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Who is The Saboscrivner?

I love food.  Love eating, love cooking, love discovering, talking about, recommending, and reviewing food.  Food is everything: culture, history, art, science, politics.  In these uncertain times, I think sharing a good meal is something everyone can find common ground over, even if they’re diametrically-opposed foes on every other topic.  So here’s one more food blog that can possibly even contribute to the shared human experience in this tumultuous world.

I live in the Orlando, Florida area.  Orlando has been unfairly dismissed for far too long as being “chain restaurant hell,” a destination for theme park tourists and not much else.  But I’ve lived here since 2004, and I love our rich, diverse, multicultural city, which has a TREMENDOUS culinary scene.  We have amazing restaurants far from the gates of the parks (and a few that are closer), so the main point of this blog will reviewing my local food experiences.  I don’t make it out of town very often, but when I do, you bet I’ll review whatever I eat in more exotic locales.

I might also share recipes I create or find, or even review groceries that everyone needs to know about.  And occasionally I’ll just want to recommend or review something else: a good movie, TV show, band, comedian, book, or comic book.  I’m a librarian by trade and a lifelong nerd, so I tend to get enthusiastic about the stuff I like, and I want to share information and tell stories.

I’m a mediocre photographer with an even more mediocre phone camera, so I’ll try to share my culinary adventures with you as best I can, primarily using my words.  Hopefully you’ll read and follow this blog and feel inspired to try something new for yourself.  There’s so much good food out there, and you need to eat anyway, so why not treat yourself to something awesome?  Sometimes a good meal, or even a snack, can be the highlight of the day — either something to help you celebrate or cheer you up.  You might not always agree with me, but I look forward to hopefully building a following and a community, with all the constructive feedback that goes along with those.

Just a few warnings:
1. I don’t like hashtags.  This will be one food blog where you can always expect complete thoughts in complete sentences.
2. I don’t drink and I’m allergic to mushrooms, so don’t expect booze-and-shrooms content.
3. Nobody is paying me to do this, so everything I write is my own opinion, which I stand by with a clear conscience.

So what’s the deal with the title?  What the heck is a saboscrivner?  Well, I’m also a lifelong comic book reader (“This guy?  The hell, you say!”), and one of my favorite comics of the last decade was Chew, written by John Layman, drawn by Rob Guillory, and published by Image Comics.  The whole series is complete, and you can buy the volumes from your local comic book store or on Amazon, or check them out from your public library or on the Hoopla service.  It’s an action-adventure-crime-horror-sci-fi-comedy, set in a food-obsessed world where most of the main characters have food-related super powers.  Everyone’s powers receive a polysyllabic name and a description, and one of my favorites, a restaurant critic who is a main character in the Chew saga, served as a bit of a personal inspiration.

From her character introduction in Chew #3:  “Amelia Mintz is a saboscrivner.  That means she can write about food so accurately, so vividly and with such precision – people get the actual sensation of taste when reading about the meals she writes about.”

That saboscrivner ended up playing a key role in saving the world, but I’m just a regular guy trying to impart information as a food blogger, hoping to share the same sensory experience with my readers.  I hope you’ll decide to follow The Saboscrivner and turn to it for restaurant reviews and recommendations in Orlando and beyond.

Au Cheval (Chicago)

My new job sent me to Chicago twice this summer for training opportunities, and I did everything I could to explore and eat my way around the beautiful Windy City as much as I could.  I already regaled my stalwart Saboscrivnerinos with my epic excursion to Eataly, and the next really terrific meal I enjoyed in Chicago was at Au Cheval (http://auchevaldiner.com/chicago/).  It sounds like a fancy French restaurant, which is really not my thing, but instead it is a really nice, “elevated” diner.  Well, that’s how Au Cheval describes itself, anyway. 

It was a tight, crowded space with a handful of booths along the windows, and a bustling open kitchen with several barstools open for diners to sit facing the bar.  The dining room is relatively dark and full of dark leather and dark wood for a “macho,” masculine feel.  I got there in time for an early lunch, and I still waited about 20 minutes for a solo seat to open up at the farthest left corner of the busy kitchen/bar area.  I don’t drink, but I was watching expert bartenders slinging some really nice-looking cocktails the whole time I was there.

I fully admit Au Cheval wasn’t on my original dining agenda, but the first two restaurants I attempted to go to in Chicago’s West Loop (an incredible dining destination I strongly recommend to all) were closed for various reasons, so I’m really glad I wandered in there.  They don’t accept reservations for lunch or dinner, so I got lucky, all things considered.

The menu isn’t huge, but it consists of pure comfort food, of the delicious, heavy, hearty, and unhealthy variety.  They do have two salads and several egg dishes, but I was torn between two different dishes, and since I had no idea when I would be back in Chicago, I ordered both.

First up was seared, chilled, and chopped chicken liver ($14.95), one of the classic foods of my people.  It was served with rich, salted butter (almost overkill, given the fatty, savory richness of the liver) and the absolute finest toast I’ve ever had.  The bread was thick Texas toast, the kind you can get at my beloved Waffle House and so many other diners, ideal for patty melts and barbecue sandwiches.  Rather than being “toasted” in the traditional sense, it was cooked on the flattop griddle and beautifully buttered.  

As for the chopped liver, as my students used to say, IYKYK (if you know, you know).  It might look like cat food, but it is so rich and savory and tasty, I love it so much as a very rare treat.  Most of the chopped liver I’ve had from Jewish delicatessens and appetizing stores is a smooth, creamy, uniform consistency, but Au Cheval’s version was more roughly chopped for a more interesting texture.  It still spread so smoothly on the best toast ever, the butter was really kind of unnecessary… but ultimately too good to ignore.

After that, I was watching burger after beguiling burger come out of that open kitchen while I waited for my seat at the bar, so I couldn’t leave without one.  I ended up springing for the double cheeseburger ($16.95), since it was only two dollars more than the single, and this string of good decisions continued.  Constant readers, I have to tell you that this was the #1 absolute all-time best burger I’ve ever eaten in my damn life, here at Au Cheval in Chicago.  I’ve eaten burgers all around the state of Florida and elsewhere along the highways and byways of America, and this left them all in the dust.  Perfect in every way, ten out of ten, nothing comes close.It was like an ideal, iconic version of a “smash-style” diner burger, like a burger out of a Tom Waits song, but so much better than that fictional burger would have been in his sad world of late-night, lonely meals wolfed down in Edward Hopper environs.  While the menu said “double cheeseburger,” it sure looked like it had three patties to me.  What do you think, folks?

Traditionally, I have preferred thick, juicy burgers, but between Au Cheval and two restaurants here in Orlando that I haven’t had a chance to review yet, that smash style is definitely winning me over.  It had so much flavor and wasn’t overdone or dry at all — quite the opposite, in fact.  It was dressed simply, with a creamy sauce, a few scant pickle slices, and wonderfully melty American cheese between the patties, and I did put some ketchup on it.  The bun was grilled like the toast that came with my chopped liver, which is the best/only way to serve a hamburger bun.

Now I made two mistakes here: I did not order bacon on the burger, because that would have been an extra $6.95, and I felt like I was being decadent enough, with these two heavy, greasy dishes.  But Au Cheval serves really thick-cut bacon like some steakhouses do, and I bet it would have been totally worth it.  Sometimes bacon on burgers is undercooked, so you can’t get a good bite without pulling out the whole strip, and sometimes it is burnt to a crisp and doesn’t end up adding much to the experience.  I’m sure this would have made the best burger of my life even better, but then again, how can you possibly improve on perfection?

Also, I did not order fries or hash browns ($8.95 each), simply because I got plenty of carbs from the perfect toast and the bun from the perfect burger, and that would be a bit insane, even for me.  But I bet they would have been spectacular from a restaurant like this.  If they had onion rings, I would have been all about those, but they didn’t, so it was a moot point.  Regardless, I give my strongest possible recommendation to Au Cheval, and if you ever find yourself in Chicago, I would encourage you to ease up on the pizza casserole and overloaded Vienna Beef hot dogs to indulge here instead.

The Escobar Kitchen

The Escobar Kitchen (https://theescobarkitchen.com/) is one of my favorite kinds of restaurants for two reasons:

  1. It offers a really cool, creative fusion of two wildly different cuisines that you’d never think of combining, but I’m glad somebody did.
  2. It’s hidden inside a place that you wouldn’t expect, so not a free-standing restaurant where anyone can just come along and find it.  As a self-proclaimed food writer, I live for writing about restaurants like this, and I take great joy and pride in introducing people who might never find or even learn about them on their own.

In this case, The Escobar Kitchen is a food stall inside the Bravo Supermarket in Lake Nona.  Bravo is a supermarket chain that specializes in groceries from different Latin American countries, aimed at a Hispanic clientele (but anyone can, and should, shop there).  It has 71 locations throughout the United States, including several in the Orlando area.  I work near one Bravo and live near another, and I always find great stuff whenever I go, from frozen passion fruit puree to agua fresca powder mixes to fantastic tinned sardines nobody else carries to pizza empanadas a friend recommended.

But Lake Nona, a burgeoning new community all the way across town from me, has the biggest, nicest Bravo I’ve ever seen.  It took over a space that used to be an upscale Earth Fare supermarket after the location closed in 2020, at 13024 Narcoossee Road in Orlando.  Just to give you some context, all the Bravo locations I’ve ever been to have a cafeteria area where you can line up and get hot, fresh food to go — usually a mix of Puerto Rican, Cuban, and Dominican dishes, in huge portions.  You take your styrofoam box of food (kindly wrapped in plastic wrap to avoid leaks on the way home, because they fill it to capacity and beyond) and go eat it somewhere else.

But the Bravo in Lake Nona has a whole seating area, like a mall food court, and also features this business alongside their own cafeteria county.  Locally owned and operated by Chef Lewis Escobar and his brothers,  The Escobar Kitchen specializes in Latin Asian fusion — most notably sushi with a Puerto Rican twist.  That’s right, you heard it here first, true believers!

You can see from The Escobar Kitchen’s online menu that they serve dishes as diverse as “tereyaki wingz” [sic], General Tso ribs, arroz enchurrascado (a delicious-looking dish of yellow rice with skirt steak, sweet plantains, pigeon peas, and chimichurri sauce, served paella-style), and beautiful tempura-fried stuffed avocados.  They even offer familiar California rolls, spicy tuna rolls, and chicken rolls, for diners with a dearth of daring.

But the stars of the menu are the signature sushi rolls, inspired mashups of Latin and Asian flavors, presented in a way that I can only describe as sexy.  I ordered two of these rollicking rolls on my first-ever trip to Lake Nona, where I visited a cool couple at their gorgeous house to possibly buy an elliptical machine from them.  As desperately as I need to lose weight and get into better shape, of course my cross-town schlep had a culinary ulterior motive!

So here’s the hotness:
The presentation is beautiful, right?  I guaran-damn-tee that some hipster chef in Miami is going to come out with a similar menu at a hard-to-find restaurant with expensive valet parking and probably charge three times as much, if not more, and it probably won’t be as good.

This is the Tropical Sexy Salmon Roll ($14), with salmon, avocado, pineapple, cucumber, fried onions, and scallions, topped with marinated salmon and Escobar sauce.  You see?  It’s not just me that thinks these are sexy!  It’s even in the name.  Holy guacamole, this was a treat.  I could seriously eat this every day.   But ultimately, you could probably get a roll like that at any number of good sushi restaurants.  I wanted something with salmon or tuna to contrast with the next one, which is a better example of The Escobar Kitchen’s Latin-Asian fusion.  And the Tropical Sexy Salmon Roll tasted as good as it looks, so no regrets here, no shame in my game.

But get a load of the Paisa Roll ($15), a magnificent mélange of yellow rice, thin-sliced grilled churrasco steak, chorizo sausage, avocado and cream cheese, wrapped in sweet plantains and topped with chimichurri, honey wasabi, and a crunchy, crackly pork rind on the top.  This isn’t light, like so many sushi rolls are.  This is heavy in every possible way, but also awesome in every possible way.  Again, the presentation is killer-diller!

Here is a close-up of the two ravishing rolls I ordered, so you can really see the detail, all the ingredients, and the artful way everything was combined:

I hate that The Escobar Kitchen is literally across town from me, because this is the kind of restaurant I would try to drag local and visiting friends and work colleagues to, first to tempt them with the novelty and then to hook them on artful, creative fusion cuisine that satisfies, that isn’t just some Instagram-worthy hype.  It doesn’t get much more out of the way for me than Lake Nona, but this is definitely a reason to return, and for all my constant readers, the stalwart Saboscrivnerinos, to plan a Lake Nona mission of their own.  Tell me you’re not tempted!  Convince me you’re not considering it.  Maybe next time you need some groceries, skip your basic neighborhood Publix and bring your Bravo Team down to the Lake Nona Bravo, where shopping and dining can be a true pleasure.

(P.S. I made it back to Lake Nona over a month later with a rented U-Haul and bought the very cool couple’s elliptical machine, but didn’t have time to stop at The Escobar Kitchen again.  I’ll just have to return another time!)

Ziggie’s Pizza

Today I tried Ziggie’s Pizza (https://www.ziggiespizza.com/) for the first time.  It is in the Ivanhoe Village district of Orlando, at 603 Virginia Avenue, not far from the Mills 50 neighborhood with some of our best restaurants in the city.  Ziggie’s is named for its owner-operators, brothers Christian and Floyd Ziegler, who opened it in 2021.  Their pizzeria shares space with a very hip bar, The Thirsty Topher, that specializes in really good beer and wine.  You can hang out on either the bar side or the pizzeria side and bring your food and drinks back and forth.

I expected to have a hard time parking, as I do at most of the hyped, hipster establishments in Orlando, but it was very quiet on the Sunday afternoon I visited, with plenty of parking and no wait inside.  I expect that would be very different most evenings, so plan accordingly.

The menu on the website doesn’t make this clear, but all the pizzas at Ziggie’s are 12″ personal size, and they are all wonderful thin crust style.  You order at the front counter, and they have plenty of laminated menus to browse through.  Pizzas with a variety of creative and high-quality toppings range from $10 to $16, and you have the option to build your own, starting at $10.  There are also salads, if you don’t feel like a pizza, or if you want a salad with your pizza.

I can tell a lot about a restaurant by the kind of music they play, and these were the songs I heard while I waited for my order:

  • Jurassic 5 – “What’s Golden”
  • The Notorious B.I.G. – “Juicy”
  • Mark Morrison – “Return of the Mack”
  • A Tribe Called Quest – “Award Tour”
  • Skee-Lo – “I Wish”
  • Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five – “The Message”

All classics, all straight fire.  Not booming loud, which is never necessary, just impeccable taste.  (I might suffer from impostor syndrome and depression, but I know I have good taste, hence this blog!)  At least someone at Ziggie’s is probably around my age, with impeccable taste too.  It definitely made me realize I was choosing wisely.

They even decorate the walls with some sweet vinyl, including the aforementioned Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, Madvillain, Czarface, and the legendary debut album of the Wu-Tang Clan:
NOTE: After publishing my review, Christian Ziegler himself sent me the link to the Ziggie’s Pizza Spotify playlist, which is nothing but bangers.

It didn’t take long for my pizza to be ready.  Believe it or not, I don’t want my pizza to be loaded with toppings, especially when I’m first trying a new pizzeria.  I’d rather let the crust, the sauce, and the cheese speak for themselves, so I can best assess the strengths of the pizza.  As a result, I ordered The O.G. ($10), with red sauce, low-moisture mozzarella, buffalo mozzarella, AND aged pecorino romano cheeses.  I loved that they garnished the pizza with fresh basil leaves.  That’s a really nice touch, as it is one of my favorite pizza toppings in general, and one that never overwhelms the overall balance of the pie.
Stalwart Saboscrivnerinos, this was SUPOIB.  A perfect pizza in every way.  If you don’t like thin crust, you may be disinclined to agree, but I sure do.  It wasn’t as crisp as a New York-style slice, but not as soft and floppy as a Neapolitan-style pizza.  I’d describe it as a perfect middle ground between those two beloved pizza styles.  As you can see, it was cut into six large slices rather than eight smaller ones (which I prefer, for no real reason), and I wolfed it down in no time flat.  (It was my first meal of the day, you see, after spending hours cleaning the garage in the sweltering heat.)

Since I don’t drink, I didn’t bother exploring The Thirsty Topher in the adjoining space, but I hear it is an awesome place for beer lovers.  Ziggie’s has a small refrigerator full of nice bottled sodas, but they are also kind enough to have a jug of chilled water available for free, so that’s all I had with my pizza at the time.

That said, The O.G. was so good that I had to bring some pizza home to share with my wife.  As much as we are soulmates who are completely in sync throughout life, one thing we rarely agree on is pizza.  She does like thin crust, though, so I figured she would appreciate Ziggie’s.  I ordered two pies to go:

This is half of the Gabagool ($16), since I put two slices on a plate for her and devoured a third before remembering to photograph it.  That’s a rookie mistake that I rarely make these days, but it was still warm by the time I got home, and I didn’t want to linger any longer.  The Gabagool is topped with red sauce, a three-cheese blend, pepperoni, crumbled Italian sausage, smoked slab bacon (probably the highest quality bacon I’ve ever had on a pizza), and pickled red onions, which I requested on the side, because my wife hates onions as much as I love them.
It was awesome, and I was thrilled she agreed.  She even suggested her parents would like this pizza, and they (in)famously don’t like trying any new things.  I will have to introduce them to Ziggie’s and the Gabagool some time soon.

And this was the other pizza I brought home: the Killa Beez hot honey pizza ($16).  I would have been tempted to try it for the Wu-Tang Clan reference alone, even if I didn’t love all the toppings on it: low-moisture mozzarella, pepperoni, prosciutto, crumbled goat cheese, fig jam, and house-made hot honey (which I requested mild for my wife, even though I’m among the some who like it hot).
We both like sweet and savory combos, and this was another hit.  I would totally order this again, even though ultimately, the O.G. might have been my favorite of the three.  In the future, I might just build my own pizza and get the smoked slab bacon, pickled red onions, and Calabrese peppers on it.

But I absolutely loved Ziggie’s Pizza, and the chill, laid-back vibe, and the sweet-ass hip hop they played, and I will definitely return.  If you haven’t been there yet, I encourage you to go.  That stretch of Virginia Drive between Mills and Orange Avenues has several hipstery bars and breweries on it, which many of my readers are probably already familiar with.  Make sure you add Ziggie’s and The Thirsty Topher to your Sunday Funday drinking and dining agenda ASAP, and enjoy what might be the best thin crust pizza in Orlando.

Sanguich De Miami (Miami)

My oldest, closest friend is a fellow food-lover and blogger, and since he still lives in Miami, the city of my birth and first 18 years on this big blue ball o’dirt, I defer to him on all things worth eating in South Florida.  He is an authority on croquetas and writes a semi-regular Croqueta Diaries column on his blog.  On the rare chances we get to visit each other, we try to introduce each other to our cities’ local favorite restaurants — not just our personal favorites, but the ones we are proudest of, that we think the other will appreciate the most.

It had been over two years since my last trip down to Miami to visit this guy (and also my family), thanks to the pandemic making social calls more fraught and long trips seem like less of a priority.  But I missed everyone, so back in July, I schlepped down south from Orlando and tried to make the most of it.  For my buddy and I, that usually meant hitting a few different restaurants to try to sample the best stuff in a limited amount of time.

Our ridiculous foodie day got off to the best possible start at one of Miami’s finest establishments, Sanguich De Miami (https://sanguich.com/).  It has become famous in a relatively short time for featuring some of the finest Cuban sandwiches in the city that specializes in them — no, not Tampa, the other one!  But my friend isn’t the only person who vouches for Sanguich — it earned a prestigious Michelin Bib Gourmand Award earlier this year, which is a huge honor for any restaurant.  Several of my Orlando favorites won Bib Gourmands in 2022 as well, and the Michelin website explains it best: “What Bib restaurants do have in common is their simpler style of cooking, which is recognisable, easy-to-eat and often something you feel you could attempt to replicate at home. A Bib restaurant will also leave you with a sense of satisfaction, at having eaten so well at such a reasonable price.”  My regular readers know I’m not the biggest fan of “fine dining,” so these Bib Gourmand-rated restaurants appeal to me a lot more.

Anyway, this is the beautiful, fragrant, flawless pan con bistec sandwich ($13.59) that we split in the car.  It contains thinly sliced sous vide steak, mojo rojo sauce, fried string potatoes, and Swiss cheese on pressed Cuban bread.  I’ve had several similar sandwiches at Cuban restaurants in Miami over the decades, but I can tell you that I’ve never had its equal.  Look at that cheese pull!  I just wish you stalwart Saboscrivnerinos could smell it.

We also ordered the pan con lechon ($10.99) to eat later.  This elevated take on another classic Miami sandwich contains shredded pork, pickled mojo onions, and garlic cilantro aioli on Cuban bread.  I hate to even put this in print, but sometimes the pork in these pork sandwiches is on the dry side, and sometimes it is sliced so thick that you take one bite and pull huge chunks out of the sandwich, destroying the structural integrity.  Well, that was not the case with this pan con lechon!  Look at it! 

Here’s the half I heated up back home, and it was glorious.  The pork was so flavorful, and all the elements sang together in perfect harmony.  Shredding the meat made it such a pleasant textural experience to eat, and everything held together, as it should.  Of course the bread was pressed to perfection, even surviving a four-hour drive and a trip through the toaster oven. 

Of course we didn’t leave well enough alone!  We ordered a third sandwich too, but my friend is such a mensch, he sent me packing with the whole thing, since he could return to Sanguich de Miami a heck of a lot sooner than I could.  We opted for a slight variation on the classic Cubano, for only 30 cents more: the croqueta preparada ($12.79).   

It contains all the same ingredients as the Cubano: city ham, lechon (the same pork that’s on the pan con lechon), Swiss cheese, pickles, and mustard on pressed Cuban bread, BUT there is one more ingredient that is probably obvious by now: two croquetas de jamon!  Yes, that’s right.  For a double dose of delectable decadence, Sanguich added two of those crispy, cracker crumb-coated croquettes stuffed with finely chopped ham and creamy bechamel sauce, deep fried and then pressed onto the sandwich so they turn warm and melty and gooey, almost like a super-savory Cubano condiment.  This wasn’t the biggest Cuban sandwich I’ve ever eaten (that was from the former owner-operators of Orlando’s College Park Cafe), but it was easily one of the best.  Top Five, for sure.  Top two or three, absolutely.  Of course, the croquetas added a whole new dimension of deliciousness to the classic Cubano, just like how Tampa Cuban sandwiches (like the ones at Alessi Bakery and La Segunda Bakery) add genoa salami.  But I’ve never had anything like the croqueta preparada sandwich from Sanguich.

So this place is worth every bit of praise and hype, trust me (or hey, trust a tire company that also rates restaurants, which makes about as much sense).  Calle Ocho in Miami’s Little Havana is full of wonderful, iconic restaurants, and I’m sure it is pretty hard to get a bad meal there.  I’ve written about a couple of those establishments before, and I have one more Little Havana review from my most recent trip that I’m working on.  But next time you’re in Miami, you’ll avoid a lot of damage and anguish if you practice your Spanish and manage to order a sandwich from Sanguich (or two, or three).

Aunt Gingibread’s Bakery

Aunt Gingibread’s Bakery (https://www.auntgingibreadsbakery.com/) is a hidden gem in “downtown” Apopka, west of Altamonte Springs.  I almost never drive that far west, but I recently discovered it when I had to order ten dozen cupcakes for a function at work.  My predecessors had used a few different bakeries in the past, with mixed results, but I decided to try a new place that I had read good things about for a while.  Plus, they were surprisingly a lot cheaper than other local bakeries’ custom cupcakes.  Since I really wanted to try Aunt Gingibread’s myself and see what they had in the shop, I offered to drive out of my way to pick everything up on the big day.

I was greeted by the very friendly and welcoming Jennifer (“Aunt Gingibread” herself) and Dan, who had our ten dozen cupcakes all prepared and boxed up.  Part of me was a little worried about some complication on the day of our event, but they did everything right and were incredibly professional.  It came as no surprise that a lot of their business involves gorgeous custom cakes for special events, including wedding cakes.

But as nice as cakes and cupcakes are, while I was at the shop, I was more intrigued by the goodies in their refrigerated glass display cases, and I made some impulse buys to bring home to share with my wife later on.

Here are all the beautiful, elegant cupcakes from our work event.  I didn’t make the actual selections, but it was a good mix of flavors to please our students and staff.  A co-worker labeled the boxes, which came unmarked:

  • Chocolate cupcakes with chocolate buttercream icing,
  • Chocolate specialty cupcakes with chocolate chip cookie dough icing,
  • Chocolate premium cupcakes with Nutella buttercream icing, and
  • Vanilla cupcakes with lemon icing.  (I love citrusy desserts, so I tried a lemon-iced cupcake and can vouch for it being excellent.)
  • Carrot cake cupcakes with cream cheese icing (another big hit),
  • Red velvet cupcakes with cream cheese icing,
  • Strawberry cupcakes, and
  • Vanilla cupcakes with Funfetti icing:
  • Butter specialty cupcakes with cookies and cream icing and
  • Butter specialty cupcakes with salted caramel buttercream icing:

Like I said, everyone loved these, and I felt like a big damn hero for discovering the bakery and hand-delivering them to work.

But even better, here are the treasures I brought home from Aunt Gingibread’s for later.   Clockwise from the top:

  • Chocolate cream pie bar slice,
  • Blueberry cobbler bar slice on a shortbread crust,
  • Triple berry cobbler bar slice with blueberries, raspberries, and blackberries on a shortbread crust, and
  • Oatmeal creme pie cheesecake bar slice.   
    These were all rich and indulgent.  Long-time readers know my undying love for cheesecakes, pies, cobblers, and desserts in bar form.

And these were also awesome: lemon pie bar slices and key lime pie bar slices, with rich, moist graham cracker crusts.  Dan wisely advised me to stick these in the freezer before enjoying, since they wouldn’t fully freeze.  I did this, and actually forgot about them for over a week, which made a huge, pleasant surprise when I finally rediscovered them waiting for me. 

Everything from Aunt Gingibread’s Bakery was such a treat.  They have a tiny little space in Apopka, which is off the beaten path for most foodies and snack-seekers, but I strongly encourage everyone to check them out and bring home some sweets and treats for yourselves.

Pig Floyd’s Urban BBQ

Pig Floyd’s Urban BBQ (https://www.pigfloyds.com/) is a beloved, locally owned and operated restaurant in Orlando’s Mills 50 district, filled with some of our best local dining options.  A lot of people credit it as being the best barbecue place in the city, despite not being the most traditional barbecue style.  Proprietor Thomas Ward has combined Latin, Caribbean, and Asian culinary influences with delicious meats smoked low and slow, and that sets Pig Floyd’s apart from the crowd.

Earlier this year, I met a friend from the Orlando Foodie Forum out there for lunch on a weekend, which was admittedly my first visit to Pig Floyd’s in several years.  I was happy to see there was a large, covered outdoor patio, which made me feel more at ease hanging out to eat there.

My friend ordered the banh mi sandwich ($11.99), which comes with a choice of oakwood-smoked pulled pork, tender char-grilled chopped chicken thighs, or deep fried pork belly with “lucky dragon” sauce, pickled vegetables, jalapeño, and garlic ginger aioli on a toasted baguette.  It is about double the price of the excellent, traditional banh mi sandwiches available at so many great Vietnamese restaurants in Mills 50 district, but you get what you pay for, since none of those other places are serving meats of this quality.
His banh mi came with a side order of apple fennel slaw that he raved about.

I ordered the Mills 50 sandwich ($12.99), with oakwood-smoked brisket, house-made pimento cheese, caramelized onions, and red peppers served on a hoagie roll.  It was a terrific choice, full of ingredients and flavors I love.  The side order of sticky-sweet maduros (sweet fried plantains, one of my favorite dishes) was a perfect accompaniment to the rich, heavy sandwich.

Despite getting a sandwich featuring beef brisket, I couldn’t help myself from ordering a pork al pastor taco ($3.99), featuring pulled pork with roasted pineapple, onion, cilantro, and tomatillo sauce.  It was so good — even better than it looks below. 

I couldn’t believe I had stayed away from Pig Floyd’s for so long.  It was even better than I remembered, so I intend to make my next visit a heck of a lot sooner, and to eventually work my way through Thomas Ward’s meat-centric menu.

Chain Reactions: Eataly (Chicago)

Eataly (https://www.eataly.com/) is like heaven for foodies: a massive Italian food store that contains several restaurants, from sit-down pastarias to wine bars to counter-service bakeries to grab-and-go snack shops.  As a result, it is kind of like a massive food hall, with so much to see and do, smell and taste, experience and indulge.  But most of all, Eataly feels like a temple to Italian food — truly a place of worship — and well worth a pilgrimage at least once.  There are ten Eataly stores in Italy (the first one opened in Torino in 2007), nine in North America, and eight elsewhere in the world.   I don’t know how different they all are, since I’ve only been to the Chicago Eataly (https://www.eataly.com/us_en/stores/chicago/) — first with my wife in 2014, and again on a recent business trip to Chicago.  I had to venture back there, to make sure that first visit wasn’t just a wonderful dream, but the kind of place where dreams come true.

It had been so long since my first visit, I had to explore everything in the store before deciding on my first bit of food.  I made my way to the second floor to a familiar kiosk that beckoned: the land of cured meats and cheeses.  I felt like a weary traveler who had finally made it to my destination, yet also feeling like I was home

Since I was just staying in Chicago for two nights, I couldn’t buy anything fresh or perishable or requiring cooking, but I’m sure some fancy Chicago locals bypass the local supermarkets and buy all their meats at this gleaming butcher’s counter.  You can’t see the price labels in this photo, but take it from me: if you have to ask, you probably can’t afford it.

Here’s a shot of huge tomahawk ribeye steaks, slowly dry-aging to perfection in a clear refrigerated case: 

The seafood counter was equally sumptuous.  On my first visit to Eataly back in 2014, I made an indulgent purchase of bottarga here: the salted, cured, pressed, and dried roe sac of a fish (usually gray mullet, but sometimes tuna).  I had read about bottarga before, and it sounded irresistible to me, as a connoisseur of the cured, a scholar of the smoked, and a professor of the pickled.  So many cultures created their own versions of this delicacy, and I’ve still never found it in Florida.  The bottarga I bought at Eataly made it back in my luggage without any problems, and it lasted months in the fridge, as I finely grated it over so many pasta dishes.  It added a salty, savory, umami flavor to everything, and pretty much melted in my mouth.  If that sounds good and not gross, I highly recommend it.

But all this browsing made me hungry, so I returned to the restaurant my wife and I dined at on our original trip to Eataly here in Chicago: the creatively named La Pizza & La Pasta.  You can’t go to a restaurant like this and not know what you’re getting!  They take reservations, but I arrived relatively late in the day, after a long training workshop and an architectural boat tour down the Chicago River, so I had my choice of seats and opted for a solitary barstool, far from any other diners.

The kind server brought out this wonderfully fresh, crusty bread with olive oil that was much sweeter and more flavorful than the kind I keep at home that regularly goes on sale at Publix.  I’m not sure if every party gets “table bread,” or if it came with the dish I ordered, but if you’re visiting Eataly, hopefully you’re not obsessed with counting carbs, so you should definitely take advantage and enjoy this brilliant bread.   

As a solo diner, I knew I couldn’t justify ordering two entrees, so it was difficult for me to choose.  My server helped me break a tie, so I went with a fresh pasta dish, tagliatelle alla Bolognese ($24), topped with real-deal parmigiano Reggiano, not the shaky-can stuff I’ve bought my entire life.   The fresh tagliatelle pasta was kind of eggy (not in a bad way, just not exactly what I expected), but the savory Bolognese sauce was awesome, with plenty of chunks of meat.  I get that this was a pretty basic choice, and I make “pasta and meat sauce” quite often at home, but it is real comfort food for me, and I wanted to see how Eataly’s kitchen would present such a timeless classic.  They knocked it out of the park, needless to say.

As an aside, here’s a photo I found of the dish I ordered here back in 2014, in those pre-Saboscrivner days: my favorite pasta dish anywhere, bucatini all’amatriciana ($21).  This thick bucatini pasta (long, hollow tubes) was not fresh like the tagliatelle I had just tried, but there’s nothing wrong with good quality dried pasta.  I think I prefer it, in fact.  All’amatriciana is served in a spicy tomato sauce with guanciale (cured pork jowl), and this version from La Pizza & La Pasta was perfect in every way, even better than the tagliatelle from this most recent visit.
I make pasta all’amatriciana at home as a treat once or twice a year, but since guanciale is hard to find, I usually substitute cubed pancetta, which you can find at Trader Joe’s, Publix, and even Aldi sometimes.  If you’re not into bucatini, pretty much any other pasta works well, except for weirdo choices like tri-color wagon wheels.  What is the deal with those, anyway?

After dinner, I wandered around the store a little more and gazed at beautiful Roman-style pizzas on display at the Pizza alla Pala kiosk.  I was tempted, but I had just eaten dinner, and I knew they wouldn’t be that great eaten cold in my hotel room the next morning.

But I saw these gorgeous foccaci farcita sandwiches, with cured speck ham, provolone, and arugula on fresh focaccia bread, and I thought “One of those would be awe-inspiring eaten cold in my hotel room the next morning!”  Maybe because I got to Eataly relatively late in the day, they charged me a much lower price for the to-go sandwich than what you see pictured, more like the price of an individual slice of pizza.   

Here’s an extreme close-up of the lovely sandwich.  Speck is very similar to prosciutto.  I could tell they brushed some olive oil on the bread, but I thought a tangy vinaigrette of some kind would have really put it over the top.  (But I think about that with most sandwiches.)

And to go with my beautiful Italian breakfast, I found an Italian brand of potato chips, San Carlo la Vita e Buona, with a flavor that was too interesting to turn down: mint and chili pepper!  If I recall, this bag was under $3.  Since I love trying new potato chip flavors and reviewing them in this very blog, I felt obligated.  I did it for YOU, stalwart Saboscrivnerinos!

San Carlo was a bit stingy with the flavoring, a marked contrast against many American chip manufacturers that really cake it on there, but they tasted very fresh and potatoey, and the mint subtly shined through.  They were barely spicy at all. 

I also brought home a salami from the cured meat counter that sounded amazing (elk, pork, and dried blueberries?!), but it wasn’t worth the price I paid.  I would have loved to try so many more things at Eataly, but again, I was limited by what I could safely store in my hotel room and bring back in a carry-on bag, with TSA’s continuing rules banning liquids.  That said, if you ever find yourself in a city grand and lucky enough to have its own Eataly location, I implore you to make that pilgrimage and try it for yourself.  You will be tempted by all sorts of treasures, and it is just a pleasure to wander around and explore, treat yourself in one of the many restaurants, and bring back mouthwatering mementos, succulent souvenirs, and tasty trophies from your travels.

 

Chain Reactions: Krispy Krunchy Chicken

Krispy Krunchy Chicken (https://krispykrunchy.com/) is a unique fried chicken chain with a distinct Cajun accent, founded in Lafayette, Louisiana, in 1989.  It is a unique chain because most of the locations are inside gas station convenience stores, but anyone who reads my blog knows you can often find great food in the most humble-looking and unlikely of places.

Take, for example, the Citgo station at 3025 East Colonial Drive, 32803, in Orlando, on the corner of East Colonial Drive and Maguire Road.  This is on the edge of a couple of the best foodie neighborhoods in the city: the Milk District and Mills 50.  I’ve been driving past this gas station for years, and only recently noticed a sign that it offered Krispy Krunchy Chicken inside.  I had to try it, for the sake of journalism and a librarian’s desire to share information.  I’m not sorry I did.

When you place your order, you ask for the chicken you want from under the heat lamps, and a nice lady will bag it up for you.  It was all very fresh.

The sides are self-serve (you just grab them yourself).  This sign lists prices for single pieces of chicken:
Breast: $3.19
Wing: $1.89
Thigh: $2.09
Leg: $2.09
Tender: $1.89

Here’s a close-up of that bottom shelf, which includes honey butter biscuits, boneless chicken tenders, corn dogs, and egg rolls.  Sauces are 50 cents each (original, buffalo, honey mustard, ranch, tartar, sweet and sour, and barbecue), but as much as I love sauces and condiments, I was trying this chicken for the first time, so I didn’t want to overwhelm my palate or distract from the main mission with too many variables.

I ordered a two-piece meal ($7.99) with a leg, a thigh, a side (see below), and a honey butter biscuit, and had a little picnic in my car.  Totally worth it.  The chicken was juicy and the breading was thick and crunchy, but not as Cajun-spicy as I was hoping.  Still, you can’t ask for much more than that, especially from a gas station convenience store setup!  The biscuit was a real standout.  Not in the same league as Se7en Bites, Orlando’s beloved Southern bakery and restaurant moments away, which is home of the best biscuits ever, but perfectly fine to accompany this chicken.

I couldn’t resist getting an order of fried chicken gizzards too.  (I don’t remember how much this was.)  Now I LOVE chicken livers (chopped liver is one of the foods of my people!) and hearts, but I didn’t remember ever trying gizzards before.  They were REALLY chewy.  That’s the most I can say about them.

The macaroni and cheese tasted a lot better than it looks here, flattened down by the lid on this styrofoam cup.  But I don’t even think it looks bad.  It looks and tastes like typical macaroni and cheese you would get as a side at any number of barbecue joints or Southern restaurants.  So maybe not Orlando’s best (for that, check out Pom Pom’s Teahouse and Sandwicheria, nearby in the Milk District, and also Se7en Bites again!), but very pleasing nonetheless.

Since this was my first visit to a Krispy Krunchy Chicken location, I got two additional sides while I was there.  These red beans and rice were suitably smoky, salty, and creamy, but you just can’t beat Popeyes red beans and rice.  That’s the quintessential version right there, the one that even chefs (like David Chang) cite as the best.

But my favorite side was the jambalaya, saucy rice with chunks of (andouille?) sausage and ham.  I always like jambalaya, whether it’s from an old restaurant in the French Quarter or a box from Zatarain’s.  This was somewhere in between, quality-wise, but closer to the French Quarter than the box.   I didn’t expect it to be as good as it was.

Would I go back?  Absolutely I would.  As much as I generally like Popeyes for bone-in fried chicken, they can be hit-or-miss with both food quality and service.  And this particular Krispy Krunchy Chicken gas station location is a lot more convenient for me than the always-excellent Theo’s Kitchen.  This was solid fried chicken, but I think the thing I liked the most was the jambalaya.  It was so tasty and hearty and full of meat, I could happily make it the centerpiece of a meal some other day, when I’m in the mood for such a thing again.

Mr. Dunderbak’s (Tampa)

One of my closest friends lives in Tampa, and many years ago, he introduced me to a terrific German restaurant near his home called Mr. Dunderbak’s (https://dunderbaksbeer.wordpress.com/).  There used to be multiple locations, many of which were in malls, but this location moved out of Tampa’s University Mall and into its current location near the University of South Florida a long time ago, long before I discovered it.  There is also a completely separate, unaffiliated restaurant of the same name in Daytona Beach, with its own website and menu, but I’ve never been there.  The Tampa location, however, is near and dear to my heart.

I’ve ended up there a few times, visiting  dear friends from high school who had families and escaped Miami, just as I did, only they ended up in Tampa instead of Orlando.  On past visits, I would order a variety of wursts (sausages) and apply a variety of different mustards to them.  Mr. Dunderbak’s sells a variety of German groceries, including mustards, and I could never leave empty-handed.  The dining room is a bit crowded, and it’s dark inside, which I love.  Even though there are shelves of groceries, racks of candy, a full deli counter, a busy and bustling bar, and lots of tuba-heavy German music being piped in, it feels like an intimate experience.

At some point along the way, I brought my wife to Mr. Dunderbak’s, and she fell in love with the food and atmosphere too, as I knew she would.  We were lucky enough to return for two lunches earlier this summer, just the two of us — once on our way back from a quick getaway to St. Pete Beach, and again on our way to a concert in Tampa.  We had the same server both times, the lovely and patient Victoria, who made us feel like welcome regulars, even though these had been our first visits in far too many years.  She is the greatest!

Mr. Dunderbak’s serves the best pork rinds ever ($4.99 for this very generous portion).  They are so light and crispy, not like some others that are hard enough to break your teeth or your jaw crunching into them.  They aren’t greasy or overly salty, and they are covered with a light glaze of honey, making them sticky and sweet and salty all at the same time.  They are a delicious appetizer and snack, and the leftovers stayed crispy after we drove home from Tampa.

Of course I couldn’t resist trying Mr. Dunderbak’s onion rings ($8.99 for this huge portion) for the first time ever.  RING THE ALARM!  (That’s how I celebrate reviewing any onion rings, which I do whenever and wherever I find them on a menu.)  These were beer-battered, golden brown, lightly crispy, not greasy, not too crunchy, not too soft, not falling apart.  They were just right — my favorite kind of onion rings anywhere. 

I took a risk and chose the paprikasch pork gulasch ($13.99), even though it was a hot June day — less than ideal for a rich, meaty, spicy, tomato-based stew thick with pork, carrots, tomatoes, and twisty egg noodles.  I normally enjoy goulash in all of its forms, and even though it was tasty, I would have been better off with something a little less heavy and hearty in the thick of a Tampa summer. 

My gulasch came with two sides, so I got what I’ve had at my handful of previous visits to Mr. Dunderbak’s: both kinds of potato salad, since I’m such a mark for potato salad.  The one on the left is the German potato salad, served warm, in a sweet, thick, vinegary sauce.  The one on the right is a cold potato salad, also a bit sweet from vinegar, and served with crumbled bacon. 

My wife ordered a pork wiener schnitzel ($13.99) — a pork cutlet pounded flat, breaded with cracker crumbs, and deep-fried until crispy.  You may notice a trend developing, but I am pleased to say it wasn’t greasy at all, not overly crunchy, the breading stayed on, and the meat inside was tender, juicy, and flavorful. 

Her schnitzel came with two sides, so she chose spaetzle (the most delicious little dumplings made from semolina flour and egg, sautéed in lots of butter), and homemade applesauce.  She loved both of these.

In fact, my wife loved all of this food so much, she ordered the same thing when we passed through again, a week later.

As for me, I had to try something different on our second visit, when we were lucky enough to have Victoria as our server again.  She even recognized us, and she helped me choose my next lunch: kassler rippchen ($19.99), two thin pork chops that were brined, cured, smoked, and served in an apricot, brown sugar, and Riesling reduction sauce.  They were outstanding.  I’ll rarely seek out pork chops on a menu or make them at home, but these were next-level delicious.  They were more like really good ham than any pork chops I’ve had before, due to the preparation method.  I loved them! 

In addition to a little round pretzel roll, this time I broke my pattern and ordered two different, slightly lighter and healthier sides: vinegary cucumber and dill salat (so perfect to cut the richness of the pork chops, and also crunchy, cool, tangy, and sweet), and a wonderful wilted spinach salat with shaved gruyere cheese and warm sweet and sour bacon dressing.  I shared both of these sides with my wife, and this one inspired her to start making spinach salads for herself at home, it was that good.

Since we were on our way to check into a hotel room in Ybor City before an evening concert, I wanted to get something to eat in our room so we wouldn’t have to schlep out into the night after the show.  My wife had plenty of leftovers, but I ordered a sandwich that I knew would travel well: Dunderbak’s French Connection sub ($11.99), with Genoa salami, smoked German Westphalian ham, German bologna, garlic chive cream cheese spread, Swiss cheese, lettuce, and tomato on a sub roll.  It was really good, but I should have asked Victoria to have them apply one of their many mustards to it to spice it up.  It was a good sub, and it came with a dill pickle spear and some Ruffles-style ridged potato chips, but I could have probably picked something more unique.  That said, I wanted something I could easily eat in a hotel room at night when I was tired, that didn’t require heating up in case we didn’t have a microwave oven.  

And this is the vaguely automobile-shaped thick slice of apple strudel ($8.99) we brought to our hotel room in Tampa.  The crust was very delicate, almost like a pie crust but softer and not as rich or flaky.  The strudel was heavily spiced with cinnamon, and it also contained raisins and walnuts.  I just had the tiniest taste, but my wife really enjoyed it.  She also had me buy a lot of candy, including some marzipan and Haribo gummies.

So that’s Mr. Dunderbak’s.  It’s somewhat off the beaten path for those traveling to Tampa, nestled in the New Tampa suburbs close to USF, and not exactly close to the more hip, happening, and tourist-friendly parts of town.  But if you like German food (including Sanford’s beloved Hollerbach’s, which we are also big fans of), you have to try Mr. Dunderbak’s too.  Next time, I’m sure I’ll go with my Tampa friends again, but these two lunches with my wife felt like romantic getaways, even with all the “oom-pah” march music in the background.

Ceylon Roti Hut

Ceylon Roti Hut (https://www.facebook.com/ceylonrotihutt/) is one of Orlando’s newest food trailers, located at A La Cart, a food truck gathering place that’s ten minutes from my job, but somehow I had never been there before.  I had never even turned down the street it’s on, but I sought it out just to try Sri Lankan food for my first time.  Sri Lanka is a diverse and multicultural island country in the Indian Ocean, southeast of the southern tip of the Indian subcontinent.  Due to geography and demographics, I expected the food might be similar to Indian food I’ve had before.  It shared some surface-level similarities that would certainly appeal to fans of Indian cuisine, but was still very much its own thing.

This is the lovely Ceylon Roti Hut food trailer, owned by husband and wife team Gavin and Shehara Parys.  They own another food truck, Ceylon Hut, which I’ve never had the pleasure of finding, so this is actually their second mobile kitchen.  Chef Gavin was on duty when I went there, and he was very friendly and welcoming, quick to answer my questions and make recommendations, and he had fresh, flavorful food in front of me in about five minutes. 

Here is the menu.  There are only five dishes, all featuring chicken or pork, and all priced very reasonably, between $12 and $14.

I ordered chicken kottu ($13) to eat there, inside the covered portion of A La Cart.  I sat on a stool at a long, otherwise-empty table, cooled by fans on a hot Friday afternoon in July, and enjoyed this delicious, spicy dish of stir-fried chicken curry, eggs, vegetables, and shredded parata roti, a tortilla-like flatbread that would be familiar to anyone who has tried Indian, Trinidadian, or Guyanese food.  Chef Gavin made it seem like he could easily adjust the spice level for anyone who prefers turning down the heat to mild levels. 

It was so good, I had to try something else, so I asked for the roti with pork stir-fry ($12), packed up to go.  It was still hot by the time I got home, so even though I intended to save it for dinner, I ate it almost immediately.  As great as the chicken kottu was, I think this was even better.  The pork was spicy, but so flavorful, and the roti was a perfect neutral flavor to scoop it up and contrast against it.  It was soft and flaky and very lightly crispy from being fried. 

I’m sure most of my regular Orlando readers are already familiar with A La Cart, but if you haven’t been in a while, get there ASAP to enjoy spicy Sri Lankan street food, courtesy of Gavin and Shehara Parys and their newest business venture, Ceylon Roti Hut.