Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Don Pepe's Habana Grill

P1010746
So this last sunday Me and the Photographer went to a cuban restaurant called Don Pepes Habana Grill. I choose this place because it was a single location family owned operation, and surprisingly was close to my home as well. Since Dan did not come with us due to family events (a wedding) I will just dive right into the review.

The approach for the actual location was really easy. Its right on the corner of SR 434 and 436, in the Kohl's shopping plaza. It is its own stand alone building however, not part of the strip mall. Once we got there we found the outside of the place was designed to look like some sort old style fort in my opinion. You take a look and you tell me. Regardless, once we got inside we found the place to be kinda dark with an interesting interior style. The inside of the dining area was designed to look like the alleyway of a village, with the walls being made up to look like houses. It was rather unique. In fact, one of the support beams was made up to look like a palm tree, complete with coconuts!

So we were seated, and our waiter appeared, who was named Jason. Although he said to pronounce his name as Hasson (that's how it would be spelled as he pronounced it) and that he was the only Gringo there. Those are his words not mine keep that in mind! We placed our drink orders and waited for him to return which was fairly quick, and then ordered our food.

P1010732For appetizers I got Empandillas (pictured left), which are pastries filled with meat. I got the mixed plate so I got a couple of beef filled and a couple of chicken filled. The photographer got Chicharrones de Pollo which were like chicken tenders mixed with hot wings with a tasty Mojo sauce for dipping. That mojo sauce was amazingly good. I sadly forget what was in it however. We also ordered our actual meals at the same time. I found the Empanadillas very soft and flaky, with a tasty filling. I prefered the beef filled over the chicken but both were exceptional. I also had a piece of the Chicharrones and found that to be very good as well, and the mojo sauce went well with both actual bites of food.

For my actual meal I got a classic hispanic dish, Arroz con Pollo, which is basically chicken in a yellow spanish rice mixed with some veggies. I ordered it all White Meat due to preference, and when it came out I stared in mute amazement. It was ALOT of food. Also the chicken was still on the bone rather then chunked up like I assumed it was going to be. The chicken was moist tender and flavorful, and the rice was killer. P1010734I ended up taking half of it home and giving it to my wife, who also enjoyed it. It also came with these 2 things called maduros, which were overripened sweet fried plantains. I actually liked those! I have never had plantains before so this was a treat to be sure.

Finally, for dessert I looked to my waiter Jason, who suggested, after I told him what I was doing, to go with a truly classic cuban experience. Flan with Cafe Con Leche. So I went with it. Let me tell you, I have now discovered that I am a not a flan person. Not my thing, not at all. I didn't like the texture nor the taste. The photographer had some and assured me that it was excellent flan, but it was for sure NOT my thing. But that is of course a personal preference. The cafe con leche was very good, and I actually drank all of it, which is odd considering I am not a coffe person.

All in all I fully intend to return to Don Pepes Habana Grill, and I fully intend next time to order paella. Turns out you can special order that, takes 45 minutes to cook, and feeds like 2 people. I have always wanted to try paella. Should be fun.

Ambiance/Style - Exceptional
Service - Exceptional

Appetizer - 4
Entree - 4
Dessert - 4 (even though I personally did not like it)
Overall - 4 (Will return again!)

For more information including a menu and directions, please visit their website.

Habana Grill on Urbanspoon

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Shakers Cafe

So today, on my own again, I visited a small local cafe called Shaker's Cafe. I had actually just purchased a brand new camera last night and really wanted to try it out, which prompted me to visit this location alone. It also helped that I was hungry and that since the place was not open on Sunday's neither Dan nor our usual photographer would be able to join me. Ah well.

Sadly I was unable to get a shot of the outside of the location as it sits right on the main drag of Edgewater Drive. Located south on Edgewater Drive just a bit before its intersection with Highway 50 in Orlando, the Shaker's Cafe is a small family owned American cafe. And when I say small I mean SMALL. The place could only hold at max about 50 people. Some of the tables, including the one I sat at, are extremely close to other tables. I assume that this is for ease of pushing the two together. But I digress.

The actual approach to the place isn't bad but all the parking is in the rear of the building. In fact, I got kinda confused trying to find the way to the parking lot once I found the place. Upon entering I was immediatly seated, and found the place to be quaint and kinda quiet. There was not an empty seat in the house once I sat down, and for the total hour I was there, it stayed that busy. So the locals nearby seem to love the place.

shakersmealI sat down and checked out their menu, which showed that they served both breakfast and lunch, and they closed at 2pm. My waitress came over and took my drink order, which was a really tasty class of fresh squeezed lemonade (they also had fresh squeezed apple juice, which is the first time I have seen that). When she came back I ended up ordering a Rueban with Pastrami, a cup of Vegetable Beef soup, and a side of potato salad. I didn't get a picture of the soup, but thats no major loss. Now, as you can see in the picture I got a bag of potato chips with my meal, which surprised me as I did not see that indicated on the menu. Had I known that I might have skipped the potato salad, which is that odd shaped scoop of white on the right. The potato salad was nothing special, but the texture was...unique. Like a combo of mashed and chunked potatos mixed with the standard potato salad mixture.

The soup was fairly standard, and while I could tell it was homemade and was loaded with veggies and some barely and the like, the flavor was sadly bland. I wouldn't order it again. Thankfully they change their soups daily depending on what they have on hand apparently. They had a crab bisque, a butternut squash soup, and a hungarian beef and cabbage soup as well on this fine day.

Now, on to my sandwhich. It was a fairly standard pastrami rueban. Once again, nothing special, but not bad. It was a bit smaller then I would have liked (the Perkins ruebans are bigger then this one, and a bit cheaper but not by much) but this one was made of higher quality meat in my opinion. My only issue with it was that the meat and saurkraut combined caused the bottom piece of bread to be kinda soggy. The chips were standard chips as you can see.

shakersdessertFinally I ended up getting some dessert. They had a few different options but what I was in the mood for was Carrot Cake, and they had some available and were actually touting it as the "special" dessert. I ordered a slice of it (To the right) and when I got it I stared. The thing was HUGE. I mean, it was bigger then my sandwich! Sadly however, it was not that great. The cake itself was kinda dry due to being kept in a nearly freezing case which I could see. Furthermore, they used really finely shredded carrot in the cake, which bunched up in spots and caused it to taste VERY odd to me. Kinda like I was eating a raw vegetable but with some other tastes mixed it. It tasted...dirty. Thats the only why I can describe it. When I ate the parts with frosting it tasted fine, except when I ran into those clumps of carrot.

All in all the Shaker's Cafe is a decent enough joint, small and quaint. And if you are curious about the name, its because they have hundreds of different salt and pepper shakers lining the walls around the cafe.

Ambiance/Style - Adequate
Service - Adequate

Soup - 3
Entree - 3
Dessert - 2
Overall - 2.5 (possibly revisit later)

For more information please visit their website.

Shakers American Cafe on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Dexters of Winter Park

So Dexters. I shall let our reviews speak for themselves here. We have a "guest reviewer" this time around: our Photographer! She actually wrote a review this time. So without further ado, here we go.


OutsideDex


Clay:

Ah Dexters. I had high hopes for this place, as my trainer at work, Amy, recommended it glowingly. Given the menu and items listed I figured it would be a fairly decent place to go. In some ways my assumptions and hopes held true, and in others they were dashed upon the cold hard rocks of reality. Yes I am being all melodramatic, but hey, its the mood I am in right now.

Regardless, there were good and bad things about Dexter's, but I shall do as I usually do and start off my review with the approach. Dexter's is located just down the street from Fiddlers Green of all places, in historic downtown Winter Park. Or at least the branch of Dexter's we visited was. There are actually 3 total locations: Winter Park, Thorton Park, and Lake Mary. The actual parking and approach were not too terribly bad, but we did run into an issue involving street repairs and I had to take the long way around. Regardless, we found public parking directly across from the cafe and were able to enter.

beingfancyThe outside looked fairly nice, to me at least, and the inside wasn't too bad at first. I noticed quickly that the hostesses all wore very fancy dresses, while the waitstaff was in shirts and jeans. I found this combination to be kinda of...odd. This was the first of many oddities that I encountered, style wise, with this place. We were quickly seated however, and after browsing the menu and the special brunch section our water came over and took our drink orders.

On to oddity number 2 for me. Our drinks came out in fancy champagne style glasses. While this may be the standard considering that this is a wine bar, I found it strange that they would put water, diet coke, and regular coke in these fancy glasses. We also noticed that the people sitting on the porch outside who ordered orange juice had the same glasses. Perhaps they only have the one type of glasses but hey, I felt kinda fancy with this glass!

Our waiter then came back after about 10 minutes to take our order. Now, originally I intended to order 2 things: An omelet and stuffed french toast (which Dan ended up getting anyway). However, after I told him what I wanted in my omelet he seemed to assume that was all I wanted and went to Dan, cutting me off. Thankfully Dan got the french toast so I could try it. He left, and we sat there and waited.

And waited.

And waited.

trifleAfter what seemed like 15 minutes he finally came back around and filled our drinks and I had the chance to order some soup once I found out that it was a Chicken Soup. Our waiter kind of worried me when he told me he was not sure what was in the soup though beyond chicken and some shell pasta. Now, I am picky when it comes to soup (I believe I have mentioned this before) so when it came out I was quite happy with the look. It was very rustic looking, with uneven chunks of chicken and veggies, and even an actual full bay leaf floating around. I took the bay leaf out and took a bite and found it to be excellent! Hey, things were looking up, I thought. This soup was killer. The smell was so good that both Dan and the Photographer ordered a bowl when he returned 5 minutes later.

After about 5-10 more minutes he brought our , and then about 5 minutes after that the soup for the photographer and Dan. Now my omelet, which had Andouille Sausage, Cajun Chicken, Pepper jack Cheese and Caramelized Onions was good. I was also pleased with my home fries, which were nice and full of potato flavor. The omelet was prepared in a fashion that our Photographer calls western, where the eggs were fluffy. Overall, the soup and actual meal was good.

However, during service our waiter started out acting pleasant but as the meal went on he got more and more...tired looking. As if he did not want to be there, and barely could hide his displeasure. He obviously did not want to be there nor serve us. This came to be really obvious when after our meal we needed a refill on our drinks (all 3 of us) and we could see him just chatting with some guys over at the bar. our Photographer stared at him, he looked right at her, and just kept talking for a minute. He then came by, kinda mumbled something about refills, then went OUTSIDE AND REFILLED EVERYONE ELSE before coming back to us. Service with a smile? Not likely! I kept an eye on the other servers and they all seemed to have that vacant "I don't want to be here" expression when they were dealing with their tables, and there was very little talking from them to the customers.

Finally we ordered dessert. I won't go on too much about the Cheesecake, as Dan and the Photographer have gone into a very lengthy description of it. I will talk about my Berry Trifle. It was good for my first foray into the world of Trifles... but it was most assuredly NOT $7.50 worth of good. I mean seriously, it was a tiny little tower of some berries, cream, and cake. Thats it. Nothing special about it. I am sure that the fact it was "marinated" in a wine had something to do with it. Had I known that dessert was that much I would never have ordered it.

dexcielingNow finally I will talk about the biggest problem I had with the actual decor. The ceiling. Sounds strange that I would have an issue with the ceiling right? Well here is why. The walls and the entrance and the art hung on the walls all spoke of a refined gallery dining experience. However, take a glace up and you run into exposed wiring, air ducts, and sprinkler systems. All coated in insulation and spray painted black. The actual air vents for the air conditioner are set in these huge pipes and are dusty, and there is a skeleton where ceiling tiles (the kind you find in most offices) should be hung but are not. This really bothers me as I worry that dust and insulation could fall from the ceiling at any moment. And its just freakin tacky. The bathroom was even stranger. The decor in the bathroom had NOTHING in common with the main room, and the color scheme was just... odd. Green walls (deep forest green) along with orange brown stall doors, and the toilet paper hung out on the tanks of the toilets? What the heck?!

In the end, the food was good. However the service, ambiance, and strange disharmony of decor struck a chord with me, and it was not a good one. While I am willing to give Dexters a second chance, it will not be that location.

Ambiance/Style - Fail
Service - Fail

Soup - 4
Entree - 4
Dessert - 3
Overall - 3.5 (Might visit a Different Location)

Dan:

frenchtoastThe "french toast" that came was actually 4 pieces that had no resemblance to sliced bread. The plate had them arranged in a bunch with a nearby cup of syrup, some raspberries, and the plate overall was covered with a handful of powdered sugar. Each piece counted for two bites and the bites had a tangy and genuine raspberry taste. The syrup lasted through the dish and there was some to spare. I give this a 4 because there could have been more for what it was.

There was a Homemade chicken soup that I ordered prior to the french toast and it contained carrot slices, some potato and bay leaf. The soup arrived hot and had real grilled chicken in it. I finished the whole thing and had nothing bad to say about it.
I give it a 5.

The dessert was something I wasn't very impressed with.It was Key Lime Cheesecake. There was a presentation to be made here. Unfortunately, our camera person's order of the same thing showed that Dexter's does not hold consistency to be a high priority. My pie had no strawberry while the other one did. At a price of $7.50 (The price was nowhere on the menu. ) this is no mere oversight. Also, the raspberry sauce had a alcohol taste to it, when the description does not state this. If it truly had alcohol content in it, that would be devastating to people who react negatively to alcohol. The Key Lime and cheesecake aspects of the dessert did not complement each other at all. screwymenuI had to finish it by force of will rather than finishing it naturally.
The dessert gets 3 because the concept was believable but the execution left me slightly disappointed.

The ambiance was nice on the outside, it was brick on the outside with small tables. The tables inside were the same. The ventilation was exposed on the ceiling and the ceiling itself was messily covered with insulation. The interior, being a majority of the dining area, is something that can't be left dirty like that. Ambiance gets adequate.

The service, well... the waiters just didn't seem like they wanted to be there. Their enthusiasm was low and we found ourselves at the end of our glasses for more than 5 minutes at a time. I also spotted a lot of them chatting in a corner of the restaurant and our camera person had to stare directly at one of them to bring a little service to the table. The service was adequate considering the amount of people there.

I kinda don't know if I want to return to this place. Luckily, there are other locations and it might have just been a bad day. But my bad day could easily be your bad day as well. This is why I am being truthful today.

Ambiance/Style - Adequate
Service - Adequate

Soup - 5
Entree - 4
Dessert - 3
Overall - 4 (Might Return to a different Location)


Photographer:


barYou don't know me, but I'm the Furious Photographer - the hand that holds the camera and records the Furious Foodies' journey. Normally I'm just along for the ride, but this week I'm furious. Our destination was one of the three locations for Dexter's. I liked the place, mostly. The art hanging on the walls was nice, the chairs, while wooden, were more comfortable than the benches at Fiddler's Green. It had a nice atmosphere to it, despite the paint-it-black-and-they-won't-notice naked ceiling. The waiter had a forced-cheerful demeanor, but that's pretty normal for servers. I'm sure Clay's raved enough about the omelet, so just imagine that times two. I got to taste the stuffed french toast, and I'll vouch for it being everything Dan said it was. The soup was fabulous...in fact, I ordered a bowl after smelling Clay's and it was every bit as good as it smelled - and I normally don't like soups. After the bowls were cleared away, and we'd placed orders for more water and some key lime cheesecake, I was cheerfully contemplating coming back to try the dinner menu at a later date.

Then it took five minutes to get a refill on water - after watching our waiter refill water for people outside - and another five for the dessert to come out. By this time, the waiter no longer pretended to be cheerful and he never did the usual 'swing by the table and ask if every thing's okay'. But eh, says I, a bad waiter doesn't ruin the restaurant, I'd still come back. keylimecakeSo my key lime cheesecake arrives, with its artful puddle of raspberry sauce beneath it. Now, I don't drink. I don't like the taste of alcohol, and both of my parents have some unusual sensitivities and reactions to the stuff. I like bread pudding. I got bread pudding at Fiddler's Green, and mostly liked it. I would have tried the chocolate bread pudding here, except for the mention of a liqueur being one of the ingredients. So I went with key lime cheesecake, which mentioned nothing of the sort. Imagine my displeasure, then, when I took a bite to discover that the raspberry sauce now soaking the Graham cracker crust was, in fact, laden with booze. I do not appreciate being lied to. If the menu had told me that there was alcohol in the sauce, I would have ordered it without sauce - or, if the menu had listed the price of this deceptive dessert, I might have passed entirely. When the waiter came by with the checks, I asked about the sauce and got confirmation that there was, inf act, alcohol in it. Of course, he prefaced his answer with "I'm not really sure, I'd have to ask the chef," but I've made my living talking to people for three years now and I've been on both sides of that evasion. He knew that there was booze in that, and he knew I wasn't happy about it. So yeah. Expensive dessert that has a fairly significant ingredient that's NOT MENTIONED. I'm never going back to that location again, and even if we go to another location of Dexter's, I won't be paying an arm for any of their desserts.

Ambiance/Style - Adequate
Service - Adequate

Soup - 5
Entree - 4
Dessert - 2
Overall - 3.5 (Might Return to a different Location)

For more information, as well as directions and a menu please visit their website.

Dexters of Winter Park on Urbanspoon

Saturday, October 4, 2008

The Jazzy Dog Cafe

So today, I decide to take a little "surprise" adventure by myself to a small hot dog joint I found online called the Jazzy Dog Cafe. Sadly since I was alone I did not have my handy dandy photographer, so there are no pictures. Anyway, on to the review.

Firstly, upon reaching the actual location of the cafe I ran into a conundrum. Where to park? The cafe itself was right across the street from the local Amtrak station, and I was not able to park in the lot for the station. I drove around a bit and found that there was curbside parking near the cafe, but it was meter parking. Ah well, I popped $1.00 into the meter and got 1 hour 20 minutes of time. (Just a note, I spent only 30 minutes in the actual cafe).

Once inside I found I had to use the facilities, and found them to be very neat and clean. Once I was done and able to actually look around, I found that the place was quaint and well kept. I was greeted by an older woman and I found that she was one of the two owners. The other I met as well but she was off to cater a party. I sat down and was given a menu, and ended up ordering 3 things: The Jazzy Dog, which is their signature dog, a baked sweet potato with brown sugar, butter, and sour cream, and a knish.

The Jazzy Dog itself was a Sabrett dog with Blu Cheese Coleslaw and Sweet Potato mustard on it, and it sits in a pretzel roll. Sounds interesting doesn't it? I was determined to eat this, despite my reservations. I mean honestly...Blu Cheese Coleslaw and Sweet Potato Mustard? Who on earth came up with this?! Turns out I was in for a treat.

The hot dog, with all its components, is probebly one of the best hot dogs I have ever eaten. It was unique, and tasty. I devoured it first and foremost, ignoring my other options. It was THAT good. The beefyness of the dog went well with the sour of the slaw and the sweet of the mustard. I was just...amazed.

Next I dove into the Baked Sweet Potato. I have never had one of these, and with the toppings I chose (the Sour Cream, butter, and brown sugar) it came out tasting very sweet but not too sweet. It was kinda like a tasty dessert. It was well made and was definitly a fresh sweet potato.

The knish disappointed me. Its no fault of thiers, as the knish is a direct import from the Coney Island Knishs (as in the import them from the same company that makes the Coney Island knishs) but it just wasn't my thing. I should have asked for the greasless frier so the outside would have been crispy rather then...chewy. The taste was there but it just wasn't my taste.

All in all the Jazzy Dog Cafe was terrific, affordable, and very very unique. I got to chat with one of the owners the whole time I sat there, and the meal only cost me around $12, which considering what I got was a steal. (I got a drink which was $1.50 of that). Will I ever visit there again? You better believe it.

For more information please visit their Myspace Page.