B. B. King Gave Us the Blues…

Our last full day before heading back to Chicago was full of more meetings and appointments. (I know… it’s sad but trust me, working hard pays off!) We found our way to Baldwin Park, a community between downtown Orlando and Winter Park. There, we enjoyed a nice italian lunch at Pizzeria Valdiano. We started with calamari and their house bread, which really was great and buttery with a garlic cheese crust. My hubby and sister in law enjoyed plates of pasta with sides of meatballs and italian sausage… while I had a chicken panini with basil and mozzarella cheese. It was a filling meal that was very good! If you find yourself in the Baldwin Park area, do check it out. I forgot to bring my camera to lunch so no pictures of these good eats. However here is a picture of the main promenade of downtown Baldwin Park (taken from their website)…After all our business meetings, we decided to spend our last night with a fun dinner at B.B. Kings. They had a live band playing and the place was great to wind down and let loose on the dance floor. We started with a sampler appetizer platter that had fried pickle chips, buffalo wings, potato skins and ribs… … which I washed down with a “Hoochie Coochie” cocktail. Sure it was a funny name for a drink, but it also was pretty smooth and fruity! (It included pineapple juice, cranberry juice, coconut rum, triple sec…) For dinner I ordered catfish coated in cornmeal and fried, served with french fries, hush puppies, corn muffin and coleslaw….while the hubby ordered a rack of baby back ribs…… and my sister in law ordered the pulled pork platter that came with a corn muffin, collard greens and mac & cheese.We had no room for dessert – in fact, we ended up taking half of the meal home because the portions were so huge!

It was a bittersweet dinner knowing it would be our last for awhile with my sister in law. But thankfully I plan on coming back to Orlando within the next month for more business. Until then, I’ll be singing the blues and aching to be back in the Florida sunshine…

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Digging Deep & Paying Cheap

It’s now Monday, just nearing the end of our vacation. We had some business meetings and appointments scheduled today (I know… I’m crazy to even work on vacation, but you’ll go to great lengths for things you have a passion for…)

Before our busy day ahead, we had lunch off the beaten path. Some great food can be found if you are willing to dig a bit. Located just south of downtown Orlando, my sister in law brought us to El Palacio, an authentic and fresh Latin and Cubano buffet restaurant.

It’s one of very few places in central Florida that has a large selection of Latino dishes to choose from. But the best part? Well, you just can’t beat the $5.99 price tag for a filling and authentic lunch. I’m still craving the pork carnitas and beef ribs! If you are in the neighborhood, your best bet is to get there around 11:30am to beat the mad lunch rush.

Here are pics from lunch:

The rest of the day we were tied up in meetings and appointments so lunch wasn’t anything blog worthy. We ended up going back to Sushiology for dinner since we could eat sushi every day!

Friends & Fun

Today was another lazy day where we lounged around soaking up sun on the balcony, watched movies and surfed the web (or work… which I’ll confess I did while on vacation). I spent part of the day with business calls and setting up meetings for the coming days. Besides, I had to save up my energy for our night out!

We headed up to The Villages and Leesburg to meet up with some special girlfriends and their husbands. At The Villages, we had a great Japanese steakhouse dinner at VKI Japanese Steakhouse. It was a lot of fun seeing friends, catching up on things and of course, enjoying the fun show the “grillmaster” put on for us.

The hubby, my sister in law and I all ordered the bento box. Mine included teriyaki chicken over udon noodles, gyoza, shumai, shrimp tempura, rice and fresh fruit:
Here are some more pictures from the dinner:

It was a great night with friends over good food… what more could I want?!

Blowing Kissimmee Kisses

Today on our second full day here, we had a lazy start indulging in a few episodes ofLaw & Order: Criminal Intent. (Believe it or not, I’m a die hard Law & Order fan and love all the series: Criminal Intent, Special Victims Unit & the original Law & Order!) For lunch we wanted something nearby and unique to the area… at least something a little different from what we can experience in Chicago. With that in mind, we went to Cafe Tu Tu Tango.

Cafe Tu Tu Tango is a unique and vibrant restaurant that merges both food and art. Upon stepping in, you’re immediately surrounded by artistic color, textures and delicious smells. Their concept is simple: offering a multi-ethnic menu of items all served tapas style, in appetizer portions. Our server suggested starting with 3 different dishes to share for 2 people. We ordered a baked artichoke & crabmeat dip, served with large Cuban style water crackers or cracker bread; Cajun Chicken Eggrolls (Blackened chicken, roasted corn, cheddar and goat cheese; served with creole mustard sauce and salsa roja), and Spicy Chili Garlic Wings, served with a cilantro lime dipping sauce. All of the dishes were fabulous and left us perfectly satisfied – not too full, not still hungry… it hit the spot perfectly.

To help walk off lunch, we hit the Prime Outlets International and exercised out wallet. Then it was off to visit my sister in law at the Mall of Millenia. The whole day was pretty relaxing, casual and laid back… all for good reason. Little did I know what fun was in store tonight!

For dinner, we met up with 2 couples who lived in the area. Jessy & Karen are girlfriends who I’ve gotten to know through a special social circle. The three of us brought our husbands to dinner and we definitely had a great & memorable night. Dinner was at Garbaldi’s in Kissimmee, FL. Upon arrival, we stepped into a lively place full of amazing aromas, flowing margaritas and the sounds of the mariachi band. This was definitely the place to be as each table and booth was filled with hungry and happy patrons.

(And here are our hubbies who are a little camera shy…)
We started drinking some amazing mango margaritas.
They were huge, sweet and quite addictive!

For dinner, my husband and I indulged in chicken & shrimp fajitas.
The portions were so large, there was barely any room on the table!
We thought the food and atmosphere was excellent and we were glad we visited this local Mexican restaurant chain. It offered some authentic eats and lively surroundings to boot.

But the night was just beginning. We all carried the party to a local sport’s bar – Sharky’s. Located in a Kissimmee strip mall, it doesn’t look like much… but inside, we had that place partying it up! They have a couple pool tables, dart boards and a juke box – everything we needed for a memorable night. Our husbands were soon bonding over a game of pool while us gals were all smiles and laughs with our drinks in hand.

The drink of the night is one Karen introduced us to – Malibu & Diet Coke. I would never have thought the two would go together! These 2 liquids make for a fabulous drink. So much so, we had quite a few… mixed in with a couple lemon drop shots. By the end of the night, some of us were on the floor – literally (due to slippery floors, belly aching laughter or a combination of both!)
With the juke box at arms reach, we rocked out to Bon Jovi, Marvin Gaye and some “bodunkadunk”. Maybe the next time we visit in the future, the owner will take our suggestion of offering karaoke!

As the night came to an end and said our goodbyes to our friends, we realized it was a perfect opportunity to hit a local late night grease pit – Waffle House. In Chicagoland, we don’t have this chain available so it was great to check this out. It’s a typical grease pit specializing in waffles. Ironically, we didn’t try them. I was expecting the waffles to be served with fried chicken, a southern specialty, but no fried chicken is on the menu. But we did find some great eats to round out our night of singing, dancing and drinking. I thought the Grilled Texas Bacon Egg & Cheese Melt Plate was pretty darn good and hit the spot. My sister in law, who joined us at the bar, enjoyed her Grilled Texas Bacon DOUBLE Patty Melt Plate. And the clean plate my husband left of his omelette and country ham was a sign that he enjoyed his order too.

They even have their own custom hot sauce!

We didn’t get home until almost 3am and so far, it was the most entertaining night of our vacation. We’ve got a few more nights ahead and we’re looking forward to the fun still in store.

The Orlando Food Adventure

One tradition my husband and I have every year is to celebrate our anniversary by travelling. This year we decided to visit Orlando, FL since its a place we haven’t been and my sister in law lives. Immediately upon arriving, we realized we were in a whole different food culture unlike Chicago.

As we drove out of the airport, we were bombarded with chain restaurants. For most people it’s not a big deal, or perhaps it’s a relief to see familiar eats. But for both the hubby and I… well, we are the types that prefer eating at establishments that represent the culture and vibe of its surroundings. You know… dives, mom & pop joints, hole in the walls, ethnic eats, hidden gems.

We realized coming into Orlando that it may be a challenge to find some local gems deep within an area so densely populated with touristy offerings. But we were up for the challenge and wanted to dig through all the tourist traps to discover and experience a different side of Orlando that isn’t always reflected in brochures, websites and books. With today being our first full day in Orlando, we started early to check out what it had to offer 2 die hard food enthusiasts from Chicago.

First food stop: Old Town, Kissimmee FL

One of our friends recently moved from Chicago to Kissimmee 2 months ago and we were thrilled to see her again. We met at a fun park called Old Town and had lunch at Jam Rock Cafe. The restaurant was quaint with an island feel, right down to the nylon printed tablecovers, Jamaican tunes in the background and very slow, casual service. There were four of us who had lunch together and we ordered the Jamaican Curry Goat, Jerk Chicken and Braised Oxtail. All entrees were served with rice & beans and a side of steamed mixed vegetables. To drink, we had these tasty “Miami Vice” smoothies, which was a pina colada + strawberry frozen treat. The food came to the table nearly 30-45 minutes… and there were only 2 other tables of patrons in the restaurant. We weren’t sure as to what took so long, but sadly the food was not worth the wait. The braised oxtail was dry and over cooked; the curried goat was too “gamey” and had little curry flavor; the jerk chicken was overdone and charred to a crisp resulting in very dry chicken. However, despite the barely palatable lunch, the conversation and company more than made up for it. It’s great to reunite with friends and catch up on each other’s lives.

Second food stop: Winter Park

After our lunch, we headed to a nearby town, Winter Park, FL. This was such a lovely town with so much character. We immediately fell in love with the cobblestone streets, cute boutiques and warm hospitality. For an afternoon pick me up, we came across Authentic Cuban Cafe. Here, we chatted with the restaurant owners, sipped our cafe con leche and shared a slice of a very decadent tres leches cake. It was refreshing to find a small and modest Cuban spot among the many wine bars and chic boutiques that lined Winter Park’s popular Park Ave. It was great to talk to the owner about the neighborhood and local food industry. I’d love to check out this area again. Some of the boutique stores along the main street, Park Avenue, included a cute cheese shop, a number of wine bars and a couple local chocolatiers. Unfortunately, by the time we stumbled on them, they were already closed.

Third food stop: International Drive, Orlando

International Drive is known as “the strip” of Orlando where many hotels, bargain shops and restaurants are located. My sister in law took us to a cute little sushi place called Sushiology. I was a bit skeptical at first… as it was small, had very few seats, and the loud club music made me expect strobe lights to be flashing any minute. We ordered a “gigabite” platter of sushi to share among us. In included 8 different maki rolls: California roll, Salmon Cream Cheese, Eel California, Salmon California, Tuna California, Shrimp Tempura, Salmon Tempura and a Rainbow Roll. We also shared some seaweed salad which was exceptionally good. I was quite impressed with the quality and price of the sushi and I can honestly eat here every day for the rest of our vacation! The best part? Our meal with drinks was less than $40 for 3 people.

After we finished with dinner, a parrot came in to take some pics with us. Here are some my sister in law managed to get from her cell phone… So for our first day in Orlando, we succeeded in finding some great places that weren’t bombarded with tourists. It was a great introduction to Orlando eats and we’re looking for the upcoming days to come.

Unfortunately – I forgot my camera at my sister in laws house today so I don’t have any pictures… but pictures will be available in the coming days!