Monday, June 30, 2014

Orlando: Jeremiah's Italian Ice

A Sonic is located at the intersection leading to my cousin's house in Orlando.  There are no words to describe how excited my mom, my sister, and I were when we spotted it.

You must understand.  Growing up, I watched Sonic commercial after commercial, but never actually saw one in real life.  I didn't actually get to go to one until my senior year of undergrad when a friend took pity on me and took me to a Sonic in SoCal.  Given how rare Sonic sightings are, we get unnecessarily excited when we do find one.

My cousin didn't get it at all.  And how could he?  He walking distance from one basically all his life.  In fact, he worked there back when he was a teen.  So it wasn't any great surprise when he wasn't exactly eager to take us.

Instead of Sonic, my cousin offered us one better.  Jeremiah's Italian Ice:

There are apparently multiple Jeremiah's.  This particular one was a drive through.

We elected to park the car and get out because my sister and I needed time to peruse the extensive menu:

Luckily, there wasn't much a line when we got there, so my sister and I were able to taste test a few flavors.

You can have your Italian ice by itself, but you can also be a boss and order it as a gelati, meaning you get it layered with soft serve ice cream.

My sister got her root beer Italian ice gelati style:

The iciness of the Italian ice makes for an interesting texture contrast with the creaminess of the ice cream.

I was aiming for refreshing so I got my strawberry lemon straight:

For my father, we ordered him a coconut gelati:

And for my mother, a mango gelati:

The small cup may look small, but it's actually quite a lot.  Take your time or risk getting a brain freeze.

While I'm disappointed that we didn't get to go to Sonic, I know in my heart that Jeremiah's is the much better option.  My taste buds agree.

For a town where it's 90 degrees just about from the time you wake up, having Jeremiah's within driving distance is a blessing.

Jeremiah's Italian Ice
1000 Willa Springs Dr
Winter Springs, FL 32708
(407) 388-3788

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Orlando: Prato

My parents wanted to treat my cousin and his girlfriend to a nice meal.  Since we weren't familiar with Orlando at all, we let my cousin take charge of picking the restaurant.

He went with Prato because it's one of his favorite restaurants in the area and he wanted us to try it:

There was a bit of a wait, so we went to check out the koi pond down the street.  We ogled at the giant koi fish for half an hour before heading back to the restaurant.  By the time we got back, our table was ready:

Except for the gnocchi and tortelli, which only came in half portions, all the pasta options at Prato came in both half portions ($9) and full portions ($16).  Our server helpfully told us that a half portion was essentially the size of one fist while the full portion would equal two fists.  So if you're looking to get full, the half portion probably isn't gonna cut it.  But if you're in a group and want to try multiple pastas, the half portion is your best friend.

We originally ordered everything in half portions.  But after our server walked away, I had a reality check.  Just imagining our group of eight people each getting a single noodle from a fist-sized portion made me break out in a cold sweat.  I called back the server and luckily did so in time to change our orders to full sized.

We got the LB shrimp ravioli:


The ravioli came in scampi sauce with broccolini and breadcrumbs.

I was really excited about the egg bucatini because it included Long Island duck ragu and foie gras:

I don't remember tasting the foie, but the duck ragu was delicious.

Even though it only came in half portions, we got the truffled potato gnocchi anyway:

It was made with fava bean pesto and fennel sausage.  So soft and chewy.  So good.

The mustard spaghettini "cacio e pepe" was also quite yummy:

It consisted of radicchio, LQ speck (a type of ham), and balsamic vinegar.

From the appetizer menu, we ordered the meatballs:

They normally come in three ($12).  Our server asked if we wanted to add one more to make it easier to share among eight people.  Uh, yes, please.

My sister's favorite was probably the PEI mussels ($14):

The mussels were perfectly cooked, but it really was all about the smoked potato broth with wild ramp greens.  The toasted bread was slathered with goat feta.  My sister had a field day soaking up the broth with the bread.  When there was no bread left, she simply picked up her spoon and started drinking the broth straight.

To make sure we all had enough to eat, we also ordered two pizzas (both $15).

The first was the arrostito:

It was topped with chicken sausage, zucchini pesto, Meyer lemon conserva, and feta.  I'm a sucker for Meyer lemon.  Then again, who isn't?

Besides having an intimidating name, the widowmaker came with caciocavallo (a type of cheese), romesco (a nut and red pepper-based sauce), fennel sausage, and a single farm egg:

I wish there was more than one egg on the pizza.  I mean, really?  One tiny egg for that entire pie?

The food didn't look like much, but we actually ended up with leftovers on the table at the end of the meal.  To take care of those leftovers, we played a finger-counting game to see who had to eat what.  I managed to escape unscathed, but my sister and my father each lost a round and had to finish off a dish, as did my cousin's girlfriend.

Suckers.  Heh.

Prato is great.  The food the awesome, the service personable.  I would definitely recommend Prato to anyone who is looking for a good meal for maybe a slightly more special occasion.  Date night, anyone?

124 N Park Ave
Winter Park, FL 32789
(407) 262-0050

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Orlando: Squid Lips

We arrived at my cousin's house Saturday evening to find a home-cooked meal already laid out on the table for us, courtesy of my aunt.  We gorged ourselves that night.  My aunt is a great cook.

The next morning, we made a family excursion to Sebastian Inlet.  As it was Memorial Day weekend, the beach was crammed full of people.  We stayed for a bit before heading to lunch.

My cousin found Squid Lips on Yelp.  We pulled into its parking lot only to find the remains of a charred building at the back of the lot.  For a good two minutes, we were convinced that Squid Lips had burned down with Yelp none the wiser.

Then we looked across the street and there it was:

Whew.  Lunch crisis averted.

The restaurant looked small from the outside, but was quite spacious inside.  We managed to score a table overlooking the water:

The complimentary bread was coconut-y and subtly sweet:

Checking in on Yelp got us free crunchy fish fingers:

The fish was rolled in corn flakes before frying, which added a nice sweet crunch.

I ordered the Abaco fish sandwich ($9.99):

The coconut fried fish filet came topped with mango chutney and smothered with melted swiss cheese.  Fries cost an extra $0.99, so I elected to go with the chips.  I loved my sandwich.  I'm not usually much for sweet things, but this one was perfectly balanced with the savoriness of the cheese and the fish.

My sister went with the fried clam basket ($9.99):

Whereas my mother decided on the crunchy fish BLT wrap ($9.99):

Also good, especially with the cajun mayo.

My father sat at the other end of the table, so I didn't get to take a picture of his entree.  I also refrained from hijacking my uncle's, aunt's, and cousin's meals.  Self control.  I may not have much of it, but it kicks in once in a while.

Besides having a swanky name, Squid Lips serves some pretty solid food.  The prices are reasonable and the service is friendly.

Our experience was a bit soured at the end, but at no fault of Squid Lips.  I thought I was being all ninja when I went to slip the hostess my credit card on a "bathroom run," only to discover that my cousin had already beat me to it.  In fact, he'd already settled the bill before we even WALKED INTO THE RESTAURANT.

Ugh.  I failed my ancestors.

The fact that my cousin and I share the same ancestors is irrelevant.

Squid Lips
1660 Indian River Dr
Sebastian, FL 32958
(772) 589-3828

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Baltimore: Mekong Delta

Before leaving Baltimore Saturday afternoon, we were able to squeeze in one last meal.  To make it count, my sister took us to Mekong Delta, which is apparently her most favoritest Vietnamese restaurant in the world:

She was so concerned about being able to find street parking that she made us park almost four blocks away.  Silly.

Mekong Delta looks like a residential space converted into a restaurant:

Very homey and not pretentious in the least.

My mom is a spring roll fanatic, so we had to get an order ($3.95):

Instead of the typical creamy peanut sauce, the peanut sauce at Mekong Delta was warm and goopy.  And delicious.

My mother got the pho tai gan ($8.25):

This pho came with slices of rare beef and tendon.  The broth was clean and flavorful, the rice noodles cooked just right.

I went with the grilled beef lemongrass with rice or bun bo nuong ($8.95):

I've always found it difficult to turn away from anything lemongrass.  Definitely lemongrass in this beef dish.  The beef was very fragrant and very subtle in flavor.  The fish sauce added the salty kick it needed.  Lemongrass beef and fish sauce are just sublime with rice.

Both my father and my sister got the hu tieu do bien ($8.95):

This is my sister's absolute favorite.  The seafood noodle soup came with crab meat, scallops, jumbo shrimp, and clear noodles.  Now this was fabulous broth.  Slightly sweet and almost refreshing in its cleanness.  And the seafood!  So fresh.

To round off our meal, we got two glasses of Vietnamese iced coffee:

Now that's some real Vietnamese coffee.  I don't usually drink coffee (I have the taste buds of a toddler), but dude, this was good stuff.

Now that I've been to Mekong Delta, I can totally understand why my sister loves it so much.  I admit, I was skeptical at first.  After all, San Jose is known for being Vietnamese food central.  Baltimore isn't exactly overflowing for Asian restaurants, but this just shows that you don't need lots of options in a city, you just need one good one.

One VERY good one.

Mekong Delta
105 W Saratoga St
Baltimore, MD 21201
(410) 244-8677

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Baltimore: The Abbey Burger Bistro

I had only one request for our trip to Baltimore: The Abbey Burger Bistro.  My sister delivered and made it the last stop of our food tour.

Tucked into a small alley, The Abbey Burger Bistro is easy to miss:

There was a bit of a wait, so we walked down the street for a couple beers at a Pub Dog.  Well, my dad and my sister had beers.  My mom and I sat and watched.

We got a call when our table was ready:

I was so adamant about going to The Abbey because I wanted myself some of these:

Crab tots.  That's right.  Warm, creamy crab dip on top of crispy tater tots.  Take a bite and weep.  It's that good.

You can choose from one of The Abbey's pre-designed burgers, but if you're adventurous, you should definitely build your own:

We wanted to try some of the more exotic meats, so we purposely picked three that we knew we wouldn't be able to easily find elsewhere.  We got the wild boar, the red deer, and the kangaroo.

I don't remember which burger is which.  To be honest, we weren't sure which one was which when we were actually eating them.

I vaguely remember pairing the kangaroo with the onion ring:

This might be the red deer:

Which would make this the wild boar:


It would be easier to tell them apart if we'd ordered different buns for each.  But no.  We love our pretzel buns.  No regrets there.

I remember we liked all the burgers except for one which we found on the dry side.  We think it might have been the red deer.  But it might have been because we ordered it medium.  My sister had the red deer before, but she ordered it rare and she claims it was juicy and delicious.

Learn from our mistake.  Don't wuss out.  Get your burgers at least medium rare.

Love The Abbey Burger Bistro.  Especially the crab tots.  I would go back a million times just for those.

The Abbey Burger Bistro
1041 Marshall St
Baltimore, MD 21230
(443) 453-9698 

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Baltimore: Lexington Market

The next stop on our Baltimore snacking tour was Lexington Market:

We went there on our very first trip to Baltimore when we helped my sister move into college, but we didn't eat anything then.  Shame on us, right?  It seemed fitting to bookend my sister's undergraduate career with a return trip to Lexington Market and to do it justice this time around.

There's definitely lots to look at inside.  Lexington Market is essentially an open area crammed full with stalls selling everything from perfume to cakes, fresh seafood to fruit.

Our first stop was Park's Fried Chicken:

 Where my sister bought a small box of fried gizzards for us:

By the time we gathered all the food we wanted and got around to actually eating it, the fried gizzards had gotten a little stale.  I bet it would have been more delicious if we'd eaten it freshly fried.  As it was, I found that I preferred the fried gizzards from Harold's in Chicago.

Faidley's is what draws the tourists at Lexington Market:

It offers raw and fried seafood, but what everyone goes there for are the crab cakes:

One jumbo lump crab cake is gonna cost you $14.  Kind of ridiculous, right?  But it really is rather worth it.  There's so much crab packed into each ball and each ball is about the size of your fist.  I love how the crab comes in large lumps and not shredded into mush.

To balance out all the fried goodness, my mom made us stop by Matthew's Delly: 

Where we got a medium bowl of mixed fruit:

It was kinda overpriced, but it was greatly appreciated.  It made us all feel slightly less fatty.  Which just makes us delusional, but whatever.

While I wouldn't say that Lexington Market is a must-see if you're visiting Baltimore, it definitely is good to check out if you have some extra time (or if you want to have some damn good crab cakes).  I would especially recommend going when there's live music playing.  It's a lot of fun watching people come together as a community and just enjoy good music.  Seeing them enjoying themselves will make you want to join in and dance.

Lexington Market
400 W Lexington St
Baltimore, MD 21201
(410) 685-6169

Monday, June 9, 2014

Baltimore: The Charmery

Who says you can't have ice cream for breakfast?  Or second breakfast?

After gorging on nachos (and nowhere near finishing them), my sister took us down the street to The Charmery, which is apparently a Baltimore institution:

The interior was pretty typical for an ice cream shop:

Well, it was until the lights suddenly dimmed and a disco ball started flashing.  Say what?

To be honest, I wasn't all that impressed by the selection of flavors.  Most sounded pretty standard: salty caramel, chocolate chip cookie dough, mint chip, etc.  The lemon stick sounded pretty interesting until I got to taste test it.  Blech.  I have no idea what that was about.

The open sesame was, in fact, interesting.  Instead of the usual black sesame, this one was white.  It tasted...a lot like sesame.

My sister wanted us to try the Old Bay caramel, so that's what we got along with the pistachio toffee:

Two scoops cost us $5.

The pistachio toffee wasn't bad, but the real standout was the Old Bay caramel.  For those of you who don't know, Old Bay is a brand of seasoning typically used with seafood, particularly crab, made with herbs and spices.  Definitely not what one would expect to work well in ice cream.  But it did.  The saltiness of the Old Bay was the perfect compliment to the caramel.  Like salted caramel, but much more intriguing. 

Get the Old Bay caramel.  It'll blow your mind.

As will the plastic COLOR-CHANGING spoons The Charmery uses:

That's right.  The spoon changes color depending on temperature.  Like a mood ring.  But much, much cooler.

I wiped ours down and took them home.  All the way back to California.  Heh.  No shame.

The Charmery
801 W 36th St
Baltimore, MD 21211
(410) 814-0493

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Baltimore: Holy Frijoles!

Things have been slow for me posting-wise because 1) work has been consuming my life recently and 2) my laptop is still being fixed by HP.  Excuses, excuses, I know.

Anyway, after my sister's graduation, we spent a day exploring Baltimore (and packing up all her stuff) before heading to Orlando to visit family.  Our first stop on our Baltimore snacking tour, was Holy Frijoles!:

Our very friendly Lyft driver dropped us off just down the street and we slowly window shopped our way down to the restaurant.

We were the first ones inside:

The first basket of chips and salsa is complimentary:

If you want another, you gotta fork over the cash.

My sister brought us to Holy Frijoles! because she wanted to introduce us to their monster nacho plate.  I felt bad just ordering nachos for four people, so I threw in the carnitas verde enchilada ($13) to appease my conscience:

The two enchiladas were filled with carnitas and topped with salsa verde and cheese.  It came with black beans and corn and rice.  The rice was crap, but the enchiladas and beans weren't bad at all.  The carnitas were slightly sweet and went great with the salsa verde.

We still shouldn't have ordered it though.  Because take a look at the nachos grande ($12):

They aren't joking when they say it's a meal in itself.  A meal for six.

It came loaded with refried beans, black beans, beef, chicken chorizo, grilled veggies, rice, stead, pico de gallo, olives, and sour cream.  The four of us barely made a dent in it. 

Lesson learned.  Never listen to your conscience.  Order what you know you can handle and don't let your mind guilt trip into ordering more.

Don't expect authentic Mexican at Holy Frijoles!  Just expect large plates overloaded with food at decent prices.

Holy Frijoles!
908 W 36th St
Baltimore, MD 21211
(410) 235-2326
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