Hurricane Grill & Wings

11048 International DrOrlando, FL 32821 • (407) 988-3530 • hurricanewings.com

As if Hurricanes needed a bad name this year between Harvey & Irma, Hurricane Grill manages to soil an already grim reputation calling into question whether or not tis better to starve or to eat food that makes you nauseous?

From fish tacos that have less flavor than the chair you’re sitting on (and probably about as clean) to disturbingly chewy, rubbery chicken fingers everything about this place is unsettling to the digestive system.

But if I had to say something nice about this poor-excuse-for-a-theme-restaurant, other than the fact that we survived, it would be a shout-out for the communal array of hot sauces. I honestly like the concept. Okay, there. I said it. Now don’t go.

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Vivo

Universal CityWalk® – Orlando 6000 Universal Blvd. Orlando, FL 32819 • (407) 224-3663 • https://www.universalorlando.com/web/en/us/things-to-do/dining/vivo-italian-kitchen/index.html?__source=ban.dfa.142900316;315030842;68637547

I know it’s ridiculous to expect much from a restaurant at Universal Studios, but with places like Flying Fish Café, The Brown Derby and Kouzzina over in Disney, I figured maybe the Yelpers were onto something. Well, more like “on something.”

And while the décor is quite stylish and the service is friendly, the food is exactly what one might expect. Overcooked short rib and pastas, so mushy it defeats the purpose that they apparently make it fresh every day.

It isn’t without it’s hits though. I found the fried calamari to be quite good. As was the bread pudding. But if you truly want great Italian, do yourself a solid and make a rezzy at Prato in Winter Park. Sure it’s a bit of a drive, but remember, you put this stuff in your body. Isn’t it worth it?

Oh! One last thing I almost forgot. If you should decide to eat here anyway, do NOT sit outside. There are speakers right next door that are so blaringly loud you can feel it in your ovaries. Even if you’re a man.

The Stubborn Mule

100 S Eola DrOrlando, FL 32801 • (407) 730-3400 • thestubbornmuleorlando.com
 

Something is definitely stubborn here and it’s not a mule. It’s the servers, who are apparently very stubborn about clearing plates, constantly bringing out dishes for the next course before ever clearing the previous, making the table crowded and unpleasant with all of the empty, eaten dishes. And every time we asked them to take the dishes back and clear the table first, they acted as if we had six heads. Is it just me? Honestly, you can tell me. I mean I know I’m stubborn- hell, I’m an Aires, but I think I was in the right on this one. Granted that’s a hallmark of stubbornness I suppose.

As for the food, it’s actually pretty tasty for the most part. My favorite dish being the Asian pork belly. Not light, but oh-so good. Essentially cubes of belly done General Tso style.

Other strong options are the mussels, the burger and the scallops, which are perfectly cooked and served over a bed of coconut rice with a dollop of Brussels sprout slaw on the side. The shishito peppers are also solid, but that’s a layup, to be fair.

The only miss prior to dessert were the fish tacos, served hopelessly bland and in dire need of hot sauce and salt to resuscitate them. On the upside though, at least they were salvageable, whereas the lava cake was absolute crap. So bad I think actual lava might’ve tasted better.

Don’t be fooled by the name, which is clearly trying to draft off the success of The Ravenous Pig. This place doesn’t hold a hoof to it.

Croissant Gourmet

120 E Morse BlvdWinter Park, FL 32789 • (407) 622-7753

Any place called Croissant Gourmet is either overstating their offering to lure suckers in (like me), or they are so unbelievably confident in their product that they didn’t spend more than five minutes thinking up a name for their bakery. Well, one bite in and I can assure you the reason is the latter, because their almond croissants are the stuff upon which empires are built. A flaky, almond, crescent-shaped masterpiece that would bring tears to Napoleon’s eyes.

Speaking of empires, that’s the other thing I love about this place. It isn’t one. And sadly that’s what 80% of Park Avenue has become, an outdoor shopping mall filled with chain store empires. Long gone are the charms of mom ‘n pops and boutiques. So please give the few stragglers all the love you can. Binge mightily on their croissants and perhaps one day that demand will help transform Park Ave. back into its glory of yore.

A word of caution: don’t eat too many croissants, not just for health reasons, but so that Croissant Gourmet doesn’t blow up and turn into a chain itself, because it would defeat the purpose.

The Ultimate Duck

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Cask & Larder – Orlando, FL

There is nothing quite like a Christmas ham, or should I say, there used to be nothing quite like a Christmas ham until Cask & Larder created their Christmas Miracle, the Duck Ham. Yes, naughty never tasted so nice. Faithfully emulating the pig that inspired it, the duck version, like any good apprentice, surpasses the master. Guess you could say it is the ultimate “Angry Birds” revenge. Served over a bed of nutty faro, the contrast between sweet and savory and earthy is like getting everything your mouth had on its wish list.

Elan – New York, NY

As if it weren’t bad enough that the duck muscled in on pork’s turf with the Duck Ham (above), now the bird is going after the cow. Perhaps this is retribution for the long-running Chick Fil A campaign? Well, whatever the reason, Elan’s duck & foie gras burger puts about 98% of your cow burgers in the city to shame, save the Black Label and the Bash. Admittedly it’s more of a hoity-toity burger, but if hoity-toity tastes like this, who gives a cow’s ass? Also, if you’re really into self loathing or simply find that you’ve been too healthy lately and want to swing the pendulum in the other direction, I highly recommend getting it with the Bearnaise sauce and a fried egg, coz you’re gonna die anyway, might as well do it with a smile on your face, because as the famous Long Island philosopher Billy Joel once said, “Only the Good Die Young!”

Mizuna – Denver, CO

There is an old saying, “Fuck a Duck.” And albeit crass, I finally understand its true meaning, because if ever there were a duck I would consider for such a bestial act, it would probably be this one. Granted it’s also dead so I suppose I’d be committing necrophilia at the same time. Oh my, has this review gone off the rails. I started with Christmas and now I’ve devolved into doubling down on sexual deviance. Well, getting back to it (assuming I haven’t already lost you), this duck, served with with foie gras dirty rice, is a Cajun masterpiece like no other, with the two poultry-born indulgences teaming up to make a buttery counterbalance to the spicy grains. It might just be the best thing a duck has achieved since Daffy.

 

 

 

Tommy Bahama Restaurant

9101 International Dr. Ste 1200 Orlando, FL 32819 (321) 281-5888tommybahama.com

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I know. I know. Ferocious, what in the hell are you doing eating in a clothing store? And a fairly cheesy one, no less! Well, it might surprise you to know that what their clothing lacks in taste, they make up for with food. Stop laughing. I’m trying to be serious here (for once). The food is actually pretty impressive and all hand made to order.

At the start, I found their bread to be just okay on its own, but the butter they serve it with makes it a worthwhile event. It’s made with cinnamon, nutmeg and honey.

The best thing of the meal for me was the coconut crab cake with thai chili. I know everyone on Yelp swoons about the coconut shrimp, but let’s be honest, how hard is it to nail as a dish? Have you ever had a bad one? Crab cakes on the other hand, are more of a skill test, especially this far from Baltimore. But consider this test aced, because it was friggin awesome. Spicy and sweet. Crunchy and tender. And much lighter than one might think.

On the heavier side, but also very good where the Chicken “Lollipops” rolled in hazelnuts with a jerk remoulade. I’m not exactly sure how you can call a drumstick a lollipop, but I’ll forgive them because they were also pretty damn-tastic.

Down from there, I stole a bite of the crab and avocado salad and found it to be decent, but not quite as nummy as the mentions above.

And the only miss for me was the ahi tuna taco appetizer, served on fried wonton shells with spicy mayo drizzle that was more drizzle than spice. That said, if you ask for a side of that thai dipping sauce from the crab cake and dip the tacos in them, then you’re talkin’.

Being that we were quite full at this point we opted for a half portion of the key lime pie to share and while it is also pretty good, it does fall a touch shy of great, because it lacks the necessary tartness that true key lime pies should have. Luckily it doesn’t go too sweet though either.

So skip the Hawaiian shirts and the tuna tacos and you are poised to have yourself a Bahelluva good meal.

3 teeth

Bosphorous

108 S Park Ave. Winter Park, FL 32789 (407) 644-8609 bosphorousrestaurant.com

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Considering my wife is Turkish and I visit Turkey for a few weeks at least once a year, I would say I’m a pretty good judge of Turkish cuisine. Therefore, by the power vested in me, I pronounce Bosphorus to be the real McCoy. One bite and you feel like you’re sitting in Istanbul enjoying mezes (appetizers) and sipping raki (anise Turkish booze). Everything is as authentic as it gets and once upon a time it was pretty damn good too. But ever since they opened a second location in Dr. Phillips, the food at both has slid downhill. Particularly at the Dr. Phillips location. So if you if you’re going, head to Winter Park instead.

That said, there are still a few things that remain strong, like the lavas (a giant puffy bread) with cacik (yogurt mixed with garlic and herbs), the lahmacun (ground lamb flat bread: pictured), the babaganoush and humus. The rest is sadly a shell of its former self, from the oily mucver (zucchini pancakes) to the flavorless okra dish to the adana kebabs that are not very adana (spicy).

But at least the staff is still very friendly, so if you need additional guidance, feel free to let them show you around the menu. Also, two things; I recommend going with three or more people so you can try lots of different things and second, don’t go if you are in a rush. Turks like to take their time and so should you. Besides, it’s not good to eat too fast. And yes, I am your mother.

3 teeth

Yellow Dog Eats

1236 Hempel Ave. Windermere, FL 34786(407) 296-0609 • yellowdogeats.com
 
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Located in Gotha, wherever the hell that is (technically Windermere)- just plug it into your nav and you will find this shack de barbecue that apparently a lot of other people seem to have found as well, because the place gets packed fast. Hence why they have two large, dirt parking lots around back, which is still not enough to hold all of the cars during a peak mealtime rush (obviously a lot other people know where Gotha is, that, or they also have navigation systems). And while all of this attention seems like a good sign for greatness, I can’t say Yellow dog hit it out of the park.

I dig the vibe though. An oasis unto itself, with a terrific outdoor seating area, complete with live music and mosaic tables. Inside the shack itself, it’s counter ordering style with laminated menus that are loaded with some of the best names I’ve ever seen in a restaurant. Names like What the Fig?, The Holy Crap, Hong Kong Fooey, The Thin Elvis, White trash, and my personal favorite, The Pig with Benefits.

Of the ones I’ve tried, I had to go purist and start with the Dog’s Famous Pulled Pork. “No tricks. No weapons. Just skill against skill alone.” (a movie quote for all you pop culture buffs). And while it is most certainly good, I can’t say I’m in love with their Fish’s Gold BBQ sauce. It’s a little too sweet for my tastes and whatever else is in it doesn’t quite net out as spice for me, falling somewhere closer to tang, which is an “also ran” in my eyes when you’re up against heat.

And speaking of heat, I have also done me a Fire Pig, which kicks things up a notch with the help of Srirracha, but I still can’t say it’s amazing. Definitely better, because the heat helps balance the sweet a bit, but in the land of pulled pork this doesn’t even pull a top twenty on my list.

There’s fun for the kids as well, with sammies like the Fluffy Love. Basically a peanut butter and banana with marshmallow whip, but not the jarred crap, the real homemade deal. It’s also just okay, however (Yes, I stole a bite from my three-year-old daughter. And yes, I’m a horrible father). One caution though, it’s messy as all get out. We’re talking marshmallow in the hair and peanut butter up the sides of the face like Heath Ledger as The Joker. And that’s just me! My daughter needed power washing! Told ya I was a bad father. So bad, in fact, that after this debauchery, we even shared a slice of coconut cake, but sadly that was the nail in the coffin for Yellow Dog, because once again they delivered below expectation.

All in all, Yellow Dog is a fun adventure, if you simply crave solace from hotel food and/or the Disney scene. But I would definitely keep the expectations lower than the Yelp star count. There’s much better BBQ to be had in Orlando, not to mention better sandwiches. Just not better names for them.

2 teeth

 

K Restaurant

1710 Edgewater Dr. Orlando, FL 32804(407) 872-2332kwinebar.com

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Having spoke lovingly about Cask & Larder and Highball & Harvest (I have a thing for ampersands), I was told K put them both to shame, so naturally it became a moral imperative for me to visit K and see if the chef could put his menu where his mouth is. And at the onset, things seemed very promising, I liked the décor inside and out. It’s located in a house with a charming wraparound porch for the outdoor seating and inside it was equally charming and warm, with just the right hint of modern.

I also thought our waiter was excellent. Knowledgeable and passionate about every dish, not bashful with the recommendations and as an added bonus, he was studying for his level two sommelier exam so he was Johnny on the spot with the suggestions on vino. In fact, he didn’t stop there either, bringing out a few extra freebie pairings along the way, to help some of the dishes shine. And help shining they most certainly needed, because not one single dish was amazing and many were underwhelming.

Starting with the better half, I would recommend the K filet, cooked spot on medium rare and perched on a tasty brick of au gratin. But truth be told, the au gratin really made the dish, so a bit of a backhanded compliment on this one.

The heirloom tomato salad was farm fresh and mighty all righty. The beet salad was also nice, but both salads are very common dishes and neither were inventive, so I’m not about to climb a mountain to espouse their praises.

Next up, the deviled eggs were very good, done with a clever recreation of bacon bits, but having just had the best deviled eggs in my life less than a year ago at a place called Libertine in Indianapolis, I found it hard to swoon too much over these.

And last but not least, the pork chop. Just barely making it across the mid-line, it was two inches thick in a preparation that made it flavorful, with sweet potatoes at its side and a red cabbage slaw on top. Sadly, its own flavor was a bit lost due to the fact that it was a hair overcooked and therefore on the dry side.

Now for the rejects, and some of these are going to come as a shock to the K faithful. The shrimp and grits, while served in a nice barbeque sauce with some good kick, actually wound up backfiring in my opinion, because it overpowered everything in the dish. The shrimp were two small to hold up and the meager portion of grits didn’t do much better. As a result, the dish tasted more like a bowl of spicy barbeque sauce with chunks. Maybe they were going for a variation on etouffee? Well, they choked. Get it? Etouffee means “to choke.” …At least I amuse myself.

Speaking of choking, the crab salad over fired green tomatoes (pictured) was so far beneath the one at Highball & Harvest I think K should have to stop serving it out of principle. And whoever dared to compare the two dishes- I’m not going to point fingers or call anyone out by name (my mother), should be absolutely mortified.

And while we’re busy taking things off the menu, let’s also nix the mahi, which was overcooked and absolute crap. But even worse was the gnocci, tasting like a bowl of mush drowning in a sea of over-preparation.

Now the smart money might guess that we cut our losses at this point and passed on dessert, but never let it be said that I always do the smart thing. Besides, this is for posterity and a sacrifice I was willing to make for you, my followers.

Of the three we tried, the French toast bread pudding was the clear winner. The peanut butter cake would be a distant second, partly because it deserves it, but also because I’m not the hugest fan of peanut butter in the dessert form. Not sure why, but I’m sure it’ll come out one day in therapy. And last, and actually least, the budino was lame-o.

A tough call between two and three knives, but I’m going with a rare lean toward the positive, mostly because of the service. That said, K is definitely more of a C in my book.

3 teeth

The Hollywood Brown Derby

Disney’s Hollywood Studios • Walt Disney World Resort • Lake Buena Vista, FL 32830 • (407) 939-2267 • disneyworld.disney.go.com/dining/hollywood-studios/hollywood-brown-derby

hollywood-brown-derby

Ever since I used to work at Disney’s MGM Studios (now Hollywood Studios) as a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle, and yes, that sentence just came out of my mouth, I have always wanted to eat here. Widely considered to be the best restaurant in all of the theme parks combine (not including hotels).

Well, some 25 years later, and no longer a turtle, I finally made it to lunch here, and I’m happy to report that it was worth the wait. Well, at least the food is, the service quite annoyingly slow. But after waiting 25 years, what’s another hour, right?

In terms of décor, while fake to the bone like all things Disney, it still passes as MUCH nicer than any other restaurant in all of Disney, hotels included this time, with the only exception being Victoria and Albert. Set to make you feel like you are back in the 50’s, eating at some Hollywood movie star favorite, the Derby delivers an experience that truly rivals The Palm. Granted I don’t love The Palm, so perhaps that isn’t saying much.

Now on to the grub! Which is more surprising than learning that Mickey Mouse is more often than not played by a girl. For example, their waygu beef burger holds its own amongst many of the so-called best burgers in the country. Topped with gruyere, pastrami, Cognac mustard and a fried egg this crazy-ass messy burger will take you right to the threshold of embarrassment as you will meld with this bun-filled beacon of beef like you were soul mates. Also, it comes paired with a beer called La Fin du Monde, which I also highly recommend for the melding process. It’s a French Canadian tripel, which means it’s a very strong ale… which means 9% alcohol… which is nearly twice that of a regular beer… which means you’ll need a nap later.

And equally impressive, but vastly different was the andouille crusted chicken sandwich with smoked bacon, white cheddar and veggie slaw all sitting on an onion Kaiser roll.

Now I’m not about to run back to Disney again anytime soon, but if I do, this will be higher on my list than that 3-D Buzz Lightyear shooting game, which really is quite fun, I have to admit.

4 teeth