Downtown

With fellow media guest Andi Perez, Yelp’s community director, in the private dining room. 

The Citrus Club is one of Orlando’s best kept, most exclusive secrets.  Citrus Club is an elite, membership-only, private business-networking club on the 18th floor of the BB&T building in Downtown Orlando, across from the Grand Bohemian Hotel..  I had the pleasure of being the first to preview and taste their new seasonal menu during an exclusive media dinner.  Our fantastic 10-course meal was made so delightful and fulfilling thanks to Executive Chef Relner Drygala and his amazing culinary team, General Manager Jeff Jump, Social Media Relations Allie Otterbacher, and the awesome staff.

Social Media Relations Allie Otterbacher preparing to host the media dinner.

The space is clean and impeccably designed.

Citrus Club offers amazing food with amazing views.

General Manager Jeff Jump welcomes media guests.

Executive Chef Relner Drygala goes over the new menu.

Avocado Crab Salad – Avocado stuffed with lump crab salad, served on balsamic field greens.  It was delicious!

Ahi Tuna Tartar – Avocado, red onion, cilantro, pickled ginger seaweed salad, yuzu emulsion, finished with sweet soy and wonton crisp.  I was very impressed with the presentation and taste of this appetizer!

Baked Chèvre – Red wine balsamic, marinara, fresh pesto and crostini.  It was delicious!

Chipotle Bourbon Glazed Salmon – Prima Donna Gouda grit cake, sautéed Swiss chard.  Great tasting salmon.  I was not a fan of grits until I had their Prima Donna Gouda grit cake, it seriously changed my life!

Pan Seared Scallops – Red pepper and spinach, parsnip potato puree, orange carrot butter sauce.  Beautifully executed and prepared scallops.

Asian Noodles Tofu Bowl (vegan) – Stir-fried vegetables, rice vermicelli, tofu, lemon ginger broth, bean sprouts and basil

Bone-in Chicken Breast – Spinach and mushrooms tossed with hand-made sweet potato gnocchi, sage sundried tomato pesto.  This was my first time having sweet potato gnocchi and I feel like I have been missing out on sweet potato gnocchi my entire life!

Rosemary Crusted Lamb Rack – Truffle potato foam, asparagus, red wine demi glace

Chocolate Cake – Dark chocolate mousse with salted Dulce de leche ganache center, rich chocolate cake and caramelized-cocoa nib toffee.  Perfect for chocolate lovers!

Baileys White Chocolate Cheesecake – Baileys cheesecake with a chocolate salted cookie crust topped with mascarpone mousse.  It was delicious!

Citrus Club
255 S Orange Ave Suite 1800, Orlando, FL 32801
(407) 843-1080
clubcorp.com/Clubs/Citrus-Club

Martini Pop Band – Lindsey, Jeremy, Rachel

We were invited to indulge in some of the best flavors that Central Florida has to offer during the inaugural Orlando Sentinel Foodie Awards Celebration at Celine Orlando, located in downtown Orlando.  The Orlando Sentinel’s Foodie Awards program has been recognizing the best food and dining experiences in Central Florida since 1998, but this was their first-time kick off event, inspired by Orlando Sentinel food reporter Lauren Delgado and their passionate readers.  General admission tickets included access to the party, live entertainment, and food and drink tastings from over 20 Foodie Awards winners and finalists.

Palm Ridge Reserve owners Dick and Marti Waters.  I always enjoy seeing them!

Create Your Nature (Best Vegetarian/Vegan) – Blackberry crumble oatmeal

Create Your Nature (Best Vegetarian/Vegan) – Holy frijole salad

Kelly’s Homemade Ice Cream

Kelly’s Homemade Ice Cream

Kelly’s Homemade Ice Cream

K Restaurant – Duck breast, white beans, favs beans, English peas, rainbow chard, crispy pork, pea tendrils for a garnish.  (My favorite dish of the night!)

Dajen Eats – “Honey” Ginger Chipotle Cauliflower Bites.  She’s amazing!

1921 By Norman Van Aken – Florida fish & passion fruit ceviche with torched sweet potato and puffed sourghum

1921 By Norman Van Aken – Stone fruit gazpacho with peaches, pickled plums, buttermilk & basil

Maxine Earhart from Maxine’s on Shine

Maxine’s on Shine – “Chicken Maxine’s” – Diced chicken bread pan seared, roasted shallots, mushrooms, cherry tomato, marsala wine cream sauce, penne

Maxine’s on Shine – Rum balls – Classic cake with rum soaked raisins, covered in dark chocolate

Thai Island (Best Thai) – Pad Thai, Panang CK (Thai Curry), Tom Kona (Coconut Soup), Thai Custard (Dessert)

Tamarind Indian Cuisine (Best Indian) – Vegetable Samosa

Tamarind Indian Cuisine (Best Indian) – Tandoori Chicken Tikka

Tamarind Indian Cuisine (Best Indian) – Chicken Biryani

Border Grill Fresh-Mex (Best Mexican) – Carnitas tacos, grilled chicken tacos, shredded beef tacos, chips & house-made queso dip

Tapa Toro – Shrimp Causa – Peruvian style shrimp salad, potato salad, Aji Amarillo, cilantro, micro herb

Dunkin’ Donuts (Best Coffee)

Big Fin Seafood Kitchen – “Signature New Orleans-Style Shrimp” – Blackened shrimp on a bed of crawfish grits and New Orleans vegetables (sun-dried tomatoes, cremini mushrooms and spinach) topped with Cajun cream sauce.

Orlando Meats – Pork Rillettes – Olive oil, bread, Dijonnaise, hot almond

Orlando Meats – Gateux Matilda – blueberry cheese custard

Jeremiah’s Italian Ice (Best Frozen Treats)

Chef Eddie’s (Best Soul)

Grills Lakeside Seafood Deck & Tiki Bar – Tahitian Tuna Poke Cups, Grilled Filefish

Eddie V’s Prime Seafood – Pacific Ahi Tuna Tartar

Mynt Fine Indian Cuisine – Basil Malai Kabab, Chilly Baby Corn, Vegetable Pekora, Chicken Marsala (Nan & Rice)

Francesco’s Ristorante Pizzeria – Beef Tenderloin, Vegetarian Tortellini

Hollerbach’s Willow Tree Café (Best German) – Nurnburger Sausage, Heaven and Earth Potatoes, Sauerkraut

Jenn from DaJen Eats being interviewed by Orlando Sentinel reporters Sarah Espedido and Lauren Delgado.

For more information, visit: www.orlandosentinel.com/foodiecelebration

I’m worried about my husband. A couple weeks ago, he ate at a vegan restaurant…and liked it. Last week, he made a sandwich with vegan cheese and vegan mayonnaise. But, it wasn’t until he came home with vegan bacon from Publix, that I knew he had truly gone to the dark side. This may not seem suspicious to most, but this is coming from a man who rolls his eyes when I suggest humus as an appetizer, and who proudly wears a t-shirt with the phrase Part Wolf embroidered on the front. So, twenty questions later, the five stages of grief behind me, I now accept the fact that my husband isn’t a complete traitor, he just simply likes eating vegan (on occasion). Hey, I can be vegan too (on occasion), and after eating at Dixie Dharma and Valhalla Bakery, I can eat vegan AND love it!

Dixie Dharma and Valhalla Bakery are both located inside Market on South in Downtown Orlando on South Street. I had the pleasure of trying Dixie Dharma’s Beet Tartare during the Beard in Baldwin event a few weeks ago, and I immediately knew I would visit the establishment soon (don’t tell my husband). To my over-joyed surprise, upon entering Market on South, I also found Valhalla Bakery (I stalk their donuts on Instagram). My vegan dreams came true: dinner and dessert! Now, this was by far not a date night. In a moment of sheer insanity, my husband and I decided to go as a family of four. Our ten-year-old son is an adventurous eater, but our seven-year-old daughter is not. Our chances of a happy dinner is always 50/50. Thankfully, Market on South is a kid-friendly environment with inside and outside seating, and tons of local craft beer and wine to choose from. Which is exactly what we ordered first: Quantum Leap Winery Kaley’s Rescue Red and Quantum Leap Winery Garda White. Both drinks were the rescue we needed. The red and the white are smooth and easy on the palate, with no bitter aftertaste. Thank you, Market on South, for a heavy pour (see…kid-friendly).

Quantum Leap Winery Garda White, Quantum Leap Winery Kaley’s Rescue Red

While we sipped on wine and the kids drank their Martinelli’s Gold Medal Apple Juice in the old-school glass bottle (the kids loved this), we decided on dinner. Thankfully, Dixie Dharma offers vegan hotdogs. A perfect choice for my picky-eater! But, will she be fooled…stay tuned. My son, a huge lover of chili, cheese dogs, ordered the HillBilly Chili Dawgs. My husband (#1 healthy eater) ordered four Nopales Tacos, and I ordered the Florida Fried Green Tomato (the secret’s in the sauce…get it?). Our meals would not be complete without sides. Dixie Dharma offers three different versions of mac and cheese: original, garlic, and buffalo. We decided on the original and buffalo, plus a side of Crispy Brussels and Cheesy Homies. Don’t forget: everything you are about to see is 100% vegan.

HillBilly Chili Dawgs with Cheesy Homies
Nopales Tacos
Florida Fried Green Tomato with Crispy Brussels and Original Mac and Cheese
Buffalo Mac and Cheese

My son’s chili dogs (of course I had a taste), were no ordinary hotdogs. Two vegan, not-dogs in pretzel buns, covered in house-made, Indian-spiced, chili and cheese sauce, with blackened onion and scallions. The chili alone was amazing! It was spicy but also sweet, and I loved the texture of the hearty beans. After two chili dogs, my son tapped-out (a win for my husband and I), and we finished off his side of Cheesy Homies. I need a bigger plate of these. Imagine a bowl of mini baked potatoes covered in cheese…and then imagine yourself smiling.

Tacos with jackfruit and cactus…any takers? I know that sounds crazy, but, it’s truly delicious, and it completely satisfied my need for meat. My taste buds were fooled! The Nopales Tacos are made with jackfruit carnitas, smoked Nopales cactus, blackened onions and corn, chili lime aioli, and pickled radish on a grilled corn shell. I love tacos: steak, chicken, fish, and now…jackfruit and cactus! I am simply amazed by the taste of these tacos. The jackfruit and cactus is tenderly cooked and shredded, creating a perfect bed for the crunchy pickled radish and tangy aioli. These are no dainty tacos, they are filling. We mistakenly ordered more than we had room for…but guess who is having them for lunch tomorrow…me (I bet you guessed my husband).

Finally, on to my dish: the Florida Fried Green Tomato. A delicious sandwich of Texas toast, thick-sliced green tomato, breaded, and deep-fried, with smoked, eggplant remoulade, toped with garlicky kale and the house chow-chow. Crunchy and tender at the same time. The tomato is sweet and lightly breaded, giving it an airy feeling instead of the greasy, fried food effect. My husband liked this sandwich so much, he finished one of my halves (and that’s why I’m eating his leftover tacos). My side of mac and cheese, made with creamy cashew, was silky and velvety, cheesy-perfection, with a crunchy, bread crumb topping. The Buffalo Mac and Cheese was just as good as the original, but with a spicy kick from the buffalo sauce. The Crispy Brussels were also outstanding! Charred in all the right places, mush-free (is that a word), without the bitter aftertaste some brussels sprouts dishes can have. Honestly, I know brussels sprouts get a bum rap, but Dixie Dharma does them proud.  So, did we enjoy our dinner? Was my daughter fooled by her vegan hotdog? What do you think:

Dinner is Done

Obviously, we loved our dinner at Dixie Dharma, and we will return, more than just occasionally. Dinner is done, but there is always room for dessert! My son, who couldn’t eat another bite, mysteriously had room for a S’mores Bar, while the rest of us shared Coconut Cream Pie and a Sprinkled Vanilla Cupcake. All egg free, dairy free, and vegan (not gluten free…that’s a whole other conversation). Thank you, Valhalla Bakery, for these fantastic goodies! I was shocked by the amount of sweets to choose from: cookies, brownies, blondies, doughnuts, pies, cakes, cupcakes, you name it!

Valhalla Bakery – Take Your Pick!
Coconut Cream Pie
S’mores Bar and Sprinkle Vanilla Cupcake

My poor son, we all had a couple bites of his S’mores Bar, which was chocolatey, chewy goodness. The Coconut Cream Pie was luscious and rich, and refreshingly not too sweet. Our Sprinkle Vanilla Cupcake had the perfect amount of thick, vanilla frosting, to match the spongey, vanilla cake. It had the ideal frosting to cake ratio. By the way, when it comes to sweets, my daughter is adventurous (she tried all three desserts without being asked, and loved them all).

No, I’m not a true vegan (neither is my husband, don’t let him fool you), but I am a fan of creative and tasty dishes…which Dixie Dharma and Valhalla Bakery have mastered with their vegan fare. Therefore, I am a huge fan of Market on South, and I am greatly looking forward to my next meal there (sans kids).

 

Dixie Dharma

Valhalla Bakery

Quantum Leap Winery

Market On South

 

Second Course: Black sesame and vanilla cake with amaretto infused ganache (moist & delicious, my favorite!)

Have you heard of the new vegan bakery CayCakes Bakery?  They’ve only been open for half a year and are quickly becoming one of Orlando’s popular vegan bakeries.  Superstar soccer player Alex Morgan recently tweeted that CayCakes Bakery is one of her favorite spots in Orlando for vegan food.

We were invited to their inaugural “Last Course Dinner” this past weekend and we really impressed with their vegan desserts and their venue at Lake Eola Heights was perfection.

The First Course:  Crème Pâtissière with sou vide pineapple infused with vanilla and star anise

Third Course:  Activated charcoal chocolate cake topped with powdered matcha and lavender


Last Course: Grilled oats with macadamia nuts and agave topped with a grilled peach drizzled with olive oil and star anise, vanilla and cinnamon infused oatmilk ice cream

Co-owner of CayCakes Bakery, Cayden Fielder

Be sure to follow them on IG at @LastCourseOrlando for more information and tickets to their upcoming dessert dinners!

My sister and I got to meet Food Network Chef Roberto Treviño from Iron Chef America (he battled against and beat Mario Batali) at his new restaurant El Buda on Church Street and we enjoyed trying some of his delicious and flavorful Latin-Asian food that he prepared for us.  Chef Roberto Treviño’s concept of blending two cultures together is so unique and the fusion of flavors in all of his dishes were all on point, I really appreciated and loved it.  Overall, I give five stars to the food, service, ambiance, and the entertainment at El Buda.  You must check them out next time you are in the Downtown Orlando area.

El Buda has a Daily Happy Hour from 4-7pm and includes 2 for $5 Draft Beers, $9 Craft Cocktails (they are normally $11 and feature top shelf liquors) and$5 Sangria. 

Sunday Brunch (Saturday coming soon!) is from 11am – 4pm.  $22 Brunch includes unlimited top shelf mimosa and top shelf craft cocktails. 
Guava Gelee Gimlet. They offer nightly drink specials at “The Cellar” downstairs, a speakeasy type atmosphere. 
Herame Con Coco
Pork Dumplings
Duck Nachos
Prawn Tempura with Forbidden Rice
Ho Fun with Grilled Churrassco
Peking Style Duck Confit with Scallion Pancake and Seasoned Vegetables
Churro
Be sure to check out El Buda – Downtown Orlando soon!  You will love it!
El Buda
116 W Church St, Orlando, FL 32801
(407) 203-8171

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Launched nearly 30 years ago in Paris, Le Dîner en Blanc promotes friendship, elegance, gallantry and a sense of community.  Now held in over 70 cities in more than 30 countries around the world, this annual secret affair brings an unforgettable evening of beauty and magic for the all dressed in white foodies and cultural enthusiasts.
Photos taken on Friday, November 10, 2017.
(Source credit: Le Dîner en Blanc)

We were invited to a media event at a new lakefront restaurant named The Waterfront.  This American restaurant was bought in February and opened in April.  Everything is made in house except the bread.  It is important to support independent restaurants in Orlando, Florida so make sure you check them out!

Adult Swim Saturdays every Saturday in August at 2pm.


Outdoor patio with a roof to protect you from the sun or rain.  Or both.  Florida weather.



Food, brews, and views.

Chips & Pimento Dip – Salsa, Jalapeños, Corn Tortillas.  The pimento dip is prepared with pimento cheese, poblano peppers, garlic, and baked in the oven.

Wings – House Hot

Paired with the “Florida Crush” – Effen Blood Orange Vodka, Triple Sec, Fresh-Squeezed Florida Oranges, Lemon-Lime Soda

Crab Cake Sliders  – Arugula, Tomato, Pickled Red Onion, Avocado, Remoulade.  The blue crab is from Gulf of Mexico and they use the meat from its claws.

Tuna Poke Salad – Ahi Tuna, Seaweed Salad, Arugula, Romaine, Cucumber, Tomato, Radish, Avocado, Sesame Seeds, Sweet Onion Vinaigrette

Paired with the “Jennie Jewel” -Effen Cucumber Vodka, St. Germain, Fresh-Squeezed Lemon, Simple Syrup and Lime, Mint

The Waterfront Burger – Ground Chuck, Swiss, Blue Cheese, Caramelized Onions, Bacon, Arugula

French Dip – Roast Sirloin, Swiss Cheese, Caramelized Onions, Au Jus, Horseradish Mayo

Paired with the “Dixie Belle” – Jim Beam Black, Muddled Mint + Cucumber, Simple Syrup, Fresh-Squeezed Lime

Pan Roasted Catfish – Sautéed Kale, Cheddar Grits, Remoulade, Pickled Red Onion
Fried Chicken Thigh – Hot Honey, Cheddar Grits, Pickled Green Beans


Steak Frites – Pan Roasted Sirloin, Cut Fries, Blue Cheese Butter

Paired with House Red Wine – 2015 Drumheller Cabernet Sauvignon

Chocolate Peanut Butter Pie  – Whipped Cream
Bread Pudding – Key Lime Syrup, Whipped Cream

Paired with a sampling of the “Margaret” – Jim Beam Vanilla, Butterscotch, Cocoa, Licor 43, Irish Cream

The Waterfront
4201 South Orange Ave
Orlando, Florida, FL 32806
(407) 866-0468
@TheWaterfront

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We had the chance to have a very candid chat with Chef Matthew Wall of North Quarter Tavern recently, one of our new favorite restaurants in town featuring a chef driven menu.

They recently opened their Bar Room next door with happy hour specials and started Sunday Brunch service with bottomless mimosas.

“I like to let the dish be the dish, I don’t need to do “a play” on something, I’ll just make it right.”

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On Beginnings

Chef Matthew Wall started cooking late in college while at UCF in 2004 where he studied English and anthropology.

“I needed a job, and was a pretty accomplished home cook. I always cooked dinner for my friends in college, we would all throw our $5 bucks in and head to Publix and I would cook dinner instead of us eating ramen and fast food like most kids.” he told us via e-mail.

He then got a job at Waitiki and the Monkey bar on Wall Street in downtown Orlando just as it was first opening. He had never worked on the line before, but quickly passed all the culinary school grads who were already there.

“I am a self taught chef. I would see something on Food network or Great Chefs of the World (this was back when Food Network had actual chefs and not all this Suzie Home maker Rachael Rae crap they have now), and I would replicate the dish at home. it was great practice to learn the fundamentals of cooking,” Chef Matt told us, reminiscing on his beginnings.

Chef Matthew Wall of North Quarter Tavern
Chef Matthew Wall of North Quarter Tavern

On Inspirations

His inspiration is drawn from all things – watching his dad cook dinner every night as a kid, dishes he may have tried at a restaurant, or a memory of a dish from childhood. He could see something on TV or read about a dish and be inspired.

“I really just love to eat, that’s what drove me to cook in the first place. I knew that if I learned how to cook, I would never be too far away from a good meal.”

“I’m inspired by all things pork – nose to tail. They are the greatest animal.”

Chef Matt’s father, Rich, was a chef before he was born, and then opened a restaurant when he was in high school.

“[My father] is a great cook – he would make bad ass home dinners for the family, throw dinner parties for friends, and I would sit in the kitchen and watch, absorbing all I could, help peal the garlic or other little chores. I remember loving coq au vin when he made it.”

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On North Quarter Tavern

“Overall, I’m just looking to make great food in a casual setting. I set out to have the best $15 in the city. And I feel pretty confident about achieving that. I think too many chefs put their ego first, always playing around with the classics too much.”

“I like to let the dish be the dish, I don’t need to do “a play” on something, I’ll just make it right.”

“Right now my favorite menu items are probably the charcuterie board, the steak tartare, and the Rueben. We take a lot of pride in taking cheap cuts of meat and applying old school techniques to make great food. There are only a handful of places in town that make their own charcuterie, salami, capicola, etc.”

“We love to dry cure and age the meat in our home made chamber – it’s a huge source of pride. I couldn’t do with out the help of my sous chef Jason O and chef de cuisine Ian Hollman; they head up our charcuterie department and do a great job.”

Courtesy North Quarter Tavern

On the Future

“I’d love to add more sausages to the menu in the future – right now we make a great beer bratwurst. And run sausages as features: sausage and peppers. We made real hot dogs, smoked polish kilbasa, plus all the salumi items in our curing chamber for charcuterie. I’d love to get more rare cuts of meat on the menu, beef and pork cheeks, tongues, shanks, etc.”

North Quarter Tavern

861 N Orange Ave, Orlando, FL 32801
(407) 757-0930
http://northquartertavern.com/

North Quarter Tavern Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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North Quarter Tavern in the North Quarter District in Downtown Orlando will start lunch service this Tuesday August 11th.

The team from Citrus Restaurant developed the concept and the kitchen is under the direction of Executive Chef Matt Wall.

Some of their new lunch menu items include:

bartlettimage-7421Fried Chicken, beer brined chicken thighs, buttermilk dredge, Potato salad, house hot sauce, mixed pickles
bartlettimage-7456Tavern Burger, house ground beef, American cheese, bread & butter pickles, onion
bartlettimage-7249Charcuterie & Cheese Board house cured &smoked meats, artisanal cheese, mustard, pickled veggies
bartlettimage-7280House Ground Meatballs fresh cheese, tomato ragout
bartlettimage-7370Hand-Cut Wagyu Steak Tartare duck fat crostini, tarragon mayo, local egg yolk

Photos courtesy of North Quarter Tavern

The address is 861 North Orange Avenue. For more information, please visit www.northquartertavern.com or call 407-757-0930.

In preparation for National Beer Day, I was invited to enjoy some grub and friendly conversation at Toby Keith’s I Love This Bar & Grill in Orlando’s Artegon Marketplace.

The restaurant is known for its trademark 95-foot guitar-shaped bar, a stage for live country music concerts, Whiskey Girls, beer in mason jars, and a VIP “gazebo” for private parties as well as their smokin’ meals, entertainment and hospitality.

Bar

At Toby Keith’s I Love This Bar & Grill, they like to make everything on location and in-house. This means that they make their own pasta, smoke their own meats and cheese, create their own sauces, etc fresh right in the kitchen.

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We started with Slow Roasted Pulled Pork Sliders with country slaw and crispy onion strings on the side. The sliders were easy to bite into and may leave some of its tasteful yet lightly sweet BBQ flavor on your taste buds. The coleslaw stacked on the pulled pork balances the sweetness of the BBQ sauce. The subtly spiced onion strings were crunchy, but dense because it isn’t similar to large strips of onions smothered in batter before being deep-fried.

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Toby’s Wings can be made with Traditional, Honey Gold, or Savory Dry Rub sauces/seasonings. They can be traditional or boneless and are served with Served with celery, carrot, and ranch or bleu cheese. Our Honey Gold Toby’s Boneless Wings were sweet, but were a little spicy from cayenne and chipotle mixed into the mustard-based sauce. These wings aren’t drowned in sauce and just how I liked them.

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The beer served with the sliders and wings was Oskar Blues Dale’s Pale Ale 6.5% ABV made by Oskar Blues Brewery in Lyons, CO. It has a hoppy note and is assertive but balanced flavors of pale malts and citrusy floral hops from start to finish. I normally don’t drink pale ales, but if I did, this would be the one I sip on when out and about with friends! It is super light and smooth to the palate.

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The American Soldier Burger is one of Toby’s classics. It is fire-grilled and topped with American cheese. It is free for active military with ID. The burger can be made to your liking (ie well-done, medium, rare, etc). It’s a nice item to have when you’re in the mood for a quick and easy bite. It was served with fries cut and made fresh with every meal, which you can tell once you bite into them.

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From the smoker, guests can choose one meat, two meats or three meats.

The Meats: pulled pork, beef brisket, baby back ribs (1/2), smoked turkey breast, spicy sausage links, smoked pulled chicken. At the event, we were served baby back ribs and they were smoked in one of the largest smokers on International Dr. in Orlando, FL. The meat was covered in a mellow sweet BBQ sauce, but the sweetness doesn’t overpower the taste of it being smoked. The meat is mostly lean and falls off the bone really easily.

The baby back ribs were served with creamy coleslaw, sweet potato tots, calico baked beans, and creamy mac & cheese.

  • The mac & cheese had a lot of cheese, stringy and topped with basil. The noodles were super soft.
  • The coleslaw was refreshing and cool compared to the other warm sides and dishes served.
  • The calico baked beans were made with bourbon. These weren’t bad, but wouldn’t be one of my choices for a side.
  • Last but not least, the sweet potato tots! These were fabulous and my favorite. The outside was crunchy, while the interior was very smooth and velvety.

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The entrees were paired with Dogfish Head 90 Minute Imperial/Double IPA 9% ABV made by Dogfish Head Brewery in Milton, Delaware. 90 Minute has a great malt backbone that stands up to the extreme hopping rate and packs a punch. The first beer Dogfish Head continuously hopped, allowing for a pungent, but not crushing, hop flavor.

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For dessert, we decided to split two delicious sweets. The Hot Caramel Apple Tart is an American classic made with Granny Smith apples, salted caramel, cinnamon and a hint of brown sugar. This was another favorite of mine to have at Toby Keith’s I Love This Bar & Grill. Let’s just say that I’d order this every time I visit although it could a bit more ice cream.

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A popular item of Toby Keith’s I Love This Bar & Grill is the Deep Fried Strawberry Twinkie “Shortcake”. The Famous Hostess Twinkie is deep-fried and served warm with a berry sauce and sprinkled with sweet powdered sugar. For us, the sweet berry sauce was replaced with chocolate and caramel. This isn’t my favorite because it is super sweet, but now I can see why everyone likes Twinkies so much, especially when they’re fried because I was able to share my first Twinkie experience with Toby Keith’s I Love This Bar & Grill.

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Before we finished up the evening, we were introduced to the American Girl Cocktail, which requires 1oz Wave Blue Raspberry Vodka, 0.5oz Blue Curacao, 0.5oz Grenadine, and ½ a bottle of Smirnoff Ice. This can be a nice pink drink for anyone who needs a light social drink.

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Toby Keith’s I Love This Bar & Grill is open

  • Sunday – Wednesday – 11am – midnight (kitchen open until 10pm)
  • Thursday – Saturday – 11am – 2am (Kitchen open Fri-Sat until 11pm)

Toby Keith's I Love This Bar & Grill on Urbanspoon

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Spice Burgr recently took over for the space at the downtown Orlando Plaza that once belonged to grilled cheese sandwich shop Meltz. If the name “Spice” rings a bell, it’s because the owners of Spice Burgr are the same as the owners of nearby Spice Modern Steakhouse at Lake Eola.

It’s a counter service restaurant – order at the counter and the order is delivered to you when ready. I guess it’s the next evolution of the fast food restaurant with better ingredients. The decor is anonymous – minimal and white – and rather forgetful. The staff was friendly enough, but at times they appeared a bit lost and unsure about who ordered what when the orders became ready.

I ordered the Traditional – always a good base to start off with, I supposed. It was all right, juicy and slightly flavorful but nothing to denote any memorable “spice” moment. The fries came out hot, but needed a little salt. It was $5.95. I’d have to go back to try their other burger varieties and choices like the California Spice burger – topped with lettuce, tomatoes, sliced avocado, pico, cheese, “Burgr sauce” on a buttered bun and a side of fries. There is also a Burger of the Month, or BOM, that changes monthly.

Overall, Spice Burgr just did not leave much of an impression – spicy or otherwise – on me.

Spice Burgr - One of Many, Many new burger joints in Orlando
Spice Burgr – One of Many, Many new burger joints in Orlando
The decor - modern, sleek, boring
The decor – modern, sleek, boring
The Traditional Burgr
The Traditional Burgr

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Spice Burgr on Urbanspoon

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The Thornton Park restaurant group has been very busy lately with the opening of the new Soco at Thornton Park. We recently received notice that they will be opening a new restaurant near Citrus called North Quarter Tavern. Press Release below:

North Quarter Tavern (NQT) is a new chef-driven neighborhood tavern that will be located in the North Quarter District in Downtown Orlando. The team from Citrus Restaurant developed the concept. The kitchen will be under the direction of Chef Matt Wall from Citrus Restaurant. Chef Matt has been with Citrus Restaurant for over five years and is looking forward to bringing an exciting new concept to the neighborhood. NQT will be located on the ground floor of Nora, a luxury apartment building that opened in November 2014. The address is 861 North Orange Avenue. NQT is scheduled to open in 2015. For updates or to join our mailing list, please visit www.northquartertavern.com.

Chef Lucas Reid who is at Citrus now will take over for Chef Matt Wall once he moves over to NQT.

Citrus Restaurant features regionally inspired new American cuisine. While Citrus is not “historic” or “citrus themed”, the restaurant name is meant to respect Central Florida’s heritage. The Citrus Restaurant concept reflects an interpretation of Florida flavors and ideas like fresh, clean, local and independent. The restaurant is stylish and inviting and sets an energetic and lively tone for the emerging Uptown District.

Citrus Restaurant has won numerous awards for its Power Lunch, and on any given day the dining room is a veritable Who’s Who of politicians, business people and local celebrities.

So while other restaurants might look at lunch as a secondary meal, Citrus considers it just as important as dinner.

Speed is an essential element at lunchtime, says Chef Matt. “You have to be fast, but you have to keep the quality of the food at a high level.”

“Just because its lunch, with all the hustle and bustle of the work day, doesn’t mean there isn’t time for a great meal in the middle of all the chaos.”

We recently dropped by for dinner at a friend’s birthday gathering and were delighted by the ambiance as well as the quality of food.

Definitely need to drop by another time for their “power lunch.”

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Crispy Calamari, jalapeños, artichokes, lemon, pickles, house sofrito 13
Crispy Calamari, jalapeños, artichokes, lemon, pickles, house sofrito 13
Crispy Calamari, jalapeños, artichokes, lemon, pickles, house sofrito 13
Crispy Calamari, jalapeños, artichokes, lemon, pickles, house sofrito 13
Ahi Tuna Tataki, local cantaloupe, kumquat purée, korean hot pepper, local petite greens, wasabi aioli, ponzu 15
Ahi Tuna Tataki, local cantaloupe, kumquat purée, korean hot pepper, local petite greens, wasabi aioli, ponzu 15

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House Aged Chimichurri Ribeye, caramelized onion, arugula salad, brown butter mashed potato, chimichurri 32
House Aged Chimichurri Ribeye, caramelized onion, arugula salad, brown butter mashed potato, chimichurri 32
Country fried red fish with grits in a tomato sauce
Country fried red fish with grits in a tomato sauce
House Aged Chimichurri Ribeye, caramelized onion, arugula salad, brown butter mashed potato, chimichurri 32
House Aged Chimichurri Ribeye, caramelized onion, arugula salad, brown butter mashed potato, chimichurri 32

Citrus Restaurant on Urbanspoon

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Located in the historic Kress building (once housing the “five and dime” retail department store), Kres Chophouse is a swanky, classy restaurant and one of the best in the downtown Orlando area.

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Inside, the lighting is dim and tall red velvet backed booths line the walls like something out of a 1950s downtown night club lounge.

The place is nice for a fancy “romantic” date night out before hitting the clubs and lounges nearby in downtown Orlando. Service is good, not perfect, but fine.

In addition to the decor, the menu is also reminiscent of a classic gentleman’s steakhouse or club, with such mainstays as shrimp cocktail, filet Diane, and oysters Rockefeller.  The menu is pricey but the quality and ambiance warrants a high tab, I suppose.

For our appetizer, we chose the Mediterranean Seafood Cocktail, consisting of shrimp, octopus, squid, and other nicely chilled seafood items in a martini-glass like cup. It was nice, but not sufficiently memorable. What was memorable, however, were their steaks and namesake “chops”.

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I ordered the Kres Mixed Grill, a huge plate of garlic shrimp, tender filet mignon and double lamb chops, served with a side of asparagus and three cheese au gratin. The filet was fantastic as were the lamb chops, very tender and flavorful, perfectly cooked.

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Kres Chophouse’ Atlantic Cobia

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Banana Ice cream sundae dessert

 

Kres Chophouse on Urbanspoon

Located in the heart of Orlando’s Downtown Arts District, the Grand Bohemian is an artistic boutique hotel designed to inspire unforgettable experiences.  Also a member to The Kessler Collection portfolio, each hotel’s art, music, and cultural influences are personally acquired for that hotel by the Kessler family.

I had the opportunity to take a group tour to explore the hotel and view the Kessler Collection Signature Grand Bohemian Gallery celebrating the work of French artist, Jean Claude Roy.  The last stop on our tour ended at the hotel’s restaurant located on the first floor named, “The Boheme”.

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Our group received a five course meal prepared by Executive Chef Laurent Hollaender from northeastern France.  Chef Hollander’s execution in all his dishes surpassed expectations, and the group dinner was filled with good conversation and good company.

Chef Hollaender’s style of cooking consists of Italian influences finished with a touch of elegance.  Chef Hollaender’s dishes are a true work of art as they are not only visually appealing but quite satisfying on the lips.  His dishes were in fact impressive.

Be aware that the menu at The Boheme changes every month, so make sure to check out the menu regularly.

Get in my belly.

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Amuse Bouche: TATARE DE SAUMON ET SA COURONNE DE CONCOMBRE
Salmon Tarate served in a Cucumber Crown and Quail Egg
Eating directions: Pour quail over salmon and stir in blackened salt to taste.
Choice of Wine – Cremant Brut Rose, Lucien Albrecht
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Hors d’oeuvre: PINCETTE DE FOIE GRAS ET CANARD FUME
Duck Foie Gras Terrine, Smoked Duck Breast, Toasted Brioche Beets and Carrot Chutney
Choice of Wine – Gewürztraminer, Trimbach
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Poisson: RAVIOLE GEANTE DE FRUIT DE MER
Lobster, Sea Bass and Mussels Ravioli with Onion Compote White Wine Butter Sauce and Lobster Reduction
So smooth and creamy. It tasted like heaven on Earth. If this is what heaven tastes like, I’m ready for my afterlife.
Choice of Wine – Pouilly-Fuisse, Louis Jadot
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Viande: PETIT FILET MIGNON AU MORILLES ET CHANTERELLES
Grilled Petit Filet Mignonette with Morels and Chanterelles Sauce Pommes Anna, Fall Vegetables
Choice of Wine – CIGALUS, Gerard Bertrand
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According to the Grand Bohemian staff, this wine “can’t compete with any other wine in the world.”
Cabernet Sauvignon (50%) and Merlot (50%)
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Dessert: TARTE MOELLUSE AU CHOCOLATE ET CRIOTTES Marinated Cherries in Brandy from Sarlat, Valrhona Chocolate Hanache, French Vanilla Ice Cream. The design of this dish was inspired by French artist Jean Claude Roy, who joined our table for dessert. Choice of Wine- Banylus, Chapoutier
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Menu signed by Jean Claude Roy

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After dinner, the staff at Grand Bohemian generously gifted each of us with a portrait made of chocolate that was painted by Jean Claude Roy himself. Although it is edible, but it’s too pretty to eat. For now I will keep this chocolate portrait framed on my wall.

You are what you eat. After this dinner, I would consider myself elegant.

Photos taken by Krystle Nguyen with the Nikon D5000 DSLR

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We wrote about KASA Tapas and Raw Bar back in May 2013 and now, this week, KASA is ready to open its doors and welcome guests into its newly renovated restaurant at The Plaza in downtown Orlando.

They are open this week as part of a soft opening and our good friend Michael Cho of ImpressInk.com visited last night to give us a preview of the menu choices and overall vibe at KASA.

Kasa opens to the public November 14 at 8pm. Starting November 15, Kasa will be open daily for lunch, dinner and drinks from 11am to late-night.

His thoughts and photos follow:

 

Upon entering KASA, one is immediately drawn to the vibrant and delicate ambiance that is not found in any other downtown Orlando establishment.

KASA Tapas and Raw bar sets itself apart by offering a unique menu full of tapas style dishes (small shareable plate portions) and a small number of full portion entrees for the hungrier customers.

The tapas serving style creates an opportunity to sample multiple dishes and flavors on the menu without over stretching one’s appetite.

KASA centers itself on the concept of combining  global flavors from Asian and Latin flavors to more, and this is apparent in the ingredients of their menu items, featuring different culinary cultures to create the plates.

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Hickory Smoked Duck Drumettes with a  ginger maple glaze

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Hamachi Ceviche

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KASA signature corn

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Spanish Spinach

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Panko crusted Pork Belly, glazed with syrup and dipped into egg yolk

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Shrimp a la plancha

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Tuna Carpaccio Pizza

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Tamarind Grilled Rack of Lamb

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Grilled Clams

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Wrecked Apple Pie Roll – thin slices of granny apple with soy paper, tempura battered and served with salted caramel ice cream

What’s interesting to note is that here at KASA, unlike other restaurants, there is a whole section of the menu dedicated to different types of ceviches, like you would find in Peru at a cevicheria.

KASA seems to be a versatile restaurant that welcomes both casual diners and those out on the town looking for a place to eat before heading out to experience the downtown Orlando night club, bar, entertainment scene.

We’ll have a more comprehensive review and visit soon!

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Official Press Release

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The Bento Group Announces The Official Grand Opening Of Its Newest Innovative Dining Concept “Kasa Tapas & Raw Bar” In Downtown Orlando November 14

Beginning November 14, onlookers on Orange Avenue will finally be able to step inside and experience the highly-anticipated, original dining concept “Kasa Tapas & Raw Bar” from The Bento Group. Featuring a creative and delectable menu comprised of small plates with global influences and a raw bar with fresh oysters and seafood, Kasa serves up a truly exciting and innovative dining experience pioneered by Executive Chef Sean Kaplan and “Food Network Star” alum Josh Lyons. Open for lunch, dinner, drinks and brunch coming soon, Kasa will raise the bar in the Downtown Orlando dining scene combining exceptional service in a cool, comfortable and contemporary atmosphere with a memorable meal that satisfies all the senses.

“We are extremely excited about the official opening of Kasa next month,” says Co-Owners of The Bento Group David Yu, Jimmy Tung and Johnny Tung.

“Kasa is the culmination of months and months of development and thought into creating and offering something really different and memorable that the Downtown dining scene has been craving. From our original menu packed with incredible flavor combinations to our delicious drinks and relaxing, modern atmosphere, we are proud to open Kasa’s doors for everyone to enjoy, experience and return to time and time again.”

Kasa is The Bento Group’s first full higher-end casual dine-in restaurant. Originating in Gainesville, FL with concepts also in Orlando and Jacksonville, The Bento Group focuses on restaurants, hospitality and nightlife concepts and is now comprised of Bento Café, Hiro Asian Sandwich Bistro, SushiChao, Simon’s Nightclub, My Mochi Frozen Yogurt, VAiN Nightclub, Avenue Gastrobar and Ghost Bar and Lounge.

Kasa opens to the public November 14 at 8pm. Starting November 15, Kasa will be open daily for lunch, dinner and drinks from 11am to late-night.

Restaurant guests are welcome to dine, drink and relax inside Kasa’s modern tranquil atmosphere or enjoy the extended outdoor patio space, which will feature many special events in the coming year. Kasa is located at 183 S. Orange Avenue in Downtown Orlando. For more information, call 407-985-5272 and visit www.kasatapas.com and www.bento-group.com.

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The Avenue Gastrobar is a new restaurant opened by The Bento Group in downtown Orlando at 13 South Orange Avenue. The menu is very reasonably priced, especially for the downtown locale, with most items under $10, and the most expensive dishes at $12 for the steak frites and the shrimp and grits. The space is open and airy with lots of dark woods and modern yet rustic lighting and a huge bar flanking the left side. The restaurant is having their grand opening this Friday May 24, 2013 downtown.

Below are a few sneak peek photos from a recent visit:

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Deviled eggs with bacon bits

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Crispy Pork Belly BLT on sourdough bread – a bit too dry for me

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Panko fried chicken and pumpkin waffles

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 Mac and cheese topped with bacon bits – A crowd favorite

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The Fifth opened this past May of 2012 – in the heart of Downtown Orlando on Orange Avenue – by the proprietors of The V Group – Vintage Lounge, Vixen Bar and NV Art Bar. “The Fifth” is located at 112 S. Orange Avenue adjacent to Vintage Lounge. I was recently invited to a media preview of their items and have to say I was thoroughly impressed.

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Right when you walk through the door, you could feel practically transported to a city like Miami or downtown Manhattan: sleek, modern designs, glowing dynamic lights, and beautiful white rock encapsulate the restaurant. The setting is upscale yet relaxed. The staff are all unpretentious and warm to guests. At the front is a retail space with liquor and various goodies stocked for customers on the go. The real star of the place, however, is the food.

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Led by Chef Dean Holland from Le Cordon Bleu, The Fifth features a menu of familiar, yet creative favorites from gourmet burgers to mac and cheese and I can see the items being popular for the busy Downtown professional’s lunch hour, dinner date or late-night food craving.

During my lunch visit, I tried some of their V potato chips as well as the signature V Chopped Steak burger. The V potato chips were dusted with white truffle and sea salt, crispy and delightful and altogether prepared very well. I noshed on them all throughout lunch. The V Chopped Steak burger was also expertly prepared with very high quality grade beef, cooked perfectly to my desired medium, and topped with caramelized onions, tomato, arugula, and an alioli sauce. The burger probably ranks up among the best I’ve had in Orlando. The prices are a bit higher here than others, but the ingredients and flavors warrant the premium.

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The V Potato Chips with sea salt

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The V Chopped Steak Burger with caramelized onions, tomato, arugula, ale-oli sauce

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Mini chicken sliders drizzled with a Maple Bacon Aioli

 

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At the front is a retail space with liquor and various goodies stocked for customers on the go.

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The Fifth on Urbanspoon

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Pom Pom’s Teahouse and Sandwicheria, located on Bumby Avenue just south of the heart of Orlando’s Milk District (the area around the T.G. Lee’s Milk processing factory), serves up some of the most creative and scrumptious sandwiches in our area.

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Here at this indie, homey sandwich shop – with walls bedecked in local artwork – there are over 20 types of sandwiches to order, with each ‘wich is set to a playful, yet delicious gourmet theme.

Like the Mama Ling Ling’s Thanksgiving, a monstrous turkey, ginger cranberry chutney, gouda, stuffing, mashed potato, cream cheese served with a side of gravy, so now you can have that after Thanksgiving dinner meal -itis feeling all year round.

Or try the villainous Fu Man Chu, made with a sweet Hoisin barbecue sauce based Asian Pulled Pork, watercress, goat cheese, ginger cranberry chutney, and spicy red onions, a perfect lunch for all those deviants out there. It’s got sweetness from the barbecue and cranberry chutney, a little tart from the red onions, savory from the pulled pork, creamy from the goat cheese. It all sounds like quite the mess, but it’s all strangely satisfying and fulfilling.

Pace yourself, these sandwiches are large and can easily be shared between two people. There is also a wide variety of diverse salads to tantalize your taste-buds.

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These days, you can probably more often find Pom Moongauklang, owner and operator of Pom Pom’s Teahouse and Sandwicheria, dividing her time between this shop and mixing it up and creating wonderful little fusion tacos at her new venture Tako Cheena in the Mills 50 District, but the staff here is on their best behavior even when Pom Pom is away. They were some of the friendliest and down to earth staff I’ve had the fortune to dine with in a while.

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The place is pretty small and can get quite busy, so sit back, relax and enjoy one of the many house blend or specialty teas like the Rooibos Love tea. End the meal with one of their fabulous desserts like the Red Velvet cupcake imported from nearby Bluebird Bakery. One thing I love about Pom Pom’s, despite the very hip ambiance, is their eclectic clientele: from trendy hipsters to twenty-something working ladies in heals to college students on a first date, everyone is here together under one roof enjoying good food. On the weekends they are sometimes open 24 hours, when interesting late-night conversations over tea and sandwiches are sure to ensue. A tiny teahouse with a big heart in the City Beautiful.

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Pom Pom's Teahouse and Sandwicheria on Urbanspoon

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Edible Orlando publisher Kendra Lott with friends  at the CityArts Factory

Slow Down Orlando with Edible Orlando magazine and the Winter Park Harvest Festival hosted “Slow Down at CityArts” a fundraising event to benefit the Downtown Arts District and Slow Down Orlando on Friday March 3rd. The event was hosted at the CityArts Factory featuring local arts and local chefs and an admission price of $15.

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At the event, patrons sampled craft beers and cocktails from Florida distillers such as the Winter Park Distilling Company, Flagler Spirits, Palm Ridge Reserve Whiskey, and Widmer Brothers Brewing. I had no idea we had so many local distillers in or around our area, it gives me hope that one day Orlando will have its own Orlando Beer Week similar to the one Tampa Bay is holding this week for its inaugural Tampa Bay Beer Week (covered here in Jeff Houck of The Tampa Tribune). The craft beer culture has definitely grown in Orlando, especially with the increase in tap rooms and bars featuring more than your regular American budweiser and miller light. I think the time is ripe. What say you, Orlando beer lovers? Can we set this thing up already? Let’s hop on it.

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TastyChomps’ Friends Pearleen and Al Buchala of Megayummo.com and Mike Reyes @mikochu

To go along with the sampling of drinks was a sampling of seasonal tastings of local food, all created in the mindset of the Slow Food movement, made with food that is good, clean and fair.

The event featured Dandelion Communitea Café, recent James Beard award-nominee for Best Chef of the South Chef Henry Salgado of Spanish River Grill, and Chef Kathleen Blake of The Rusty Spoon.

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Dandelion Community Cafe’s Stuffed Cucumber Medallions

Dandelion Community Cafe presented Stuffed Cucumber Medallions made with marinated portobello mushroom from Zellwood Farm of Apopka, Heirloom Tomato from Organic Country Farm of S. Cloud, and carrots, red onions, scallions, and lemon zest. The ingredients were all organic, vegan, soy-free, and gluten free. The cucumber medallions were all very fresh, light, and surprisingly spicy. It gave me a nice kick in the tastebuds.

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The Rusty Spoon’s Green Eggs and Ham

The Rusty Spoon served deviled “Green Eggs and Ham“, very delicious and fun to eat. I always wanted to try a rendition of green eggs and ham of Dr. Seuss fame.

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Spanish River Grill’s Stuffed Collard Greens & Dirty Grits

The dish that blew me away the most at the event were Spanish River Grill’s Stuffed Collard Greens & Dirty Grits made with pulled Kurabota Pork, local Shrimp, Green Plaintain, Tomazin Farms Collard Greens, Anson Mills Grits. Chef Salgado made the grits dirty style, a play on the flavors of dirty rice but stylized for Florida and its love of corn grits. It was very hearty and rich, and the flavors of the collard greens and kurabota pork and shrimp went together so beautifully. I regretted not getting a second plate all night. Time to make a trip out to New Smyrna Beach to try Spanish River Grill!

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If you are downtown, make sure to check out CityArts Factory, Downtown Orlando’s largest collective of art galleries which showcases an infusion of local and international works of art, rotated on a monthly basis. Free admission Tuesday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.

CityArts Factory
29 South Orange Ave.
Orlando, FL 32801
http://www.orlandoslice.com/group/cityartsfactory


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When searching for the best burger in Orlando, a few names pop up over and over again. The eclectic Hamburger Mary’s is one of those places renown for their awesome hamburgers. Located off of Church Street in Downtown Orlando and only a few blocks away from the new Amway Center, Hamburger Mary is a hamburger haven for those working downtown and looking for a good place for lunch.

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The inside of Hamburger Mary’s is colored with purples and golds, kind of like visiting your weird aunt’s living room, complete with soft purple carpeting on the floor. They also host drag shows here with celebrity female impersonators (check show times by calling in).

On my visit, I ordered the “Blue Boy Burger”, a burger made with bleu cheese, topped with bacon and blue cheese dressing. The burger was juicy and large, and pretty much delicious. The buns were okay, could have been better.

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The only issue I have is that it costs about $10 to park downtown which is pretty much the same price as the burger I had for lunch. The parking prices are ridiculous! How’s a guy to eat when it costs more to park? GRRR !!

lol well anyways here are some shots of the burgers from Hamburger Mary!


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The Blue Boy Burger at Hamburger Mary
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The Pilgrim Burger – Holiday special

Hamburger Mary's Bar & Grille on Urbanspoon

 

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