When thinking of where to get great Mexican food, Chicago probably isn’t the first city that comes to mind – but it should. Thanks to Rick Bayless and XOCO, the quick-service restaurant he opened in the heart of downtown, the way Chicago does Mexican food has been changed forever. The restaurant offers a variety of tortas (Mexican sub sandwiches), caldos (Spanish soups), empanadas, churros and housemade hot chocolates. All of which are unbelievably delicious! 

We arrived at XOCO around 7 pm and waited in line for about 30 minutes before ordering and finding seats. It was a very busy night but all the servers were remarkably friendly and more than willing to help get anything we needed including drink refills and additional utensils.

We started with an order of their chicharrones covered in Tamazula hot sauce and añejo cheese. I’m not sure why I haven’t had these tasty items together before but I sure wish I had! The hot sauce provided great flavor, balancing really well with the saltiness of the crunchy chicharrones - absolutely worthy of a visit all on its own. We also ordered their Almost Naked Guacamole – a definite must! Without a doubt, some of the best guacamole I’ve ever had – it was creamy and seasoned beyond perfection and served with freshly prepared chips. Their wonderful tomatillo and 3-chile salsas came served alongside their brilliant gauc, so good you will want to drizzle them over everything. The 3-chile provided an ideal amount of heat and the tomatillo had a delightful tartness. You have to literally force yourself to move onto your entrees. But don’t worry, they are also fantastic.
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Chicharrones covered in hot sauce and anejo cheese
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Guacamole with tomatillo and 3-chile salsas
For my main course I ordered their signature sandwich, the Ahogada Torta. Crusty toasted bread is stuffed with tender, juicy flavorful pork carnitas, black beans and spicy arbol chile sauce all swimming in a rich tomato broth – absolutely flawless! There’s no surprise why it’s on every Best-Of List including Food & Wine’s Best Sandwiches in the U.S. To wash down all this marvelousness I ordered one of their addictive limonadas – the ideal combination of sweet and tart. Make sure to ask for a refill in a to-go cup on your way out. Trust me, you’ll regret it if you don’t!
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The Ahogada Torta
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The Addictive Limonada
My lovely companion ordered the Cubana Torta. It consisted of smoked pork loin, bacon, black beans, avocado, artisan Jack cheese, chipotle mustard, Morita chiles, and cilantro crema all on griddled crusty bread. Hands down the best Cuban sandwich I’ve ever had! The depth of flavors are simply beyond compare.

For dessert we decided on an order of their fresh-from-the-fryer churros served alongside velvety Mexican dipping chocolate. They offer a variety of delectable churros including hazelnut, chocolate or pistachio glazed but we went for the original - chewy and simply incredible. XOCO is one of the only restaurants in the country who produces their own chocolate in house. And since there was still a definite chill in the air, a cup of their amazingly rich decadent hot chocolate was a must!
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Chewy Churro in Velvety Mexican Dipping Chocolate
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The Rich Hot Chocolate
I left with limonada in one hand, hot chocolate in the other and a belly full of perfectly prepared pork. Needless to say, it was a great night.

XOCO
449 N Clark St 
Chicago, IL 60654

www.rickbayless.com/restaurants/xoco.html
XOCO on Urbanspoon
 
 
I recently paid my first visit to K Restaurant, a modern-American restaurant in College Park, about 30 minutes outside of Orlando. They have been open for nearly two years now and I regret every day I wasted not knowing the amazingness that comes from their kitchen. They fully encompass the farm-to-table way of life which means their menu changes daily so every visit can be new and special.

We started with one of their signature appetizers, a customer favorite they keep on the menu year-round, their wonderful fried green tomatoes layered with their corn and crab salad.  The tomatoes were tart and crispy – exactly what we were hoping for and the cool salad was a great contrast to the warm tomatoes. We also ordered their Creole BBQ shrimp which were placed atop some of the most incredible cheese grits I’ve ever tasted. The grits were the perfect consistency and paired beautifully with the tender, delectable shrimp. All of which were swimming in a roux based sauce that sent my taste buds soaring after each bite. Our servers made sure we had more than enough fantastic crusty bread so that not a drop of the deliciously seasoned sauce was left behind, for which I am forever grateful.
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Fried Green Tomatoes with Corn and Crab Salad
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Creole BBQ Shrimp atop Cheese Grits
For our entrees, we decided on the must-have filet mignon and the grilled to perfection sword fish. The filet was prepared to an ideal medium temperature, was seared beautifully and melted in my mouth. It came served atop a bed of creamy potato gratin drizzled in their fabulous cabernet sauvignon sauce. The swordfish was just as superb, if not even better – it was moist, tender and impeccably seasoned, unlike any I have ever tried before. It was served with a flavorful corn and lima bean succotash that complimented the swordfish brilliantly.
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Filet Mignon atop Potato Gratin
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Swordfish atop Corn and Lima Bean Succotash
Dessert is a must at K and we ordered two: the Pecan Pie in a Jar and also their life-changingly amazing French Toast Bread Pudding. The pecan pie had a flakey crust your grandmother would be proud of and was accompanied by velvety cinnamon ice cream. The warm bread pudding came blanketed in creme anglaise and was paired with creamy maple ice cream. All of the components melded wonderfully together, adding a new level of deliciousness to our meal.
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Pecan Pie in a Jar
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French Toast Bread Pudding
After we ate all that we could, we had the pleasure of meeting Kevin, K’s chef and owner. He was gracious enough to take the time and show us around K’s garden where all their fresh herbs and in season vegetables are picked and incorporated into their outstanding appetizers, entrees, and desserts. It was remarkable to see where our dinner had come from. We were able to actually see and touch the okra that was a part of our BBQ Shrimp - such an awesome experience. Additionally, they now offer a Southern style brunch every second Sunday of the month. Who’s in? I’ll see you there!

K Restaurant
1710 Edgewater Drive 
Orlando, FL 32804

www.krestaurant.net
K Restaurant on Urbanspoon
 
 
Its fall and you know what that means…it's time for pumpkin spiced lattes and other seasonal coffee creations! I recently had the pleasure of visiting Vespr Craft Coffees and Allures in Orlando, Florida to try out their new fall menu. In addition to specializing in unforgettable hand-crafted coffees and teas, they are also devoted to giving back to the environment. The owner, Edd, ensures they use only the highest quality ingredients sourced from farmers who participate in the Fair Trade system. This system allows the farmers to receive fair payment for the products they work so hard to cultivate.
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First up on their fall menu was the Calvin & Hobbes, a blend of spiced lemonade and Hibiscus tea. Specially crafted ice cubes keep this tasty concoction perfectly chilled while prolonging the melting process allowing you to slowly sip on this refreshing beverage. The only other thing you'll need is a front porch and a nice breeze.
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Next was The Dick Tracy – an extraordinary combination of espresso and maple syrup with a side tasting of bacon and black truffle. It’s rich, thick and has incredible layers of flavor. I was presented with a small carafe containing warm milk which Edd explained should be poured into the maple syrup and espresso combo and sipped slowly only after consuming the specially cured bacon and black truffle. The bacon definitely helps bring out the maple notes and the espresso balanced everything seamlessly.
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And last but definitely not least, The Great Pumpkin – a combination of espresso and natural pumpkin spice syrup topped with pumpkin whipped cream & cinnamon crunch. Edd generously provided me with a side of their pumpkin whipped cream. He revealed to me that the secret ingredient is none other than real pumpkin! It is truly mind-blowingly amazing! This beverage can best be described as fall in a cup.
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Vespr also offers a variety of pastries courtesy of Iced Bakery. My favorite was their fantastic Nutella bombs - which are appropriately named due to the flavor explosion that happens after taking your first bite! Other popular items include their decadent red velvet brownies and pumpkin whoopie pies. They also just added sandwiches to their menu, all of which looked absolutely divine! I will definitely be returning to try The Fellini which consists of goat cheese, fig marmalade, kale, and prosciutto! Did someone say lunchtime?
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Nutella Bomb
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Red Velvet Brownie
Vespr Craft Coffee and Allures on Urbanspoon
 
 
On August 31st, a few friends and I took a short drive down to Tampa, FL for the much anticipated World’s Largest Food Truck Rally at the Florida State Fairgrounds. Some pretty awesome people, including Generation Food Truck, worked really hard at breaking the world record and got nearly 100 food trucks to participate in this event. The crowds started arriving around noon and were hyped and ready! Needless to say, walking through the gate was quite overwhelming. There were so many trucks and only so little time. 
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The Florida State Fairgrounds
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Breaking the World Record with Nearly 100 Trucks
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Big Thanks to Generation Food Truck
My first stop was at NOLA On Da Geaux, a New Orleans truck based out of Winter Garden, Florida. Since I’m from Louisiana, deciding what to eat here was not an easy feat. I wanted one of everything but settled for the sampler which included a side of their perfectly prepared and perfectly seasoned jambalaya, a side of their dirty rice even my momma would be proud of, and last but not least a side of their red beans and rice. I felt like I was sitting in my grandma’s kitchen! I’m definitely looking forward to trying their crawfish etouffee and beignets next time!
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Next stop was at a truck lovingly dubbed the Hott Mess.  They offer a variety of sandwiches, hot dogs and a yummy assortment of tater tots. I had their namesake tots, the Hott Mess Tots covered in seasoned ground beef, spicy cheesy sauce and zesty chipotle lime crema. They even offer dessert tots – sweet potato tots covered in torched marshmallows and caramel sauce – a must! They show they care by even offering shots of Pepto Bismol and antacid chews. You can’t ask for more than that!
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To help distract from the heat there were plenty of trucks offering sno-cones, shaved ice and popsicles. One of the most unique trucks that stood out to me was called Tropiccool, a truck from Saint Petersburg, FL. It is a double-decker bus fresh off the streets of London that offers gourmet popsicles – deliciously amazing gourmet popsicles I might add. I decided on two – one blueberry lemon and one dark chocolate dipped raspberry. That’s right – a raspberry popsicle dipped in dark chocolate and then frozen. Can you say Heaven?
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Another highlight was the Kona Ice truck. They offer a self-serve snow cone experience. You are able to select your desired size, they create the actual snow cone for you and then you pour on your favorite syrups right from the side of their truck - as much or as little as you wish! You can also purchase a reusable plastic cup that you can get refilled for only $3 anytime you visit one of their trucks! I purchased one and got a refill that same day. Such a great idea!
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Next I spotted the Disco Donuts stand and I simply could not pass them up. While waiting in line you can watch them fry up your little bite-sized donuts and then shake on your desired topping, mine being cinnamon sugar. Even on a hot day, these warm little donuts definitely hit the spot! They literally melt in your mouth – so dang good!
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The last stop of the day was at The Cheesesteak Truck, based out of Saint Petersburg, FL. They serve up the classic Philly cheesesteak and also a few variations including a buffalo philly and a pizza philly. I went with the buffalo philly which consisted of steak, provolone cheese, buffalo sauce and banana peppers all tucked inside a freshly baked Amoroso roll – I call that sandwich perfection!
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It was a great food truck filled day! We all left full and happy, not to mention - we made history!

 
 
I was first introduced to the marvelousness that is 4Rivers Smokehouse about 3 years ago when visiting their location on Fairbanks Avenue located in Winter Park, FL. This location became so incredibly busy that they actually had to move to a much larger location a little further down the street. As the demand for their succulent BBQ continued to grow, they proceeded to open their second and third locations in Winter Garden and Longwood, Florida.
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Hot Brisket Now at Four Rivers
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Four Rivers' wide variety of bottled sodas
4Rivers is currently rated the #1 BBQ establishment in Orlando and rightfully so. They offer some of the best BBQ this side of Texas! Their signature menu item, which also happens to be my go-to meaty entrée, is the 18-hour slow smoked beef brisket. You can’t help but watch them slice this juicy masterpiece. Be careful not to drool.
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Other magnificent meats offered include their southern pulled pork, juicy Texas sausage, pulled chicken and smokehouse turkey. You can order any of these tasty options on a sandwich, in a quesadilla, or part of a dinner plate. One of the best values I have found is their set of 3 Smokehouse Sliders – just pick your meats and load them up with some of their mouth-watering sauces!
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One Brisket, One Texas Sausage, One Pulled Pork Slider
BBQ isn’t complete without some pretty rockin’ sides and 4Rivers has it covered! Their mac-n-cheese is super creamy, the smokehouse corn is fantastically seasoned, their baked cheese grits are rich and smooth, the cornbread is moist and their biscuits are buttery. And make sure to order a side of their amazing Krispy Kreme bread pudding, you won’t regret it.
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They’ve created some awesome signature sandwiches too. One is affectionately dubbed the Texas Destroyer. They pile their tender smoked brisket, onion rings, jalapenos and provolone cheese all onto a soft bun and then smother it with their signature 4R sauce. I’ve also had the pleasure of trying their fried pork cutlet sandwich which is topped with chipotle aioli! Admittedly, you can put chipotle aioli on anything and I will eat it but on this sandwich, it was just the icing on the cake. The pork, being the main event, was juicy and fried wonderfully and the aioli delivered an ideal amount of heat.
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In the mood for wings? Fear not – 4 Rivers offers perfectly smoked wings which can be ordered in either 6 or 10 increments. Add a side of their wonderful BBQ sauce and you can’t go wrong. Oh, and you can’t forget their St. Louis style ribs. These can be ordered in either full or half rack servings, sure to satisfy anyone’s cravings.
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On one of my more recent trips I tried a bowl of their brisket chili. I was completely blown away before I was even done with my first bite! It starts with a layer of Fritos on the bottom that’s topped with a huge serving of their out-of-this-world brisket chili and that is finished off with sour cream and shredded cheddar cheese. I would dare to say this is my favorite item on their entire menu. The combination of seasonings and huge tender chunks of their smoked brisket create pure perfection!
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4Rivers not only prepares crazy good BBQ, they also create some of the best desserts Central Florida has to offer! Being blessed with the luxury of space, their Fairbanks and Longwood locations have a Sweet Shop attached where you can watch their pastry chefs create some pretty amazing confections. I’ve devoured so many of their treats I’ve lost count. Their chocolate covered cake balls are to die for and their cakes and cupcakes are moist and decadent. Love ice cream? Well you must try some of their amazingly creative flavors - the red velvet alone is worthy of a trip! Any of their spectacular creations would be a delicious end to any meal at 4Rivers.
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The Sweet Shop full of delicious desserts
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4Rivers Red Velvet and Biscoff Cookie Ice Cream
So don't wait, run to your nearest 4Rivers Smokehouse! Just look for the never-ending line, you can't miss it.

4 Rivers Smokehouse on Urbanspoon
4 Rivers Smokehouse on Urbanspoon
4 Rivers Smokehouse on Urbanspoon
 
 
Florida Hospital recently launched their Healthy 100 Program which aims to provide people with the tools they need to live longer, healthier lives. They have now expanded this program to include Healthy 100 Approved Menu Items. Sixteen local restaurants across Central Florida will be participating by offering appetizers, entrees, side dishes and even desserts that are approved by the Healthy 100 program. To announce this expansion, Florida Hospital joined forces with the great Mrs. Paula Deen in an appearance at the Bob Carr Performing Arts Centre in Downtown Orlando. Some lucky attendees, including myself, were able to learn healthy eating habits from the Queen of Southern Cuisine as she prepared her very own Healthy 100 Approved chicken fajitas!
Besides helping unveil the enhancements to the Healthy 100 program, Paula also shared her personal journey with diabetes. She made a point to talk about how denial was a big factor in her diagnosis. Having grown up around food, she never anticipated that something she loved so much would have such a negative impact on her life. However, instead of letting the disease prevent her from continuing to cook and enjoy food, she now acts as a spokeswoman for the disease by speaking out about the prevention of diabetes and how to live with it. She is an inspiration to many and her honesty and openness was refreshing to witness. She admitted she still likes to occasionally indulge in fried chicken, but fully stressed the importance of moderation. Her words of wisdom: Never deprive
yourself of anything! Stating that if she can do it, anyone can!
With a personality as big as Paula’s, I shouldn’t have been surprised that she had us laughing all the way through her demo! At one point, she opened the fridge on the set which was completely empty, to which she said, “That’s moderation at its best!”
When cooking up her Healthy 100 Approved chicken fajitas, Paula demonstrated how eating healthy doesn’t mean sacrificing flavor. We were fortunate enough to sample some and they were fantastic – so full of flavor and had just the right amount of heat. The only things missing were the fat and calories!
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Paula's Delicious Healthy 100 Approved Chicken Fajitas

Here is the complete list of the Healthy 100 Approved Menu Items and where they are being offered across Central Florida: 

· Grilled Chicken Nuggets at Chick-fil-A
· Southwest Quinoa Salad at Citrus Club
· Don Carlos Taco at Cocina 214
· Salmon Cake, Lima Beans at Healthy Bites Fitness Cuisine
· Admiral Salad at Infusion Tea
· Hummus and Tabouli Plate at Nadia’s Café
· Power Chicken Hummus Bowl, Power Breakfast Eggwhite Bowl with Turkey at Panera Bread
· Miso Seafood Appetizer at Rangetsu
· Chicken and Wild Rice with Butternut Squash and Brussel Sprouts at Savion’s Place
· Broiled Cod with Heirloom Tomatoes at Second Harvest Food Bank
· Baked Chicken Empanada, Baked Chicken Tenderloin, Vegetable Medley at Simply Divine Food 
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· Ginger Dressing, Seared Salmon Crystal Roll, Imari Sushi Balls at Sushi House Orlando
· Peruvian Potato and Quinoa Crusted Swordfish at RusTeak Restaurant
· Grilled Portabella Mushroom Sandwich at The Taproom at Dubsdread
· Turkish Bulgar Salad Pea Soup at White Wolf Café
· Frozen Yogurt (Various Flavors) at Yogurtiamo
Who's already thinking about having Cocina's Don Carlos Tacos for lunch? I know I am!

Visit
Healthy100.org/Healthy100Approved to print out your own list of the Healthy 100 Approved Guidelines and Menu Items! 
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Some of the chefs who are participating in the Healthy 100 Approved Menu Items Program

For more information about Florida Hospital’s Healthy 100 program, visit
www.healthy100.org.

And remember to be on the lookout for The Healthy 100 Approved logo across Central Florida!
 
 
Since I'm from Louisiana and always on the search for great seafood, I was excited to discover TJ's Seafood Shack in Oviedo, Florida, about 30 minutes North of Orlando. They specialize in the freshest and finest seafood this side of The Gulf – anything from catfish and cod to lobster rolls and shrimp po-boys. The owners, Tim and Mary; a brother and sister pair, are very passionate about providing their customers with the very best and it shows in every dish they serve. Speaking of, here are some of the
mouth-watering items we were privileged to try.

We dove right in with an appetizer sampler consisting of moist hushpuppies, crisp onion petals dredged in homemade breading, irresistible sea salt sprinkled sweet potato fries, and freshly fried pickle coins. These are all served with TJ's homemade sauces – dill, creole, and cilantro. For a little piece of Heaven, make sure to dip the fried pickles into the dill sauce, you can thank me later.
Next we were served their smoked mahi mahi fish dip which is masterfully crafted from a few simple ingredients - perfectly (and I mean perfectly) smoked mahi, jalapenos, cream cheese and some secret
seasonings. You are going to want to slather this on everything! It is mind-blowingly good! It’s smoky and creamy, leaving you wanting an endless supply.
Just as I was thinking it couldn’t get any better, they brought out their Louisiana-style Yumbo Gumbo! It was full of shredded chicken, Andouille sausage and more of their secret spices. They served it with just the right rice to gumbo ratio, which is sometimes difficult to find. It also had just the right amount of heat which would make my grandma proud! I made sure not a drop was left behind!
I was beyond elated about our next dish - fried catfish! Catfish has such a great distinct flavor and TJ’s knocks it outta the park! They dredge theirs in cornmeal breading, fry until golden brown and serve them in bite size pieces. This is some of the best catfish I’ve had outside of Louisiana. Incredibly crunchy French fries and homemade tartar sauce come along side and definitely should not be overlooked!
One of my favorite sandwiches is a shrimp po-boy, so I couldn’t wait to sink my teeth into TJ’s!  It
arrived toasty warm; overflowing with deliciously fried jumbo shrimp drizzled in their yummy creole sauce. The bread was crusty on the outside and fluffy on the inside creating pillows, if you will, for the delightfully fresh crustaceans. The creole sauce added a new level of happiness, melding with the shrimp beautifully. Definitely one of best po-boy’s I’ve ever had!
Then arrived the dish I had been looking forward to for quite some time, their famous tilapia fish tacos covered in their equally as famous cilantro sauce! The tilapia can be ordered either blackened or fried, we opted for the former. They arrived and I immediately wanted to crawl inside their soft tortilla shells! The tilapia was flakey, wonderfully seasoned and nicely complemented by the cilantro sauce.  Each taco was juicy and flavorful - it can get messy, but it’s totally worth it!
And last but certainly not least we tried their sautéed Maryland style crab cakes. Every bite was full of tender crab meat and the tasty remoulade sauce made for a perfect flavor combination. 
I’ve also heard great things about their 100% Angus beef cheeseburger but since we were stuffed to the gills we decided to save that for our next visit, which I hope is very soon since I’m dreaming about their mahi dip right now.

Their dishes were all outstanding but it's the level of hospitality that comes along with them that puts TJ’s above all the rest. And they are actually already adding to the success of their shack. They recently acquired a food truck that serves some of the same great seafood, like their famous fish tacos and also new additions like their shrimp and grits that you can only get from the truck! Visit their website
www.tjsseafoodshack.com for their locations and a schedule of events!
This was my first visit to TJ’s Seafood Shack and I am absolutely hooked! The food and the atmosphere make it impossible not to return!! I’ll see y’all there! Oh, and save me some catfish!

TJ's Seafood Shack on Urbanspoon
 
 
On my latest trip to Miami I had the pleasure of experiencing the South Beach Food Tour, a definite Must-Do when visiting South Florida. It is one of the many food based tours offered through Miami Culinary Tours. Each tour is hosted by a very knowledgeable guide based out of Miami. Our tour guide was phenomenal. She was so well-versed about not only the fantastic foods offered throughout this splendid city but also the culture, architecture, and history that has played such a huge part in making Miami the great city it is today! No matter which tour you pick, know that you will be experiencing some of the best dishes this city has to offer!

Alright, who’s ready for the food?

Our tour began at 660 located inside the beautiful Angler’s Boutique Resort. We were escorted into their trendy lounge where we were able to mingle and eat our first dish of the tour - a delightful scallop ceviche.
This was a perfect introduction to Miami cuisine. The scallops were extremely fresh and flavorful with citrus and cilantro undertones. It left us all begging for more! 

After saying goodbye to our lovely hosts at The Angler’s, we took a short walk to our next location - the Bolivar Restaurant, a location famous for creating Peruvian-Colombian fusion dishes. We sampled a delectable beef and potato empanada, a crunchy tostone topped with deliciously marinated chicken and a fabulous side of salsa verde.
We were also served a classic Colombian beverage which consisted of Colombiana Soda and Aguila Beer. It was crisp and melded perfectly with our mouthwatering appetizers.
This was definitely one of my favorite stops on our tour! I cannot wait to return to try more!

Since we needed to make room for more yummy samplings we strolled over to the Essex House in the Art Deco District.
Built in 1938, it’s one of the many buildings in South Beach still displaying Streamline Architecture. This particular style uses nautical motifs like porthole windows to depict ocean liners and airplanes. It’s also one of the only hotels in Miami that has not undergone any restorations and still displays an original mural and all original tile work. Imagine all of the people that have walked across those tile floors!

After a little more sight-seeing we headed to Serafina, where we relished in the fantastic ocean breeze from their outdoor seating.
This charming restaurant, housed in the Dream South Beach Hotel, offers authentic Italian cuisine. Here we enjoyed a generous serving of chilled gazpacho and wonderfully crusty bread, perfect for dipping. I cannot think of anything more pleasant on a humid Florida afternoon!

Once leaving Serafina, we went right across the street to David’s Café to sample their divine café Cubano and guava pastries. Café Cubano is a type of espresso which originated in Cuba after espresso machines were first imported from Italy. It is now served all over Miami. While we were ordering we heard one of David’s more outgoing patrons say "It's what puts the hair on your chest." And boy was he right! I will admit I’m not a huge coffee fan so just one sip was more than enough for me. It provided a great, strong flavor like nothing else I've ever tasted. I could however snack on their scrumptious pastries all day - flakey layers of Heaven filled with guava goodness!

Since we were nicely rejuvenated we walked through more of the Art Deco District. We passed The Carlyle Hotel where scenes from the hilarious movie The Bird Cage were filmed and then of course the famous Versace Mansion.

Our strategic wandering then brought us to Jerry’s Famous Deli. Jerry’s offers your typical delicatessen menu items, anything from gigantic corned beef and pastrami sandwiches to delicious desserts. We were able to sample their gloriously moist raspberry and cream cheese filled rugalas which would make an extraordinary end to any meal!
And Jerry’s is open 24 hours a day! You can’t ask for more than that!

After drooling over corned beef and brisket we continued on to Charlotte Bakery for their famous empanadas! Each one is hand made in house with only the freshest ingredients. They offer a wide variety of empanadas, depending on the ingredients and location of origin. We devoured their beautifully browned and doughy Argentina chicken empanadas. They were absolutely heavenly! The folks at Charlotte Bakery definitely lived up to their reputation! 

We made a quick stop at MomoCha Teahouse after and had a glass of their bubble green tea. It was  completely revitalizing - ideal in the Florida heat!

The final stop of our tour was at Milani Gelateria, one of the best gelaterias in all of Miami, and for good reason – the product they offer is beyond compare. All of their flavors are created from the finest ingredients. I sampled their incredibly creamy Dulce de Leche which is imported from Argentina! That’s right - Argentina!!
This just shows the pride and dedication they take in providing their customers with the very best! We could not have asked for a sweeter end to our tasty tour of Miami!

We all had a great time! How could we not? The weather was beautiful and the food was outstanding! Who’s ready for the Little Havana Food Tour?

                    Visit www.MiamiCulinaryTours.com or call 1-855-642-3663 to book your tour today!
 
 
As I’ve said before, I will go anywhere for an amazing meal. However, this time, amazing was right in my own backyard! A short hour and a half drive brought me to Bern’s Steakhouse in Tampa, Florida. Driving up, you see a very unassuming white building, but once you step inside you are transported to a very magical place. The lobby is illuminated by red tinted lights with velvet lining the walls. This is certainly not a t-shirt and jeans kind of place but surprisingly the prices are completely reasonable. You won't have to spend more than $35 to leave with a belly full of their fabulous steaks and sides.  We had a reservation for 7:30 pm on a Tuesday night but arrived around 6:45 pm. They were very accommodating and got us seated within 15 minutes. The restaurant consists of a series of small dining rooms. We were seated near the back of one of these dining rooms and found ourselves immersed in a very intimate atmosphere. The servers, the majority of whom have been there for over 20 years, are more than attentive and can answer any questions you have about their very extensive menu or wine list.
To ensure you understand every aspect of ordering the ideal steak at the temperature and cut you prefer, they provide you with multiple descriptions and charts explaining each option in great detail. Their steaks are dry aged twice as long as the industry standard and your particular steak is hand cut only after having placed your order!

My diner date and I started with two glasses of Riesling since I am undoubtedly a white wine person.  He continued to venture his way around their enormous wine list throughout dinner, with the help of our server.
Along with your entrée come multiple yummy appetizers and sides. First they bring out their famous French onion soup au gratin. I am not exaggerating; this is THE best French onion soup I’ve ever tasted! I dare someone to find a better one! It was blanketed by a blend of five cheeses and was accompanied by garlic and spelt toasts. It provided the perfect balance of onion and cheesy goodness. I made sure to absorb every last drop!
The next course was the salad course. I opted for the house salad with their homemade ranch dressing. Although I’m not a salad person, I did enjoy dipping my crisp cucumbers in their creamy house dressing. My lovely dinner date ordered the house salad as well and all he left behind was the empty plate.
The next course was the most important, the entrée!! I choose the 8 ounce NY Strip Steak cooked medium. It came sizzling to the table which was music to my ears. It was prepared beautifully – seared to perfection, providing fantastic flavors and just right amount of pink in the center. It was juicy, tender and seasoned like no other steak I’ve ever tasted. Alongside my extraordinary steak came fried onion strings. At first glance they look like plain ole’ onions, however, after my first bite I was taken to a whole new place of delight. I could taste the buttermilk and splendid seasonings they used to bread these gloriously crispy onions. When combining both my magnificently cooked steak and my flavor packed onion strings into one bite I swear I could hear angels singing – absolutely life changing! Shaved carrots and brilliantly grilled zucchini also came alongside but were sadly left unfinished since I refused to leave any morsel of steak or onion string behind.
They also bring out their marvelous baked potatoes when delivering the main course. You can order your tater with as many topping as your heart desires. I chose sour cream, bacon and chives. This was certainly one the freshest and creamiest potatoes I’ve ever consumed. It was as soft as butter and completely melted in my mouth.

You would think this would be enough to satisfy us, but we simply could not resist their white truffle mac n cheese after seeing it delivered to one of our neighboring tables. Truffle mac n cheese is a common occurrence on many steakhouse menus but the entire dish is usually overpowered by the truffle oil – that was not the case at Bern’s.  This side dish was absolutely heavenly – creamy and topped with crunchy breadcrumbs. The truffle oil melded with the velvety cheeses wonderfully. We tried our hardest to finish every single piece of perfectly cooked pasta. This was an additional cost but positively worth every penny.
Before heading upstairs for dessert (I’ll explain in a bit), your server will ask if you would like a tour of the kitchen and wine cellar…the answer should always be Yes!! Bern’s is home to the world’s largest restaurant wine cellar! Literally wall to wall wine - definitely a must-see! They start off with a tour of their extremely busy kitchen, describing each station while in action. Their kitchen operates like a very well-oiled machine – from salad preparations to the grill that produces their flawlessly cooked steaks. Everyone has a particular job and they perform it impeccably.

After finishing the kitchen tour, it’s time for dessert and at Bern’s they have a very special area on the second floor in which you must have dessert. This in itself is an incredible experience. It's called the Harry Waugh Dessert Room. There’s a winding hallway of enclosed booths each comfortably seating between 2 to 8 people. Each booth provides you with the privacy to eat as many delectable desserts as you desire – and for us that meant three desserts in total, one Brown Sugar, one King Midas, and one Chocolate Peanut Butter Truffle! They have the largest dessert menu of any restaurant I’ve ever been to, which makes it very difficult to choose one or even just two desserts; a fact we used to justify our splurging.
The Brown Sugar was a sampler consisting of chocolate chip cookie dough cheesecake, a cookies and cream ice cream sandwich, and a warm brown sugar blondie.
The King Midas was moist carrot cake topped with exquisite macadamia nut ice cream and hot fudge. This is seriously some of the tastiest ice cream I’ve ever had. It was super creamy and full of flavor!
And last but definitely not least is the Chocolate Peanut Butter Truffle. Milk chocolate mousse and peanut butter cream are layered with peanut pralines on a chewy chocolate brownie crust! It was without a doubt my favorite! The rich peanut butter cream and crunchy pralines were great companions for the chocolate mousse. It was simply unforgettable!
Bern's is unlike any other steakhouse. It is an out of this world culinary experience that you have to see to believe. So, free up about three hours and get yourself to Bern’s Steakhouse! You can thank me later.

Bern's Steak House on Urbanspoon

1208 South Howard Ave.
Tampa, Florida 33606

www.bernssteakhouse.com
 
 
Last October one of my closest friends decided he wanted to road trip across Tennessee for his birthday with our first stop being the fabulous city of Memphis. Our goal – to eat as much phenomenal BBQ as we possibly could!  We knew we were only able to spend one day in Memphis before heading to our next location, so we started our BBQ sampling right after stepping off the plane! Before even picking up our luggage, we hopped over to Jim Neely’s Interstate Bar-B-Que in Terminal B of Memphis International to try their famous BBQ spaghetti.
We arrived at 9 a.m. and the line was already forming! This tasty dish was a combination of spaghetti, seasoned pork and Interstate’s own BBQ sauce, a tomato and vinegar based sauce with a hint of spice. The seasonings in both the pork and the sauce provided a great kick. It was definitely worth the wait and is a must try when visiting the Memphis airport!
 
After a few touristy hours at Graceland we headed to our next stop, Corky’s Bar-B-Q, a location famous for its pulled pork and ribs. We got there around lunch time and were seated immediately. To begin, we started with their amazing bread rolls! They were still warm from the kitchen, fluffy on the inside and crusty on the outside. And, after adding a thin layer of butter, they were even more remarkable.
For our appetizer we ordered a Memphis tradition, the BBQ Smoked Sausage and Cheese Plate. The hickory smoked sausage was out of this world wonderful – it was juicy and had a great snap! Pickle spears and pepperoncini peppers came alongside and melded incredibly well with the smokiness of the sausage and creaminess of the cheddar and pepper jack cheeses.
For my entrée I ordered their BBQ pulled pork sandwich. This marvelous pile of pulled pork comes topped with their famous BBQ sauce and coleslaw (I opted to have the slaw on side). After trying this lovely pork creation, I completely understand why it is so famous; it was everything you want pulled pork to be – lean, tender, succulent and bursting with flavor. Corky’s was a huge success and excited us even more for our next stop of the day!
We checked into The Peabody and saw the Broadway Musical “Memphis” at the Orpheum Theater before heading to our next stop, Central BBQ.
I had heard some pretty astounding things about their BBQ nachos so I knew I had to give them a try – and they lived up to the hype! The tortilla chips were topped with their divine pulled pork, BBQ sauce, cheese sauce and shredded cheese! And if that wasn’t enough, they were then finished off with a light dusting of Central’s BBQ seasoning. They were absolutely heavenly, some of the best nachos I’ve ever had! The chips stayed crisp the entire time while eating them and the tanginess of the BBQ sauce mixed perfectly with the spiciness from the cheese sauce and BBQ seasoning. The pulled pork itself was excellent as well - flavourful, moist and seasoned wonderfully. I also ordered their beef brisket plate. The thinly sliced brisket was fall apart tender and had a great smoky flavor. It was accompanied by two of their homemade sides. I went with the house made kettle chips and their creamy mac-n-cheese – both were very well executed. This was, without a doubt, one of the best meals we had all day.
Wandering around Beale St for a while put us in the mood for our final stop of the day, Charles Vergo’s Rendezvous. I have to admit, I’m usually not a huge fan of ribs; they generally are full of fat and come covered in a sauce that’s too sweet for my liking. However, after experiencing the pork ribs here, my opinion drastically changed.
They use a dry rub at Rendezvous instead of the usual wet BBQ sauce. It’s an unbelievable combination of oregano, garlic, salt, pepper, chili powder and paprika. The ribs are first based with a touch vinegar and then the rub is shaken on. This is where I was also taught how to correctly eat a rack of ribs – resting your teeth against the bone and gently pulling the meat away. Since these ribs were cooked so flawlessly it took no effort to get the meat off the bone. They are simply the best - moist, tender, juicy and seasoned beyond perfection.
I could not have asked for a better way to end our incredible tour of Memphis BBQ!

I cannot wait to return to Memphis! However, hopefully next time we will have more than just one day to fill our bellies with BBQ goodness!
Interstate Bar B Q on Urbanspoon
Corky's Bar-B-Q (East Memphis) on Urbanspoon
Central BBQ on Urbanspoon
Charlie Vergos' Rendezvous on Urbanspoon