the menu, and decided to get the Agave sampler to start. This came with chicken nachos, a shot of ceviche, wings and a few other items. A couple of margaritas were also ordered, they were big and pretty good. It all came out together, but not before the chips and dips (complimentary) were placed on our table shortly after being seated. I didn't know what the white sauce was, but it sure was unique. One might describe it as a touch of sweetness added to sour cream. The pico de gallo was fresh as was the salsa verde.
The agave sampler came out and really lived up to the old saying I just now created, "You can't spell sampler without ample (bad I know)." The queso dip was good and plentiful, the wings tasted fine but nothing jaw dropping. The chicken nachos could easily suffice four mouths or so. I actually didn't care for them all that much though. The chicken and cheese were both delish don't get me wrong, but however they decided to prepare it was devastating to the chips' integrity. As I tried to scoop up a notch (singular for nacho, duh) it only bent back and limped under the toppings. You basically had to scrape the chicken and cheese off with a fork and eat it that way. Friends enjoyed the ceviche, I didn't try it.
As we finished the appetizers, the server came back (numerous times I might add, the service was very attentive) with our entrees. I had ordered Joel's Plato Favorito which came with a cheese covered grilled chicken breast, a blackened shrimp skewer, and two enchiladas: one filled with potato and one with beans. It was all good, the potato enchilada was a little different almost like a Mexican pierogi. The chicken was amazing. Rice and beans, both up to par. However, it was the Arrachera that stole the show that night. A skirt steak cooked perfectly topped with chimichurri sauce, paired with a vegetable medley. The sauce was unlike anything I had ever had. I wish I could describe the taste to you but no words could do it justice. The lemon, garlic and basil amongst other sweet tidings were dancing like a fiesta on my tongue. The color was nice and rich, just like the taste. Layer that on top of a seasoned skirt steak and it was basically, like buttah. I feel like, in the grand scheme of things, I had lost. My companion's order definitely beat mine. Don't get me wrong though, Joel and his "Plato Favorito" didn't disappoint...but while my entree was like Indiana Jones and The Temple of Doom, hers was The Last Crusade.
At the end of the meal, we got our to go boxes and paid the bill...it's a little on the pricey side. A group of four with drinks and appetizers came out to a little over hundred bucks, but it was definitely worth it. The colorful interior, trendy bar set up, waterfall in the waiting area and criss-crossing blue lights everywhere made it a very memorable experience. Although it was a bit of a hike to get there, this strip mall destination surely leaves one satisfied.

Agave Azul
4750 S. Kirkman Road,
Orlando, FL 32811
407-704-6930 or 407-704-6931

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

4 Rivers (4R) Smokehouse - Winter Park

When you think of good barbecue, a few cities may come to mind: Memphis, TN--Austin, TX--St. Louis, MO--Winter Park, FL???

You read it right...word on the street was, this little hole in the wall on Fairbanks Ave. was slinging slathered sandwiches, dinner platters and delicious home-cooked sides to a line out the door all day every day. So, I finally made the trek out to taste for myself.

Before I make with the food critique, lemme just tell this to you straight...I am not, and have never claimed to be, a BBQ expert. I love all sorts of sauces, be it tangy and sweet or make you cry, hot. This also goes for meat--brisket, pulled pork, baby-back ribs, it's all good. So I don't want you to think I have any type of expertise on the subjacue at hand. That noted, I can rightfully say that Bubbalou's, to me, is pretty 'meh' when it comes to their meals. Same goes for Sonny's. It's like comparing a McDonald's burger to one from 5 guys. Sure they're both tasty, and I won't turn it down--but given a choice, I'd prefer the latter. This, my enemies, is whereabouts I place 4 Rivers' product. A superior sauce and meat, with sides that taste like you got them at a family picnic, not out of a buffet style chafing dish. So take my words with a dollop of sauce, lump it or lather it. This is what I think about a smokehouse named 4R.

As you're driving west down Fairbanks Ave...coming from 17-92, you might find yourself wondering, what's with all the people standing around that wooden-looking building? Take a right and pull into the parking lot out back. As you make your way to the door, you pass by the outside dining area, which is actually the only dining area...then you wait. This place is so popular, that it is not uncommon to have to stand outside for a while before you can make it in to order. Feel like getting a leg up on the pack? Call in ahead of time, that might shave off a few minutes. Supply and demand in all its glory folks--sure this place wants to feed you, but you have to be patient...because EVERYBODY wants in on this.

There were 3 or 4 people already waiting outside of the door to get in when we walked up to the take-out window. We gave them our name and order details and luckily, as we timed it quite well, only had to wait a few minutes before our bag of sop-loving barbecue was ready. Before we made off with the loot though, I wanted to give this place a better look.

Stepping inside it was immediately evident that this place was not an eating establishment before. The waiting/ordering area was about the size of an apartment's kitchen and the line snaked up one wall, against the cold drinks on the far side, then back toward the exit. Maybe 15 or so people could be in there at any given time. If you are in a hurry, this place isn't for you. Your patience needs to be not unlike the delicious sauces and slow-smoked meats that are awaiting your tongue's pallet...remember, good things come to those who wait.

The staff was friendly, despite the fact they were crazy-busy. While we were there, I saw about 5-6 people darting around behind the prep line and a few others walking around making sure the dining area was clean and had plenty of napkins. I ordered, as recommended, a pulled pork sandwich with a side of mac and cheese and BBQ beans. They have all sorts of other sides to choose from, but my friend told me these, although typical, were not to be missed. There are many other items on the menu that looked equally amazing, specifically the Texas Destroyer sandwich and The Smokehouse Prime Rib sandwich, which comes doused in homemade horseradish.

I got outta there, no drink, for less than 8 bucks...add a tip and you're still getting outta there without burning a ten spot. So the price is definitely nice. If you want to add a huge piece of cake or an order of chocolate awesomeness (yes, that really is the name) for dessert, that's only gonna add a few more dollars, plus the portion is hefty, plenty to share.

When we got home, it was time to see what all the hub barb was about...got my meal all ready to eat and dove in. The pulled pork was juicy and tender, not to mention ample! The poor bun had its work cut out for it, trying to maintain its integrity against the forces of the meat and sauce. We had some extra regular and hot barbecue on the side for dipping, both were quite complimentary. The hot barb wasn't so bad that it'd make you sweat, but it definitely gave you a touch of that lame thing Emeril does. Okay so the sandwich is good, but a meal can live or die on its side items--so lets see what's going on with this mac and cheese. Straight up, killer. It wasn't your typical style of mac and cheese (although, I do love it) this was your homemade, cheesy mac and cheese. Big, fat, elbow macaroni noodles choking for dear life because of the cheese's suffocating grip on each one. Creamy and tasty, the noodles were cooked perfectly...nothing worse than overcooked noodles. Am I right? Am I right? This guy knows what I'm talking about. After the mac and cheese we had the barbecue baked beans...good LAWD--tell'em Uncle Jesse. This was almost like a whole other meal in itself. The sauce, was rich and deep. The beans must've been loving life, just chilling in a vat of that thick, dark goodness. There were smoky flavors, sweet flavors, some tid bits of meat in there too. I think you probably coulda put the beans on a hoagie and made a sandwich out of them alone!

4 Rivers for me, was an eye opening experience. I was always under the impression that in order to get good seafood, you need to be close to the ocean, if you want good pastries, you need to be at a bakery before noon and if you want good barbecue, you need to be in Texas or Mizzou or one of those fine BBQ states, not so. Debunked. Good barb can be served in the middle of the hoity-toityest part of Orlando. Slather on friendly service, affordable pricing and a fine selection of new and old BBQ standards and you got yourself, well...a place where you will need to be patient cuz the line--it's out the door.

4R Smokehouse
Hours: M-T 11am-8pm/Friday and Saturday 11am-9pm/Closed Sunday
Address: 2103 West Fairbanks Orlando FL ~ 407-474-8377 Fax: 321.972.5641