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    The Restaurants at My End of the Universe Tampa Bay restaurants

Orlando Food Tours


My sister & I met in Winter Park yesterday for a walking food tour.  I had done one in New York years ago and it was a lot of fun, so we decided to check out what Orlando Food Tours had to offer.  We met our guide, Kiel, and the other ladies in the tour outside of Prato on Park Avenue at 11:30am to start our 3 hour tour.

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Prato is a modern rustic Italian bistro.  They weren’t too busy at 11:30am, but it sounds like you need reservations if you want to get in there for dinner.  There was bread & dipping oil on the table and we all dug in while our pizzas were in the oven.

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The bread was fresh and had an almost spongy texture which was perfect for sopping up the oil.  I was a little surprised that there weren’t an herbs in the oil.  Then the pizzas arrive.  First to the table was the Fiorentina.

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It had spinach, prosciutto, and fontina cheese.  All of the ingredients tasted very fresh and were very fragrant.  There was something in this dish though that tingled my tongue.  I don’t know if it was the cheese or the prosciutto, but there was a little spiciness there that I wasn’t expecting.  The second pizza was the “Widowmaker”.

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This one had caciocavallo cheese, a rustic tomato sauce, fennel sausage and an egg cooked right in the middle.  I loved the rustic tomato sauce.  It was so fresh and flavorful.  We took the middle piece with the egg, split it open & passed it around the table for everyone to taste.  The funniest thing was watching everyone trying to cut the slices from the pizza.  Our knives just couldn’t make clean work out of the crust.

Prato on Urbanspoon

Now that we all had our pizza fix, we walked over to Ancient Olive for our next tasting.  We were all a little hesitant at first because I don’t think any of us ever put much thought into olive oil or balsamic vinegar and certainly never went out of our way to taste different ones.  This tasting shop had an amazing selection of different combinations and flavors.

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James was our expert in the shop and he told us more than you ever knew existed about olive oil and balsamic vinegar.  We tasted two oils and learned that you taste the same way you would wine.  You take it in your mouth, breathe in a slurping sort of gulp of air and then breathe out your nose.  It was quite a sensation.  You could taste grassy or peppery notes in the oil.  He also said something to the affect of what you get in the grocery store is pretty much akin to lamp oil since its polyphenol levels  have degraded over time.  James also has one of those English accents where he could have been reading the phone book and we’d have listened to him for hours. This was by far the most interesting stop on the tour.  The shop is a tasting shop, so you can go in at any time and taste the different olive oils and balsamic vinegars.  James was a phenomenal host with a lot of knowledge to share.  They also have some other locally sourced products such as jams, honey, drink mixes and a bunch of other stuff.  We got to taste one of the black tomato jams over goat cheese, some locally spiced pickles and a local sourced margarita mix.

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The jam was really tasty.  Lots of flavors that blended wonderfully with the goat cheese.  It would be perfect over toast points or pita chips.  Yum!  The pickles were really spicy to me.  I tasted a couple of the other oils and was just amazed at the difference between these fresh oils and balsamic vinegars compared to what I’ve had my entire life.  There just is no comparison.

The Ancient Olive on Urbanspoon

After the Ancient Olive, we took a little walk through Winter Park and Kiel told us some of the history of the buildings.  We stopped outside of Casa Feliz which has an interesting history.

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This isn’t where the house was originally built.  Someone had bought the property and planned to demolish the home.  The city and a “friends” group managed to raise the funds to save the home and relocate it in its entirety to its current location.  It went through a restoration and can now be rented out for functions.  We walked back by and learned about the Morse museum and then headed into the Spice & Tea Exchange for our next food stop.

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This stop had some spicy hummus, which I didn’t try, but my sister really liked, a freshly brewed iced tea, and some blackberry salted caramel brownies that were divine.  I got a recipe card for those and plan to make them soon.  The shop has a large selection of spices and teas.

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There were things that I’ve only seen and heard of on the Food Network or in cookbooks and they were all there in the shop.  This shop as well as the others all had fantastic aromas as you walk in the door.

The Spice & Tea Exchange on Urbanspoon

We then walked next door to Orchid Thai Cuisine.  This was my favorite food stop.

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At this stop, we had chicken satay that had a peanut sauce with a strong lemongrass flavor that I really liked.  The chicken was tender, though it did not want to easily come off of the skewers.  We also had a sampler with spring rolls, dumplings, curry puffs, and golden purses which are similar to crab rangoons.  Everything we tried was fresh and flavorful.  The golden purses were the biggest hit at the table.

Orchid Thai Cuisine on Urbanspoon

We took a quick walk over to Central Park where we saw the last remnant of the original train station, then it was off to Kilwin’s for some dessert.  I got the impression that the staff forgot we were coming, but they quickly scooped out our sample of turtle fudge and ice cream.

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Kilwin’s has a nice selection of chocolates, fudge, caramel apples and ice cream.   The fudge and ice cream were good, but I think I would have preferred to taste one of their caramel apples.  Kiel said when there are at least 8 in the tour group, that’s what they sample.

Kilwins on Urbanspoon

Our last stop on the tour was Sassafras Sweet Shoppe where we got cotton candy.

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This is our tour guide Kiel before he handed over the sweet, sticky, strands of sugar.  I felt like this was a throw away stop on the tour.  The candy shop had some interesting vintage candy, but there’s nothing terribly interesting or food worthy about cotton candy.  For both Kilwin’s and Sassafras Sweet Shop, no one from the shop interacted with us.  What makes a tour interesting is the stories behind the locations and the food.

Sassafras Sweet Shoppe on Urbanspoon

Overall, though, we all really enjoyed the tour.  James & the Ancient Olive was the most interesting stop since he really engaged with the group.  I liked the food at Orchid Thai the best.  I’d definitely recommend taking the tour if you’ve got a few hours to spend walking around Winter Park.

Orlando Food Tours

800-979-3370

facebook/OrlandoFoodTours

twitter.com/OrlandoFoodTour

 

 

Food4/5
Service4/5
Atmosphere4/5
Value4/5
4.0/5

Big Crowd


We were in Ellenton today for a Mini car rally for Relay for Life and the final stop was at Woody’s River Roo.  The place was packed with their normal Sunday crowd, plus about 50 additional people from the rally.  Luckily, we managed to find a table in their small air conditioned indoor seating area.  With so many people there at once, our waiter told us the kitchen was backed up about 30 minutes, so our calamari & our lunch came out at the same time.

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The calamari was tender and tasty.  Some of the better calamari we’ve had in a while.  While Loren went for the blackened grouper, I tried their blue crab cake sandwich.  All the food was flavorful and cooked well.  We both felt that the ciabatta bun was too big for the fish & crab cake & we both ended up just eating it on one half of the bun.  The fries were crisp & tasty too.  We also finished off with a slice of cheesecake.

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For a plain cheesecake, it was pretty good.  The texture was smooth, the crust was firm, and it had a delicate flavor to it.  Overall, a tasty meal for $47.

Woody’s River Roo
5717 18th St East
Ellenton, FL
941-722-2391

Woody's River Roo Pub & Grill on Urbanspoon

Food4/5
Service4/5
Atmosphere3/5
Value3/5
3.7/5

It’s the Sauce


We went to an early movie this morning & then headed over to Johnny Grits for lunch.  It was a bit less crowded today than it usually is when we try to go on Sundays.  We tried to start off with some fried green tomatoes, but while we were waiting, the waitress came back to our table & said they were out.  She did, however, bring out a complimentary skillet of their black & bleu grits.

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Though it was a really nice gesture, neither of us like bleu cheese.  I wasn’t even going to take it, but Loren saw bacon on the grits and wanted to try it.  He pretty much ate around the bleu cheese, scooping up the bacon & grits (which were delish), but the pungent smell of the cheese was killing me.  As soon as the waitress came back to the table, I asked her to take it away just so I didn’t have to smell it anymore.

Loren tried to order the grouper sandwich, but the waitress told him it wasn’t good and to order something else.  She said their supply of grouper just wasn’t up to snuff that week and several people had returned the dish back to the kitchen.  We appreciated the honesty.  Instead, he went for the Rooster sandwich.

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It was grilled chicken with bacon and roasted red peppers.  He said it tasted good, but the lower bun was really soggy.  He also ordered fries which didn’t come out with the sandwich.  When they finally brought them out, they brought out sweet potato fries, so he had to send those back as well.  Eventually, he got his regular fries, which were right out of the fryer hot.   I’ve been on a grits kick lately, so couldn’t pass up the shrimp & grits.

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The thing that really takes this dish to the next level is the white wine creole cream sauce.  I’ve had their grits on their own and they’re good, but this sauce is what makes this dish something I’d order again & again.  The shrimp were perfectly cooked & the grits was creamy and delish.  I’m not a big fan of bacon in the dish, but Loren managed to scoop up most of it.  Though we certainly had some issues this time around, my taste buds went home happy.  Total bill with a drink was $21.

Johnny Grits
857 E. Klosterman Rd
Tarpon Springs, FL
727-942-4748

Johnny Grits on Urbanspoon

Food3/5
Service3/5
Atmosphere3/5
Value3/5
3.0/5

Salad Lacking


It’s been a while since we’ve been to the East Lake Cafe and unfortunately, this visit didn’t change our minds as to why.  I used to really like this restaurant, but the last few times I’ve been here, both the food and service left much to be desired.  Loren decided to try their International Salad.

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First off, he misread the menu and thought it had bacon, but that was the least of the issues with this dish.  The avocado was under ripe and rock hard and had to ask the waitress to bring him some he could actually eat.  They also don’t dress this salad with anything other than a light sprinkle of oil.  He asked for some balsamic dressing just to get over the dryness of the salad.  Though the individual components of the salad were good on their own; together, they just weren’t cohesive.  It had hummus, ricotta cheese, tomatoes, sun dried tomatoes, cucumbers, basil and pita bread.

I ordered the onion & mushroom burger with American cheese instead of the Swiss it came with.

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It was under done for a medium burger and lacked any seasoning whatsoever.  Just a really dull burger.  The waffle fries were good though.  Total bill with a drink was $25 and I doubt we’ll even bother to try again.

Eastlake Cafe
3430 Eastlake Rd
Palm Harbor, FL
727-772-0707

East Lake Cafe on Urbanspoon

 

Food1/5
Service2/5
Atmosphere2/5
Value1/5
1.5/5

Over Sauced


Going in, I think we knew this wasn’t the restaurant for us.  The Brown Boxer Pub & Grille is located where TGI Friday’s used to be over on US 19 near Countryside Mall.  They have a patio open to the restaurant and without someone to greet & seat us, we ended up grabbing a table out there.  That was our first mistake since we discovered part way through the meal that they allow smoking on the patio.  With TV’s throughout the restaurant, both inside & out, it was a rather loud experience as well.  We started off with what the menu described as “to die for” Sicilian meatballs.

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Three meatballs for $9 seemed a bit high and they were just ok.  Loren liked them better than I did, but even from the photo you can see how oily it was.  For his entree, Loren went for the blackened mahi.

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He said it was good.  The fish was fresh and the mashed potatoes were tasty even though they lacked the “hint of garlic” they were supposed to have.  I went for the BBQ pulled pork platter.

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Somewhere under all that BBQ sauce, there was pulled pork.  The amount of tangy BBQ sauce on it made it pretty much inedible.  I would suggest ordering the sauce on the side.  The tater tots were good though.  Overall, there was nothing about this experience that would make us want to go back.  Total bill with a drink was $42.

The Brown Boxer Pub & Grille
26111 US 19 N
Clearwater, FL
727-799-3000

The Brown Boxer Pub & Grille on Urbanspoon

Food2/5
Service2/5
Atmosphere1/5
Value1/5
1.7/5