Category Archives: florida

Brooklyn Biscuit Tortoni: Born in Brooklyn, based in Florida, available at many fine dining establishments!

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tortoni When the chefs behind Brooklyn Biscuit Tortoni asked me if I would help them out by taste testing a few different versions of their product, I rolled up my sleeves, took a deep breath, and decided that out of the goodness and generosity of my heart, that I would grant them that favor. It is precisely moments like these that remind me of that cliche, “Do what you love and the money will follow.” While there isn’t paper money involved here per se, delicious tastes of dessert are worth way more than dollars as far as I’m concerned.

I grew up in New York, where it was common to see tortoni on just about every pizza place or Italian restaurant menu. The choice was usually tortoni, spumoni, or cannoli, and given the option of dried, candied fruit and nuts in spumoni (yuck) or ricotta cheese filling of a cannoli (Um, ew. Why would I want cheese and carbs for dessert after presumably eating cheese and carbs for dinner?), the choice was always clear to me. Add a single-serve sized paper cup that meant I didn’t have to share, a maraschino cherry and almond cookie crunchies on top and well, who could pass that up?

I didn’t realize until many years later that at some point I stopped seeing these delightful treats on menus. I didn’t even realize how much I missed them until this dessert duo brought it to my attention by offering me a taste of their version of this classic.

The first sample I had was creamy, cold, sweet, and sparked so many memories for me that I simply forgot to slow down and savor each bite. It was gone before I knew it and I was clearly NOT wearing my culinary taste-tester hat that day. I would definitely require another one to be able to give helpful feedback.

The second sample was a different story. I was mentally prepared to take small bites and really let all five senses tune in. The crisp cookie crumbles on top were my favorite part. They are blended throughout the cup giving a slightly granular feel and keeping that almondy flavor consistent from top to bottom. I saved the cherry for last, as I always do with any cherry-topped dessert, and it was a wonderful last juicy bite.

The taste is very similar to ice cream, but more like frozen custard with a slightly eggier quality to it. It’s sort of like someone melted one of those yummy, toasted almond, Good Humor popsicles, re-constituted it, used better quality ingredients, and then perfected that concept in a cup version. It was *almost* the perfect tortoni, but for me, someone who has a serious sweet tooth by the way, it was actually too sweet overall. Now that did not for one second mean that I left even one drop uneaten, it just meant that I actually had something other than a full rave to come back to the creators with.

And so, that brings me to the final version. The chefs tweaked the original recipe that they used by reducing the amount of sugar and the amount of crumbled almond cookies by nearly half. They brought me my third and final sample. The moment of truth. I used a small spoon so as better to slow my bites down and to allow me to savor every delectable taste. Now this is perfection. Creamy, sweet but not-too-sweet, crispy, almondy, cold, and just the right portion size (although I could admittedly eat 2 or 3 of these easily- I really shouldn’t).

This is a memory in a paper cup. A great memory…and now one that can live on in the present instead of only a distant past. Bravo!

You can have your own “creamy, dreamy, taste embrace” too! Find them at Mozzarella Fella, Solorzano, Don Giovanni’s and MANY more restaurants coming soon! Follow their Facebook page to see where they are going to pop up next! https://www.facebook.com/brooklynbiscuittortoni

And if YOU want to carry them in your restaurant, contact the chefs via their website for wholesale information:

http://www.brooklynbiscuittortoni.com/

Mexicali: 7303 52nd Pl E Bradenton, FL

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mexicali chips:salsamexicali my meal not deep fried chimi seafood

 

On the recommendation of a friend, Gabriel and I decided to stray from our go-to Mexican place, Mi Pueblo, to try something new.

We were happy to see that chips and salsa were complimentary since Gabriel has been known, historically, to walk out of a few Mexican restaurants where they charge extra for this staple.

We told the waiter that we are pescetarian (and then explained what that means) and asked him for suggestions. It turned out there were quite a few good choices for us on the menu- and most under $12. Sounds good to me!

I ordered the seafood Chimichanga (stuffed with shrimp, lobster, crab meat, portabella mushrooms and mixed cheese.  Wrapped in a Garlic Herb Tortilla with Cilantro Sherry Cream Sauce, salsa and guacamole)  but asked that it not be deep fried as the menu described it. He said that was no problem and told us both we had 2 options for the beans, but then corrected himself and said only one was vegetarian and that he would make sure that’s what we’d both get.

The food came out quickly and looked awesome. We each started with a taste of the beans which were a little on the salty side, but pretty tasty anyway. Gabriel offered a taste of his beans to me- and I said, we got the same ones, didn’t we? I then noticed that his looked totally different and called it to the attention of the waiter. He immediately looked embarrassed and said they looked different because apparently someone in the kitchen didn’t get his message that we both wanted the vegetarian option. Gee thanks…Gabriel was pretty pissed that he’d just had a bite of beans cooked with pork. The waiter apologized- sort of, but really just blamed the kitchen staff instead of taking responsibility for it.

Other than that, the meal was really quite good. My chimichanga had tons of flavor from all of the different types of seafood and big pieces of portabellas. The rice was not cold or overcooked (one of the only things I don’t like about Mi Pueblo) and the salsa and sauce that I asked for on the side was fresh, full of fresh, pureed cilantro (which I LOVE) and very flavorful.

Overall, I thought this was a great lunch with plenty of options for us non-meat-eaters and I will definitely be happy to go back.

 

 

 

S’macks: 2407 Bee Ridge Rd, Sarasota, FL

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s'macks

Arghhhh. TOTALLY unacceptable! I ate an awesome lunch here and completely forgot to take photos. Darn pregnancy brain. I will definitely need to go back asap to have the same meal again so I can provide the lovely, mouth-watering pics that should go with this entry. Please forgive me!

Anyway, It was a GREAT meal! My father had recently stopped in and raved about the custard. He is like me in that when he finds a noteworthy meal or food, he basically insists that you take him seriously and go try it for yourself. Luckily, I am not one to deny the man the pleasure of passing on a new and delicious discovery to someone else.

I stopped in and was pleased to find plenty of vegetarian options on the menu. I was also really pleased to see that almost all of the ingredients on the menu are locally sourced from farmers in the area. Very cool- and especially cool to see the map on the wall showing where each ingredient comes from.

I easily decided on a portobello mushroom with a slice of provolone, pickles, ‘S’macks’ sauce (which is basically a kicked up mayo), lettuce, and tomatoes all on a yummy potato bun. I also ordered a side of fries and a lemonade.

As I went to sit down to wait for my order, the owner was walking around passing out samples of their coconut custard and I couldn’t possibly turn that down. WOW. Super creamy with that hint of coconut threaded texture, just the right amount of sweet, the perfect temperature and consistency. Dad was right, it’s sooooooo good. If I hadn’t already told myself that the fries were the indulgence I was allowing myself today, I would totally have ordered a cup of the custard after I ate lunch.

So then my meal arrived at my table looking amazing. The portobello sandwich was perfect- juicy mushroom, not drowning in cheese and sauce, topped with pickles and the fresh veggies that I requested. The fries were crispy and hot, crinkle cut, and super fresh. I was going to have this with my lemonade, but the owner brought me some peach iced tea that was refreshing and ice cold and it went really well with my meal..so I alternated between the two drinks.

Even though I was stuffed at this point, how could I turn down the incredible coconut/chocolate shake he also brought over when I was done eating lunch?? I was only going to have a sip to taste it but….Well, the end of that story goes as predictably as you’d imagine.

Overall, I am DEFINITELY a fan of S’macks and will surely be back soon. Actually, today is my day off from work and writing this entry up has sparked a craving…so I may just make it over there later today. Give it a try!

 

 

Happy Dragon: 11161 E rd 70 #102, Lakewood Ranch, FL 34202

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stale crunchy noodles happy dragon shrimp roll and shrimp with mixed veggies happy dragon


 When I opened the bag of ‘crunchy noodles’ and found VERY stale ones instead, I was worried that this was a bad sign about the meal I was about to eat. Luckily, this was the ONLY part of the meal that I wasn’t impressed with. This little restaurant has turned out to be a very pleasant surprise in Lakewood Ranch. Most Chinese restaurants around here really stink..but the food served here (except for the crunchy noodles) is SUPER fresh, cooked to order, and quite delicious. My husband and I order take-out frequently from Happy Dragon and have been consistently satisfied with everything we’ve tried. Nothing is drowning in sugary, over-seasoned sauces or oil. They take a lot of pride in serving only fresh ingredients- nothing from a can or frozen….so while you may be bummed that there are no baby corn or black straw mushrooms, I am happy knowing that the ingredients they cook with are the same as the ones I’d choose to use at home. I especially love the shrimp and eggplant in garlic sauce and the Mei Fun with vegetables. YUM. This is a great go-to place when you want Chinese food without the typical ohhh-I-wish-I-hadn’t-eaten-that feeling that usually comes an hour later. BRAVO Happy Dragon..We will see you again soon!

Oasis Cafe Mediterranean Cuisine: 4246 South Tamiami Trl Sarasota, FL

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oasis cafe I had a craving for falafel a couple of weeks ago, so I headed for the one place I know of to get some for lunch, a little cafe called Zante Gyros on Superior Ave. When I got there I was surprised to see it was gone. Out of business. Kaput. Bummer! I was already short on time on my lunch break and quickly checked Yelp for another choice close by. I found great ratings for Oasis, and drove over.

I arrived to find a small, casual, take-out cafe with a few tables and booths to sit at. I ordered a falafel platter with sides of Mediterranean salad and Tzatiki. It came with pita and 4 pieces of falafel.

It was all pretty good, but nothing spectacular. The pita was regular, store-bought pita. When you’ve had homemade, fresh, warm pita (like the kind they have at Pyramida in NYC), that makes just about everything else shy in comparison. The tzatiki was alright- but it was a bit tangy for my liking, and there wasn’t enough chopped cucumber in it. The falafel and salad were good and made fresh to order.

Overall, I might go there again in a pinch, but I think I’ll keep looking for another one that’s even better.

 

 

Sal’s Pizzeria & Pasta House: 6582 Gateway Ave Sarasota, FL

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saladsals pizzaEither I’ve lived in Florida for long enough that I’ve forgotten what real NY pizza tastes like, or I just found a GREAT place for a slice here! Given that it’s still less than 2 years since my big relocation, and factoring in the total number of slices I ate while living in NYC for 5 years, I’m pretty sure that I can still consider myself a fair pizza critic, and this passed with flying colors. This is not a gourmet, fancy, brick-oven slice, this is a true, NY style, fold-over, crispy crusted, melty cheese slice. Just a good, no-frills, plain, classic cheese slice- and exactly what I wanted.

The salad was nothing particularly exciting, but did include a fresh veggies (carrots, lettuce, tomatoes)  and olive slices, and my side of blue cheese dressing was above average with decent sized chunks.

For $4.99 to get a slice of pizza, a soda and a salad for a quick lunch was a great deal.

I will absolutely be back! Thanks Sal’s!

UPDATE August 1 , 2017!

I’ve been continuing to go to Sal’s whenever I’m in the area for the last few years and was SO excited to find out that they are now making cauliflower crust pizza. It’s a real pain in the ass to make at home, and I don’t have a pizza oven to really give it the perfect texture. Well, this did NOT disappoint. At around $13 for a small/personal size, I wasn’t even able to finish half on my own so I would say, for the amount of effort that has to go into making it, it is WELL worth the price.

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Lavanda: 1938 Adams Ln Ste 105 Sarasota, FL

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shrimp salad lavandascallops lavanda

The setting of Lavanda is lovely. The restaurant‘s wrap-around porch in the Towles Court Arts District is one of the most peaceful places to eat in Sarasota. It’s almost charming enough to not notice that we are, by about 35 years, the youngest people dining here. It was my birthday, and Gabriel had taken me, by request, to this restaurant that I’d heard so much about.

For someone who reads and writes reviews as frequently as I do, it is no one’s fault but my own that while the overall ratings for Lavanda are excellent, I ignored the fact that it’s simply not my taste. My favorite meals are inventive, exciting, unique. The food at Lavanda is classic, traditional, boring, bland. As soon as I looked over the menu I was concerned. Nothing on this list sounded at all inspired or new. This is the kind of food that feeds (and impresses!) the over 70 crowd who remembers old New York eateries for it’s dimly lit, stodgy, upper crust predictability and not for it’s cutting edge, melting pot, thrilling creativity.

I started with a half-size appetizer. (something worth noting is that I really appreciate half-sizes as an option. I often want a taste and not a filling first course) Steamed large shrimp over baby spinach, artichoke hearts, mandarin slices and toasted pine nuts drizzled with tahini tamarind dressing. The shrimp were large and fresh and the salad itself was a nice mix of flavors and textures- especially the fresh mandarin orange wedges and creamy dressing. There was nothing wrong with this salad- but I did not expect that it would be the best part of my meal. Gabriel had the warm mozzarella with tomato sauce started and I was not particularly impressed. This was not fresh, homemade mozzarella from what I could tell- and if it was, they should really take some brush-up lessons from the amazing owners at Mozzarella Fella on Main St. The tomato sauce was fine- but nothing special. The extra bread they brought us after we’d finished the 2 warm rolls they’d allotted us, was cold.

For my entrée, I had the scallops sautéed with cream, Amaretto and almonds with mashed potatoes and an odd spinach/chick pea side. Who puts chick peas with spinach on the side of scallops and mashed potatoes? That was just a very weird choice that really didn’t go with the meal at all. The scallops were fine- the mashed potatoes were good, the spinach side was just nothing but strange. Overall, it’s not that the food was bad, it was just so totally hum-ho, boring, sleepy, uninspired.

For dessert, we shared the lemon souffle and frankly, it was not worth it. I am VERY much a dessert person, so when a dessert makes me say ‘meh’, you know it’s pretty bad. The souffle was denser and wetter than it should have been, the flavor was more bland, than lemony, and the whole thing had nothing at all interesting about it. Just total blah. Let’s go home to have some ice cream instead.

 

Shore Diner: 465 John Ringling Blvd, Sarasota, FL

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shore beet salad with grilled shrimpThis is definitely the most awesome atmosphere in St. Armands Circle for a drink and a meal. A young, hip crowd, healthy, interesting menu, and really cool decor make this feel like a true gem in the area. When you walk up the shell-covered stairs, the first thing you see is the green, living wall with the name of the restaurant and a giant set of utensils centered in stainless steel. This roof top restaurant has a retractable roof on one side, a covered middle and an open air front. Waitstaff is attractive and dressed in trendy attire, and very attentive.

We were just there for a light lunch, being that I’m getting married (!!!) in less than a week and didn’t want anything too indulgent. That said, there were plenty of choices to suit my tastes and I happily ordered a salad with beets, pistachios, grapefruit and goat cheese with the optional addition of grilled shrimp. It came out soon after we ordered, and was lovely to look at and to taste. The flavors all worked so well together, and it was exactly the light, refreshing, delicious lunch I was hoping for. I will be sure to tell all of my friends who are visiting from afar next weekend that this is a great place to visit in between wedding events! Fantastic! 

 

 

Rev.el.ry Pub & Grill: 3005 University Parkway, Sarasota, FL 34243

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revelry 2revelry 1revelry 3revelry 5revelry 4revelry 6 When we got a val-pak coupon for this new restaurant in our area we were really excited because on the coupon it exclaimed things like: “vegetarian options!”, “organic herbs!”, “wild caught fresh seafood!” We thought for sure we would have tons of healthy, non-meat related, locally sourced options. Sadly, once we looked over the menu we quickly realized that was not the case. There was a grand total of ONE vegetarian option on the main courses section of the menu- and it was vegetable curry. There was also ONE veggie sandwich option and 2 vegetarian pizza options. I don’t know about you, but personally, if I want curry, I’ll go to an Indian or Thai restaurant. I am not really interested in going to a ‘Rustic Pub and Grill’ that specializes in burgers and wood-fired pizzas and then ordering a curry dish. Humph. We thought, well, luckily, we are pescetarian…surely there will be wonderful fish options. There was ONE. It happened to be the one type of fish that neither of us really like, and one of the most expensive choices on the menu. Womp womp. We decided we’d be best off ordering some small apps and salads to share.

When we found out that the chef makes all of the cheeses there, we decided to try some dishes that highlight that. The 2 salads (house and jewel) we shared were both very good- even if not totally exciting. They were full of  fresh veggies, homemade cheese (mozzarella and goat) and really outstanding citrus vinaigrettes (one was lemon and the other orange and they both had bright, fresh, fruity flavors to them).  Soon after we finished our salads, our waitress brought us out some beer biscuits which were moist, crunchy, lightly sweet, and soooooo good. The fact that the rolls came after the salads was kind of odd, but better late than never.

At this point, I mentioned to the waitress that I’d love to meet the owner/chef- who is apparently also from NY. This is a new restaurant, and as a blogger who loves to hear the backstory of a vision like this, I always try to get a chance to chat with the person who dreamed it up. I was told that she was there and would be told that I’d like to meet her…but that was the last I heard of it. She was apparently hanging out in back and couldn’t be bothered to come say hello. The manager did come say hi, but honestly, meeting him really wasn’t what I was looking for. Oh well….I guess a little blogger like me isn’t important enough to greet personally.

Next, our avocado and gulf shrimp cocktail came out. It was a total disappointment, nearly drowned in a mayo-based sauce. The shrimp were plump and cooked well, but the goopy sauce totally ruined the dish. There were 2-3 tiny pieces of avocado- not the chunks that the menu description promised. The tuna tartare was similarly ruined, swimming in too much soy sauce. Raw tuna is such a wonderful consistency and covering it with the soy seemed to turn it into salty mush. The flavor that it carries naturally was overpowered by the sauce and I honestly couldn’t even eat my half. The presentation was lovely, but a dish should never look better than it tastes.

Our fifth and final dish was the redeeming factor. The homemade almond crusted brie was glazed with apricot and served with crispy ciabatta, blackberries and apple slices. It’s melty, oozy, warmth was full of flavor and creaminess. We seriously cleaned that plate in record time and kind of wished there was more- although the portion was perfectly generous.

It was clear to us that this chef’s real gift is in her ability to make outstanding homemade cheeses. Knowing that now, I might consider going back to try the pizza- although it really wasn’t what I was in the mood for at this visit. It also makes it’s even weirder to see a curry option on the menu, and I’d suggest to the owner that maybe that veggie offering should be reconsidered. Maybe a baked veggie parmesan dish would be a better choice where she could really show off her cheese skills instead of diving into the unrelated curry territory. Don’t get me wrong, since I didn’t even try it I realize there is a possibility that it’s great…but seeing it on a menu where it really didn’t seem to belong was just sort of off-putting.

Overall, the atmosphere really does have an upscale sports bar/pub kind of feel to it. The lounge area is cozy with couches and a fireplace, and If I liked sports and/or beer, it would have been really appealing. As it is though, I really just like food…and that wasn’t good enough to make me ooh and ahhh over Rev-el-ry. Maybe it’s worth trying one more time after they’ve been opened for a year or so…Maybe they are still ironing out the kinks since they’re pretty new. I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt this time, but there is definitely quite a bit of room for improvement.

Krispy Arepas: 8196 Tourist Center Dr Bradenton, FL

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Krispy arepas, plaintains, mushrooms and garlic:cilantro saucearepas with plaintains, beans, mushrooms, avocado, tomato, cheddar and pico de gallogarlic:cilantro sauce and avo:pico de gallo saucedulce de leche cookie. dulche de leche cookie side viewWOW. Great ethnic food 5 miles from my house!?!?! I’m SO frequently surprised about stuff like this, but really shouldn’t be anymore. So far, we have found amazing Indian, Thai, Vietnamese, Greek, Mexican and now Venezuelan (although apparently it was recently sold to a Peruvian owner so there will be some changes soon) food, all within 10-20 minutes from where we live in suburban, cookie-cutter, pristine, totally non-diverse, Lakewood Ranch, FL.

We were both feeling a little bored of our stand-by dinner spots, so after a hard workout, we decided to give Krispy Arepas a try. I’d read a ton of great reviews online, and it sounded like the ‘something different’ that I was craving. We walked into the neon-green painted, brightly lit, fast food restaurant. It’s got a little flair with cute, little, real and fake painted cactuses and alpaca dolls on high-up shelves.

There were a few other people in there waiting- as we were told that fresh Arepas were being made and it would be about 10 minutes until they were ready. We asked the friendly guy behind the counter to tell us a bit about what Arepas are and he explained that they are sort of like a corn flatbread that are stuffed with various ingredients commonly found in South American countries. As non-meat-eaters, we were happy to see that the choices for us were plentiful, with plantains, mushrooms, beans, cheeses, avocados and other various veggies and sauces. Seeing how hungry we were, he gave us a small plate of mushrooms, plantains and a couple of the sauces to sample while we waited for the Arepas to be ready. It was actually more than 20 minutes later that we got the signal that it was finally time. He had felt so badly about the long wait that he also gave everyone who was waiting there a cup for free drinks…very nice of him, and that along with the snack more than made up for the long wait.

We had him fill our freshly cut-opened arepas with pretty much everything non-meat that could fit in there, and realized that we’d basically made them impossible to pick up and eat. No problem, thats’s what little plastic forks and knives are for. We sat down and dug in to the little pockets of flavor and both loved them right away. Exactly what we wanted. A big step away from the norm, and an exciting blend of new flavors. The sweet, soft plantains, the creamy avocado slices, the cool pico de gallo and the AWESOME green, garlic, cilantro sauce combined with cheddar cheese, sauteed mushrooms, tomatillo sauce and black beans filled the crispy, chewy corn sandwiches with wonderful texture and flavor. These LOOK like they may be too small to fill a hungry belly but nope, not at all. We were full and happy by the time we cleared our plates.

But wait, what’s that?? A fresh powered sugar homemade cookie filled with dulce de leche? Okay. I guess we can fit one of those in too. It wouldn’t be fair to write a review without a taste. Yum. Crisp powdery cookies with a creamy, sweet, salty center? Nothing bad about that.

We will definitely pay another visit soon- most likely on a Wednesday when it’s 50% off. You really can’t beat dinner for $5 a piece ($2.50 a piece on Wednesdays!!!), especially when it tastes this amazing.