Saturday, October 18, 2014

Jack's London Grill, St. Petersburg, FL

I'll be the first to admit that British Pub fare, up until now, has never done much to set my pulse to racing.  What I've tried locally has been fit for little more than suds-sopping...greasy, bland, overcooked and uninspiring. Apparently, I just haven't tried it when it was properly prepared by an actual chef who hails directly from the source of origin...Great Britain.  Thus, I was born again today in Jack's.

The website states that "we prepare all our food fresh daily, with the finest ingredients hand picked by our Master Chef Peter Leonavicius".  After tasting it, I have absolutely no difficulty believing this claim.  This cuisine, which I cannot with a clear conscience refer to as "pub grub", was delightful, creative, obviously prepared with care and presented piping hot (little makes me crankier than having lukewarm food plopped down in front of me). There was a short wait for our selections to exit the kitchen, but it was well worth it and our knowledgeable server (Leo) made sure we had cold beer to sip on while our meals were being prepared.

Hand-cut, beer-battered onion rings were sheer decadence. Crispy, non-greasy and right out of the fryer, they didn't even need an accompaniment...but the "chili jam" (which is pretty much like a really great sweet Thai chili dipping sauce) put a unique spin on this classic favorite.
















Because I'm inherently fearful of British Pub food (having been scarred by prior experiences), I played it safe and ordered the classic fish and chips.  A regular order (which I understand is massive) is priced at $10.99, but a downsized version is available before 6:30 PM (along with $3 pub wines and beer selections) so, anticipating something overly breaded, oily and fishy-tasting, I went with that.  Good thing I did...not because my spidey senses were giving me a good read, but because the Happy Meal version was more than I could finish.  The whitefish was delicate, moist, sweet and enrobed in more of the light beer batter that made the rings so stellar.  It was coupled with an off-the-chain house made tartar sauce that I couldn't get enough of...I'm not sure what they put in it, but I think it might've been crack.  The massive "chip" planks were twice-fried with a fine exterior salty crunch factor and tender insides.  The little side salad was very nicely dressed and more thoughtful than most in Tampa Bay (certainly more for any dining establishment of this price point).  Despite its tastiness, I didn't eat much of it because I was too enamored of the plethora of deep-fried decadence surrounding me to waste stomach space on greens.  I'll take a vitamin tomorrow.
















Bangers n' Mash were similarly impressive.  What tasted like artisanal sausages in natural casings (intensely flavored with spices that lent a little kick of heat at the end) were perfectly grilled and presented atop a delectable mound of garlic and herb mashed potatoes that had been slathered in homemade wild mushroom gravy. Yummzzzamillion!
















It was a ridiculous idea to order dessert when we couldn't even wrangle down our entrees, but of course we did it anyway (being hedonists to the highest power).  The moist apple and cranberry bread pudding was a fine rendition that provided a welcome reminder that it actually IS autumn even if Tampa Bay temps aren't currently cooperating.  Chocolate and caramel sauces added a nice touch.
















The restaurant is housed in an old Pizza Hut location and you will pretty much be cognizant of that, but the interior is clean and comfortable...albeit a tad spartan.  Chef stopped by to ensure that we were pleased (we were) and was happy to chat a little about his methods.  Our menu selections were all outstanding and ridiculously affordable.  Everything pictured plus two beers apiece set us back $43 before gratuity.  A fantastic experience overall.

Jacks London Grill on Urbanspoon
My blog entries contain the unmitigated, and sometimes unforgiving, dining truths and perceptions I experience as an ordinary, anonymous restaurant patron. Every meal I post about has been fully paid for by one of the participating members of my personal dining party. I do not engage in the gratis blogger freebie dining events I'm constantly invited to attend and never will. If I ooze font-like love for a restaurant in my blog, it's because they totally earned it…not because they gave me free food or knew I was going to share the experience on the internet.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Caffé Italia, Riverview, FL

I have no idea what Riverview ever did to deserve a shining epicurean gem of Caffé Italia's ilk, but it must've done it in a previous life.  For now, I'm not going to ponder the whys and hows, but simply count my blessings and pray that my fellow Brandonites give this place the support and respect it deserves.  If you don't, I'll be forced to remind you that "this is why we can't have nice things" over a tasty repast at Crapplebee's on SR 60.

Chef Franco LoRe, formerly of the now defunct Laughing Cat in Ybor, doesn't miss a beat in his new, smaller digs. The tiny place, tucked away in a strip mall on Big Bend Road, makes up for what it lacks in ambiance with quality, quantity and a generous BYOB policy.  While no alcohol is served on the premises, diners are encouraged to bring their own.  There's no corkage fee if you tote along wine glasses and a $10 per table charge if you don't.  Since wine can often ratchet a tab up by 50% or more for UD and me, that's a bargain I can firmly stand behind.  We arrived at 4:30 on a Saturday and had the place to ourselves until it began filling up half an hour later with fellow wine-carrying diners.
















We received excellent service from Greg, who popped a loaf of fine Italian bread into the oven as soon as we arrived and deposited it on our table, hot and crispy, within 10 minutes.  Greg divulged that the bread was not made onsite, but that it is locally sourced...however, had I not asked, I never would've guessed that it hadn't just been freshly baked to order.















Melenzana Rollatini practically melted on the tongue.  The eggplant had nary a hint of bitterness and was slathered with ricotta and melted mozzarella goodness, rolled and topped with an uber-perfect tangy tomato basil marinara.  We asked for an extra order of sopping bread to insure that not a drop of THAT sauce remained on the plate.















Wild Mushroom Soup was sheer nirvana.  I'm not sure anyone can top Cafe Ponte's Mushroom Bisque, but it has certainly met its match in Chef LoRe's sherry-riche rendition.  I suppose it depends on whether one prefers ones creamed fungi savory and homogeneous or boozy and chunky.  Yes, please!
















My $17.95 entree of Pappardelle Piemontese could've fed a third-world village.  Almost an embarrassment of riches, the behemoth platter of wide, creamy, al dente noodles was liberally laden with salty prosciutto, sweet peas and savory wild mushrooms.  To ratchet its hail damage factor a notch higher, all components were awash in a decadent 2,000-calorie-per-tablespoon Alfredo sauce (caloric content of the sauce is just a ballpark estimate...it might've been higher, so wear stretch pants).  I had to bring about 75% of it home with me...but on the positive side, I got to enjoy the leftovers for the next two days.  Plate sharing is allowed with a $5.00 surcharge, which is probably a good way to go unless you're a lumberjack, eating for quadruplets or training for a triathlon.
















My porcine-loving better half selected a massive, breaded and fried, tender and juicy dinosaur pork chop crammed with prosciutto and provolone cheese. Just in case a pound of protein wasn't enough, the entree was flanked by penne in vodka tomato cream sauce and some surprisingly tasty and crisp veggies swimming in garlic butter (we tend to eschew veggies here at the Dog House...and, yes, we know about that annoying food pyramid but largely choose to focus on the top two tiers).
















Who in the hell orders dessert after all this?  As it turns out, we do.  The "happy ending" options were standard issue for the most part (flourless chocolate cake, cheesecake and tiramisu), but we couldn't say "no" to house made cannoli.  As wrong as it seems to state that a cannoli in East Hillsborough county trumped the ones we tasted in Italy, it did.  I loved the sturdy, cookie-like, cinnamon-spiced shell and its silken, ricotta cream filling was off the chain.
















This is big-city food in a small town with the option to BYOB.  Hit it or you'll regret not doing so. Including the very reasonable corkage fee we incurred, our dinner tab came to $80 and we would've been completely satisfied ordering far less.

Caffe Italia on Urbanspoon

My blog entries contain the unmitigated, and sometimes unforgiving, dining truths and perceptions I experience as an ordinary restaurant patron. Every meal I post about has been fully paid for by one of the participating members of my personal dining party. I do not engage in the gratis blogger freebie dining events I'm constantly invited to attend and never will. If I ooze font-like love for a restaurant in my blog, it's because they totally earned it…not because they gave me free food or knew I was going to share the experience on the internet.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Rumba Island Bar & Grill, Clearwater, FL

Rumba Island Bar & Grill totally blew my socks off last night.  Not just because it was finally cool enough to dine al fresco for the first time in six months...or because even though we were practically sitting curbside on Gulf to Bay Blvd., we could easily imagine that we were relaxing on an island oasis without even having to squint our eyes...or because every staff member we encountered was so laid back and warm.  I think it's safe to say that our entire party walked in anticipating a Red Lobster experience at best, especially considering the low price point of the menu offerings and the all-inclusive nature of the entrees (bread, salad and two sides come with all dinner options), most of which are available for under $15. Our preconceived notions couldn't have been further from reality as both quality and quantity exceeded expectations at every turn.

UD and I settled in at the outdoor "tiki bar" while we waited for our dining companions to arrive.  I was immediately pleased by the oh-so-reasonable adult beverage pricing ($5.00 for house chardonnay, $7.50 for a generous pour of Chateau St. Michelle, and $1.49 mugs of Bud, Bud Light and Miller Lite...all regular prices, not Happy Hour prices).  Since I was already a little "hangry" when we arrived, Dr. Dawg went into damage control mode, having been meticulously trained over the past decade in the first aid procedure of  "feed a woman, starve a b!+ch".  A $4.39 order of Caribbean Skinny Onions with Jerk Aioli was promptly administered, effectively diverting the looming apocalypse...at least for the time being.  Light, crispy, carby and spicy, they were truly a salve for the hormonal beast within and everyone got to live.  Yay.















In full-on, eyes-bigger-than-stomach mode, we also requested half a dozen tender little sweet-meets-heat Mama Maria's Muffins, subtly flavored with cheddar cheese and scotch bonnet for $1.19.  A single party in your mouth mini-muffin is delivered with every entree, but go ahead and order an extra basketful or you'll bitterly wish you had because these babies are like crack.
















A better-than-average, meaty and beautifully presented smoked fish spread was also sampled by our group.  Heavy on the protein, light on the mayo binder and boasting a pleasant after-beat of heat, it proved to be $3.99 well spent.





















After the carbo-loading frenzy we indulged in at the bar, I was already suffering the effects of a tightening waistband by the time we were seated for dinner.  An Island Shrimp and Rice Bowl (a hearty portion of coconut rice topped with tender, sauteed shrimp in a zesty tropical fruit sauce studded with pecans and finely chopped veggies) sounded appropriately light.  Since fresh snapper (my favorite fish) was available, I had it topped with a grilled fillet, having no idea how substantial the bowl would be in and of itself.  It was a truly delightful concoction...and one which, unfortunately, I was unable to finish.





















Due to the fact that Underdog ordered an entree "proper", he received the full menu of accoutrements along with it...another Mama Maria Muffin, a house salad and two sides.  The little Fiesta Salad with mango salsa and honey poppyseed dressing left 90% of other Tampa Bay house side salads in its dust.  Very nice.















His $14.99 Rumba Trio was a taste bud-tingling combo of grilled jerk wings; a big, slow-smoked, falling-off-the bone, mango BBQ glazed Barbados-style rib; and a few butterflied and crispy-fried shrimp.  Available sides at Rumba are several notches above the norm and include garlic mashed potatoes, mashed sweet potatoes, coconut rice, crunchy island slaw and cranberry stuffing, just to name a few.  A meat-and-potatoes beast at heart, the garlic mashed potatoes were a foregone conclusion for UD and, by applying a bit of wifely pressure, he also agreed to pay an upcharge of $2.50 for the crab mac and cheese as side #2.  As critical as I can be, I can't come up with a thing to complain about.  This was one. damned. fine. <$20 dinner.  And the crab mac and cheese...SO over the top in its decadence factor. Sturdy in consistency, generously interspersed with crustacean morsels and baked in a crock beneath a little golden-brown cheesy blanket, this may be the perfect food.
















Rumba Island Bar & Grill is part of the local Baystar Restaurant Group which also includes Salt Rock Grill and Marlin Darlin (both of which I've tried) and, for my money, it's superior to its sister restos.  Friendly service; thoughtful, fresh, Floribbean-inspired food; generous portions; reasonable prices and chill vibe combine to make it one of the best in its price point in the Tampa Bay area.


Rumba Island Bar & Grill on Urbanspoon

My blog entries contain the unmitigated, and sometimes unforgiving, dining truths and perceptions I experience as an ordinary restaurant patron. Every meal I post about has been fully paid for by one of the participating members of my personal dining party. I do not engage in the gratis blogger freebie dining events I'm constantly invited to attend and never will. If I ooze font-like love for a restaurant in my blog, it's because they totally earned it…not because they gave me free food or knew I was going to share the experience on the internet.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Zen Forrest, New Port Richey, FL

Zen Forrest is a...get this..."zen-like" little eatery tucked away in a Pasco County strip mall.  The walls are painted a soothing sage green, decor is minimalistic and tables are nicely spaced.  Dragons, gilt, kimonos and piped in muzak are noticeably absent.  Ambient art is subdued and tasteful.  Even when full of patrons, the vibe is soothing, conversing is easy and there's an air of intimacy.  Not your stereotypical Chinese restaurant, the menu is more "Asian influenced" with noticeable nods to the cuisine of Japan, Thailand, Taiwan and Vietnam.

We received knowledgeable and courteous service from Kassie, who was was pleasingly low-key and paced our meal nicely (our party of four spent a leisurely hour and forty-five minutes visiting and noshing without ever feeling either neglected or rushed).

The Crab Rangoon was a real crowd-pleaser and definitely a cut above average.  For starters, it actually tasted like crab (not "krab") and had a garlicky kick that set it apart from its typical Chinese resto contemporaries.  The spicy mango dipping sauce was the perfect accompaniment for these crispy pockets of decadence, which were so delightful that I toyed with the idea of ordering a second batch.
















Zen Forrest Rolls (minced chicken with veggies in an egg roll shell) were a deviation from the norm in the best of all possible ways.  Richer, denser, and more savory than traditional egg rolls, they were served hot and crispy with spicy lemon mustard sauce.
















The simple house salads that prefaced the meal were fresh, crunchy and dressed in a pungent, garlic vinaigrette which is sold by the bottle in-house (and, after tasting, I can understand the demand).  If you're on a first date, however, it might be best to steer clear as it is as potent as it is addictive.  I fear it will be emanating from my pores for days to come.
















My lemongrass-seasoned shrimp with aromatic, sweet-meets-savory Coconut Curry sauce was a winning entree. Ordered at a "medium" heat level, it left a nice sheen of sweat on my upper lip without being overpowering and I appreciated the liberal infusion of fresh veggies, incendiary peppers and cilantro.  The use of larger shrimp would've made it exceptional.
















Baby Bro's Tangy Orange Zested Chicken was the best I've tasted this side of Chinatown in Philly. The breast meat was moist and juicy, fried to perfection and slathered in a nasal-passage-opening, intense citrus sauce.  Wasabi mashed potatoes were fluffy and pungent while still retaining a desirable, homemade lump factor.
















UD opted for Beef Negamaki (teriyaki soaked steak with fresh scallions rolled inside, sizzled on the grill, topped off with an onion teriyaki sauce), which truly delivered and could've fed a small army. The tender beef roulades were "like buttah" and yielded easily to the slightest touch of fork pressure.  I think my resident knuckle-dragger would've appreciated a rarer/bloodier variation, but that didn't stop him from falling upon the bovine flesh like he had a sunrise engagement with Old Sparky.  Sadly, my photo doesn't do justice to the dish.
















Kim's Shrimp and Thai Basil didn't seem to appeal to anyone other than herself.  The taste I sampled failed to thrill and its visual element brought to mind a red-headed step-child in comparison to the rest of pulchritudinous plates at our table.  Perhaps its dark, heavy sauce just wasn't my cup of tea.

















Asian restaurants are not generally renowned for the decadence factor of their desserts and I don't think Zen Forrest is much of an exception, although their offerings are more taste bud-tingling than green tea ice cream, gao and fortune cookies (I want fried bread pudding with ice cream and whiskey sauce, damnit!).  We sampled two...house-made Blueberry Cake and Apple Spice Cake. Both were quite light and flavorful, but the blueberry version with its tender texture and silken layers of berry-infused, mousse-like cream filling was everyone's favorite.

















The "also-ran":
















Final word:  I like Zen Forrest. Would I again drive 1.5 hours for more?  Probably not.  Nonetheless, better-than-average restaurant cuisine identified anywhere north of the Pinellas and Hillsborough county lines is always noteworthy.  In addition to thoughtful, quality menu offerings, a respectable list of reasonably priced wines and craft beers are also available.  In fact, I identified a new crush in the form of butterscotch-like Cannonball Chardonnay on this visit at the almost obscenely low price of $6.50 per glass.  It's worth a visit for denizens of North Pinellas and Pasco counties.

www.zenforrest.com

Zen Forrest on Urbanspoon

My blog entries contain the unmitigated, and sometimes unforgiving, dining truths and perceptions I experience as an ordinary restaurant patron. Every meal I post about has been fully paid for by one of the participating members of my personal dining party. I do not engage in the gratis blogger freebie dining events I'm constantly invited to attend and never will. If I ooze font-like love for a restaurant in my blog, it's because they totally earned it…not because they gave me free food or knew I was going to share the experience on the internet.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Ulele, Tampa, FL

A new day has dawned on Tampa Bay's culinary landscape.  The most exciting and innovative restaurant since Edison Food + Drink Lab has arrived in the form of the Florida-native-inspired (and I mean historical natives, not us contemporaries who were born here...there are still plenty of venues frying up grouper sandwiches in homage to us) Richard Gonzmart dream project, Ulele. My dining experience at said establishment this evening left me virtually reeling in sensory overload.

The building itself is visually stunning, both inside and out, and would be equally impressive in cities far larger than Tampa.  As the newest addition to the Bay area's "see and be scene", our party found out too late that a weekend reservation at Ulele is the hottest ticket in town and one that can't even be bought with God's money right now. However, there's more than one way to skin a cat...each more fun than the last, according to my feline-averse spousal unit.  Relax...he's only kidding (I pray).  After strategizing with our favorite dining partners, JR of the SOG City Oracle and his lovely bride, the BOBP, we decided to show up at an hour that would embarrass even the most hardcore early bird diners and press our noses forlornly against the locked doors in the hope that pity would be bestowed upon us.  As it turned out, the oyster bar was already open when we arrived at 4:30. Dinner doesn't begin until 5:00, but we put our names on the wait list and settled in at the gorgeous concrete mollusk counter inlaid with tiny arrowheads and seashells for some apps and cocktails.

I could've taken pics of the interior all day long, as something shiny caught my eye and pivoted my head at every turn, but I had some serious eating to do which demanded my full attention.  I did manage to snap a couple between bites, however.






































While at the bar, we sampled a sexy Lobster Claw Cocktail presented in a massive, gleaming martini glass.  Two gargantuan, scarlet claws and a respectable mound of sweet crustacean morsels were nestled atop a bright pool of zesty cocktail sauce studded with fresh corn and avocado. Priced at a nominal $12, an investment in this starter could yield substantial date night dividends.  As I always say, "Candy is dandy but lobster is quicker".
















Alligator Hush Puppies were ridiculously good. Comprised of alligator, country ham, duck bacon and chopped jalapenos, these little wads of golden-fried dough heaven were milder than expected and cooked to perfection. They were quickly gobbled up by all...even the 'gator-ambivalent BOBP.












At that point, we were called to our table (at about 5:15)...so the wait was not bad at all.  The boyz couldn't resist the lure of Pulpo Carpaccio (raw, shaved octopus with a spicy piri piri sauce, red and green chiles, and a bed of seaweed salad).  The gurlz, both of whom generally draw the line at "raw", abstained.  I'm not sure JR and UD didn't snort it through a straw, however.  I was afraid of turning into a pillar of salt so I didn't look.
















As one who spent her formative years up until she was around 30 in Tennessee, I like to think I'm an expert on corn muffins.  I even won a 4-H blue ribbon for my own corn muffins in the 4th grade.  I'm sorry to say that all of the corn muffins of my past were just golden idols.  The One True Corn Muffin is Ulele's Jalapeno Corn Beer Quick Bread.  Warm, crusty, moist, sweet and spicy, they are truly manna from heaven...especially when slathered with soft, creamy butter.  Crazygod!  I mean, Crazygood!
















On to the entrees.  Except for a small selection of aged steaks, most hover in the $25 price range.  Sharing an appetizer, ordering two entrees and splitting a dessert would be more than enough food for most couples.  All dinners include a veggie and choice of starch, and the portions are mammoth.  Wines by the glass are generously poured and there are a plethora of nice choices for under ten bucks.

My Deconstructed Seafood Pot Pie was a luxurious crock of divine, creamy wine sauce chock-full of shrimp, scallops, grouper, smoked oysters and octopus with accents of finely diced veggies.  The seafood was the star in this dish and it was largely unmitigated.  Flaky, puff pastry pillows flanked the "pie" so the carb factor could be added to suit my individual taste (all of them, please!).  This is not the Banquet Pot Pie you grew up with.  The sides of nutty wild rice and haricots verts were quite pleasing, as well...not that I had a lot of room for them.
















The guys, both clearly in the mood to strip a bone of its flesh, went into caveman mode and ordered the beast that was the 1-1/2 lb. Crackling Pork Shank with Firecracker Apple Raisin Chutney. In manly fashion, the rice was eschewed by the Y-chromes and decadent white cheddar mashed potatoes were selected instead.  The only sound I heard outside of grunting for quite awhile was UD's comment that the meat had the both the taste and tender consistency of pork belly.
















The self-proclaimed "seafood-hating" BOBP once again went rogue and chose the Florida Pompano (pan-seared pompano with sun-dried tomato shallot cream and fried carrot ribbons).  The fish was sweet, moist and flaked nicely at the slightest pressure of the fork.  Fried carrot ribbons could easily become a new food addiction....one which I might even be able to convince myself is "healthy" if I can work my way just a tiny bit further into my perpetual state of denial.
















Do you know that saying about idle hands and the devil?  I have now identified how Satan is leveraging those hands. They're churning this diabolical concoction - Candied Duck Bacon Maple Fried Ice Cream with cinnamon corn flake candied duck bacon crust, Knob Creek crème anglaise, caramel and sweet potato waffle crisp.  Sweet, salty, creamy and crunchy, you must experience it personally to wrap your head around its unique melange of flavors and textures.  C'mon, hop on into the handbasket with me...you know you want to.















We all adored the silky Guava Pie with Shortbread Cookie Crust...the crust was sublime and the fluffy filling subtle and light.  It was the angelic foil to that "bad boy" ice cream.  















We received superb service throughout the course of the evening from staff members at all levels.  Jorge was our crux from which all others radiated and he was a consummate professional in all respects.  The total bill for the dining room portion of our epicurean adventure was right at $100 per couple, including two glasses of wine or beer apiece. I'm still shaking my head in sheer wonderment. 

Final word:  I love every aspect of Ulele, right down to the pleasing way her name trips off my tongue. Cannot wait to return!

www.ulele.com

Ulele on Urbanspoon
My blog entries contain the unmitigated, and sometimes unforgiving, dining truths and perceptions I experience as an ordinary restaurant patron. Every meal I post about has been fully paid for by one of the participating members of my personal dining party. I do not engage in the gratis blogger freebie dining events I'm constantly invited to attend and never will. If I ooze font-like love for a restaurant in my blog, it's because they totally earned it…not because they gave me free food or knew I was going to share the experience on the internet.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

El Gallo Grande, St. Petersburg, FL

Let's just cut to the chase.  The tastiest Mexican food I've ever eaten in Tampa Bay was had last weekend at El Gallo Grande.  To add to their endearment factor, the ambiance is decidedly mod-Mex with a sleek bar area, brightly colored tables and chairs, contemporary south-of-the-border style murals and, best of all...no red and green motif, no sombreros, no piped-in Mariachi music (not that it doesn't have its place) and no serapes tacked to the walls.  The vibe is upscale without being pretentious and prices are reasonable for the quality imparted.   It reminds me a lot of Stephen Starr's Philadelphia restaurant, El Vez. Hard to believe the old-school Italian vibe of the resto's former inhabitant, Basta's, has been so completely obliterated and beautifully reinvented (not that I didn't once love Basta's, because it was a favorite of mine back in the '90s).  Kudos to the designer for the resulting eye candy.

















I initially thought $11.50 seemed high for a margarita, even one of the"top shelf" variety.  Howevah, my Blood Orange Margarita (sorry, I can't relay its official moniker because EGG's menu is not yet posted online and I drank two...which rendered me unable to feel my face afterwards, much less take notes) was the best I've ever guzzled sipped.  I adored the larger chunks of salt around the rim, the high alcohol content (I know...I'm as surprised as you are) and the way the blood orange juice so beautifully tempered the lime without making the resulting cocktail too sweet.  Behold my new addiction...the color of the sun as it sinks into the Gulf. Sigh.
















Before we move forward, I should add the caveat that there are house margaritas available for half the price.

Complimentary tortilla chips and a salsa-like concoction were dispensed while we looked over the menu.  We requested additional apps of house-made guacamole and Queso Fundido.  Both exceeded expectations.  I wasn't expecting the guac to be quite as tomato-laden as it was, figuring it would be easy to eat around my nemesis fruit. It wasn't, but I crushed so hard on its fresh, creamy-meets-chunky texture and the bright flavors imparted by liberal use of ripe avocado, lime and cilantro that I stoically forged on.  Only an isolated, rosy mound of the remnants of my gelatinous food foe remained after I snarfed all of the delectable, green goodness surrounding them.
















Queso Fundido was sexily hot, gooey and stringy.  We added a zippy, crumbled chorizo topper which was well worth the small upcharge.
















Lunch entrees are served a la carte, so I ordered a small Mexican Caesar Salad on the side (which, as it turned out, was a little more on the large side).  Crisp and delicious, it was adorned with corn and mellow Oaxaco cheese crumbles.  Dressing was not a classic variation, but brought more of a garlicky vinaigrette to mind.  I liked the lightness and crunch of it all.  Perfect for a summer day in Florida.
















UD's Tacos al Pastore (marinated pork tacos) disappointed him a tad because he lived in Mexico City for a while and got a little spoiled.  He felt they were somewhat less than traditional, but they looked and tasted all right to this Gringa.
















The ubiquitous gummy rice and gloppy refried beans we often receive as sides in Mexican restos are not automatically ladled onto your plate at El Gallo Grande. They're a menu add-on here.  And they probably should be due to the fact that both are well above average and portions are generous enough to share with the table. Refried beans look like refried beans (kind of like a pet "accident") so I won't post a pic even though they were quite good and ratcheted it up nicely with spicy heat.  The rice, however, was gorgeous...the little maize-hued kernels were fluffed heavenward and studded with peas and carrots.  An al dente delight!
















My arepas stuffed with tender, zesty chicken (which actually brought a pleasing bead of of moisture to my upper lip), nestled in a crunchy corn shell with fresh lettuce and a crema drizzle were nothing short of amazing. I loved this twist on the standard corn cake application often presented at food trucks around town.
















While service was a tad tentative (albeit caring) this was one fine lunch experience overall.  Although I don't get around El Gallo Grande's parts that often, I'll be baaack...if only for another satisfying slurp of Blood Orange Margarita.

El Gallo Grande on Urbanspoon

My blog entries contain the unmitigated, and sometimes unforgiving, dining truths and perceptions I experience as an ordinary restaurant patron. Every meal I post about has been fully paid for by one of the participating members of my personal dining party. I do not engage in the gratis blogger freebie dining events I'm constantly invited to attend and never will. If I ooze font-like love for a restaurant in my blog, it's because they totally earned it…not because they gave me free food or knew I was going to share the experience on the internet.