I’m sure my regular readers are all doing their part to keep themselves and others safe by staying home, and so is your friendly neighborhood Saboscrivner. But we still have to eat, and I feel obligated to help our local restaurants by ordering takeout when I can (pretty much limited to weekends, on my way home from the pharmacy or grocery store) and spreading the good word about them, to encourage others to keep ordering too.
I’m much less likely to drive all around the Orlando area on food missions like I used to, so I have a renewed focus on what’s good in the neighborhood. (Sorry.) Late in 2019, my quiet and unassuming suburb of Casselberry got a new little restaurant: Alex’s Fresh Kitchen (https://www.alexsfreshkitchenfl.com/). It opened in a space on Semoran Boulevard just south of Red Bug Lake Road once held by Five Boroughs Pizzeria. Who? Exactly. I visited the pizzeria once and thought it was perfectly okay, but it closed before I could write a review. Alex’s Fresh Kitchen, on the other hand, is a welcome addition to this side of town, and a place I intend to become a regular at.
Alex Diaz is the chef-owner of this small, quaint restaurant with an open kitchen. He cooks, and his mother, Deborah McDowell, who I didn’t get to meet, provides the baked goods. Alex was a convivial guy, definitely proud of his place despite suffering from the slowdown all restaurants are dealing with. But he had other locals, clearly regulars, coming in for takeout before and after me, so I’m glad people are finding out about his Fresh Kitchen.
I used to not be a big chicken sandwich guy, but the last year has led to me appreciating the humble fried chicken sandwich more, as you might have seen in my reviews of Popeye’s, Swine & Sons (which I named one of my favorite dishes of 2019 in Orlando Weekly), and Chicken Fire (which I tried and loved even before they introduced a chicken sandwich of their own). I had heard from multiple trusted foodies that Alex’s offers a worthy chicken sandwich, so of course I had to try it.
Their version ($12) is a fried or grilled chicken breast (I chose fried because when we’re under a stay-at-home order, we all deserve a little treat), served on a brioche bun with garlic aioli, cabbage slaw, and pickles that were made in house. I always prefer chicken thighs, especially when the chicken is being fried, but even with white meat, it was still a large and tasty sandwich.
I also ordered the burger special ($13), and I’m so glad I did, because it was one of the tastiest burgers I’ve eaten in a really long time, and not just because we’ve been quarantined at home. It was an eight-ounce burger cooked medium rare, exactly how I requested, served on the same kind of lightly-griddled brioche bun, and topped with fried onion strings, barbecue sauce, pulled bacon, and the most delicious roasted tomato aioli — a pretty perfect burger. I can’t rave about this burger enough. Alex told me he runs a different burger special almost every week, so this was a passing thing, but I hope he brings it back or maybe makes it the regular burger, in addition to rotating specials.
I placed my takeout order over the phone, and Alex offered me the choice of fries, home fries, or salad. I had a hard time deciding between fries and home fries, especially because I make and eat salads all the time, but usually leave deep-frying to the professionals. Luckily, with ordering the chicken sandwich and the burger, I got an order of fries and an order of home fries. Even though I live ten minutes from Alex’s, the fries were lukewarm and a little soggy by the time I got home and started eating, but I devoured them anyway. They were good fries, and I suspect they’d be great fries when we’re able to eat in restaurants again.
What was great, however, were the little plastic cups of roasted tomato aioli and roasted onion aioli that Alex included for me. Longtime readers know what a fan I am of condiments, dips, and sauces, and these were mind-blowing. I wish he sold these two house-made aiolis in jars, because I’d buy multiple jars and give them to friends and colleagues as gifts. Ask my wife, who was eating something else while I had this food — I kept exclaiming how good the fries were dipped in these two aiolis, especially the roasted onion one. I was even cursing with enthusiastic disbelief, and I’m sure I pumped my fist more than once. They were that good.
The home fries were even better than the fries. The fried potato chunks were a little soft, but I’m sure they would have been crispier if eaten immediately. They were very well-seasoned, and there were strips of onion and bell pepper tossed in with them. I don’t order home fries very often, but I’m so glad I got these. They were more flavorful than the regular fries so they didn’t benefit as much from the aioli duo, but you bet I tried every different combination and permutation anyway.
Alex’s mother, Deborah McDowell, makes the desserts at the Fresh Kitchen. I saw a beautiful chocolate peanut butter cake, as well as a beguiling ube cake:
But maybe my favorite dessert in the world is an Atlantic Beach Pie that I make. This is the recipe, except I make the crust out of Ritz crackers (the best crackers) instead of the traditional Saltines, You end up with a pie that is sweet, rich, creamy, sticky, buttery, tart, salty, and crunchy, and perfect year-round (but especially as a summer dessert). So when I saw Deborah also makes a lemon pie for Alex’s Fresh Kitchen, I had to try her version. She didn’t opt for the buttery, salty, cracker crust, instead going for a thick, moist graham cracker crust. Her lemon filling was more custardy than mine, much less tart, and also firmer, while mine comes out more runny. I was so happy I tried it. Creamy, citrusy pies are the best.
Well, after this first visit, I was already a fan of Alex’s, so I returned this past weekend for more takeout. I got myself one of his weekly specials, an 8″ Philly cheesesteak sandwich ($12), with a side of those terrific home fries. It was tasty, but not as juicy or greasy as cheesesteaks I’m used to from places like LaSpada’s. I feel like it could have used more melty cheese, but it still hit the spot.
After my week of raving about Alex’s, and my dear wife not being able to escape my raving, she asked me to order her the mini chicken and waffles ($11). By the time I got it home and unpacked it for her, there didn’t seem to be anything “mini” about it. It was a large Belgian-style waffle, already cut into quarters, and served with two medium-sized pieces of fried chicken breast. Some parts of the fried chicken were burnt, but she ate it anyway, scorched spots and all. I’m sure this was an anomaly, because my chicken sandwich from the previous visit was fried to perfection.
The chicken and waffles came with four little cups of various accompaniments. From left to right: maple syrup (maybe “pancake syrup,” which I honestly prefer sometimes due to growing up with it), a sweet, caramelized, almost toffee-like topping that she loved on the waffles, what I think was cinnamon sugar (we didn’t try this, and it’s still in our fridge), and her favorite, a sweet and sticky vanilla sauce.
And because nobody deserves a treat more than my poor wife, who has been cooped up at home for weeks, I brought her back a slice of the chocolate peanut butter cake ($7), which happens to be gluten-free. She absolutely loved it, chocolate lover that she is. Just like last week’s burger was my favorite thing I’ve tried from Alex’s, this cake was definitely her favorite.
It’s great to have one more good restaurant offering comfort and consistency close to home, especially because we’re hardly going anywhere these days. Alex’s Fresh Kitchen is a relatively new addition to Casselberry’s limited dining options, but I’m so glad Alex and his mom are here, now more than ever. Ironically, their restaurant is across the street from my gym, but they’re open and the gym is closed. I can’t go there three times a week like I was going to the gym, but I’ll keep going when I can, especially now that I’m following their Facebook page for updates on the new burgers and other weekly specials. Welcome to the neighborhood, Alex and Deborah! Constant readers, make them feel welcome.