Pho Cali and Quickly Boba

There’s a strip shopping center along Aloma Avenue in Winter Park (in an area that feels more like Casselberry) that once housed a Publix and several other businesses.  The Publix moved to a newer location ten minutes up the road, and most of the other tenants moved out.  I thought the entire strip was dead for sure, but a gym moved in, and now some restaurants have opened in there.  One of them is essentially two restaurants in one: a new Vietnamese restaurant called Pho Cali (https://www.facebook.com/phocalialoma/menu/), connected to an interesting chain called Quickly Boba.  They share the slick, modern dining room, but Pho Cali has table service, while you order at the counter at Quickly Boba.  They just opened in late August.

20181022_201954_resized

The night I stopped by to check them out, I ended up bringing home some takeout from both.  Pho Cali has a pretty typical menu for a Vietnamese restaurant, but a little more expensive than most of the restaurants in Orlando’s Mills 50 neighborhood.  My wife asked for grilled beef with rice vermicelli, her go-to standard when she doesn’t order pho.  It even came with three spring rolls, which were a pleasant little bonus.

20181022_203823_resized.jpg

I’ve been to a few other Quickly locations in Orlando, and they’re all a little bit different.  They usually offer boba teas, smoothies, and slushes with a long list of flavors, macarons, and sometimes they have food menus with spicy popcorn chicken, Vietnamese banh mi sandwiches on baguettes, or even poke bowls.  This location had a lot of bakery items and desserts I’ve never seen at other Quickly stores, displayed in attractive glass cases.

20181022_201724_resized20181022_201739_resized

This is where they customize your boba drinks, and dig the multicolored macarons on top of the glass.

20181022_201732_resized

I was thrilled to see that this location had banh mi, because sometimes I crave those sandwiches, my previous favorite banh mi shop Mai Bistro closed recently, and the current reigning contender, Nha Trang, is much further from home than this place.

A good thing about banh mi sandwiches is that they’re usually cheap, like in the $5 range.  In addition to whichever sandwich filling you choose, as the crusty baguettes are typically dressed with butter or mayo, pork liver pate (similar to liverwurst or braunschweiger, but less smoky-tasting), crunchy pickled carrot and daikon radish, cucumber spears, sprigs of refreshing cilantro, and slices of fresh, crunchy jalapeno peppers, which are much hotter than the pickled jalapenos most people are used to.  I was impressed to see this Quickly had an open area where you could watch your sandwiches being made and request custom ingredients, a la Subway.  Most places just disappear into the back to make them.

20181022_201746_resized

I usually get a cold cut combo sandwich, but I noticed this Quickly location had crawfish on the menu, so I decided to get one of each, have half of each when I got them home, and save the other halves for the next day.  I don’t know why I was expecting breaded and deep-fried crawfish tails, but these were chilled and marinated, like a tangy crawfish salad.  I like seafood salads, so I figured I would try it.

The cold cut banh mi:

20181022_204228_resized

The crawfish banh mi:20181022_204138_resized

Both were very fresh and tasty.  They’re always much lighter and more refreshing than most subs or hoagies, and a good banh mi should taste very fresh, with a variety of textures and flavors: crunchy bread and vegetables, soft meat fillings, some tangy, some spicy, and richness from the creamy mayo and smooth pate.  I don’t know if they dethrone Nha Trang or the late, lamented Mai Bistro, but they hit the spot, the price was right, and I’m glad I have the option much closer to home.

I also picked out a bun from the Quickly bakery case, with strands of salty, soft shredded pork baked on the top.  It was a savory bun with the slightest hint of sweetness, very buttery, and much softer and lighter than you would expect.

20181022_204408_resized

It’s an interesting combination, and maybe just what this desolate shopping strip needs to revitalize itself.  I’m happy to provide some good word of mouth to help send business their way, and I wish them the best over there on Aloma.  It’s a very nice, cool dining room, reminiscent of Bento, a local favorite.  I think if people check it out, they will be pleasantly surprised.  Even if Pho Cali is a little more expensive than the Mills 50 stalwarts that have been serving Vietnamese food for far longer, I suspect it will win over folks in Winter Park, Winter Springs, Casselberry, and Oviedo that don’t want to drive all the way out there.

And next time I’ll actually try the pho!

Dancing Pigs Deli

I’ve always heard great things about the sandwiches at Dancing Pigs Deli (https://www.dpdeli.com/), but it is way across town from me, south of downtown Orlando on South Orange Avenue.  But a few weeks ago, on a day I had an errand to run in the area, I knew I had to make a special stop to try Dancing Pigs Deli for the first time.  I tried stopping by earlier this year, but it was a weekend, and they were closed.  According to their Facebook page, their hours are Monday through Friday, 11 AM to 3 PM (which contradicts the website with Saturday hours), so plan accordingly.

There are a few other foodie destinations I like out that way, and I made a morning of it.  Sister Honey’s Bakery (http://www.sisterhoneys.com/) is a tiny operation with no seating, strictly a to-go bakery.  You don’t always know what they’ll have from one day to the next, but my wife loves her vanilla bean pound cake, so I picked up a slice for her.  She also has some excellent pies: coconut cream, strawberry cream cheese, blueberry cream cheese, and key lime.  Believe it or not, I try to avoid sweets, but fruity, creamy, cheesy pies are probably my favorite desserts.

My next stop was Freshfields Farm (http://www.freshfieldsfarm.com/category/orlando/), a permanent farmer’s market with fantastic prices on fresh produce (on one side of the building) and meats and cheeses (on the other side).  Each side has its own separate entrance with its own cashiers, and there is a snack bar window in the middle, where you can get giant smoked turkey legs without paying theme park admission or dealing with gaggles of tourists.  And they’re $5 each!  Let’s see Mickey’s House do that.  Did I bring home a turkey leg?  You’re wrong, fearless readers — I brought home TWO!  And I also got the biggest blueberries I’ve ever seen, and a pound of sliced Cabot American and provolone cheeses for $3.50 each.  Even Aldi can’t compete with that.

Then I drove a few miles further south on Orange to Dancing Pigs Deli, which is in a nondescript and easy-to-miss strip of shops.  It’s a small place and definitely not fancy, but don’t be daunted.  If you’re reading The Saboscrivner, you probably already know those restaurants can be hidden gems and are always worth taking a chance on.  The first thing I noticed when I walked in was some shelves of groceries:

20181012_112247_resized

The menu is on the wall above the counter, but I had already studied it online (which you should probably do, due to this image quality):

20181012_112259_resized

This was a Friday, but on Monday through Thursday, they have different specials, all made in-house, including meatballs on Mondays, roast leg of lamb on Wednesdays and roast turkey breast on Thursdays.  I’m sure the leg of lamb sandwich is not baaaaaaad.

Since I couldn’t decide, I chose to order the Steer sandwich to eat there, and a Muffaletta to bring home for later.  Typically I’ll gravitate toward Italian cured meats like salami and prosciutto when given the choice, but I’ve been on a real roast beef kick lately.  The Steer ($7.50) contains rare roast beef, sautéed onions, goat cheese, horseradish, and au jus on a French roll, and if you ask me, a roast beef sandwich without sauteed/grilled/caramelized onions and horseradish just isn’t a roast beef sandwich.  Moreso than salami, roast beef goes well with almost any cheese, from provolone to pepper jack to underappreciated American, but I was excited to try it with goat cheese.

I chose wisely.  So wisely.  It was delicious; definitely one of the better roast beef sandwiches I’ve had anywhere.  It came with the cup of au jus and potato salad that was just okay.  I’m honestly not a fan of “wet” or “dipped” or even open-face soggy sandwiches you have to eat with a knife and a fork, but I did dip some chunks of beef and bread in the au jus, and it was like a rich broth that would make a perfect French onion soup.  It was good enough to drink, and I did sip whatever was left.  (Don’t judge me!)

20181012_112902_resized

The goat cheese was very soft and spread onto the lightly-toasted roll, which was the perfect way to do it.  I never thought of spreading cream cheese on a roast beef sandwich, but it would actually be great (especially combined with horseradish and onions).  The goat cheese had the same soft, creamy texture with a little bit of funkiness that worked well with the other ingredients.

Extreme close-up!20181012_112906_resized

I had the muffaletta sandwich ($8.50 for a half-muff) at home the next day, and it was very good too.  It contains Genoa salami, mortadella, pepperoni, ham, Swiss cheese, olive-giardiniera salad, and is served on “Sesame Jazz bread.”  I am not an olive lover, but I’ll always try the chopped olive salad on a muffaletta.  My gold standard remains the one at Central Grocery on Decatur Street in New Orleans’ French Quarter, which is served cold instead of hot.  This one was originally served hot, but since I ate it cold out of my fridge, I think it was even better, after the flavors had a chance to mingle and marinate for 24 hours.  The Sesame Jazz bread was still crispy even after its time chilling overnight, which was a nice touch.

20181012_134117_resized

For this sandwich, I got a side of macaroni salad, which was better than the potato salad, but not quite as good as my homemade one or Poke Hana’s.

20181012_134019_resized

I have no idea when I’m going to be back down that way again, but I hear that “Chili Daddy” sets up inside of Dancing Pigs Deli and sells different kinds of chili when the weather cools down, so that sounds worthy of a return trip.  If you ever find yourself in the SoDo region or with any business south of downtown Orlando, drive the extra few miles and check the place out.  I’m glad Orlando is experiencing a sandwich shop renaissance over the last few years, with so many exquisite and unique contenders like Bad As’s Sandwich, Stasio’s Italian Deli & Market, and Manzano’s Deli joining stalwarts like LaSpada’s and Pom Pom’s, and Dancing Pigs Deli is one more worthwhile destination.  I promise I’ll never Steer you wrong.  (Seriously, try the Steer!)

Tampaversary Part 2: La Segunda Central Bakery

Our original plan was to have lunch somewhere after checking out of our Tampa hotel, then to visit another nearby local landmark, La Segunda Central Bakery, to get some pastries and possibly sandwiches to go, before driving back to Orlando.  But when we woke up, my wife was hungry, ready to get home sooner, and didn’t want to wait for most restaurants to open at 11.  We decided to go straight to La Segunda and then take off, and to save other restaurants for other trips, when we have more time and could make plans with local friends.

We easily found La Segunda Central Bakery (https://www.lasegundabakery.com/), but what I didn’t realize was that it was just a takeout operation with no dine-in seating.  They have a second location that is more of a cafe setup, but leave it to me to want to visit the original.  We are already huge fans of Tampa’s other historic bakery, Alessi (http://www.alessibakery.com/), which was founded in 1912.  La Segunda had been described as very similar, and it was founded in 1915.  I wanted to compare the legendary bakeries, and I can safely say they are both great, and if you like one, you’ll certainly like the other and ought to give it a chance too.

Since they didn’t have tables, we just decided to get stuff to go, and to have a mini-picnic in the car on our way out of town.  My wife ordered buttered Cuban toast with a side of crispy bacon, made on the absolutely gigantic loaves of Cuban bread people were carrying out by the armful.  These loaves were several feet long; my wife is five feet tall, and they very well could have been her height!  La Segunda’s website purports to be “the world’s largest producer of authentic Cuban bread,” and I wouldn’t be surprised if that is true.  We were both a little distracted by sensory overload in that bakery, and it didn’t occur to me to order one of those giant loaves to go.  Oh well, another time.  I grew up in Miami, so I’ve had A LOT of Cuban bread.  It’s great the first day, but by the second day, Harley Quinn cosplayers could definitely use it as a prop baseball bat.  But I digress!

I don’t eat breakfast and don’t like to eat a heavy meal before a long drive, so I just ordered stuff to enjoy later on.  I ordered two of La Segunda’s sandwiches: the Medianoche and the Patrinostro.  Growing up in Miami, my typically non-adventurous family loved Cuban food, and we had some of the best Cuban food in the country to choose from, all within a small radius of our suburban home.  My mom instilled in me a love of the medianoche (midnight) sandwich over the traditional Cuban sandwich, and I stand by it to this day.  Both contain the same ingredients: roast pork marinated in mojo criollo (with onion, garlic, and sour orange juice), sweet sliced ham, swiss cheese, mustard (typically yellow mustard, one of the only times this mustard aficionado is A-OK with the plain yellow stuff), and sliced pickles.  I’m trying to make myself like pickles more, but one of the rare times I’ve always been a fan is on medianoche and Cuban sandwiches.

Anyway, whether you get the sandwich on Cuban bread or the sweet, yellow medianoche roll (similar to challah), it is then pressed flat (sometimes buttered first), to warm the ingredients, melt the cheese, and get the bread super-crispy.  Miami people may recoil in shock and disappointment (and I know my best friend will be pissed), but I actually love the Tampa version of these sandwiches.  Due to the Italian influence, Tampa Cubans and medianoches also include genoa salami with the roast pork and sweet, smoky ham, and one could argue that anything with genoa salami is better than the same thing without.  Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it!  And when I finally tried it at home, it was an excellent example of a medianoche.  Perfect confluence of ingredients on that wonderful sweet, crispy-yet-yielding yellow bread.  La Segunda advertises a “special sauce” instead of mustard.  I couldn’t pick up on what it was (probably a remoulade or some kind of Mustardayonnaise), but it was a great sandwich regardless.

DSC01716.JPG

And since I had to experience La Segunda’s Cuban bread for myself, my second sandwich order was the Patrinostro, an Italian sandwich with ham, capicola, mortadella, pepperoni, provolone cheese, onions, oil, and vinegar.  I asked for it hot because I wanted the pressed Cuban bread, and asked them to leave the lettuce and tomatoes off, since I wouldn’t be eating it for two hours and didn’t want them to get slimy on a hot sandwich.  I was conflicted, because I don’t like my Italian cured meats hot, but everything was still delicious by the time we got home, and the bread was still crispy.  It looked naked without the lettuce and tomatoes, so I added my own tomatoes, as well as hot cherry pepper relish and a drizzle of balsamic glaze at home.  It was good, but it would have been better fully dressed and eaten immediately, with cold ingredients served on bread that had already been pressed and warmed by itself.

DSC01715

I also ordered two slices of scachatta, which I was delighted to see at La Segunda.  I first read about scachatta on Saveur’s website years ago, a pizza-like bread served only at Tampa’s historic Italian-influenced Cuban bakeries.  It is served cold or at room temperature on soft bread tinted yellow by egg yolks, with a savory-sweet tomato sauce containing very finely-ground beef, and no cheese melted on top like any pizza you’re envisioning.  Alessi’s scachatta has a dusting of parmesan like the lightest snowfall, and La Segunda’s didn’t seem to have any cheese at all.  It might sound weird, and if you’re expecting traditional pizza, you may be a little disappointed.  But think of it as its own delicious hybrid and give it a fair chance.  I love the stuff and wish I could get it anywhere in Orlando, but maybe that’s for the best.  I can’t tell you whose scachatta is better, but they are both damn fine.

DSC01714

My wife also ordered a selection of cookies that were weighed by the pound.  I think of them as “tea cookies” — little things with sprinkles and powdered sugar coatings and shaped liked red and green leaves.  Bakeries of my Miami youth used to carry those, and my mom loved them too.  They have never really been my thing — if I’m going to eat a cookie, I want it to be soft and chewy… or an Oreo in their latest weird flavors.

DSC01711

I couldn’t leave this beautiful bakery without getting myself something sweet too, so I gambled and chose a little square of pineapple crumb cake, since I love anything pineappley, as well as crumb cake.  When I finally got home and tried it, it was superb.  Moist, rich cake with the most delicious sticky-sweet pineapple glaze and streusel-esque topping.  It only cost $1.95, and it put any of the extravagant, expensive, and somewhat disappointing desserts from Bern’s to shame.

DSC01713

So La Segunda was awesome.  Would I go back?  Honestly, I think we’d probably return to Alessi Bakery instead, where you can at least sit down and eat a meal.  But everything we tried was just as good here, don’t get me wrong.

Manzano’s Deli

Anyone who knows me knows I love a few things: my wife, comic books, lounge acts with girl singers, cats, and Italian deli sandwiches.  Here in Orlando, LaSpada’s has always been my favorite spot for an Italian hoagie bursting at the seams with cured Italian meats, sharp provolone cheese, and crispy fresh vegetables and pickled peppers.  In 2017, Bad As’s Sandwich changed the game with their limited-time special, the Capone, which made my list of the year’s top five dishes.  (Yeah, I’m probably gonna be citing that forever.)  Then Stasio’s Italian Deli & Market opened this summer, and I reviewed it right here, on its opening day.

We are lucky to have one more great sub shop in town now: Manzano’s Deli (http://manzanowinterpark.com/), on Fairbanks Avenue in Winter Park, moments from Park Avenue and Rollins College, and directly next door to the Little Blue Donut Co.  Manzano’s already has two beloved locations in DeLand and New Smyrna Beach, which I’ve never been to, but you can bet I checked their menus as soon as I heard one was opening here.  Well, they finally opened for business in September, and my first visit lived up to all the expectations and hype.

You see, most sub shops will offer ONE Italian hoagie-type sandwich if you’re lucky, with salami, ham, and other cured, sliced deli meats, served cold.  (I’ve never been a fan of sandwiches like this served hot, with the meats crispy and greasy.)  Manzano’s has SEVERAL, and they’re all a little bit different.  Looking at their menu, you must choose between the Italian Stallion, the Balboa, the V, the Pauly, the Rocco, and the Goodfella, and their ingredients aren’t listed in any specific order, making it a little difficult to compare and contrast when you’re hungry and in a hurry.

So for the benefit of my Saboscrivner Squad, I have created the Manzano’s Matrix, to help you choose the best possible Italian sandwich at a glance:
manzanos_matrix As you can see, the Rocco is the sandwich with the most ingredients.  The Italian Stallion and the Goodfella are the same, except the Stallion has pepperoni, so I can’t imagine ordering the Goodfella unless you hate pepperoni.  The Balboa and the V are the two with fresh mozzarella, but no overlapping meats, so that presents a difficult choice.  But yeah, I like to maximize my sandwich experience, so I chose the Rocco… and I chose wisely.

Look at this thing!

20180913_160009_resized

Look at it!

20180913_160032_resized

That’s the whole sandwich (15″ for $16.99), and it is enormous.  I think most hungry people can easily make do with a half ($10.49).  Yes, it’s more expensive than Subway, Wawa, and even Jersey Mike’s, but you pay for quality, and this was an extremely high-quality sandwich.  On top of being huge, the crusty bread was very fresh (flown in from New York), and the meats and cheeses were all from Boar’s Head, so you know they’re good.  The Rocco comes with lettuce, tomatoes, onions, roasted red peppers (love ’em!), oil and vinegar, and two ingredients I asked them to hold, because I don’t think they belong on an Italian sub: black olives and mayo.  No thank you!  Mayo has its place, but not here.

I did ask them to add the sun-dried tomato spread that is a option on some of their other sandwiches, and they were kind enough to oblige.  The sun-dried tomatoes are marinated in oil, so by the time I got this sandwich back to our little break room at work, it was quite soggy and messy to eat, but probably even more delicious.  In fact, chilling it in the fridge for a few hours might have made it even better (and probably necessitated eating it with a fork and knife), but it was great as is.

If you aren’t into Italian deli meats, they still have plenty for you, don’t worry: turkey, chicken, roast beef, corned beef, pastrami, tuna salad, egg salad, etc.  Manzano’s also serves paninis in addition to their giant subs, as well as salads and breakfast sandwiches in the morning.  They can even craft you a custom sandwich with your choice of ingredients if their menu options aren’t tempting enough.

I look forward to returning, even though I think I’ve already figured out what their best sandwich is, and I’ll no doubt order it again.  It’s a rough location there on Fairbanks, with very limited parking nearby.  The location used to house Tatame Tea and Sake Lounge, one of the spots I took my wife on our first date back in 2006, but even someplace that cool couldn’t last.  That’s the only drawback I can see, but hopefully Manzano’s will stay busy with lots of walk-in traffic from Rollins students, faculty, and staff.  And if you ever feel like an amazing sandwich and a doughnut, you have this place and the Little Blue Donut Co. right next door.  How can you go wrong with that?  YOU CAN’T.

Tortilleria El Progreso

Orlando is full of hidden treasures, and my latest discovery is Tortilleria El Progreso (https://www.tortilleriaelprogreso.com/), nestled in a nondescript strip shopping center in the shadow of a Home Depot, along a busy, industrial stretch of East Colonial Drive, west of the 417 and east of Semoran Boulevard.  It is a bustling Mexican restaurant and a full Mexican grocery store with a butcher shop, a bakery, an ice cream counter, and more.  This is real Mexican food, authentic and pure — the kind of place that makes its own tortillas, chips, and everything else from scratch.  The menu is huge, the service is friendly, the prices are cheap, the portions are large, and the colorful, welcoming dining room with hand-painted chairs makes you feel transported away from Orlando, to a vacation destination south of the border.

20180927_130931_resized

20180927_130926_resized

20180927_132736_resized

I went for lunch with a professional colleague who trusts my restaurant-choosing judgment and was kind enough to treat.  We started out with complimentary chips and salsa, and we could tell the chips were fresh, made from actual tortillas not long before our arrival:

20180927_123321_resized

Whenever I see tortas on a menu, I go for it.  If there’s one thing I love more than a good taco, it’s a good sandwich, and tortas are the best of both worlds: Mexican ingredients on a soft bolillo or telera roll, with meat, a schmear of refried beans, avocado, shredded lettuce, tomato, onions, sometimes peppers, and a dab of mayo or sour cream.  I got a barbacoa torta, with tender, oven-braised beef.  It even came with unexpected fries, but the fries weren’t anything special, and I didn’t dare fill up on them.  20180927_124658_resized

But I couldn’t visit a new Mexican restaurant and not sample two of my favorite meats, so I got a chorizo (spicy crumbled sausage) taco on a flour tortilla and an al pastor (marinated pork) taco on a corn tortilla, so I could try both kinds of tortillas too.  All the tacos came simply garnished with diced raw onions and chopped cilantro, with lime wedges on the side.  I am pleased to say everything was delicious.  20180927_124836_resized

My colleague ordered three tacos: shredded chicken and sauteed beef, hold the onions.20180927_124704_resized

We were also offered a choice of red or green salsas for the table, so of course I asked for both.  The green tomatillo salsa was medium-spicy, and the red had quite a bit of heat.  These were homemade as well:
20180927_130921_resized

We also decided to try a side order of the Mexican rice, which was soft, fluffy, even a little buttery.  I have a rice cooker at home because my rice never comes out right from a pot, but I still never get it as perfect as all the restaurant rice I enjoy.  I stirred a little of the salsas into the rice, to make a good thing even better.20180927_131138_resized

I was overjoyed to see aguas frescas on the menu, which is one of my tests for how authentic and good a Mexican restaurant is going to be.  These refreshing drinks are sweet, but not as sweet as high fructose corn syrup-laden sodas, they aren’t carbonated, and they’re ideal for cutting the heat of spicy Mexican food.  I ordered a piña agua fresca because I will always try anything pineappley, and I recommended another one of my favorites to my colleague: horchata, which is a sweet rice milk flavored with cinnamon and vanilla.  I didn’t snap photos of those, but they were both terrific.

I can’t wait to return to Tortilleria El Progreso and try some more menu items, including some of those other aguas frescas, and some of the paletas (popsicles) and helados (ice creams) in the big case at the front of the restaurant.  It looked like the market side had bolillo rolls in the bakery section for tortas, fresh tortillas, sodas, snacks, and other groceries worth exploring.  I love grocery shopping at new places almost as much as I love trying new restaurants, so I will definitely be back to this newly-discovered hidden treasure that plenty of other people surely already knew about.

Arby’s

Wait a minute!  Is he really reviewing ARBY’S?  (https://arbys.com/)  He’s only had a food blog for two months and he’s talking about a fast food chain, and a critically-derided, notably un-hip fast food chain?

I try to be good.  I try to support local restaurants AND avoid fast food as much as possible, but I’m only human.  I’m a sucker for Krystal sliders, I have a nostalgic fondness for McDonald’s breakfasts (and was thrilled when they started offering all-day breakfast, even though I rarely partake), and Arby’s hits the spot more often than not (although I almost never go).  Sure, I think of obnoxious little Sherri from The Simpsons (or was it her twin Terri?) whining “I’m so hungry, I could eat at Arby’s!”, which I think ruined it for a whole generation.  But the truth is, Arby’s is cool.  It’s always trying new things, taking risks, adding crazy new menu items, and killing it with social media marketing — and these gambles are working!  Arby’s is the quirky, likable guy in a rom-com who might not end up with the girl, but he has a full and rich life with friends, hobbies, a good job, and you rooted for him and know he’s going to be okay.

I went twice in 2017, which was twice as often as I had gone in the previous decade.  Once was to try their porchetta sandwich while it lasted (surprisingly good), and the other time was to try their venison steak sandwich the one special day they offered it (incredibly good).  Yes, this is a fast food chain people regularly crack on, but they’re rolling out porchetta, a pretty classy Italian pork preparation that you rarely even see on menus at Italian restaurants and takes some real talent and patience to make at home, and venison, which is almost impossible to get unless you’re friends with hunters.  They’re not just adding bacon or chips or (eurgh) sriracha (sorry, it’s nasty!) to the same tired old offerings.  They’re introducing people to entirely new meats, which is a noble and ambitious undertaking!  

So yesterday, my best friend sent me this entertaining and insightful essay about the new golden age of Arby’s, and I was impressed by the writer’s obvious passion and enthusiasm, something I always try for here on The Saboscrivner.

He touched on all my thoughts more eloquently and at greater length than I would, so I’m not even going to try to top it.  But I am extremely suggestible when it comes to food, so of course that means I had to try Arby’s again.  I went today for lunch, and I have no regrets.

Their current limited-time special is the Smokehouse beef short rib sandwich, served with melty cheddar cheese, crispy onions, and barbecue sauce on Texas toast.  I’m always happy to find Texas toast, whether it’s made into garlic bread, served as a sandwich, or just lightly toasted and buttered and served with some Zaxby’s chicken tenders.  This sandwich was a real winner.  I have to admit, it was better than some sandwiches I’ve had from barbecue restaurants.  It was a decent size, with lots of flavors and textures going on, and the shredded, smoked short rib was very tender and tasty.  The Texas toast held everything together well.  I’m always disappointed when some barbecue places serve their wondrous, lovingly-prepared, low-and-slow-smoked meats on the cheapest buns or white bread, but not so here.

20180817_143229_resized

I had also recently been advised to try Arby’s gyro and their onion rings, a combo I enjoyed at Theo’s Kitchen earlier this summer (see my recent review here).  I knew they had a gyro, but it never occurred to me to try it until a few people vouched for it.  And like I said, there’s no such thing as a bad gyro, right?  Well, this one was better than some I’ve had from dedicated Mediterranean and Middle Eastern restaurants.  It certainly wasn’t the best gyro I’ve ever had, but it was far from the worst, and only $3.99.  This was the good kind of pita bread — nice and soft, like you get from actual gyro shops but never find at the supermarket.  They included a generous portion of thin-sliced, processed gyro meat, which is usually a salty, garlicky beef and lamb combo, plus tzatziki sauce, shredded lettuce, sliced tomatoes, and thin slices of onion.

20180817_144248_resized

I can’t say the same for the onion rings, which had that craggy, crumby breading that mostly fell off.  I can’t Ring the Alarm! in good conscience for these rings.  At least Arby’s has some good dipping sauces in pumps: their legendary Horsey sauce (creamy horseradish), very decent three-pepper sauce that is more like a spicy-sweet barbecue sauce than an actual hot sauce (which is more than fine with me), and a creamy Dijon mustard sauce.

20180817_143232_resized

Finally, because this was a hectic week and we’re heading into our busiest and most stressful time of the year at work, I treated myself to an orange cream shake, because orange shakes are hard to find, and I freakin’ love them.

20180817_143237_resized

I also brought back a Jamocha shake for one beloved co-worker and two cherry turnovers for another one.  Food gifts are some of the best gifts, if you ask me.

So yeah, Arby’s.  If you haven’t had it since you were a teenager, or if pop culture has conditioned you to think it can’t possibly be any good, think again, and try it again.  Even if you don’t love their old-school roast beef sandwiches (tasty, but super-salty), they have a ton of newer menu options including the limited-time Smokehouse beef short rib, and I definitely vouch for that.  Their seasoned curly fries might be the best in the game, and I wish I had gotten those instead of the onion rings.  Nowadays they have Italian subs, Reubens, smoked brisket sandwiches, and even some healthy-looking options!  Seriously, try it, and I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

Stasio’s Italian Deli & Market: Opening Day review!

Well, after tracking its progress for what seems like a year, Orlando’s first Italian deli and market, Stasio’s, finally opened for business today, as a soft opening.  (https://www.facebook.com/Stasios-Italian-deli-194418224503776/)  I love Italian delis and markets — Mazzaro’s Market in St. Petersburg is one of my favorite destinations in all of Florida (and I don’t just mean restaurants), and DeLaurenti inside Pike Place Market in Seattle and Eataly in Chicago are two of the coolest places I’ve ever been.  Needless to say, I had to make a pilgrimage to Stasio’s on its opening day, and I’m so glad I did, because they are filling a void in Orlando’s burgeoning culinary scene.  The family that owns Stasio’s also founded the venerable and much-missed Louie and Maria’s Italian restaurant, as well as the Pizzeria Valdiano location in Waterford Lakes, so they aren’t new to Orlando or to delicious Italian food.

20180723_131821_resized

My co-worker and I arrived around 1 PM, and I was glad to see the place busy and bustling.  We immediately got in line to order sandwiches at the deli counter, where we were presented with a laminated menu.  For me, choosing the Stasio sandwich was an easy choice: prosciutto, hot capicola, mild soppressata, fresh mozzarella, roasted red peppers, red onion, and white balsamic vinaigrette on a sub roll, for $11.  That’s my idea of a good time!  My vegetarian co-worker ordered the Melenzani sandwich, with eggplant, spinach, roasted red peppers, marinated tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, and balsamic reduction, which only came as a panini, for $11.  (Editor’s note: she e-mailed and said it came on a sub roll after all, despite the menu saying it would be a panini.)

20180723_132733_resized

They were slammed on their first day, so it gave us time to browse around.  At the deli, I ordered some sliced Italian beef brisket and porchetta, both made in-house, while my co-worker picked up some beautiful fresh sfogliatelle (flaky, shell-shaped pastries) from their bakery counter.  They had plenty of other meats and cheeses, huge square slices of pizza ($4.95 for a gigantic slice), deli salads and vegetables, including broccoli rabe, multicolored roasted peppers, stuffed cherry peppers, and sundried tomatoes glistening in oil, marinated imported anchovies that looked like actual silvery fish and not the salty brown fillets that everyone except me dreads on their pizza, and prepared Italian meatballs and sausage.  Shelf-stable groceries included all kinds of fancy pasta you will NOT find at Publix, and plenty of cans, jars, and bottles of delicious Italian delicacies.

20180723_132053_resized

20180723_132100_resized

Stasio’s does not have tables, but the store is lined with a long counter for people to enjoy their food while sitting on stools.  We brought ours back to work, though.  They also have an espresso counter near the cash registers at the front, and it looks like you can also order wine by the glass there, but I could be wrong.  (Don’t drink, wasn’t paying that close attention.)

Upon returning to work, I couldn’t be more pleased to say how great the sub was.  The melange of meats worked together in perfect harmony with the fresh “mutsadell” (I promise I’ll never do that again), and roasted red peppers are a welcome addition to almost any sandwich.  I’m sure someone is wondering how the sub roll was, and I’m happy to report it was the perfect amount of chewy with an exterior that wasn’t too crusty — just how I like them.  The rolls were also baked in-house, of course.  I would have liked more toppings on the sub — lettuce, tomato, maybe some of the long hot peppers they advertised on other sandwiches — but ordering was a bit of sensory overload today, and I didn’t even ask.  Next time!

20180723_140335_resized

I also impulse-bought a Manhattan Special espresso soda in a glass bottle, because even though I’m not much of a coffee drinker, I sure love trying new and interesting soda flavors.  It was good, although I think a cappuccino/latte version with some creaminess would have been much better.  All they had were regular and diet version of the espresso soda, though.

20180723_140347_resized

Well, I am very happy Stasio’s is finally open, and so close to my work!  I’ll definitely add it to my regular restaurant rotation, and I suggest my dozens of loyal readers (bakers’ dozens?) give it a try at your earliest convenience.  I wish them the best and welcome them to the neighborhood!

ADDENDUM: My co-worker gave me one of her shell-shaped sfogliatelle pastries, and it was delicious.  The crispy outer dough is very flaky and fragile, able to be peeled apart in thin, spiral-like layers.  The inside is kind of like a thick, lightly-sweetened cheese (not creamy or runny at all, more like the filling of a cheese danish but not nearly as sweet), speckled with tiny, chewy bits of candied lemon for a subtle fresh citrus taste and scent.

20180723_152427_resized

20180723_152601_resized