• Category Archives Food
  • PF Changs – Gainesville

    Finally got a chance to go to PF Chang’s last week. I have been to one other location in the past (Anaheim) and enjoyed it, so I had some background on what the food was like and what to expect.

    Of course, I managed to choose a Friday night before a football game weekend, so it was absolutely slammed. The rows of RV’s in Butler Plaza parking is enough of a sign to anyone that the restaurants in the area are going to be filled to the brim. I kind of knew this ahead of time, which is why I called ahead and made a reservation. I had tried to make the reservation online, which is an option, but apparently their system was down.

    Inside, I checked in and was informed there would be a small wait, which was acceptable. It really was slammed. Soon we were escorted to a booth. As a note, the booths are tight, so if you are a large person, you might want to hold out for a table with proper chairs.

    The place is decorated decently, with some monitors for watching the various sports that this town is known for. However, they have one significant problem here… the noise. There appears to be no baffling for noise whatsoever in this place, and it gets very loud very fast. I know others have reported on this issue, but I just wanted to reiterate the fact that they really need to do something about it, because it is not a pleasant experience.

    Anyway, on to the food. Our drink orders were taken… I opted for water, but others in my group went for some fancy things. One was the coconut cooler, which I tried. This was an odd thing, because one of the after effects of this drink is that it kind of tastes like buttered popcorn… and the moment you have that in your head, every subsequent taste of the drink tastes like buttered popcorn. Great if you are into that sort of thing. I will politely pass on trying that again. As it isn’t something I would ever order in the first place, I can’t call it a detriment to the place… different people have different tastes and all.

    So next up come the appetizers. I had ordered the lettuce wraps, which I found to be quite good. I did ask for some chili sauce to go with it, since I like a bit of spice… and found myself using the entire ramican of chili sauce they brought out. I used up all of the lettuce (about a quarter head of iceberg) on half of the filling, but our waitress offered to bring out another chunk of lettuce. I declined that, but I did appreciate the offer. I had bigger plans for those leftovers! Other appetizers that appeared were the spare ribs, which were nice but not something I would order… their flavor was good though. Also was the cauliflower tempura, which was also quite nice, and something that we were pretty sure one of our “no vegetables” people would be able to eat. He didn’t, but that didn’t stop us from trying to get him to. One other item that came out were the crab wontons. These again were pretty good, but they were in a bit of a pool of grease from the deep frying, which was sad since they also then dripped said grease as you were conveying them to your mouth. Queue the first spot of grease on the front of my shirt… *sigh*

    Alright… on to the main course… I had ordered the chicken pad thai, and it was beautiful. Of course, by this time the table is kind of full of dishes, some empty, some not… I decided the the best thing I could do was to empty the plate from the lettuce wraps onto my pad thai, because why not? One less dish in the way, a bit of extra flavor on my main course, all is good! The pad thai was quite good. Not the greatest I have had, but good. PF Chang’s caters to the common denominator, so the concept of spicy is not really in their vocabulary. Still, it was good. I also got a chance to try one of the sides of asparagus that came out for a friend, and that was excellent.

    Finally it was time for dessert… not for me, but for others. It is really nice that they have some smaller desserts in the form of small jars, which are perfect for a single serving. The banana spring rolls also looked very good, and I know that one of our party can attest to that fact.

    All done with our meal, we paid our bill and got out of there. There was still a line at the door to get in, and it looked like they wouldn’t be calming down for a while. I would say for the next couple of months, if you want a quiet meal aim for a weekday, and definitely avoid game-day weekends.


  • Top Hog BBQ – Newberry

    Went to Top Hog BBQ last week. This was the first time for me, and it is a relatively new place. Walking in it is an open atmosphere, with good seating and tables. It is counter service, so you have to walk up and order your food, but then they bring it out to you.

    The story of how the place came into being (kickstarter campaign) is up on the wall, so that is some interesting reading for when you are waiting for your food. You will have time, as delivery times are not exactly the fastest… but for good food it is worth the small wait. It means that they are putting some time into actually getting your food prepared.

    I ordered the chili cheese fries as an appetizer, as my friends had already ordered the poutine. I tried both, though I know I am not a fan of poutine in the first place. Personally, I think the poutine was better than the chile cheese fries, which coming from me is saying a lot.

    Our fourth then arrived, and we decided on the large meat platter for four. The order was placed, and then about a ten or fifteen minute wait ensued… really not a big deal as we were comfortable talking, but I can see where it might annoy some folks who are expecting fast food speeds… you won’t get that here.

    The food comes out… pulled pork, ribs, corn bread, corn on the cob, brisket… the whole she-bang. The corn bread was a bit on the dry side, but certainly edible. The corn on the cob was a bit overspiced but certainly edible. The pulled pork was quite decent, truthfully, and the brisket was also quite good. Perhaps a little dry, but pretty good. The ribs… they need work… they were dry and their sauce didn’t spark any interest in me.

    The sauces available are on the sweet side. The regular and sweet are orange based, but even the spicy sauce is on the sweet side. I didn’t try the yellow or vinegar based sauces.

    Overall this is a place that I can eat at, but frankly I will not be going out of my way to go to. I will only be returning because I am with a group that wants to go.


  • Little Greek Fresh Grill – Winter Garden

    Went here for lunch the other day. Nothing else in the area really appealed to me at the time (everything else in the area appears to be a chain restaurant), and a nice gyro appealed to me.

    Walking in I found the place to be relatively busy. A number of people waiting for their food to be delivered to their table, a couple of folks in line to order, and some other folks eating. The place is bright and airy, so it seemed to be a good place.

    I ordered up a regular gyro… I just wanted a sandwich, and that is what I got. It was pretty tasty, but there seemed to be a little less tzatziki sauce than I prefer, which is a shame. It was good though… just not the best I have had.

    Finished up my sandwich and hit the road, heading home. If I were in a spot for a bit of lunch in that area, this is the first place I would head to.


  • Medieval Times – Orlando

    I had the opportunity to go to Medieval Times this past weekend. It has been about ten years since I have been to a show (the last time was up in Myrtle Beach) so I figured it would be a fun time, since I was going with a good sized group of friends and we dig this kind of stuff.

    Some background: I have been working with a stage show for a medieval fair for the last fifteen years, where we do performances with stage combat all day long. While we do not have any horses in our show, we do use live steel (i.e. steel weapons that are dulled, but not covered in foam) so safety during our shows are paramount.

    So here we are at Medieval Times. First, the cost is not cheap. We got in at a sizeable discount, but it was still close to $50 a ticket for each of us. Parking outside is not really an issue. As you walk from the parking lot to the main building you pass by a “Medieval Village” that frankly looks like it has been abandoned and is no longer in use. We were going to go around and look at it, but that time never really came about.

    Entering inside, you get your laminated pass and show it at a kind of gatekeeper, where you receive a crown colored in such a way to depict your favored knight and where you will be sitting. Ours was the yellow knight. You then enter a large common room where you can walk up to the bar and purchase drinks, or other vendors where you can purchase glowing swords and other trinkets. All of these items are hellaciously expensive, of course… drinks in particular are very high, and we saw situations where a single drink could cost you $30 or more if you got the souvenir mug.

    Small shows were going on around the common room, introducing various characters of the show that we were about to watch, that sort of thing. Unfortunately, unless you pay close attention to everything that is going on, it can be very hard to understand any of what is going on… more on this later.

    Eventually the horns announced that it was time to enter the arena, and we were loaded in much like a 747 at the airport is loaded, by VIP passes, then by section. All I needed was my luggage and I would have been all set. Walking in, the field was bathed in a blue light, making it look as if they were going to do this show on ice. I would have payed more to see this show if it were being done on ice… can you imagine horses wearing ice skates? Getting down to my seat, I was fortunate to be seated at the very end of my row, so I had some extra room. The seating is very cramped, which is unfortunate.

    In front of each place is a plate, a mug, and a bowl. You are first asked what you would like to drink, whether it be water, pepsi, or iced tea. No mention was made to me about the fourth option, lemonade, but I heard it from the row in front of me, so I asked for that instead. They have two major rules concerning the eating… the first is that you not bang your plates or mugs or anything as it disturbs the horses, and the second is that there are no eating utensils… everything is finger food. The menu is a set menu, consisting of tomato soup, a quarter chicken, corn on the cobb, a baked potato, and for dessert a wedge of lemon cake.

    So obviously the cost of entry (usually around $63) is not the food. The food you could get anywhere for about $10. Most of the money is going towards the show, so let’s focus on that.

    Remember what I was saying about paying attention to everything that is being said in the show? Yeah, if you don’t do that, and you get distracted by things like the food being brought before you, or questions asked by your server (he was great, by the way), or comments from people around you, or half a dozen other things that are going on, you will understand why the queen is distraught, why the king is… missing (I have no idea where the heck he was), why the tournament is being held in the first place, or why the queen allowed a good number of her knights (you know, her fighting force that would defend the castle and her kingdom) be grievously hurt during a tournament.

    So basically you are then left with the horses, the horsemanship, and the fighting. The horses are well trained, I will give them that, but I expect they would be if they are basically doing this same act every evening (or less… I don’t know what their schedule is like… I assume they get rest days). The horsemanship is also decent, but don’t expect Olympics quality work here. I didn’t see that level of equestrianism.

    Which then leaves the fighting, a subject by which I am much more informed about. In a word, it was… average. Some good moves, but I have seen a lot better. I have seen much more realistic dismounts of jousters as well. These fighters do get a bit more flashy because they use swords made of titanium (hence the brighter white sparks). Pretty much any sword will spark like that if you hit them in the right way, but the color given off is a dead giveaway. Lots of rolls (some of which simply don’t make sense to the fight), but the actual weapon moves are what my group would classify as mostly basic with a small of amount of mid-level.

    However, the sword fighting is the spectacle that makes the show and provides them with business, and in the darkness with the sparks flying and the loud crashes, it makes for a good show even when you have no idea why they are actually fighting.

    Is that worth an extra $40? Eh, you be the judge.


  • Teak Neighborhood Grill – Orlando

    Recently I had lunch at Teak Neighborhood Grill. I had been looking for a place to have a decent lunch in the Orlando area prior to an engagement that evening that I drove down for, and I didn’t want to eat at some fast food joint where the food is predictable.

    The MetroWest area of Orlando is unfamiliar to me, so finding it was interesting. I am just thankful I have a decent GPS! Arriving I found parking without a problem, and when I went inside I found that seating was setup at the time to just seat yourself. Inside it is setup as a sports bar, nicely laid out with lots of screens and comfortable seating, but a sports bar nonetheless. I found a nice table with some decent light and waited for the server to come by, which was prompt.

    After going through the menu, I decided to get the Philly Steak Flatbread for an appetizer and the Spicy Veronica burger. A short wait while my food was prepared, and then it all came out at once (frankly the major reason why I am giving it four stars and not five).

    First the flatbread… the taste was really quite nice, and I enjoyed that, but one issue I had with it is that it is kind of sloppy. Center pieces in particular do not hold up well, and because they are cut into such large pieces they are tough to manage as a finger food. I ended up using a knife and fork for the center of the flatbread. Still, the taste is good, so I would recommend it. It would only take two seconds to cut into smaller pieces and become more manageable.

    The burger… well, the Spicy Veronica holds up to its namesake with ghost pepper cheese, pickled jalapeños, sriracha mayo, and tomato on a toasted brioche bun. There are crispy potato strings on the side and sort of sprinkled around it that are unnecessary. The taste of the burger is very good, and they did a wonderful job with it. No complaints at all there! I needed a good burger, and they delivered!

    If I am in the area again I will definitely think about heading here for a bite to eat. Friends will also get a recommendation from me if they happen to be nearby.


  • Yelp Elite Event – Tijuana Flats

    The following review is being posted here because the Yelp interface only allows up to 5,000 characters in a review, and this one turned into a 6,500+ character review (I am not calling it a monster… I just write until I get what I want down.)

    For the month of August, another Yelp special event! This time around we are spending the evening at Tijuana Flats, a Florida-grown chain of restaurants started by a guy out of Orlando who really loved Tex-Mex and wanted to share that love with the rest of the world. A bit of warning… I am told that I can be a bit brutal with my reviews. Honest, but brutal. This review will not be an exception. You have been warned.

    We all arrived at the location on Archer Rd. around 6:30pm, and were processed through the registration fo rhte event (i.e. picking up the sticky labels from a table and saying “Yep, that’s me!”) We were also given two tickets for free drinks inside, but since I was limiting myself to the lemonade that has free refills, I only used one of the tickets… some lucky soul got my other one.

    Drink orders made and in hand, I worked my way into a seat at a table reserved for our group. Lots of party prizes from Yelp on-hand, but I think I made my mark on party prizes the last time I was at one of these events by attaching the bicycle bell to my motorcycle. Lots of conversation about various things, getting to know our neighbors or catching up on things that have happened over the past couple of months.

    The first appetizer then came out… chips with three kinds of dipping sauce: salsa, guacamole, and queso. All three of the dipping sauces were fine, but the chips were on the salty side. As these were being served, some introductions of our hosts were made. A bit of history concerning Tijuana Flats, starting with its incarnation way back in 1995 (I remember 1995… I was in the Navy sailing across the Pacific Ocean at the time) and going through some of the highlights of its history, with expansion and alliances with various people in order to make it the food chain that it is today. The South Florida marketing coordinator was there to host things, and she was quite cordial.

    Second appetizer comes out, which turns out to be french fries and queso. The fries were good, with an appropriate amount of salt on them. How do I know it was an appropriate amount? Because they were salty, but not so salty that my lips started to wrinkle like I had been in the ocean after some had been eaten. Yes, I have been at places (that were not Tijuana Flats locations) where this has happened. The queso was decent, though I found it a bit watery. A little thicker and it would stick to the fries better.

    While this was coming out, a couple of trivia questions were asked of us, based on the history lesson we had received earlier concerning Tijuana Flats. The questions were relatively easy, and for those that were paying attention to their surrounds, about three quarters of the answers were actually printed out on information placards on all of the tables.

    A bit of a warning now… if you do decide to get the fries and queso, be sure to get extra fries, and consume that queso while it is still relatively fresh. If you let it sit out too long, it tends to develop a skin on top that is not appetizing. We saw this. We laughed, we cried, we made fun of it.

    Next was the main course… the cheeseburger taco. Remember that warning I gave at the beginning? You have seen a bit of that with my thoughts on the queso, but now we get to the real food travesty I saw last night. The cheeseburger taco is just what it says it is… a soft taco shell with the makings of a cheeseburger thrown in it. The burger patty is basically course ground beef with no taco flavoring, so you get the flavor of the beef. Lettuce and tomato are in there, as well as cheese. However, they also have the condiments on the burger… ketchup (catsup? Tomato sauce? Take your pick… depends on where you grew up), yellow mustard (blech!), and a couple of pickles. I am sure that this is how it normally comes, and if you were to order it from the counter you could ask for any of those items to not be added, but we were in a “here you go” situation, so that is what we got, and I consider this to be an evaluation of how their menu designers see the product. And frankly, I was not enthralled with this at all. By the reactions of those around me, it seems like there was a general feeling of agreement with my feelings about this particular dish. Seconds did come around, but I passed.

    Next up was some dessert. First were churros, which I am sort of embarrassed to say I have never really tasted. I held an annual pass to Disney for five years straight, and I have never had a churro. Go figure, right? Frankly, they are decent. The couple of bites that I had were a perfect amount for me, but I have never been a huge sweets person in the first place. After that was a sampling of their cookie dough flautas. They were alright, but I preferred the churros. The flautas are a bit too rich for me, I guess. They weren’t bad, mind you… they just weren’t my thing, and I am sure that other folks around me loved them since they were going back for seconds/thirds/JUST HAND ME THE WHOLE TRAY!

    During this the results of the trivia contest were announced… apparently just about every team had answered every question correctly (well, what do you expect when the answers are on a card right in front of us?) so instead the winner was drawn out of a hat… which again drew up some contention since the team name chosen was “Team Awesome”… and there were two different “Team Awesome”‘s… Hilarity ensued. It was a good time.

    Now, you have gotten this far through my logorrhea (yes, it’s a word… look it up) so you might be wondering why I have given this five stars. The answer is that this is an event, and the food once again is only a part of the main purpose of the whole. Yeah, some of the food wasn’t too my or others’ liking, but that is just a part of what is going on. The food is just a catalyst for getting Elite Yelpers (Yeliters?) together in a social gathering to trade war stories, get to know each other, build relationships, and just have a good time in order to thank us for our hard work in writing about various locations in our area. By bringing us together, the hope is that we will become better writers and photographers and make their website that much better for all users. In this regard, I think the event is a total success… I mean, yeah, some of the food wasn’t that great for some of us, but that just creates a platform to discuss it.

    Thank you Matthew and Tijuana Flats for bringing us together to make Tijuana Flats, Yelp, and all of us better at what we do while enjoying each other’s company!


  • Why I don’t Ride with the ALR anymore – Part II

    OK… I said I don’t ride with them anymore, but this past weekend they decided to do a ride up to Lake City where the Laky City American Legion was hosting a chili cookoff. Well, that was enough for me, so I went with them. Hey… it’s chili.

    Of course, this just reminded me of why I don’t really want to ride with these guys anymore. First, they ran late. The email said to meet up at the post at 10 am for the ride, as the cook off was going to start at 11 am. When did we finally get rolling? An hour later! I had to stand around waiting for these guys to get their butts in gear and ready to go… and three of them, long standing members of the Riders, didn’t even bother with riding their bikes… they instead drove their big truck instead. So add to the list of reasons why I don’t want to ride with them is that they are tardy as hell, which is surprising given the nature of ex-military personnel who are accustomed to fifteen minutes prior to fifteen minutes prior.

    And then the ride. This really reminded me why I don’t go with these guys… because they are dangerous to their own. I chose to ride at the back of the pack, so that I can see what is happening in front of me and so that I don’t have idiots to my rear… and it turned out to be a good idea, because the bike in front of me, who has been riding for dozens of years, apparently never learned how to ride in formation with a group of bikes. No, instead of riding staggered the way it has been taught to every riding group I have ever been a member of, a lesson which has been put out to this very group many times before, a lesson that he HIMSELF has issued to others, decides to ride the entire way sitting directly behind the bike in front of him at the far right edge of the lane. So if the bike in front of him has to slam on the brakes, he is screwed, because he doesn’t have time to maneuver around, doesn’t have time to get on the brakes himself before hitting the bike in front of him, and frankly due to his age barely has the reaction time left to maneuver around things that come up in front of him normally. So he puts himself, his pillion rider (wife), and the rider in front of him in peril.

    I chose to ride home solo instead of riding back with them.

    Oh, and the chili wasn’t all that good either. I need to learn that these chili cook offs that are hosted by Harley Davidson or Veterans groups are being hosted by old people who apparently don’t know anything about making things spicy. They instead cater to the lowest common denominator, which means bland as hell. Once, just once, I need to cook for one of these contests and put up a sign reading something along the lines of “This chili is spicy. It will burn your dick off. You have been warned.”


  • No way to respond to Yelp articles

    OK… here is the thing. I sometimes see reviews on Yelp that simply don’t make sense. They post something, give a horrible rating, and then base that rating on only one thing. Or, in other cases, they state something, then go off in a completely different direction with their actual meal plans. I just wish sometimes that they would think about what they are writing before hitting that post button.

    Case in point: A rating article written recently for 4 Rivers Smokehouse, a local chain in North Florida. Personally I am not a huge fan of them, as I find them to be relatively generic and somewhat overpriced. However, I have also heard (though not tasted) that their brisket is bar-none the best in the area. I am not a huge brisket person, and prefer pork ribs, but that is beside the point.

    So the article… https://www.yelp.com/biz/4-rivers-smokehouse-gainesville?hrid=J9fVA9oq7cv40-8y0xxYHQ

    The reviewer gave it four stars… OK, fine. But her opening statement says that she saw the Hot Brisket sign in the window which is what enticed her to come in in the first place. She then goes on to describe that she bought an order of ribs, burnt ends, and a couple of sides, and proceeds to review those. Note the items she bought vs. what attracted her in the first place… no brisket was bought. It just seemed… inconsistent.

    Anyway, rant over.


  • Conastogas Restaurant

    Went to this restaurant on Monday night as a part of an American Legion Rider’s meeting. Normally we meet at the legion hall and do our business there, but ’tis the season and all, and the president decided that the organization had enough money to treat us this time around by buying dinner for us all at the restaurant.

    The American Legion Riders is a sub-organization of the American Legion, and we ride motorcycles, do charity work, and represent the Legion and Veterans. You know, that sort of thing.

    So how many members (there were about twenty of us that showed up) actually rode in for this event?

    Me. Just me. It wasn’t even really raining! (It had rained earlier, and there was still wetness on the roads, which is why I showed up with wet jeans, and it did rain while we were inside again, but still…)

    Our group was seated in a large private room that still has a view on the street. Un-shelled peanuts in a bowl greeted us as we made small talk and the waitress got our drink orders. More small talk as we waited for the drinks to arrive and then our meal orders were taken.

    I ordered the “Stogie” Burger with Bacon and cajun fries. We then proceeded to talk for about another half hour before our food started to trickle out of the kitchen. It seems that their kitchen is not designed to handle a twenty seat order at once. Nor does the restaurant appear to realize that for a group of twenty, you really need more than one waitress to handle everything. I really do mean everything in this case. She had no help when it came time to deliver the food, when it came time to fill up the glasses of iced tea, which pretty much everyone had, etc.

    Finally, our food did start to arrive, oddly enough in reverse order of the sequence that it was ordered… oh well, no big deal in that regard. The Stogie burger is a 16oz patty on a decent sized bun with all of the usual accoutrements for a burger… lettuce, tomato, onions, cheese, bacon. I passed on the pickle, because American pickles are crap. The burger was done to specification, and was a good burger. I mean, there was nothing spectacular about it, nor was it bad. It was a large burger that comes from a Western themed restaurant… so it was what I would expect.

    Really, you are getting what you would expect from a restaurant such as this, and the value is there for the money. The one niggly little thing that I would bitch about would be their claim that they have the largest burger in the country, referring to some place in Oregon that serves a 36 ounce burger. So apparently this place one-upped them with a 48oz burger (basically three Stogie burgers stacked on one another). Whoo! Sounds like no one would be topping that, right?

    Wrong.

    Denny’s Beer Barrel Pub in Pennsylvania has a number of different challenges… their 48 oz challenge is there, just like Conestoga’s, but they also have a 96 oz challenge (yes, that is SIX pounds). There are a number of other challenges that they have which are just scary to even look at.

    Anyway, that is my quick review of Conestogas Restaurant. I would recommend it if you want a typical Western style restaurant that serves burgers and steaks, as they do a decent job, but be aware that you are going to be swamped with a bit of kitchy western stuff along the way.

    http://www.conestogasrestaurant.com/