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.

Catrinas Mexican Fusion

Catrinas Mexican Fusion (http://catrinasmexicanfusion.com/) is one of Orlando’s newest Mexican restaurants.  It opened right near my job earlier this year, on the busy corner of Semoran Boulevard and East Colonial Drive, in the former location of Garibaldi’s, another Mexican restaurant I had gone to literally dozens of times, and the original location of my beloved seafood restaurant High Tide Harry’s before that.

The management of Catrinas Mexican Fusion modernized the large space vacated by Garibaldi’s, and I love the new decor, full of bright murals and artwork featuring La Calavera Catrina, the fashionable female skeleton who is an artistic symbol synonymous with El Dia de los Muertos, the Day of the Dead.  This colorful, cartoony Catrina mural is more glamorous (and alive) in appearance, and she greets diners upon entering the restaurant.

As a fan of Jarritos, the delicious and refreshing Mexican sodas made with real cane sugar instead of high fructose corn syrup, my eyes were instantly drawn to this huge display of different flavors of Jarritos in glass bottles with multicolored lights flashing behind them.  I highly recommend the tangy mandarina (mandarin orange), piña (pineapple), and guava. 

On this first lunch with a former co-worker and friend, she ordered queso dip ($5.99) and fresh guacamole ($5.49) to go with the fresh, crispy tortilla chips they bring to the table.  The free chips also come with very good salsa that didn’t make its way into my photo. 

I ordered the tacos Catrina ($9.99), with three tacos on fresh flour tortillas, grilled with cheese inside.  You can select any combination of meats: steak, grilled chicken, carnitas (pork), al pastor (pork marinated in spices with onion and pineapple), chorizo (crumbled spicy sausage), and lengua (slow-cooked beef tongue).  Me being me, I chose three of my go-to favorites, the al pastor, chorizo, and lengua.  The tacos are topped with shredded iceberg lettuce, pico de gallo, and Mexican crema.  They were delicious.  Each one was better than the last.

I know some purists prefer corn tortillas, and Catrinas Mexican Fusion offers them too.  You could order the similar tacos Mexicanos (also $9.99) with the same meat choices, but they would come on corn tortillas, topped with diced onions and cilantro, plus lime wedges on the side.  Don’t get me wrong, I love this more traditional taco style too.  That’s how they come at some of my favorite taquerias like Francisco’s Taco Madness and Tortas El Rey.  But I appreciate really good flour tortillas, and this combination really hit the spot.

More recently, I picked up Catrinas takeout to bring back to work for myself and a valued co-worker who was having a birthday and wanted Mexican food.  Her first choice wasn’t available, so she ordered the fish tacos ($14.99), with grilled fish, green and red bell peppers, and mango sauce on flour tortillas with a cheese crust.  They also come with coleslaw on them, but she requested no coleslaw.  She seemed to really like them, and I was impressed that the tacos clearly held fresh filets from a whole fish.

My first choice wasn’t available either, so I ordered the birria tacos ($12.99), an order of three tacos on corn tortillas with shredded, marinated birria beef, topped simply with diced onions and cilantro, with a side of consomme on the side.  I’ve had birria at two other local restaurants that specialize in it, The Pass Kitchen and QuesaLoco, and both were great, but these were easily just as good.

I also got a single a la carte chile relleno ($4.99), listed as a side order on the last page of the menu.  You can’t really see the golden-brown egg batter surrounding the cheese-stuffed poblano pepper in this photo, but I swear it is there, under all that “special sauce,” queso fresco, crema, and cilantro.

Catrinas was out of aguas frescas on my first visit to the restaurant, but this time I was able to order a mango agua fresca for my co-worker and a passion fruit agua fresca for myself ($3.99 each, for huge styrofoam cups).  I really loved mine.  Passion fruit is my latest flavor obsession, and I always appreciate any Mexican restaurant that serves aguas frescas.  In fact, I often find myself judging Mexican restaurants that don’t offer al pastor pork,  chorizo, and lengua as taco options, or aguas frescas as beverages.  I am happy to report that Catrinas Mexican Fusion has it all.  Working so close, I am sure I’ll be a regular in the months and years to come, and I wish them the best with this new restaurant.  They are already off to a great start, so visit them soon!

Chicago Dog & Co

As much as I love food and restaurants and cooking, I’ve never worked a day in the food service or hospitality industries.  For me, eating, cooking, and even grocery shopping are necessities I’ve turned into hobbies.  We have to eat to survive, so I do what I can to make the experiences enjoyable, but I’ve never had to work at it.  As a result, I have nothing but admiration and awe for everyone who works in restaurants.  It’s a hard, hot, and dangerous job, and too many people take it for granted when we get delicious food we didn’t have to make ourselves.  Even I have been guilty of this in the past, but I have so much appreciation, and I always try to show it, including by writing this food blog.  I hope it comes across in my words, as I try to boost the signal for local restaurants here.

This past week my wife and I binge-watched a new show called The Bear, which consists of eight half-hour episodes streaming on Hulu.  The Bear is about Carmy, a world-renowned chef who returns to his family’s divey restaurant in Chicago after his brother commits suicide and leaves Carmy the restaurant in his will.  Most of the show takes place inside the restaurant’s cramped, chaotic kitchen, and the writing, acting, directing, and editing work in perfect tandem to create a feeling of unhinged uneasiness — a “sense of urgency,” as Carmy calls it.  All the restaurant people I know who have been watching it say they get the details almost too perfect, to the point where it is too real, too uncomfortable to enjoy.  But it’s really good, so you should watch it if you’re looking for a new show you can knock out in a weekend.

Anyway, the main specialty of Carmy’s family restaurant is a real Chicago classic: Italian beef sandwiches.  We watch them preparing hundreds of “beefs,” and before the end of the intense first episode, I was craving one here in Orlando.  The Chicago/Italian beef isn’t as ubiquitous a sandwich as the Philly cheesesteak, but there are a few places around town to find them.  My favorite local food writer, a woman who serves as a constant inspiration to me, who I am honored to think of as a friend (albeit one I have yet to meet in real life), Amy Drew Thompson of the Orlando Sentinel, wrote a guide to Italian beef sandwiches in Orlando earlier this year, which pointed me to the subject of my latest restaurant review.

Chicago Dog & Co (https://www.chicagodogandco.com/) is located in Altamonte Springs, Florida, west of I-4, close to where Altamonte starts blending into Apopka.  Sandra (a practicing attorney!) and Monica, two Chicago-born sisters raised in Central Florida, opened the restaurant just over a year ago, in April 2021, and they have been going strong ever since.  Open every day except Monday, Chicago Dog & Co has covered outdoor seating, but no indoor seating.  You walk up to order at a window, and they call your name when your order is ready.  They specialize in Vienna Beef hot dogs on steamed poppy seed buns, and you can get them with a number of toppings, including the Chicago way, “dragging it through the garden,” with yellow mustard, diced onion, sliced tomato, neon green relish, a pickle spear, “sport” peppers, and celery salt.

But as much as I enjoy a good hot dog, I’m more of a devotee of a garlicky New York-style dog, as typified by Sabrett, Nathan’s, and Boar’s Head, topped with spicy mustard and sauerkraut.  I have no doubt the Vienna Beef hot dogs are bringing back happy Chicago memories for thousands of Central Floridians, but I went there for a different reason: to get my post-Bear Italian beef fix.  And did I ever!

This was the Italian beef ($8) I brought home for myself, the tender sliced beef topped with sweet peppers and spicy giardiniera vegetables, a blend of carrots, onions, and green peppers.  (The more traditional Chicago version has carrots, celery, and cauliflower!)  It is served on a soft Gonnella roll, either dry (no au jus, or au jus served on the side), wet (au jus poured over the sandwich), or dipped (the entire sandwich, roll and all, dipped in au jus to create a real fork-and-knife experience).  Since I was bringing it home, I opened for au jus on the side.  I thought it was really good, and better once I poured the jus over the meat and bread.  The actual beef in an Italian beef isn’t super-moist or fatty, so the jus helps lubricate the sandwich, in the best possible way.  It was definitely a WAS (wet-ass sandwich) by the time I was through, and it definitely fulfilled my Italian beef craving.

Knowing my wife the way I do, she isn’t into toppings, condiments, sauces, or even sandwiches all that much, so I ordered her a plain beef ($8) with jus on the side, and also giardiniera on the side (since I knew I would get to eat hers).  Here’s the unadorned, unadulterated beef:

Since they serve chili dogs and I love chili, I asked if I could try a little side order of chili, and they were kind enough to fill a small cup for me.  Here it is with the side of spicy giardiniera. 

In addition to the dogs and beefs, Chicago Dog & Co also serves burgers.  I haven’t had a tasty burger in quite a while, so I couldn’t resist this double smash ($6) — a very reasonable price for two beef patties smashed thin with sautéed onions and melty American cheese on a soft bun.  The bun got steamed in the aluminum foil wrap on my 20-minute drive home, but I imagine it would be a lot less wrinkly if you enjoy yours at the restaurant.The burger had a great “fresh off the grill” taste, and I’m a sucker for American cheese and sautéed or grilled onions on my burger.  I added a bit of the chili once I ate about half of it at home, but it didn’t need any other adornments to improve it.

Finally, I brought home an Iltaco Pizza Puff ($4) for my wife to try.  These things are awesome — another Chicago snack that is like the best Hot Pocket you’ve ever had, or more like a small, flat, pizza-filled chimichanga or empanada.  

The crispy, bubbly, fried shell is like a flour tortilla — hence the chimichanga comparison — and it is stuffed with tomato sauce, melty mozzarella cheese, and sausage or pepperoni.  I love these things.  My wife wasn’t interested in trying it, so I ate both halves myself.

So if you also watched The Bear and have been asking “Where’s the beef?” ever since, Chicago Dog & Co is the place for you.  Since I started this blog in 2018, I’ve tried (and reviewed) two other Italian beef sandwiches in and around Orlando: Rosati’s Pizza (a Chicago chain) in Winter Park, and Christo’s, the diner in Sanford.  There are one or two other options I’m aware of, thanks in part to Amy Drew Thompson and the good people of The Orlando Foodie Forum presented by Tasty Chomps!, but as you might have realized by now, they aren’t nearly as easy to find around here as other sandwiches.  I’m happy I had time on a lazy Sunday to finally check out a new(ish) local restaurant owned by two women who deserve our community’s support.  Hopefully their kitchen is a lot more copacetic than the one in the show!  But if you go for a beef or even a Chicago hot dog, don’t forget that Pizza Puff too — trust me on that.  That thing is magical.