Friday, January 22, 2016

TJ's Seafood Shack- good food with good company always makes a good experience!

I'm so glad I gave this place a shot when I went with some longtime friends. The birthday girl is a huge seafood lover and I didn't want to take her to a Red Lobster. I wanted her to try something different, something unique, something small-business minded… this something ended up being this wonderful place called TJ’s seafood shack!

I called ahead to make reservations only to find out that they are very low-key and relaxed which was perfect for the company and ambience that I was looking for. Matter of fact, the decor at this place has upside down buckets as lampshades. It’s not like the cookie cutter feel that you get when you walk in from one restaurant to the next. I believe the owners were trying to create an ambience that is very reminiscent of some mom and pop fish shacks that you would see along the Florida coast. It had a good warm and welcoming vibe.

That being said, we all know that there is no substitute for good food! It was especially important for me this time as I was taking a special friend for her birthday lunch- and she is a self-described picky seafood connoisseur. Her food cannot be too greasy nor too dry, neither raw nor too overly cooked, and neither heavily battered nor too simple looking. Basically, you can say that I was taking Goldilocks to lunch and she wanted her porridge juuuuuust right.
For appetizers, we ordered Sweet Platains ($3.75), Sweet Potato Fries with Honey Mustard ($4.99), and TJ's signature Smoked Mahi Fish Dip ($4.99). The appetizers really kicked off the lunch experience beautifully. The sweet fries weren't greasy at all which received rave reviews from the entire table. One of my friends commented on how beautifully the smoked Mahi fish that was done- delicately balanced with not too much cream cheese and just the right amount of sweet cornichons. The dip fish was so finely minced that you could actually use it as a perfect substitute for cream cheese on bagels (think of it as an clever riff on lox and bagels).

I particularly liked the sweet plantains, however- tender, perfectly brown and crispy on the outside, without the trailing grease slick that most people are accustomed to with plantains.

For the main course we had a Haddock Platter ($9.95), a variation of the three gator tacos ($10.50) where each taco was different, the Salmon platter ($9.50), and TJ's Seafood Shack's signature Po Boy Sandwich ($8.75). While ordering, we heard that the gumbo ($3.99) was made in-house and from scratch everyday. So, we ordered some of that as well! As they say in New Orleans, ‘laissez le bon temps rouler!' (let the good times roll).

The Haddock platter showcased how and why this place takes it's fresh fish seriously- a long, well-proportioned fillet (they buy their fish whole) which was coated with the right amount of pecans and breading. The fish was light and flaky and not overcooked. Just perfect. It's always good when restaurant knows not too coat the star with too much blah blah blah and let the protein do all the talking- if you know what I mean.

The Shrimp Po Boy was good but nothing to write home about. I have to confess, I've had quite a few Shrimp Po Boys in my lifetime and this ranked in the middle of the pack. That being said, the shrimp were perfectly cooked, the batter on the shrimp was crispy just like you would expect, and the remoulade sauce had all the right notes for the chorus. Additionally, it was at a very reasonable price point. What more could you ask?

The favorite entrée on the table was the combination tacos- a Salmon taco, a Gator taco, and another fish taco (which I gave away to share with the birthday girl- who, might I add, was very happy with her food). The salmon was well done but not dry- good blackening seasoning which reminded me of Cajun seasonings (garlic powder, paprika, onion powder, cayenne pepper, oregano, and thyme). The crumbled bacon was a good topping option not because well, bacon is a gift from the gods, but because it actually lifted the taco to another textural stratosphere. I only wished the bacon bits were served sizzling hot.
I really found myself digging at the beans and rice- the bean gravy was not too soupy and not too thick and the rice was cooked without any spices. The creamy cilantro sauce that topped it gave the side dish an extra zing. The sauce was in-house (as most of their stuff is) and you can find it in many of their dishes where it's a good ‘as needed’ option for binding, flavor, and textural nuances.

My favorite dish, however, was the humble looking gumbo- hands down! Delicately spiced, probably simmered for hours, non-slimy okra marrying with tomatoes and other vegetables topped with a generous scoop of plain white rice. You can't go wrong with this dish. Matter fact, I might just come back for a big ol’ bowl of this delicious gumbo whenever I'm feeling the blues.  There's few things in this world that make a man happy than good soul food done right. I really could taste the love in this side item.

IN A NUTSHELL: Good restaurant with a laid-back attitude (they serve food with plasticware). A wonderful find in Orlando where fresh fish joints are desperately needed to expand local tastebuds. This is a family run business- and they take great pride in their product by continually improving on it. They have two locations towards the east side of Orlando. If you like fish and want to stay away from the chains, you’ve got to give TJ's seafood shack a try! Tell them Goldilocks sent you ;)

TJ's Seafood Shack Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Saturday, March 7, 2015

The Garlic at New Smyrna beach

This place is great.... perhaps a little pricey for the average dinner but good for an above average evening. Although, it lacks the ambience of a fine dining establishment. It has all the hallmarks of a restaurant that started out smaller and began to add more to its facility which is evident in its labyrinthine layout. The dining tables for a party of two are uncomfortably small and it gave me the distinct feeling that a maximum number of tables were being crammed into a room just to seat the maximum number of guests to get the maximum revenue for the night. This is something I'm not particularly fond of- an adjacent table merely 1 foot away from your own party of 2.
However, the food was good and more than vindicating for the restaurant. The pork osso bucco  was particularly delicious and is highly recommend. It even stored well in the fridge as take out for 5 days after to slowly graze on.
We didnt order appetizers as the crusty loaves of bread and whole cloves of soft, roasted garlic really started the dinner off to a great note.
They have a fully stocked bar and have an excellent wine selection. Again, something that you would love with great food.
Service was brisk and pleasant on our small table (still cant get over the feeling of being packed-in like sardines). And overall, the experience was good.
Im not sure how to peg this restaurant... its pricey for a casual night but still too informal for a high-end one. And I've been on both sides of the river to know the difference, per say. Menu and prices below with some food pics. Dessert was good but not the best. I'd stick to the main courses if I were you as their menu selections have something deliciously prepared for anyone and everyone (including vegetarians). I'll be back for more another time.
The Garlic on Urbanspoon

Friday, February 27, 2015

Tin Roof- on I-drive by the Orlando eye

This place sounds like it will have a great following once the Orlando Eye opens up. The live entertainment is a great draw for the casual food experience seekers.
I had the brisket nachos and a citrus avocado salad. Both of which were pretty good. Their drinks are decent with some combinations that aren't truly successful, but are drinkable nevertheless.
The brisket nachos were definitely a hit with the white cheesy sauce intermixed very well with nachos. Where other establishments would skimp on this preparation, Tin Roof did it right. I actually enjoyed all the nachos rather than just top portion of the app. Which, in the end, makes the money worth it.
Food pics are attached below. Their website is not extremely user friendly- especially- when all you are digging for is their menu. So, I've attached pictures of those as well.

Tin Roof · A Live Music Joint on Urbanspoon

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Hoover's Market- Altamonte's 40yr-old secret?

So, why haven’t I heard about this alternative to Whole Food’s? Maybe because it’s smaller, more local, and non-franchised?

Plus, it’s not really evident from SR436- even though it’s just a block north on Academy Drive. In fact, it’s very plausible that most people will drive right past this spot without noticing that they are missing out on a part of history.

Hoover’s has been around for 40 years and they still have that mom-n-pop feel to their store. Yes, they have a similar Whole Foods layout to an extent but it’s way smaller. The key difference being the food bar aka the ‘Sunflower Market’ (tucked at the end of the fresh produce section) which just specializes in sandwiches, wraps, juices, soups and a few select homemade items.

The sandwiches are simple and come in an assortment of different bread choices (7-grain, sour dough, and wheat among others) but it’s just a standard slice of bread (nothing gourmet) with any organic toppings that you want (a standard selection of spinach, sprouts, cucumbers, tomatoes, lettuce, etc). They even have vegan cheese. The juices are freshly prepared in front of your eyes. Chicken and pasta salads are also available from time to time while supplies last. I recommend the wraps over the sandwiches because for a dollar more (about $5 and change), you get a lot more bang for your buck (compared to about $4 for a sandwich). The sizes of the wraps are also run bigger and the attendant behind the counter will add ingredients as you wish and bill you accordingly. Well, at least he should. Read on…

Apparently the guy in front of me ordering his food at the counter had gone too far- adding too many vegetables in heaping quantities and extra hummus when he perfectly knew that his wrap would be charged just the same if it had half the ingredients in it. So the attendant bounced back and told him enough is enough. I somehow got caught in the fiasco when the client started throwing a fit aloud that the attendant was out of line. Personally, it’s rare to be caught in a verbal mêlée, so in an attempt to diffuse the situation I politely reminded the client that it is, after all, only a wrap. Arguments and wars have been had over more serious things than extra hummus on a flour tortilla. 

The client didn’t heed to any of my advice and started complaining to everyone and anyone who wanted to hear him. He even stopped Jordan, the assistant manager (who coincidently is the owner’s son) and started complaining over his $5 grievance and using me as a key 'witness' to prove his case. I managed to pry myself out of the dramatic cross-fire and find a spot outside to sit and eat.

And here’s where it got real sweet- the client followed me out and apologized for dragging me into the situation. Moreover, the manager even came over a little bit later and offered me coupons towards my next purchase! He said that he didn’t want that that situation ruin ‘my experience at Hoover’s’- something that I thought was a shining example of what lengths the proprietors here go to ensure customer satisfaction.

IN A NUTSHELL: Crawl behind any whiny, dramatic, and vociferous client that may cause a scene so you may score a discount. Just kidding. Check this place out though for a healthy snack- the Sunflower Market has very modest selections so don’t keep your hopes up for an extravagant Michelin-star meal. Be prepared to wait a little while (especially if the person in front of you has an elaborate saga of an order that comes straight out of telenovela) since things are mostly made-to-order. Smile and thank Dr. Hoover that he raised a good son like Jordan who is ensuring that good business practices are in place for a least another generation.
Hoover's Market - Sunflower Café on Urbanspoon

Ethos: Delicious but a limited variation when it comes to being vegan

I’m gung-ho about veganism more and more each day. Though I don’t think I can possibly ever wean myself off any dairy products completely (I love them), the concept of having more vegetables in my diet in general is something that I have grown to embrace and love. With this growing affection for meatless meals, I decided to try out Ethos for the very first time.

Although they have ‘chickun’ (a vegan substitute for the real thing) on their menu, I steered clear of that hocus-pocus. Rather, I chose meals that were overtly vegan or very close to it. Here’s what I ordered: Pecan- encrusted Eggplant served with asparagus, mashed potatoes and vegan gravy ($12.95), a Hippie Wrap with a side of fresh fruit ($6.95), and a Peak Pomegranate Wheat Draft Beer ($3.50).

The pecan-encrusted eggplant happens to be their signature dish- and it did not disappoint when it came to uniqueness. Not mushy as you would expect eggplants to be, the pecans imparted a crispy, dense coating a very thin slice of eggplant. However, for eggplant lovers, I would not necessarily recommend this dish as it was nowhere reminiscent texturally of eggplant. The red wine sauce was delicious and similar to a berry reduction in consistency. A little more of the sweet sauce would have rescued me easily from the relatively dry crust. I liked the vegan gravy which was slightly salty but flavorful and muddled with complex notes of earthy goodness. The asparagus, which was the vegetable-of-the-day for the dish, was sautéed in very rich-flavored oil.


The Hippie Wrap was a huge success. What was notable here is that the hummus was ground to such a fine, creamy consistency that it almost doubled as a dressing or an aioli! The dish was delightful from start to finish and was very finger-friendly. Lip-smacking good with wonderfully varied vegetable textures bomb-blasting my mouth all at once, I was beside myself. Sprouts, tomatoes, cucumbers, and that supreme hummus spread made this spinach-tortilla wrap one for the books. Simple in its structure and compactness, it is a revelation for anyone that may feign at the idea that vegetables can be boring.


I don’t review beers a lot, but Peak’s Pomegranate Wheat that they had available on draft was excellent. As you can tell from the blog picture, I couldn't control myself long enough to take a picture of a full glass of it. Not too pomegranate-like in flavor, it was floral and smooth. On a hot summer afternoon, this was a fine, cooling refreshment. For people that love Blue Moon or Shock Top, give this organic ale a try.


Even though Ethos is on the main thoroughfare of Fairbanks, it offers a surprisingly small selection of vegan ingredients that have been spun into different dishes. It seems that Ethos has pigeon-holed itself into a ‘comfort food’ cuisine niche rather than offering far more healthier options that veganism can encompass- think amaranth, lentils, or quinoa, for example. These ‘super-grains’ that are renowned to offer what dieticians consider ‘whole-protein’ options that are plant-based rather than what is typically found in meat. Curiously, Ethos does not offer them as part of their daily menu. This is boggling because the cornerstone of any vegan lifestyle is to supplement nutrient-packed meats with equally comparable plant-derived choices.

IN A NUTSHELL: The experience as a whole was delightfully satiating. The meal also didn't sit around in the stomach like a lump of meat usually does (maybe all that fiber IS good for you after all).  I suspected plant-based shortening was used in some of the dish preparations (especially the asparagus) which imparted a lot of flavor, but also some unhealthy saturated fats. ETHOS CAN BE BETTER BY OFFERING EVEN MORE NUTRITIOUS OPTIONS. However, it seems for now that they have resigned to a fate of diner-like staples that have a vegan twist (mac-n-vegan-cheese, vegan-cheese-calzones, etc.) which may be more appropriate for clients that are just trying a vegan lifestyle for the first time. I recommend this venue for first-timers or vegans that are taking their non-vegetarian friends out to dinner.

Ethos Vegan Kitchen on Urbanspoon

House of Pizza: Good food, hope they make it

I was a little dubious about this place. Reviews from previous customers led me to believe that there may be slow service and slow food turnout. It was relieving to note that even thought these claims may be true, they were justified when I visited House of Pizza.

I ordered 10 buffalo wings ($7.99) in the ‘extreme hot’ flavor, a large calzone ($12.99) with broccoli and mozzarella, and a large-size vegetarian specialty pizza ($16.95)

Freshly sliced peppers, sweet red onions, sliced black olives, fresh mushrooms and cubed plum tomatoes festooned the pizza in generous quantities. None of the ingredients overshadowed the other and although I would’ve preferred a fancier olive rather than the standard from-a-can variety, it was pretty tasty. The crust was neither too doughy nor too thin- something that I particularly liked. I thought that this would probably appeal to the masses by striking that delicate doughy line that almost everyone would find little objection towards. The pizza as a whole was not salty or overly seasoned- another bonus. It let the vegetables do all the talking. All in all, a pretty decent pie.

I was equally enamored with the calzone- especially when it arrived lightly glistening with olive oil, oregano, parmesan, and minced garlic that made for a very tantalizing picture (see blog post). The filling (any two toppings of your choice) again was simple and to-the-point where the ingredients talked the talk, and walked the walk.  A side portion of marinara sauce was good for the crusty crescent corners but otherwise unnecessary.

The only thing that I was not happy with was the hot sauce the wings were covered in. Rather than being supremely spicy (as advertized), it was somewhat spicy. The crushed black pepper used in the dish was SO much that it gave the entire dish a granular texture. I’m not sure if they were aiming for spiciness or pepperyness- but those two words are exactly the same. The side cup of ‘bleu cheese dressing’ was in fact more ranch than anything. The wings were cooked well and otherwise fair. On another note, I’m beginning to believe that many establishments in Orlando should discontinue the usage of ‘extreme’ or ‘hell’ or ‘death-wish’ when their spice levels are nowhere near that.

IN A NUTSHELL: It is important to note that you order at the counter, pay, and then sit down and wait for your food to be delivered. Not exactly smart for the waitress to earn her tips when no service has been given prior when paying for the bill with a credit card. They have a soda fountain accessible to guests so you can help yourself to whatever you want (note,  water and lemonade run from the same beverage line so let it run for a little bit before you grab water). The artwork on the walls indicate that the proprietors have some connection to New York City- yet I won’t go as far as claiming that this is a truly New York-style eatery by any means. The dough is made in-house and each ticket is made to order- therefore, it’s no wonder that it takes a little time to make each item! I like this establishment because it’s non-pretentious and what you see is what you taste. Located across from Gatorland, it’s my hope that this joint grows over time to improve on some shortcomings while retaining its overall food philosophy.
House of Pizza on Urbanspoon