Tag Archives: bradenton

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!

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Jose’s Real Cuban Food: 8799 Cortez Rd. West. Bradenton, FL

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sangriaplantainspaella 2

My father invited a bunch of us to meet at Jose’s for dinner a couple of weeks ago. Bradenton is a trek and a half from where I work, but since a few family members were in town visiting, it was definitely an invitation I didn’t want to pass up.

When we pulled into the parking lot, it really looked like a dive. Knowing that my father doesn’t mess around about awesome food, I trusted that looks would be deceiving and it would be a great meal. Apparently, Jose’s was featured on Diners, Drive-ins and Dives not too long ago. Ever since then, the local devotees are probably a little pissed off that the secret is out.

My dad had pre-ordered the paella, sangria and plantains for all of us so as soon as we sat down, everything was on it’s way out. The sangria was poured and I immediately noticed how different it looked from the sangria that’s served in most (way less authentic) places around here. It was a rich, dark purple-brown and had a wonderful cinnamon flavor to it. It tasted much more complex, with spices and different layers of flavor, than the fruit-juicy mixes I’m usually served.

The HUGE tray of paella was incredible looking. The menu says it will feed 8. There were 8 of us and we ended up taking almost half a tray home with us, and we are all pretty good eaters. Piled on top of a mountain of rice were mussels, lobster, shrimp, chicken, and sausage. The amount of food was really pretty insane. It seriously was enough for at least a dozen people- then again, we DID each have a side of plantains, so maybe without that we could have made a bigger dent. The plantains were delicious. Crisp edges, perfectly cooked, slightly caramelized. This side dish really could have been dessert.

There really wasn’t enough room left for dessert, but we were all dying to try the flan. We were only slightly disappointed when we were told that there wasn’t any left. We were really ready to go anyway, all feeling pretty sleepy from carb overload. I guess they felt bad that they were all out because the next thing we knew, they’d brought over a bread pudding for us to share. We all silently groaned looking at a dense, bread-y dessert that none of us really wanted or had space in our stomachs for. We each had a bite, and frankly, it kind of tasted like a heavy muffin wet with caramel sauce. Not really my thing, and not worth trying to stuff it in my already too-full belly.

Overall, the whole meal was really quite good. I’d love to go back to try some of the other dishes on the menu- especially the black bean soup, which the menu claims is ‘the best in the world’. I actually believe that might be true and will have to make a point to go find out!

 

 

Captain Brian’s Seafood Market and Restaurant: 8441 N Tamiami Trail, Sarasota, FL

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My parents told me about Captain Brian’s a long time ago as the place to get the best (and most reasonably priced) lobster around. After picking up Gabriel’s brand new car at Honda nearby in Bradenton, and before going to spend a fun day at the Ringling Museum, we decided it was the perfect opportunity to try it out for lunch. We parked and went in to find a restaurant and fish market with very dated decor. There is a great, big, fish tank smack in the middle of the room, dark wood tables and chairs and light peach tablecloths and booths.  The rest of the patrons were mostly 70+ years old, and seemed to all be regulars. We were seated in a booth right away and the very warm and welcoming waitress brought us ice water and menus.

We looked over the menus which were filled with great sounding lunch options for around $8-$13 each. Most of them come with a side or two, and I was happy to find out that one of them could be the salad bar. I LOVE salad bars. I easily made my choice of a lobster roll which came with steak fries and cole slaw, and I went up to get my salad. The salad bar was small, but full of fresh lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, chick peas, potato salad, pasta salad, cole slaw, beets, olives, and more. I could probably have made a lunch of that pretty easily but saved room for my highly anticipated lobster roll. It came out soon after I finished my salad and was bursting at the seams with huge chunks of lobster. I’m used to paying far too much for a skimpy rolled filled with more mayo than seafood and this was a VERY pleasant surprise. The lobster itself was amazing. Sweet, perfectly cooked, and lightly dressed with mayo. The roll fell apart almost immediately, but ‘too much lobster’ is really not a reason to fault a falling-apart roll in my book. The thick cut steak fries were a great side, along with the fresh cole slaw.

After we polished off our rolls, we decided to split the banana split pie, mostly because I’m a sucker for a dessert I’ve never had before- and especially when it includes fudge and ice cream in a chocolate cookie crust. It had very thin layers of sliced bananas on top of the crust, then 3 flavors of ice cream, then a thin layer of ooey, gooey, sticky, delicious fudge, and then whipped cream on top with chocolate shavings to complete the deliciousness. YUM. We cleaned our plate super fast with this one.

I must say again that our waitress was really friendly, sweet and warm. I felt like a regular even though this was our first visit. With service like that, it’s no wonder that people return over and over again. I’m sure we’ll be back soon, certainly not for the old-age home type decor, but absolutely for the great service, fair prices and wonderfully fresh seafood.

Carmel Cafe & Wine Bar: 8433 Cooper Creek Blvd. Sarasota

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The novelty of a menu on an Ipad instead of paper is certainly amusing, but my first impression was that it was probably going to end up as the only impressive part of Carmel Cafe & Wine Bar. I’m happy to say that I was wrong with that assumption, and that the food was better than expected.

Gabriel and I went in for a late night dinner after yoga class when there’s not much open and restaurant choices are limited. We were seated right away and given our Ipad to browse through. After scanning through pages of options for small, sharing plates, we decided to ask our waitress for some suggestions and advice. She told us that the flatbreads, salads and a few other dishes were the standouts, and that we should start with one or 2 two plates with intent to order more as we went along. We took her advice and started with the Grilled Lemon Chicken & Artichoke flatbread with arugula and parmesan (deliciously chewy, crisp and full of flavor.  I especially liked the candied lemon peel on top) as well as the Red & Yellow Roasted Beets with goat cheese, watercress, arugula, toasted pistachios and a vinaigrette on the side. I adore beets, so this was an obvious pick, and it didn’t disappoint at all. The roasted beets were slightly sweet, not over-cooked at all, and beautifully colorful with the greens. The combo of lettuces and nuts with the cheese and beets was wonderful- both in their flavor and texture.

When were near the end of those 2 plates, we sent our next order via Ipad to the kitchen. I must comment that the turnaround time is super fast, and you really can order plates and expect to get them in 5 minutes or so. It makes me wonder if everything is precooked and just reheated when you order, which isn’t great, but still- the food tasted pretty darn good. Our next order was the calamari & cannellini with herb marinade, pomodoro, and pancetta and the meatball lollipop pomodoro with fresh pomodoro sauce. The calamari was ok- but I didn’t love it. I do adore calamari in general, but somehow, even with the nice assortment of herbs, this lacked flavor. The meatballs were also kind of boring, nothing special- even though the waitress had recommended them as a favorite. We were still a bit hungry after finishing those 2 plates and decided to order one final one. We settled on the chickpea fries with tomato jam (YUM) and curry aioli. I have to say this was a big hit for me. What a cool concept to have crispy, crunchy fried outside with a creamy, melty, hot, inside of chickpea puree. I really loved the sweet and tangy tomato jam that it came with and the adorable Jenga-like stack it was presented in. I polished off more than my fair share of this plate.

Overall, this was a fun experience with better-than-average food. It’s a great option when you want a meal later than most places are open. We have yet to try the wine pairings and the desserts, but intend to soon. The atmosphere is also very cool and hip- especially for Florida. (sorry Florida) The one thing we struggled a bit with was what to tip. The waitstaff definitely have it pretty easy here and tipping the full 18% that we usually do didn’t feel right. We went with 15% instead and hope that was ok. Fun place for a date or a meal with a big group- these are definitely sharing plates and that’s one of the main reasons I really enjoyed it.

Gyros & Seafood Express: 918 N. Washington Blvd, Sarasota, FL

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Yes, it’s true. I am writing a review for a fast food place. Is that totally ridiculous? No! Not when it’s fast food that’s actually real food! Not when it’s fast food that doesn’t mean greasy burgers and soggy fries!

I met my dad here for a quick lunch after he had told me what a great option it was and I’m very glad I did. For $6, you can have a grilled fish sandwich (I had basa, which I’d never heard of but liked), a drink (which, in my case was a 1/2 iced tea, 1/2 lemonade- one of my favs) and a side salad (just iceberg, tomatoes, cucumbers, and onions- nothing special, but not bad). You get your fish on a fresh roll (and a pretty good sized piece of fish at that), and 10 minutes later, you have finished your relatively healthy meal, and are satisfied without feeling that typical post-fast-food feeling.

If you’re in a rush and starving, this is a great choice at a great price. I’m sure I’ll be back and will probably try the tilapia, the grouper, or the shrimp next time.  I also found out they are planning to open a branch in Bradenton which will definitely come in handy for me since I live near there. Thanks G & S!

The Ranch Grill: 14475 State Rd 70, Bradenton, FL

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Gabriel and I were house hunting today and found ourselves starving for lunch and in an area that didn’t have many restaurants around. We turned the corner and found The Ranch Grill and figured we’d just go there and hope for the best. We were seated right away in the mostly empty restaurant (it was a pretty odd time for a meal) and before we opened our menus, I decided to check out Yelp.com for reviews. Uh oh. 1.5 stars. Not good. We were too hungry to care and decided to disregard the poor ratings since only 3 reviews had written entries. Generally speaking, unless there are 20 of more, I don’t really take the ratings to heart. I figured I would just have to see for myself.

The menus had a lot to offer, and after asking our friendly waiter about side salads, we were informed that we could add a side garden or caesar salad for $2 to the $8 appetizers we planned to order. Perfect. We chose the chicken quesadillas and the chicken cordon bleu bites to share and each ordered a garden salad.

Everything came out quickly, and I especially liked the slope-y, lopsided bowls that the salads came in. The apps were presented in a colorful and appealing way, looking and smelling delicious. My bleu cheese dressing was noteworthy with it’s large chunks of cheese, and the salad ingredients were very fresh and crisp. The chicken bites were hot and melty and although there wasn’t a ton of chicken in them, the honey mustard dipping sauce added a nice flavor and coolness to the cheesy snack. The quesadillas had great texture  contrasted by the creamy, cool guacamole and sour cream and we gobbled every bit up, including the diced peppers that adorned the plate.

Overall, for $20 we had a great lunch and had already planned to return…This plan was reenforced when later on in the day, when I looked at their Facebook page, I just so happened to find a dealsaver.com deal for $10 for $20. What a weird coincidence…Well, better late than never. I immediately purchased the coupon so that we could return for a repeat lunch someday soon. Very satisfying indeed- and even more so for half the price!

 

 

 

Salute!: 23 N Lemon Ave, Sarasota, FL

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My family and I went here for dinner tonight after our first attempt had an hour long wait and our 2nd attempt was closed. Salute has a great outdoor eating area with available tables and we were seated right away. Our waiter came over with menus and went over the specials. None of us wanted to order cocktails so we just asked for flat water. I also asked if, when he had a moment, he’d bring over some lemon for the water. When he came back to take our orders and to bring us bread and dipping olive oil, I again reminded him that I wanted some lemon. When he came back a third time to bring us our appetizers, I asked him for a third time for some lemon. Finally, he came back with 3 slices of lemon (for our table of 4. Hmmm) and my water glass was, by then, empty. Big fail. The bus boy overheard me complaining about the timing of this and re-filled my glass. Ok. Better late than never.

For my app, I shared an arugula, endive, radicchio salad with Gabriel. It came with a creamy balsamic dressing and shaved parmesan. Very nice and fresh, but kind of on the boring side.

For my entree, at the suggestion of our waiter, I ordered the chicken parmesan with penne. It was a great portion sized- very manageable and not overwhelmingly large which I appreciated. The chicken, however was totally overcooked, stringy, dry and unimpressive. The sauce and cheese on top were mediocre at best. I’ve had better chicken parm at a diner.

For the prices here, I would not return. Just a few nights earlier, we went to Cafe Baci for the same price and MUCH better food. I guess you’re really just paying for the lovely outdoor seating here and not much more.

Oh well, they can’t all be winners.